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Business and the beautiful game: influential football CEOs

Business and the beautiful game: influential football CEOs

The beautiful game now means serious business. In the past, the bulk of a football club’s revenue came from gate receipts and fans buying food and drink inside the stadium. Although this remains a lucrative source of revenue – Manchester United for example collected £108 million in matchday revenue in the 2013-14 season – clubs’ main source of income however now increasingly comes from elsewhere.

20 years ago, television deals in football were worth just over £10m per club. In the last rights auction, Sky Sports and BT Sport agreed a £5bn venture to broadcast live games between 2016 and 2019, worth £81m a season to each Premier League club. Sponsorship deals on everything from stadium naming rights and pitchside banner ads to football shirts, have helped to further enhance the revenues of football clubs; not to mention sales of the team kits and, of course, sales of players – Brazilian footballer, Neymar, cost £198m alone!

With the money behind the game being as much on par with the sport itself, the power and importance of the men and women at the top of football clubs has naturally grown too. We take a look at some of the most ground-breaking and prominent football CEOs and chairmen and how they have shaped the modern game.

Shahid Khan

Shahid Khan is a 67-year-old Pakistani-American billionaire. Born in Lahore, Punjab in 1950, he eventually moved to the United States in 1967 where he found his fortune as the owner of Bumper Works, making car bumpers for customized pickup trucks and body shop repairs. As of August 2017, his net worth was approximately $8.7 billion, making him the 158th wealthiest person in the world according to Forbes.

A deal in 2012 to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars, saw Khan become the first member of an ethnic minority to purchase an NFL team. His passion for sport soon took him across the pond, and in 2013 he agreed a deal to buy Fulham for a fee reported to be in the region of £150million. After experiencing relegation from the Premier League in his first season, Fulham have since bounced back to reclaim their place in the top flight next season, playing some beautiful football along the way.

Not content with that, the pioneering millionaire businessman made an audacious £800m offer earlier this year to buy Wembley stadium, in pursuit of his dream to bring regular American Football matches to a British audience.

Carolyn Radford

Appointed CEO of Manfield Town at the age of 29 in 2011, Carolyn Radford is not only the youngest CEO in the Football League but also one of only three women in her role, alongside Katrien Meire at Charlton Athletic, and Baroness Karren Brady at West Ham.

Since taking up her position, the club brought an end to five consecutive seasons in non-league football, after being promoted to League Two as champions in the 2012-13 season. They have finished in the top half of League Two in four of the last five seasons, and Carolyn has spoken of her ambitions to take them to the Championship.

The club is being well run off the football pitch as well as on it. Prior to the Radford takeover, there was no established training centre and no youth team setup. This has now changed and an academy has been created. Radford continues to be an inspirational figure for women in a typically male-dominated industry, not least thanks to her insistence on the reformation of Mansfield Town Ladies. Once disbanded under the previous owner, the club now fields ten regular women’s teams.

David Sharpe

Not to be outdone, David Sharpe became the youngest Chairman in British football at the tender age of 23, when his grandfather Dave Whelan handed over the reins in 2015.

After a lacklustre start, ending in relegation, David Sharpe helped to oversee a revamp in the squad, including the signing of the club’s talisman striker Will Grigg. The side lost just once in 23 matches in the second half of the following season and won the League One division title for the 2015-2016 season, with Grigg finishing as the league’s top scorer with 25 goals.

The club secured the League One title again just two seasons later and took a formidable force following their miraculous win over last season’s Premier League Champions, Manchester City, to knock them out of the FA Cup. As a lifelong fan, David has been supporting Wigan since he was four and was once a mascot – the club Chairman will once again look forward to all the excitement the EFL Championship has to offer next season.

Glenn Tamplin

British businessman Glenn Tamplin has made his millions as the principal owner of AGP Steel, a company shaping steel. Besides being both publicly and privately a generous philanthropist, he has also invested £2,000,000 into Billericay Town FC, the non-league Essex club that he owns a 95% stake in.

Glenn, ranked in the Essex Power 100 list as the second most powerful person in Essex, bought the club in December 2016. Star signings soon followed including Paul Konchesky, Jamie O’Hara, and Jermaine Pennant.

What’s most unusual about this CEO is that he then hired himself as the manager for the 2017-18 season. With little to no experience in football management, Glenn managed to power Billericay Town FC to the top of the Isthmian League and guide them to two League Cup trophies and one Essex Senior Cup title in the two seasons since it was acquired.

If you’re looking to become man of the match speak to a member of our award-winning public relations team today.

A smart PR response can go a long way – even when your company is under-fire

The tweeted response from Argos to a customer making a complaint in written ‘street slang’ worked like a charm – although it was a risk.

In case you haven’t heard the story, a customer called Imran Bugti tweeted the high street store’s official Twitter feed moaning about the lack of PlayStation 4 consoles for sale.

His message read:

Rather than send a perfectly structured, corporate tweet in reply, Argos decided to talk Imran’s language and replied with:

The strategy was not a safe route. Far from it. It could have quite easily back-fired.

The customer could have seen it as an insult, or even worse. The mainstream media could have seen it as offensive. It could have come back to haunt Argos.

It didn’t.

One newspaper described it as: “Argos in tweet win.”
The messages were retweeted thousands of times, while even Imran replied: “Respect. Sick guy.”

Had it gone wrong, the person who sanctioned the tweet would have been answerable to the Head of PR or Marketing, and quite possibly, the CEO and board.

But it’s a great example of how dealing with a complaint or negative ‘coverage’ can win the day in the PR stakes.

We hear a great deal of the #PRfails that are made, so it is time to focus on the successes – Argos are not the only example of some smart PR thinking recently.

When Wolves fan Richard John Gough spotted a club shirt on sale at a knockdown price, he wasn’t expecting it to arrive with the famous badge printed the wrong way around.

Like Imran, he took to Twitter to complain.

The Wolves response was simply hilarious – a letter of apology printed upside down on headed paper, just to show they had a sense of humour.

Part of the letter read: “Although we’ve been riding the crest of a wave recently in terms of results, we pride ourselves on the quality of our shirts and we certainly don’t get a badge of honour this time.”

This response was backed up with the offer of two match tickets to round off the customer service.

The result of Wolves response was a slew of positive coverage with other media praising the Wolves press office.

It’s not just social media where this smart PR technique can be deployed. The German football club, Schalke 04 recently had cause to respond to a claim in The Times that Adolf Hitler was a fan of the Gelsenkirchen-based outfit.

Gerd Voss, the head of the club’s Media and PR team, chose to respond by letter. The correspondence was later despatched via social media.

Instead of going in two-footed, Gerd made a gentle play on the prejudice that Germans have a poor sense of humour, saying: “So we checked and double-checked whether club board between 1933 and 1945 had named a stand the “Fuhrer Stand”, for example, and we watched every episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo in a bid to find a clue. Nothing.”

It ends with the paragraph: “To conclude Hitler was a fan of Schalke 04 because they won most of the titles during his regime must make Margaret Thatcher a Liverpool fan. Funnily enough, she didn’t make the list.”

While this was a criticism and not a response to a problem, the benefit to Schalke 04 was dealing with a potentially very sensitive issue for German people in a way no one expected, whilst still pulling no punches. It turned the bad into some positive PR for the club.

The point of all examples that humour, with a self-deprecating, calm tone, can win the day.

Not all situations are right and the response must be careful not to mock or make light.

Ultimately, it must absolutely address the problem, and be well-researched. It should offer a solution and get to the heart of the matter rather than having no direction.

The response should always be bounced off a colleague to gauge an initial reaction.

Although humorous, deploying similar responses should be taken very seriously.