Paul Lakin Club Update Q&A
Paul Lakin has wasted no time in putting his stamp on Hull KR since taking over as chief executive at the start of November.
Lakin has overseen an impressive recruitment drive while pushing forward with the search for new investors and the purchase of Hull College Craven Park.
Rovers reporter James O’Brien caught up with Lakin on Tuesday in his first exclusive interview since returning to the club.
Here is everything he said on the season start date, the talks with the council and potential investors, a potential rebrand and more.
Firstly what’s the latest on the season being delayed and the logic behind potentially pushing it back by two weeks?
It is likely to be pushed back towards the end of March. It’s with the fixtures committee at the moment and they’ll be advising the Super League clubs, probably next week.
The thinking is that we’re in a third lockdown and all clubs need every opportunity to get the fans back into grounds for as many games as possible.
If the fixtures are delayed by even two weeks, that will enable the clubs to potentially have more home games with fans in.
Some reports suggest that the schedule might be trimmed and Magic Weekend might be cancelled, is that in the pipeline?
That’s all with the fixtures committee. I think they are exactly that – just rumours.
When you talk about Magic Weekend, the obvious key question is: would crowds of any volume be allowed into Newcastle to justify having a Magic Weekend?
That’s for others to decide at the moment and put forward recommendations to ourselves as Super League clubs. I think that meeting will be towards the end of next week.
It does look as if the season will start behind closed doors – is there any indication yet whether teams will play at home or will it be one venue like the second half of last year?
I would have thought if there are games to be played without fans, in the short term Sky would probably want to pick up where they finished last season and earmark three or four grounds where they can play several matches at once.
Logistically it would make sense for Sky but it needs to work for all clubs. It certainly has to work better for ourselves. Nobody did more miles last season than ourselves over the M62.
Even if it’s for two, three, four games, I’m very keen to make sure we only do our fair amount of travelling. If we have to play a home game at a neutral ground, it certainly has to be this side of the M62.
Is it a case of business as usual for the squad until a decision is made?
Pre-season will be extended by a couple of weeks but that’s no bad thing. We started on December 28 so Tony (Smith) can have a think about whether he wants to have a week break where the players have a rest and kick on again.
It gives them some flexibility. An extra two weeks doesn’t make a huge amount of difference.
How is the club financially? Is it in a strong enough position to start the season behind closed doors?
Of course we want the fans back, absolutely we do. But we are in a strong enough position at the moment, primarily because of two reasons.
Furlough has been a help to us and also the government loan that we applied for through Super League.
We’d rather be generating income from fans coming into the games but we are in a financial position where for this season and the foreseeable future, we’re OK.
Did you plan for this because at one point it did look like fans would be back by mid-March before the new variants emerged?
It’s a moving feast. Like all businesses, we have a budget for the year but you also have cash flow. We’re constantly adjusting the cash flow.
The answer is pre-lockdown we didn’t see it coming. We were hoping for fans in towards the beginning of the season but when the third lockdown happened, realistically you’d have to suggest the first few games fans won’t be allowed in so we’re having to adjust.
We’re adjusting like all businesses are throughout the country and individuals in general as and when the government makes announcements.
What’s the membership take-up been like?
We’ve been delighted. You have to factor in that fans haven’t been to any of our games since March 2020.
Generally people pay on a monthly basis and we’ve got over 4,300 signed up at the moment. Ultimately we would like to try to get to 5,000.
Of course, we understand it’s really, really difficult times for everybody so we’ll see how that goes. But we’re absolutely delighted.
I genuinely have always said throughout my career and as I moved to Wolves and then Stoke, I realised that the Hull KR fans are genuinely great, great fans.
You’re at clubs and they’ll say how good the fans are but the Hull KR fans are so passionate and so loyal. They haven’t had a great deal to celebrate in terms of trophies and titles yet they stick with us.
Certainly for me personally that is a real driving factor. Genuinely it was one of the factors in me coming back.
It’s difficult to make any kind of prediction but would you hope to be able to accommodate every member from late spring, say?
That is a hope. I say that cautiously because I think most people realise it’s a moving feast.
That could be a fairly realistic ambition at the moment. It changes every other week but that’s where we’re at now.
Neil Hudgell said he hoped the club would be able to share good news on the stadium purchase in the new year – how’s that progressing?
Discussions are going very well. We are at the stage of heads of terms so we’re really encouraged.
We’ve had really good support from Hull City Council. The dialogue has been ongoing since I arrived and we’ve picked it up again after Christmas.
I’m very hopeful that there will be a conclusion in the next couple of months. If we can conclude a deal, I think it’s a significant step forward for the club to own its stadium and have the option to purchase surrounding land to potentially develop going forward.
Would you look to make improvements to the stadium once it does go through?
It’s like any club that owns their own stadium or if you own your own house, you’re more inclined to do improvements, and of course you’re improving your own investment.
When I came back here there were a few deciding factors and one of them was that I wanted to try to make some significant medium to long-term changes for the club.
Being able to buy the stadium with an option to purchase the surrounding land was one of those.
The second was to be able to bring in additional investment which we’ve spoken about before. Last time we spoke I said all the due diligence had been done and we were looking to see what kind of interest was out there.
We’re doing it through an investment bank so we’re doing it very strategically. We’re now in a position where we’re happy there’s interest.
The interest is about to be taken to the discussion stages for the next two or three weeks in terms of preliminary discussions with expressions of interest.
It’s ongoing but we’re happy with the position we’re in at the moment, which is that investors have done some due diligence and are happy to talk to us.
We’re encouraged. If – and it’s a big if – we can achieve additional investment, that’s another significant step forward for the club.
Whilst I want to improve all aspects of the club on a month-to-month, year-by-year basis, if strategically we can deal with the bigger issues of the stadium purchase and investment, that should set the club up for the medium and long term and hopefully the club can really prosper.
Is there more than one interested party?
At the moment, yes. Verbal discussions have yet to take place but they’ll take place over the next few weeks.
Neil spoke about initial conversations, is this a bit further on than that?
I’ve been driving this forward pre my arrival and the initial conversations Neil alluded to were with the actual investment banker as opposed to outside interest.
Those discussions took place in the autumn and I’ve been working with the investment bankers to make sure all our due diligence is done and all our financial information is there.
They can then look to talk to interested investors and they have been doing that pre-Christmas. We’re at a stage now where hopefully we can join in on those conversations.
I know you can’t name names but are you encouraged by the type of investors that are coming forward?
No I’m absolutely not going to name anybody but yes, the two of us are encouraged.
Back to the stadium, what kind of improvements do you have in mind?
In terms of the season ahead, there will be a large permanent screen that will be part of a much bigger project that we will be announcing in the next couple of months.
There will be LED along the pitch which you’ll see at most football and major rugby grounds which is a much bigger commercial opportunity for us.
Our intention is for the stadium to be a cashless and ticketless stadium. There will be further information sent out on that. It’s an opportunity to really bring the club forward.
On the commercial front, you’ll have seen that we launched our home and away shirt without a main sponsor. We now have a new home shirt and a new away shirt sponsor, both with a national presence.
It was always my intention to take our time with that and look to see what the market is not only in Hull but on a much wider geographical area.
We’re really pleased that we’ve secured two companies that have a national presence in their own sectors. We’ll announce them towards the end of the month.
Staying on the stadium, any prospect of a new scoreboard?
The giant screen will be the scoreboard. The old scoreboard won’t be functional. The new large LED screen/scoreboard will form part of a much bigger project at the south end of the ground.
Is the long-term vision to have a stand at that end of the ground?
The long-term vision which runs alongside being able to purchase the ground is to work on improving certainly the South Stand but also the West Stand and the East Stand.
The long-term vision is to definitely redevelop the ground. We’re some way off even talking about which stand would come first, or even if it’d be a fourth stand for the south area.
The West Stand could well be an option but we need to achieve our goals in the next few months to enable us to start looking at that.
Some clubs have rebranded with new badges recently – is that something Hull KR will look at?
We’re reviewing the club brand. With all club brands there’s an evolution. At the moment our club crest is more appropriate for the analogue world and yet we sit in the digital world.
That is something we’ll also be working on this year in the background. We have spoken to a few influencers around the club to guide opinion.
Wigan and Salford have updated their crests and that’s something we’re looking at. The feedback came from Sky Sports to all clubs that we need to smarten ourselves up for broadcast and digital audiences.
Is it a difficult balancing act because if you go off Twitter 95 per cent of those supporters weren’t fans of those badges?
It is a balance but clubs move on. We’ll never be disrespectful to who we are and it’s getting that balance between understanding who we are and what our history is, and having one eye on the future.
Wigan took a little bit of criticism from a vocal minority for their rebrand, and I don’t envisage anything we look at would be as drastic as their change, but my understanding is that their retail figures were something like 30 or 40 per cent higher than they’ve ever been.
It’s because you’re attracting a younger market so it’s getting that balance.
On to recruitment, you hinted at big signings the last time we spoke – how pleased are you with the off-season business?
We are pleased. There was a clear focus on quality in certain positions and I believe that we delivered on that.
I wanted a recruitment drive with real energy and a constant communication between myself, Tony and Danny (McGuire). I was really pleased with how we knitted together on that.
Tony is obviously a vastly experienced coach and Danny is just starting his career as a coach but he could give a real good view as a recent player. He might well have played against the players that we were looking to recruit so he gave a different angle.
My role was very much to create a little bit of urgency, a bit of pace and focus on a daily basis. Recruitment is every week of the year, whether it’s recruiting or extending contracts.
We need joined-up thinking between the three of us and I think we knitted together really quickly.
I was pleased with what we did and equally I was keen for us to secure our recruitment before the 12th club was announced. That gave us the best opportunity to secure the best players out in the marketplace. We did that.
I was particularly pleased that we secured our targets. The players that we brought in weren’t second, third or fourth choice, they were our targets.
We had to fight for those players. Clearly when you target players of quality there’s going to be competition. With the overseas players they could have looked at last season’s table and asked themselves ‘why?’.
One of my roles was to sell the club and to sell where we’re going, and to ensure there is positive momentum.
I was really pleased with the work Danny did – he thinks very similar to myself – and Tony is vastly experienced.
We’re pleased. What we need now is some luck with injuries, like every club does in this sport.
I think we’ve got a stronger squad on paper but we need to make sure that plays out on the pitch.
You said the club weren’t looking to bring in players for the last couple of years of their careers – are Ryan Hall and Brad Takairangi exceptions given their proven quality?
Tony’s already been quoted on this – Ryan is a real exception. He’s a player that Danny and Tony know extremely well. He’s got a physique and a body of someone in their late-20s.
With Ryan, he’s a first-class professional sportsman. He’s got a fantastic professional mindset and that will help the squad.
In terms of Brad, he’s 31 so we haven’t brought in a 33 or 34-year-old. He’s a highly talented player and again we had competition to sign him.
A player of his quality with his versatility was a real key for us.
What’s the visa situation with Brad and Albert Vete?
One of the reasons Korbin (Sims) came over quicker is that he came over on his own and Brad and Albert both have families.
It is a little bit more complicated but they’ve both now had their meetings with the visa centres so we’re hopeful that they’ll receive their visas in the next week or so.
At the moment, we expect them both to come over by the end of the month.Back To Latest News +