Thursday, 23 May 2024

Mark Kelly: Managing Director, Bristol Sport

Mark Kelly is the Managing Director of Bristol Sport Ltd and Ashton Gate Ltd, overseeing the ‘off the pitch’ operations for Bristol City FC, Bristol Bears, and Bristol Flyers. With football, rugby, and basketball to contend with, Mark’s role is busy, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable. In this interview, Mark shares details of how his role works for Bristol City FC, including how he manages the operational set-up on matchdays, the development plans for the land adjacent to Ashton Gate, and the importance of supporter retention. Having worked within the sports industry for seven years now, Mark has experienced many career highlights and offers useful advice for those individuals hoping to pursue a career in football.

Background and Operational Set-up

Mark Kelly’s role is Managing Director of Bristol Sport and Ashton Gate, a dual role overseeing two companies. The structure was formalized around seven years ago by the owner Stephen Lansdown, coinciding with the redevelopment of the stadium. The objective was to take away the day-to-day, off the pitch operations from the clubs and allow each sporting team (football, rugby, and basketball) to fully focus on performance. Bristol Sport absorbed operations such as ticketing, merchandise, commercial and hospitality, sponsorship deals, media, and marketing. This model is unique in the UK but allows cross-selling opportunities and drives sustainability for all the clubs.

Ashton Gate Stadium

Interlinking with the Football Club

Bristol Sport and Ashton Gate are totally focused on results. While passion for the football club is important, it is crucial to manage emotions and make decisions from a business perspective. Different sports have different fan cultures, which need to be factored into the operational approach. Bristol City’s ticketing office, for example, made simple changes to give each sport its own identity when answering calls. The staff have kit for each sport, and on matchdays, the focus is on highlighting the club’s culture.

Key Highlights of the Stadium Experience

The stadium has undergone significant improvements to enhance the supporter experience. The redevelopment aimed to create an event and a matchday experience that would create new habits for fans. Hospitality areas were expanded, ensuring high-quality experiences for both general admission and hospitality ticket holders. The addition of a sports bar, pizzeria, restaurant, and various concessions for retail and food and beverage further contributed to the overall matchday experience. The stadium has become a hub for the community and has also been used as a vaccination center during the pandemic.

Take That concert at Ashton Gate

Development Plans for the Future

Bristol Sport has acquired land adjacent to Ashton Gate, which will be developed into a sports and convention center, a 250-bedroom branded hotel, and a mixture of accommodation, offices, and retail. The goal is to engage the community, focus on sport and employment, and leave a legacy for the Lansdown family. The development, called the Sporting Quarter, will also prioritize wellbeing and mindfulness with outdoor gyms, cycling facilities, and links to nearby parks. The first phase is expected to open in late 2023.

Focus on Wellbeing and Mental Health

Bristol Sport recognizes the importance of wellbeing and mental health, especially in light of the pandemic. Initiatives such as a wellness week for employees aim to encourage breaks, physical activity, and a relaxed office environment. The company plans to redesign the office space to create a sanctuary away from the home working environment, investing in the wellbeing of its employees.

Recognition and Career Advice

Bristol Sport was honored as a Covid-19 Business Hero at the Business Leader Awards 2020. The recognition came in part due to their efforts in providing food packages for high-risk children during school holidays and offering their stadium as a vaccination center.

For those hoping to pursue a career in the football industry, Mark Kelly advises gaining experience in different areas of a football club, understanding the fans, and being open to the evolving digital landscape. People management, stakeholder management, adaptability, and bringing in skills from different industries are also key to success in this field.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Mark Kelly’s role in Bristol Sport?
A: Mark Kelly is the Managing Director of Bristol Sport Ltd and Ashton Gate Ltd, overseeing the operations for Bristol City FC, Bristol Bears, and Bristol Flyers.

Q: How does the operational set-up work for Bristol City FC?
A: The operational set-up allows Bristol City FC to focus solely on performance while Bristol Sport takes care of important operational elements such as ticketing, merchandise, commercial and hospitality activities, sponsorship, media, and marketing.

Q: What are the key highlights of the stadium experience at Ashton Gate?
A: The stadium offers a high-quality matchday experience for both hospitality ticket holders and general admission supporters. There are various hospitality areas, a sports bar, a pizzeria, a restaurant, and multiple concessions for retail and food and beverage.

Q: Are there any development plans for Ashton Gate?
A: Yes, Bristol Sport has acquired land adjacent to Ashton Gate for future development. This includes a sports and convention center, a branded hotel, accommodation, offices, and retail. The aim is to engage the community, focus on sport and employment, and create a new community hub called the Sporting Quarter.

Q: What advice does Mark Kelly give to those pursuing a career in the football industry?
A: Mark advises individuals to gain experience in various areas of a football club, understand the fans, be adaptable, and be open to the evolving digital landscape of football.

Conclusion

Mark Kelly’s role as Managing Director of Bristol Sport and Ashton Gate allows Bristol City FC and other sporting teams to focus on performance while the operational aspects are managed by Bristol Sport. The stadium at Ashton Gate offers an exceptional matchday experience with various hospitality options and initiatives to engage the community. Future development plans aim to create a vibrant Sporting Quarter that prioritizes wellbeing and brings new opportunities to the area. Through his experience, Mark offers valuable insights and advice for those aspiring to work in the football industry. With a passion for the sport and a dedication to delivering exceptional experiences, Mark and the Bristol Sport team are dedicated to driving success on and off the pitch.