Joseph Portelli calls for subsidized rates of interest for clubs in commercialising sports facilities

Joseph Portelli – the main sponsor and the mastermind behind Hamrun Spartans’ bid to return to glory days – called for subsidized rates of bank interest as clubs try to commercialise their sports facilities in order to make them more self-sustainable. He was addressing the media during a press conference focusing on the club’s strategy and the presentation of the squad for this coming season.

Portelli argued that with regards to commercialisation of sports facilities, it did not make sense for clubs to compete with existing shopping malls, hotels, etc. He said usually for a project to take place, the investor would invest thirty percent of the cost and the other seventy percent would be obtained through a bank loan and obviously the rates of interest on this loan would turn out to be a major cost. He suggested that the government could subsidize the interest and football clubs would not have to invest in massive projects but in ones on a smaller scale and still get enough returns to make them self-sustainable.

Joseph Portelli said that by joining Hamrun Spartans as their main sponsor, his intention was never to earn any money from the club but to put it on solid foundations.

He thanked those involved in this project – the committee and all other members in the club set-up – their enthusiasm and support.

Portelli said that wherever he goes he always tries to challenge for honours.

“It is important to move step by step as this is a three year programme. We need to learn from our mistakes so that in the coming years we could win honours.”

Portelli admitted that expenses are huge, adding that Hamrun, like other clubs, had debts.

“This is not a healthy situation. Then someone would come along the way and invests in the club and spends two or three years but then loses interest and leave the club in dire straits.”

He said club administration involved a lot of time and a lot of money.

The future of football clubs is having a business on the side which would generate enough income. He said that Hamrun were lucky to have the stadium, thanks to his predecessors, and that the aim is not to develop the stadium.

“However it is easier said than done. I prepared three concepts for the stadium but one needs to understand that you are trying to obtain funding on behalf of a football club is not easy. And here we are speaking of projects costing millions of euro. For a project to be feasible, it is not easy. The concept needs to generate enough money to cover the debts incurred to build the project.”

Joseph Portelli said that in the past weeks, he met the Parliamentary Secretary and the Planning Authority and during this meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary, he proposed the idea of the government supporting the clubs by subsidizing the interest on the bank loan or bonds necessary to finance the project.

He added that authorities are suggesting clubs not to get involved in massive projects and he agreed that this made sense as clubs would also be respecting the other businesses who would have spent money to acquire the land for their businesses.

Vice-President Gaetano Debattista explained that Joseph Portelli together with Marcel Bonnici and Eric Saliba managed to transform the club in six months and the club is now being run on a professional basis. He said Portelli managed to unite the Hamruniżi and bring back to the club people who may had lost interest. Debattista is confident Portelli’s project will put the club back among the challengers for honours in the coming years.

This summer, the club had an intensive transfer campaign, securing the services of Malta international players Juan Corbolan and Joseph Mbong from Gzira United and Hibernians respectively, Ige Abdullahi Adeshina from Sirens, Marcelo Barbosa, Predrag Djordjevic, Emerson Marcelina and Elkin Serrano Valero from Nadur Youngsters, Jonathan Debono from Gudja, Arthur Oyama from Sliema, Imanol Iriberri from Hibernians together with Serbian defender Darko Gojkovic, Macedonian defender Nehar Sadiki and goalkeeper Pablo Sanchez. Nigerian striker Franklin Sasere and Italo-Argentine attacking midfielder Blas Cittadini are also on the verge of joining the club.

Manuel Bartolo, Darren Borg, Matthias Debono, Carlos Flores, Kieran Higgans, Karl Micallef, Nikolai Micallef, Ailton Jorge Soares and Miguel Tabone will feature once again for the Spartans.

Mark Buttigieg, who had earlier led SK Victoria Wanderers and Nadur Youngsters in Gozo apart from forming part of the Birkirkara FC and MFA Technical Centre, is the new Hamrun Spartans coach.

Buttigieg will be assisted by assistant coach Stefan Sultana, goalkeepers coach Reuben Debono and technical analyst Glendon Refalo while the team manager is David Camilleri.

Buttigieg said that for a club to move forward, it needed to have such a structure as those being proposed by Joseph Portelli and his team.

He said that after being appointed as coach, he focused on the technical staff and is glad that Stefan Sultana and David Camilleri are part of it. He said that apart from being capable in their respective roles, they know the environment and what it takes to play for Hamrun.

The focus turned to the squad. He said the squad is a practically new and therefore it could take time to achieve results but believes that the squad is competitive enough and considering the way they worked during the pre-season, Hamrun are well-prepared for their league campaign. Buttigieg said he is happy with the players at his disposal and is sure that the Spartans will be able to offer a still challenge to all.

Buttigieg is not worried about the pressure there could be on the players due to the enthusiasm surrounding the club.

“We are taking this enthusiasm as something positive. We know that there would be pressure for any club who has certain ambitions. The pressure would help the players push harder on the pitch. Our objective is that the players give their hundred percent on the pitch. The task of our technical staff is to prepare the players mentally, physically, tactically and technically in the best possible manner to perform. Considering the way how we are working, the players at our disposal, the enthusiasm and the pressure which is also positive, I am confident it would be a positive season for the club. The atmosphere surrounding the club is great. There are a lot of dedicated people at the club and with the help of all and the motto #strongertogether, we could achieve our objectives.”

Mark Buttigieg finally thanked Portelli for making this possible.

Meanwhile Marcel Bonnici, who is Portelli’s right-hand man, explained the short, medium and long term strategies for the club.

In the short term strategy, the club worked on a proper due diligence and detailed assessment and valuation of its financial position; a detailed analysis and restructuring of the club’s debt situation and a repayment programme including past players and technical staff claims, government entities’ claims and private creditors’ claims; ensure all claims in front of the MFA and FIFA are settled and dealt with immediate effect; the set-up of a new management structure: administration, technical and operations; identifying and pursuing potential revenue streams; sealing shirt sponsorship agreements; working hard on an effective communication and PR strategy which includes a revamped website, a regenerated Facebook page and the introduction of Twitter and Instagram accounts; initialise the process to turn sales of merchandise into a source of revenue; working to instil a professional mentality which is a prerequisite for a winning mentality; instil a level of discipline and promote a work ethic standard and finally ensuring the club finances are in place in order to apply for a UEFA Licence this coming season.

To make this possible there are 89 persons involved in administration, technical staff (senior team, technical board and academy), financial, operational (commercial & marketing, supporters relations, mass events, communication & social media and support services) and capital project.

The stadium project features in the medium term strategy as preliminary discussions and meetings will be held and conceptual, planning and feasibility studies will be carried out and eventually the submission of the plans to the Planning Authority. Investors would be invited and leasing opportunities would be negotiated. The club aims to strengthen and reinforce the management structure; restructure the Academy; strengthen and enhance the role of the Technical Board as part of the technical strategy; attract new and higher value sponsors; re-branding of the club logo; strengthen and enhance the club website and social media platforms and operating professionally a merchandise shop and also online.

The stadium project which would include a club museum and club house would be completed as part of the long-term strategy which also includes putting club finances in order and ensuring a sustainable financial future for the club once the stadium project is fully operational.

Marcel Bonnici concluded by saying that the main long-term strategy will be to mark their presence in the history of the club by creating an ambitious and professional administrative model that will hopefully put the club in a much better position to challenge for honours on a regular basis and therefore enhance the prospects of success.

JPortelli Projects will feature on the new Hamrun Puma kit as the front jersey sponsor, Tescoma and Alfsons will feature on the sleeves and Easygas on the shorts. The club is still looking for another sponsor on the back of the shirt