Fantastic Mr Fox
The appointment of the new Aston Villa CEO Tom Fox, the former Arsenal Chief Commercial Officer, throws up some interesting insights into what is in-store for Aston Villa Football Club moving forward. For a club entering a dangerous limbo period at the end of last season, positive and rational steps have been made on the pitch and now off it. Lerner has a lot of work to do in terms of repairing some of the damage of the past seasons, but Tom Fox will hopefully accelerate the process.
Why Villa for Mr Fox?
With Arsenal back winning trophies and splashing out on the likes of Ozil and Sanchez in a bid for the title, why would Tom Fox leave his post at Arsenal for a club in an unsettled ownership predicament?
Obviously, there’s a promotion in his position and salary, but his move against the backdrop of Villa’s current ownership situation is intriguing.
One view is a new owner maybe in sight at Villa and Fox is attached to them. I don’t necessarily buy into this view, it seems a little cart before the horse.
The other train of thought is Lerner knows if he’s going to see the best deal possible in selling the club, he must drive the club forward and make it an increasingly attractive proposition and not allow it to stagnate. If Villa finished any lower in the league than the past three seasons, there’s a danger of relegation, and then the Villa chairman would have a financial mess on his hands. Lerner can’t afford to take that chance.
Either way, in terms of Fox making a mark, the Villa CEO job offers a big challenge but a greater scope for making a name for himself, if successful.
“If you’ve got the commercial infrastructure and a club brand with strong values and an engaging story, there is a pathway to big commercial success and larger sponsorship deals.” – Tom Fox, May 2014
Tom Fox’s CV in the sports commercial sector is impressive, as you’ve probably read in the several articles that have cut and paste his LinkedIn CV.
The story of Fox impressive sport’s marketing experience began on the management programme at Gatorade’s parent company, after which he had five years in Gatorade’s sports marketing department, before joining the NBA basketball league in 1993 to become director of sponsor programs for NBA Properties.
This lead to him moving to Hong Kong (1995) to become vice president and managing director of NBA Asia before joining Nike as sports marketing director.
A return to Gatorade followed in 1999 as senior vice-president and then Fox spent time at Wasserman Media Group (WMG) before moving to Arsenal.
The Arsenal reputation
When Fox came to Arsenal he was a bit green about English football – so isn’t strictly a ‘football man’ – but, hey, he hardly has to pick the team.
Fox is someone with a glowing reputation for self-generating income (i.e. not just relying on TV rights money). Arsenal are second to only Manchester United in the world in that respect (Bayern Munich is part-owned by Audi & Adidas, while Barca and Real have 50% of their league’s TV money).
Granted, five years ago Fox came in at the good time at Arsenal, when Arsenal’s supporter’s base had grown dramatically on the back of 90’s success. Once you could turn up on the day of a game at the 40,000 Highbury and get in, now the reality is you have to be on a membership scheme to have a chance of getting a ticket at the 60,000 Emirates stadium.
Fox may have come in on the tail end of Arsenal’s rebuilding and Emirates project, while the deals with Nike and the Emirates that helped fund their new stadium were still in play (with 12 and 18 months left to run respectively), but he helped sew up the subsequent major sponsorship deals.
The shirt sponsorship deal with the Emirates was the second biggest in football’s history, while the £30m a-year kit deal with Puma announced at the start of the year was the largest in the game, until Manchester United announced its £750 million 10-year deal with Adidas in preseason.
With such deals in place it allowed Arsenal to be bold in the transfer market again with Ozil and Sanchez signings, after playing it cagey in the transfer market for several years due to their new stadium.
“I think the commercial team was very proud we could put the club in that position,” said Fox in May. “The plan was for commercial revenue to pick up the burden, and it did.”
What kind of guy is he?
Looking at a Q&A Fox did with the Arsenal Supporters Trust, when he joined the London club these were the observations of the AST:
‘I found Fox very receptive to the ideas in the questions put to him, refreshingly frank in the way in which he spoke
‘He talked a good talk, as might be expected of a highly experienced American marketing specialist; the talk had more than a ring of convincing authority about it.’