Pint with the MD Part Two

Here’s part two of our chat with new MD, Tony Davison… if you missed out on part one, you can catch up here

The philosophy seems to be affordable football in a blue-collar, working-class area alongside improving supporter relations. What will your role be in advancing this Dortmund model?

You can’t fake it, it can’t be artificial. It needs to be authentic. The fans have got a part to play, they have to come to the game thinking: “You know, I have a part to play in this.” You can’t just hand out a load of flags or clackers. So, everyone has a part to play. I suppose my role in that is to bring the various parts together, that’s the fans, that’s ALS and the business community.

If you have Ellis Short pulling a cheque out of his pocket every year, it’s Ellis Short’s club. If it’s the fans that are funding it, then it’s the fans club. Daniel Levy doesn’t pull a cheque out every year, he has a business model which has to pay for the players. He’s the most well-paid executive and sport and is consistently voted the best executive in sport. It’s not because he goes running to the chairman asking for money every year.

Aye, he’s renowned for striking a good deal, isn’t he?

He is, and that is ultimately the model we want. We need to re-engage with the fans and the business community with the main shareholders at the club. Bring down the costs, drive up the revenue.

How much of a role will the academy play in all of this? We have two shining examples playing for England now in Henderson and Pickford. But, can the Academy be more productive?

It does. They’ll be a large chunk of our first team made up of young players. Who’s to say that if more young players had been given a chance earlier then we wouldn’t have had more players coming through. Again, using Spurs as an example – Spurs bring through young players every year, not all of them make it, but they regularly have players in the first team.

It’s funny, we’re sitting here a few days after Pickford and Henderson had two very different nights on the penalty shootout. But, what a fantastic metaphor for what this is all about, you have two local lads, one of which would have been vilified in the media had his mate and fellow Wearsider not saved him. We want everyone helping each other out, if the players are down, the fans should lift them and vice versa. That should be what our football club is about.

It would be nice to create an environment where these players end up giving us a little bit more of their careers…

Yep, definitely.

What is your biggest personal achievement to date having worked at Tottenham and several other interesting projects?

I hate talking about stuff like that, I’m not one to sort of blow my own trumpet. From a CV point of view working on Wembley and big companies like IMG and even doing sponsorship deals with Sunderland, I don’t see them is major achievements as there’s so much more still to come, especially if we end up back in the Premier League with a sustainable business model. That’s the opportunity I’ve always been waiting for. Working for Spurs was quite fun, nice and relaxed – you get paid well and the coffee is lovely, but I want to do a bit of everything and do something for MY club.

Thinking from a Sunderland fan’s perspective, putting your business career to one side. Why do you think Sunderland have failed so regularly over the years?

I think it’s really, really hard to put a finger on. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have an identity or consistently employ sensible business practices like just looking after the pennies. We didn’t focus on driving revenue, we stopped the concerts. When people say: ‘the concerts don’t make money’, they do. Why did we stop them? If we’d had an extra £2 million coming in this year, we’d have extra money in the playing budget.

It’s common knowledge that Martin Bain that stopped the gigs.

I’d love to bring them back, we’re already having preliminary conversations with promoters about next summer. If anything, we’re a touch late to the party on that because now is the time they are putting together plans for 2019. Artists are always going to do London and Manchester, and after that, we’re in a mix with Cardiff, Birmingham, and Newcastle.

A lot of the tours tended to start in Sunderland as we allowed them more production time, essentially a dress rehearsal. The club came out and said the club wasn’t making money, well, that was a lie… they absolutely did make money.

They did. Not all of them but a large majority certainly did make money.

So, when people have asked about this issue, the club has lied in the past. We know from due diligence that promoters quite like coming to Sunderland and were quite upset when it all stopped.

It is a bit of a myth, we did upset a couple of promoters, but it’s a bit of a myth that we’re now never going to get the concerts back because we pissed off a couple of promoters. It’s not really true. It will be tough but they look at the bottom right-hand corner of the spreadsheet, that’s what matters.

Ed Sheeran would have done three nights at the Stadium of Light, instead of three nights in Newcastle. Justin Bieber was turned down, as were the Rolling Stones. Beyond belief. What would you say your three main priorities are now you’re in the position you’re in?

Myself, Charlie and Stewart have the same view on where we want to end up, and I think the big decisions will go through Stewart and Charlie. But, so far, they’ve been really open to things we’ve wanted to do because, you know, I’ve worked in football for 20 odd years now, working on every level of football. I spent six months at Darlington, for God’s sake. Wembley, Spurs, Oxford and through agency work, I’ve sold advertising boards to Altrincham for an FA Cup tie. It’s all about engaging with business communities.

Ultimately, our job now is simple: we need cost control, we need to sell and we need to bring some revenue in. We’ll do this by selling advertising and sponsorship, we’ll have to do some deals and give people a reason to get involved with Sunderland again. That’s it, really. We need the revenue we generate to end up on the pitch. I want the fans to be able to see it. If come May, Charlie and Stewart come to the game and enjoy themselves because they haven’t got to worry about anything because the club is running brilliantly and we’ve hit all our commercial numbers, then I’ve had a good year.

Do you have any knowledge of the short and long-term involvement and plans of Juan Sartori, the wealthy Uruguayan businessman, and entrepreneur who is married to the daughter of Monaco FC Chairman and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev?

A bit above my pay grade but I do know that Charlie knows him very well.

Charlie Methven as told a few outlets that he thinks Sunderland should be one of the top-twenty clubs in Europe. As a Sunderland fan and the new MD, what are your thoughts on this?

It always depends on what you measure as the ‘top-twenty’. With our supporter base, we should be in the Premier League, then if you’re in the top-ten in the Premier League then you’re automatically in the top-twenty in the world due to the revenue in the league.

Why is finishing in the top-ten of the Premier League not possible or feasible? You look at the clubs that have done it recently. Leicester have won a title. If you look at the list of clubs that have won something since we won a major trophy, it’s ridiculous, the likes of Wigan winning the FA Cup, etc. If Leicester can win the league and be considered one of the top-ten clubs in the league, why not us? They started in a worse position than us. We have to do things right but we have to run the business side of the club properly regardless of what division we’re in.

Part one here

Part three to follow…