Matchday 360: ‘Rooted in our community and winning trophies’ - Manchester City’s Managing Director of Operations Danny Wilson lays out the club’s ethos

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As part of an exclusive series, Goal in collaboration with Manchester City and TECNO are going behind the scenes to tell you about the role of the non-playing staff at The Etihad and how each of them plays their part in ensuring the team has the best chance of success on the park.

We kick off this exclusive series by sitting down with Danny Wilson, Managing Director of Operations at Manchester City. Danny Wilson has been serving the club for 22 years now. In his long stint at the club, he has seen the club grow from the Championship to the Premier League and establish themselves as one of the best in Europe.

Despite the success and silverware, Wilson feels the club is still rooted in its community from where it all started for them. He joined City in 1999 as a Sales Executive, selling hospitality and advertising, and has been at the club ever since.

Q: For how long have you been with Manchester City and when did you take up your current role at the club?

DW: I’m in my 22nd year now. I joined in the November of 1999 after the famous play-off final victory over Gillingham. I’ve been in my current role as Managing Director of Manchester City Operations for just over five months, since November 2020.

Etihad Stadium/Manchester City logoGetty

Q: What sets Manchester City apart from other clubs in your view?

DW: Manchester City is a club firmly rooted in the city of Manchester and its communities. The club is proud to play a role to support the city and that has been the case since we were founded as a community club in 1894. Throughout the pandemic, the club has provided a wide range of support to help with the city’s emergency response and recovery efforts. The stadium site has been
utilised extensively to host staff training for health care workers in Manchester.

Alongside this, we provided access to a rest and recuperation centre for staff working in hospitals across the city. The Club also donated food from the stadium to organisations within our local community to distribute to those who were most in need. At the same time, our club charity, City in the Community, has continued to deliver programmes in local schools for the children of critical workers and has provided safe, participatory activity outside of school term times. Throughout this period, colleagues from all levels of the club have been contacting our Seasoncard holders by phone to check in periodically and offer support where needed. This has been very positively received and will form part of our regular day-to-day activity moving forward.

Our supporters are the lifeblood of the football club, they were here long before me and all of my colleagues and will be here long after. We never take their support for granted, so it’s extremely important to us that we respect and reflect their loyalty, commitment and contribution in everything we do. As support for the club continues to grow across the world, we are focused on ensuring that we find new and exciting ways to engage with our supporters wherever they may be to bring them closer to the club. We never sit back, continuously challenging ourselves to be innovative, doing things differently across all areas of the organisation, from sports science to sponsorship, matchday to digital content.

Q: What impact has the pandemic had on your role?

DW: In different ways, the pandemic has had an impact on every role at the club. The vast majority of non-football staff have been working from home for close to a year now. We’ve all had to adapt to new ways of working and communicating. There have been some interesting learnings along the way and we’ll use these to inform changes to our working practices post-pandemic.

Similar to many organisations, there has been a significant dependency on the use of technology to stay connected, inside and outside, and our IT team have done a fantastic job to support everyone at the club.

Operationally, throughout this period, we have had to keep all of our people and facilities safe and secure. This is an ongoing priority and absolute focus. Our men’s and women’s first teams and a number of our Academy teams have continued to train and play matches, albeit under very strict protocols. The Facilities and Operations teams have continued to work and we’ve diligently followed the guidance issued by Government, Public Health England and the football authorities to maintain ‘COVID secure’ environments for all involved. From a matchday perspective, we’ve had to adapt to a world without supporters in the stadium, working hard to stay connected through the creation of new content across a number of digital platforms.

Whilst it’s been great to see how well people have adapted to the changing situation and worked together to overcome challenges, I’m really looking forward to welcoming our supporters back to the Etihad Stadium when it’s safe to do so.

Manchester City fansGetty

Q: What is the biggest challenge you currently face in this role?

DW: The ongoing uncertainty around when supporters will be allowed to return to stadia is a big challenge. An internal team was brought together last summer to develop a plan for the safe return of supporters. All aspects of the matchday operation are covered by the group, from travel and transport through to signage and how our supporters will get in and out of the stadium. Whilst matches have been played behind closed doors, we have taken the opportunity to undertake, and in some instances accelerate, work on enhancements and changes to the stadium.

These include the installation of infrastructure and new systems to enable a move to a cashless stadium and mobile ticketing. We continue to work very closely with colleagues at the Premier League and, on the back of our extensive planning, I am confident that we will be in a really good position to adapt our matchday operation when we are able to welcome supporters back to the Etihad Stadium.

Our supporters are the heartbeat of the club and have been for over 125 years. We will never lose sight of this. Keeping our supporters engaged, especially those who would typically attend matches, throughout the period of the pandemic has been another challenge. Letting them know how much the club values, needs and is missing their support in the stadium, and maintaining the feeling of togetherness, has been a big focus. We’ve utilised live content and technology to help to address this challenge, including the creation of a new matchday show, ‘We’re not really here’, the installation of interactive fan walls in the stadium and a virtual mascot.

There’s nothing better than a matchday when we’re back in a ‘normal’ season and you’ve got close to 55,000 fans inside the stadium. We’ve had some great games at the Etihad going back over the years and that's what everybody craves. We’re a football club, we want to win matches, we want to win trophies and we want our fans to be there with us to experience every moment.