SUCCESS on the pitch for Bolton Wanderers this season has been mirrored by the club’s commercial performance, says chief executive Neil Hart.

Last Saturday’s home game against Blackpool attracted a crowd of 24,238 – the fourth-highest gate ever recorded by the club at this level of football.

Those in attendance will have witnessed a poignant pre-match service for Remembrance Day, one enhanced by the striking image of falling poppies across the new LED screens and ribbons which now wrap around the stadium.

It was the first real test of the new technology’s capabilities in a visual sense but the real value of a significant investment will only become apparent in the months to come.

Hart already believes that the LED ribbons have improved commercial yields by “three or four” times but forecasts that the eventual difference will be up to “10 times” what the club was able to make with their previous equipment. Whereas Bolton made around £100,000 last year, it is hoped that when full capacity is reached with the current system, they will rake in more than £1m.

Another two corner screens are to be fitted soon and each screen will be encased by added branding, which will cover the grey bare metal in each corner of the stands, which have stood unchanged since 1997.

Every inch of the stadium is now starting to pay for itself. And though a large chunk of the expenditure has come from the £4.5m raised by the bond scheme launched last summer, the club has a positive outlook on how quickly that initial outlay will be repaid.

“This has been a seismic shift for the club,” Hart told The Bolton News. “And we know it was a big, bold step. We had to be sure about how we funded it and how that process would work.

“We wanted to create a ‘wow factor’ so that fans could walk into the stadium and it really catch their eye. This is top technology which will give us much, much better opportunities for commercial revenue.”

Though the screen dimensions have prompted some debate among supporters, many of whom feel they are too small, Hart believes opinions will change once the LED banners are linked in all four corners, and the final section is added in the West Stand.

The old screen – dubbed by local folk as the iPad – is set to be repurposed outside the stadium and Hart says the new ribbons have given the club a completely different avenue to pursue with potential advertisers.

He said: “I think once we get to the position where we have four screens, one in each corner, fans will quickly get used to looking up at whatever screen best suits them, whatever is nearest to them. Where I sit in the West Stand, I won’t be looking across the pitch, I’ll be turning my head and looking to the left.

“For years and years it has been in the same place and I guess that people have become used to looking in one place. We need to change the mindset on that.

“Having the four screens, the mid-ribbon, the whole thing becomes so much more interactive and it will last us for 10 years. It is Premier League-esque technology.

“And most importantly, it pays for itself very quickly. We are already three or four times ahead where we were last season on LED advertising.

“The advertising is usually sold in ‘minutes’ and we are still doing that on the pitch-side ribbon but with the mid-ribbon we can sell it on meterage, then pack all the adverts together. It gives us more capability to sell more and create more revenue.”

Traditional incomes such as season tickets and shirt sales hit record highs in the summer, reflected in average crowds of more than 21,000. The new stadium sponsor – Toughsheet – and front-of-shirt sponsors – Victorian Plumbing – have also been landmark deals post-Premier League.

Hart believes the club has pushed forward in other areas, too, by virtue of mending many relationships that had failed under the financial problems of previous ownership.

“We are ahead of where I thought we would be when I came to the club two-and-a-half years ago,” he said. “The commercial revenue, the portfolio responses and partners we have are excellent. I am not sure there is a club out-performing us on that front in League One, and probably half of the Championship.

“The Toughsheet deal was great, we decided to separate the kit sponsor opportunities, so Victoria Plumbing and Arbowrks came in for front and back of the shirt, Utilita on the back of shorts, all of them just great companies to work with and a significant plus for the club.

“Franking Sense have signed a long-term deal and we have other ones with Carrs Pasties and Eventura as well. And we’re working on an official tourism partner and an official digital partner as well, so we are taking every opportunity we can.

“Myself and Carl Sanderson (head of business partnerships) have sat down and talked with people, have a cup of tea in the hotel, talked out the plans we have at the club. It was important to let local businesses know that we can be trusted with their money and that we would come through for them.

“I think this is a great opportunity to market to this fanbase. We are getting 20,000 people in the ground every other week, plus away fans, I think it is a marvellous chance.

“And we have been very flexible with what we offer to businesses as well. Everyone is different and the key is to work with people and give them what they want.

“Bottom line, I am very, very happy with the commercial direction this club is taking and the success we are seeing.”

Hart has confirmed that a longer kit deal with Macron is likely, with talks now taking place on how they can maximise their profit from shirt sales, which have spiked in recent years.

“We are in discussions about restructuring the agreement because it is not great for us, commercially, and that will mean entering into a longer-term partnership with them,” he said.

“They have been excellent to work with, great guys, and they have been valued supporters of the club for a good few years now.”

Wanderers also know that with a new broadcasting deal in the offing with Sky Sports and the potential of more live TV coverage – advertising opportunities will attract even more of a premium, especially if Evatt and his team succeed in their target of automatic promotion to the Championship.

Success on that front will be well beyond Hart’s influence but he is intent on making sure that the business is ready for the step up, whenever that will be.

“Why shouldn’t we commercialise what we have got at this club?” he said.

“When we came in, things were miles away from where they are now. I can’t find the words to describe what a task it was to reorganise and turn things around to where we are now. But I am very pleased to say that we are getting there, and things are looking healthy.

“We won’t stand still. Besides, you can’t in this place, even if you wanted to.”