The Pace of change
Some may take a different view down the road in Blackburn, but Burnley chairman Alan Pace explains that one of the strengths he aims to build on is that “no-one hates” the Clarets.
“It matters a lot,” he adds, and it is just one of the selling points that made the Turf Moor club so attractive to the Wall Street veteran and his ALK Capital Investment Group.
The takeover was completed in December last year, with ALK taking an 84 per cent stake in the Premier League outfit. According to reports it spent around £170m on the deal.
Warming to the USP theme, or “the secret sauce” as he describes it, he adds: “It is the genuineness of what this club represents.”
He contrasts that to some of Burnley’s ‘noisy neighbours’ - the footballing giants of the North West’s big cities. He explains: “There’s an ability to cut through, to say to people if you want something different, something focused on family and community and doing the right thing all of the time, this is the place for you.”
That “doing the right thing” included free admission to returning fans for the last game of the season against Liverpool. “No other club did that,” he adds.
“We didn’t do it for marketing or to say, ‘look at us, we are better than them’. We are always going to try and do the right thing.”
It may seem like an old-fashioned, traditional town club approach - Alan also talks with passion and enthusiasm about Burnley’s community and history - but the sell from the new regime will be far from old-school.
If we do what we say we are going to do a lot of people should benefit locally
Burnley’s new 53-year-old chairman is taking a hi-tech and digital approach to the marketing and development of the club, offering fans the chance to become part of a community that he sees as both local and global.
He likens the modern football club to a media business, with a myriad of stories to tell that worldwide audience. “We think we can take that community feel and share it with other people,” he explains.
And he points out that thanks to technology and social media platforms those people can participate and experience it from anywhere. Connectivity is very much part of the ethos, with Alan highlighting how differently young, digitally native people follow and watch their sport.
He says: “It’s the ability to provide anyone, anywhere, the opportunity to interact with stories and events: the passions and feelings that come from these particular moments.
“There are so many ways to consume content from these types of opportunities, it goes well beyond match day.”
He talks of ‘content’ that is centred around the fans, the first-team players, the club’s women’s and academy teams, and even e-sports with Burnley planning to host a tournament this summer.
Amid all this talk of a different approach Alan, who has dual British and American citizenship, is full of praise for Burnley’s previous owners and the way they ran the club. “They did a really good job,” he adds.
He has an impressive CV that includes overseeing multibillion-dollar divisions as well as 10 years in sports management.
I understand that for those clubs and the revenue they need to be successful, their business model is very different to ours
He began his financial career at Lehman Brothers, where he became a managing director, before being headhunted by sports and entertainment entrepreneur and Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts, who installed him as chief executive and president of the Major League Soccer team.
There, he oversaw a remarkable turnaround in the club’s fortunes, rebuilding from the ground up to take a consistently last-place team onto becoming the 2009 MLS champions in just two seasons.
Alan continued as a sought-after sports business advisor for team owners and leagues as part of SCP Worldwide LLC, where he was responsible for oversight of football assets and assistance with investments in other sports and entertainment properties.
But with the industry facing major crisis, he returned to financial services in 2008, taking up a key role as head of Americas Prime Finance at leading bank Citi, where he helped guide it through one of the most challenging periods in its history. He later served as managing director and the global head of sales securities services, overseeing a multibillion-dollar division.
Alan left Citi to create ALK Capital in 2019 with the ambition to acquire a football club with fellow investors and to apply “the best-practice learnings in business and sports management to this field”. After a wide search that ambition brought him to east Lancashire.
He is intensely aware of the importance of the new regime fostering good, strong relationships with local businesses and is keen to get them onside.
To that end the club has unveiled a new innovative local “partnership” package, saying “We don’t want these relationships to change – we want them to improve.”
Alan adds: “We believe there is a lot of business to be done with local businesses.”
He says the new commercial packages created offer an affordable point of entry, allowing local companies to tap into the Premier League’s global reach and he adds: “If we do what we say we are going to do a lot of people should benefit locally.”
It is more than having an advert on the ground, as he explains: “We offer a stage to be seen around the world. People are starting to look at Burnley in a different way.
We’ve large US media companies coming to us and asking questions because what we are doing is different.”
Alan and his team have ambitions to make Turf Moor one of the most digitally connected venues in English football. Improvement work has begun at the famous old ground to that end with plans for innovative digital signage and state-of-the-art LED big screen technology.
A new stadium is not in the plans but upgrades to the facilities are underway in what he says will be a busy summer for the Clarets, although he says the club won’t “overdo them” until it sees how supporters and the business community react.
Alan currently splits his time between New York, London and Lancashire with his wife Kristen and, having grown up in southern California, enjoys surfing and snowboarding. He has three daughters whose initials make up the ALK in ALK Capital.
His love for the UK and its sporting traditions was fostered by his father, who was a Mormon missionary here in the North of England in the early 1960s as a 19-year-old.
“He told us some amazing stories of his time here,” Alan explains.
He points out the historic link between central Lancashire and Salt Lake City, the home of the church. He also spent time living in the UK in the 1990s and 2000s.
Alan’s own love of football was nurtured when he was at business school in Barcelona. During the 1992 El Clasico at the Camp Nou, Alan watched Hristo Stoichkov score an 87th-minute winner for a team managed by Johan Cruyff that went on to win La Liga,
He smiles when asked about the timing of new US owners arriving in Lancashire, just before other American-based sports businesspeople with Premier League clubs led the charge to the ill-fated and much-criticised European Super League plan.
Alan says: “I understand that for those clubs and the revenue they need to be successful, their business model is very different to ours. I appreciate it is a challenge for them. At the same time, I’m disappointed about how they went about it.
“I’d have liked them to come into the neighbourhood and talked to their neighbours before deciding to burn the neighbourhood down.
“We have come into a community that we love. We love the sport; we love the league, and we like it just the way it is.
“Are there things that could be improved? Yes. But it’s like having a house that needs a lick of paint, you don’t tear it down and rebuild it elsewhere.”
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