Exclusive: Sheffield Wednesday COO reveals exciting Hillsborough plans and big season ticket changes

The decisions Sheffield Wednesday make now aren’t just for their immediate future, talk of ‘future-proofing’ is commonplace in today’s world - and the Owls are no different.
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In his role as Chief Operating Officer, Liam Dooley has an integral role to play in helping put together a vision alongside chairman, Dejphon Chansiri, and several other key personnel at Hillsborough, including Alastair Wilson, the club’s General Manager.

Wednesday have installed state-of-the-art floodlights – for example – that are not only better, but more economical. And there are more technological advances in the works, too.

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“It’s one of the big things of our generation to make things sustainable,” Dooley explains. “For us we’re thinking, 'What can we do to help?’ Can we switch all lighting in the stadium to LEDs? Can we get solar panels on the roof? Can we install bore holes from the river to help irrigate the pitch? All these things cost money, but it’s something we’re looking at. Can we do more organically to improve?

“The floodlights are LEDs now… They also exceed requirements for the Championship should we get promoted, but what we’ve also done is have them set up in a certain way so that if we do reach the Premier League then we can double the lux capacity and they fit to the existing framework. So they’re part of our future-proofing.

“With the Fan Zone, we worked with external partners at the outset while still ensuring the project was sustainable, and now we can prove that it has been worth the investment… So we can look at the next steps on that and what the future holds.

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“We’ve massively improved the Megastore as we move forward and increase sales across the board... The pink away shirt broke records, and then this year’s yellow one beat those records again. We wanted the Megastore to look and feel modernised, which we now feel that it does after the recent renovations.”

Liam Dooley elaborated on ways that Sheffield Wednesday are trying to improve the experience for their fans. (Steve Ellis / Getty / UGC)Liam Dooley elaborated on ways that Sheffield Wednesday are trying to improve the experience for their fans. (Steve Ellis / Getty / UGC)
Liam Dooley elaborated on ways that Sheffield Wednesday are trying to improve the experience for their fans. (Steve Ellis / Getty / UGC)
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In another major shift, he added: “We’re really pleased to reveal that from the start of the 2023/24 season, a significant investment has been made into the TeamCard access control system. This will allow for traditional Season Cards to be replaced by scannable barcodes on your phone to improve efficiencies at the turnstiles and around all areas within the stadium.

“This will all but see the end of the ‘print at home’ option as moving forward, almost all tickets, including Season Tickets, will be issued to supporters as a digital version in the first instance. Some may still require a physical ticket for their own personal reasons, but on the most part this is another huge step forward for Hillsborough.”

On top of that, conversations are taking place to make S6 a hub, one that won’t just be restricted to football – something that will be music to the ears of boxer, Dalton Smith, and his ever-growing fanbase.

And improvements on that front would also be beneficial to the fans who turn up week in, week out, to watch their lads in blue and white.

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“The long-term vision is that we want to be in a position where we can host events like a Dalton Smith fight, but we also want to be a music venue in years to come.

“We would rather, in five years’ time, have one of our brilliant local bands to be playing Hillsborough Stadium, but there are things we need to do infrastructure-wise to facilitate that… Instead of just having matchdays circa 25 days a year, we want to host events – we can then drive revenues and improve the facilities simultaneously. There is no set timescale, but these are the kind of ambitions we have as a club and something we want to move towards.”

Ultimately, commercial success – whether that’s selling more boxes, selling more hospitality tickets, selling more shirts – is intrinsically linked to what happens on the football pitch.

Thankfully things are going pretty well on that front right now and Dooley thinks that, in terms of roles like his own, it’s a case of being happy with controlling what you can control.

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A non-betting front of shirt sponsor is increasingly rare these days, but Wednesday bucked the trend by partnering with Host & Stay Limited for the 2022/23 season, and their shirt deal with Macron that began in 2021 has resulted in record kit sales on top of the actual value of the deal itself.

“We’re trying to improve in every department across the club,” he went on to say. “We have a streamlined workforce, with dedicated staff giving everything, and at the root of it all is a group of people saying, ‘We want to make Sheffield Wednesday better’…

“I try and talk to fans at every opportunity, so I’ll make a point on matchday of trying speak to people before the game – and the best bit for me is something that you’ve already heard, because then it’s identified as a problem and we can do our best to fix it.”

Strides have been made, that’s clear to see. Many fans have commented on the work that those on and off the field have done as they look to fix a bond that was – quite frankly – broken not so long back.

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Things aren’t perfect, they possibly never will be, but what Wednesdayites can feel now is that they’re being heard – whether it’s via face-to-face chats, the Supporters Engagement Panel or a new extensive supporter survey that the club have commissioned to seek areas of improvement which will be issued to Owls fans in coming weeks.

“As long as we are getting more decisions right than wrong, the club will continue to move in a positive direction. Everything we do, with the support of the chairman, is to support Darren Moore and the team – but regardless of the results on the pitch, we strive everyday to move our club forward off it.”