Villa Commercial Shake-up
“For the business to grow, for new revenue to be attracted, not only was a strategy required, but more importantly a new structure was of paramount importance,” – Fox at AST meeting 2010
Hopefully, they’ll be some hiring and firing afoot, as the club do need a shake-up in staff and ideas.
The first job against the backdrop of ownership uncertainty is to sharpen and re-establish who Aston Villa are. What is their ‘brand’ in the context of the modern game?
Fox will potentially lock down the identity of Aston Villa by tapping into its history (European Cup win etc) like others have previously failed to do so, to create a more dynamic and attractive persona for the club. After all, as he showed at Arsenal, and as Manchester United and Liverpool have constantly demonstrated, you can make money from history.
“If you’ve got the commercial infrastructure and a club brand with strong values and an engaging story, and then you combine that with sustained success, there is a pathway to big commercial success and larger sponsorship deals,” said Fox in May 2014
Lerner tried to refocus Villa as a brand when he first took over under the ‘Proud History, Bright Future’ tagline. The gloss of that has long peeled away, so a refocus is certainly needed.
The recent Asian betting companies that have provided a decent enough short-term reward perhaps haven’t really offered up any long-term synergy with the club. Gentings for example, essentially sponsored Villa to promote its new casino complex in the NEC.
The problem Villa have though at the moment is they’re not really ‘in bed’ with any long-term sponsor, who is actually invested and in-tune with the club – like Samsung at Chelsea or Emirates at Arsenal etc.
It won’t go unnoticed that Arsenal are constantly mentioned as having the highest priced tickets in the league. Obviously this is rooted in covering the new stadium and also London price weighting. At Villa though, Fox must concentrate on filling Villa Park before he can up the prices. When Fox first spoke to Arsenal fans he stated:
“we spend more time on discussing how to give the fans more value for their match day experience than on raising prices”
When Fox entered his new office at Villa Park he would have found architect design plans for a new North Stand development. The project has been on ice, as attendances haven’t reached the levels to justify it. If Lerner’s initial concentrated quest for Champions League football had paid off under Martin O’Neill, it could have been a different story.
A 50,000 stadium to help Villa remain competitive would be a financial god send, but Fox and his team must get bums on seats first, and a better team on the pitch plays a huge part in helping with that.
Stadium Naming Rights
The current Merrill Lynch brochure selling Aston Villa lists valuable naming rights as a key asset. Of course, it would depend on the new owner to whether they would go for such a carte blanche sponsorship approach to Villa Park. If they did, it would no doubt be met with resistance from Villa supporters.
In the MOMS survey currently running, 55% of supporters said it should never happen. With 38% stating it would depend on how much money the club would get and if it meant more ambition on the pitch. Only 5% of fans wouldn’t have any problem with Villa Park taking a sponsor’s name.
A less controversial way to go would be an owner naming one of the stands or selling the rights to an external sponsor. The Holte will always be the Holte and the same with the Trinity Road stand, but who wouldn’t sacrifice the ‘Doug Ellis Stand’ name for extra cash. More immediately, when it comes to eventually rebuilding the North Stand, it’s obvious Fox will look at naming rights sponsorship to leverage that. Currently the stand is a grey eyesore, so a transition into something new and sparkly, would make a new name easy to digest.
Of course, decent sponsors aren’t easy to come by, but that is what Mr Fox will be paid a handsome salary to find.
It goes without saying, Fox’s experience in the USA and Asia will give the club fresh eyes into the international market. With the recent expansion of international TV rights in those territories comes increased opportunities for merchandise sales. The reason clubs do these US & Asian tours are partly due to the shirt manufacturing sponsors, who want to sell in those regions (sometimes such tours are in the shirt sponsorship contracts), with the Macron contract coming to an end soon, there may be a big opportunity for Fox to prove himself there.
Financial Fair Play
One thing that would have attracted Lerner to Fox would be the self-sustainable ethos that Arsenal have largely run on (albeit with the benefit of Champions League revenue), with Financial Fair Play (FFP) evolving, at least Fox comes with a mindset for it.
It’s obviously more difficult when you’re competing against organisations that have unlimited funds, but we’ve always said that no matter what system football introduces, we’re confident we can succeed. There’s never been FFP until now, and we’ve always found a way to succeed and consistently stay at the top of the game.’ – said Fox in May 2014
The problem with FFP though is it has been increasingly seen as nothing more than a way to maintain the status quo in the Premier League for the top clubs and the Champions League places, but Fox earlier in the year suggested he hoped it would evolve to level the playing field.
‘We’re hopeful FFP will begin to create an environment that creates a more level playing field, possibly lowering player salaries and transfer fees. Fundamentally, we hope it begins to create a more rational market place. That would certainly help us, but we’re confident we’ll find a way to compete regardless.’
He may have said those words while still at Arsenal, but lets hope he still believes in the last sentence now he’s at Villa. We wish him luck. UTV