An exit not entirely of his own making for City commercial chief

Chief operating officer Ben Kensell will leave Norwich City at the end of this month

Chief operating officer Ben Kensell will leave Norwich City at the end of this month - Credit: Archant

In the court of public opinion Ben Kensell knows his time at Norwich City will be indelibly stained by the fallout from a botched membership scheme and the BK8 sponsorship fiasco. 

Both required screeching U-turns by the Canaries and embarrassing volte-faces, after perhaps failing to fully grasp what this football club means to its fanbase. 

Kensell bore the brunt as the commercial figurehead. In both episodes City acknowledged their failings and listened to the vocal concerns of their primary stakeholder. 

Fundamentally those toxic interludes were bound by the financial imperative to generate money in a self-funded football model, which remains the exception rather than the rule across the English game. 

City’s revenue base is built on three pillars. Player trading, broadcast revenue and club-generated income. Underpinned by a constant drive to operate within a streamlined, efficient cost base.

Set aside the recent brief flirtation with an Asian online casino, with a seedy social media presence, and Emi Buendia’s sale this summer is another part of the overall strategy.

Premier League promotion, for the second time on Stuart Webber’s watch, affords easier access to a sizeable broadcast pot. But Kensell’s seven years at Norwich saw a transformation to City’s commercial strategy.

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Lest one forget for the past 15 months set against the backdrop of no matchday revenue due to an unprecedented pandemic that has left a £30m hole in the club’s coffers. 

With no guarantee at this stage when Carrow Road will be swollen to capacity again for the club’s latest Premier League return.

Even his harshest critic would accept in unprecedented times he leaves the commercial operation in a better state than he inherited it. In the same way one could reasonably assert so has Webber or Daniel Farke, if they left through the front door this summer as well. 

But producing beautiful, winning football or making astute transfer deals are sexier than profit and loss numbers on a balance sheet. 

That membership launch, prior to the last Premier League tilt, was ill-conceived, poorly delivered and betrayed a chronic lack of communication or consultation.

Issues Kensell took the lead in addressing for the revamped scheme rolled out 12 months later. But the money it generated covered the arrival that same 2019 summer of Sam Byram. A player who hopefully can still make his mark after a lengthy injury interlude curtailed a very bright start to his Carrow Road career. 

The BK8 sponsorship deal is no more but the new sponsor, set to be officially announced in the next week, is a Norfolk brand with a far more positive image and values that align with those of the football club.

It is another wrong City’s outgoing chief operating officer looked to put right before he departs at the end of the month. 

The timing looks horrendous. Coming so soon after the BK8 debacle, and with his next career posting undecided, plenty of fans will need persuading Kensell’s number was simply up; one gaffe too many along the way.

In truth his exit was on the cards at the conclusion of last season, when the first discussions took place with the club's owners. 

Fuelled it would appear by an acceptance the bold vision he had to transform the footprint in and around Carrow Road, with stadium expansion taking the capacity up to 35,000 and Norfolk-leading conference and entertainment facilities as part of a drive to make it a multi-purpose venue, would have to wait.

The priority for now is Premier League consolidation and the on going infrastructural project at City’s Colney training base. Work that continues apace this summer with the installation of the £750,000 Soccerbot training aid – the first of its kind in England. 

Kensell, by his own admission, got two things spectacularly wrong. Although he would contend the key faults around the latest BK8 episode lay elsewhere.

But he also got plenty right in an area of the football club’s operations where maximising revenue, be it via gambling companies or separating hard-earned cash from supporters’ pockets, was never going to win him any popularity contest.   

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