Pint with the MD Part Three

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

If Sunderland start doing a lot better on the football field, that must make your job a lot easier, from a commercial point of view?

It should. But, all it means is that the targets should be higher. I think that the targets that we’ve set ourselves are realistic, based on what we think we can generate. Tough numbers, but realistic, because we can do it. If we hit our revenue figures and have a good season, then the fans are engaged. I think part of the reason we’ve struggled is that we’ve stopped chasing down every lead. In the Premier League the club will have looked down their noses at £50,000 deals. That's a lot of money in League One.

There’s been talk a restructuring of the way the club is run, in terms of incentives for staff members to perform well, something that wasn’t present under the previous regime…

It’s not purely all about money with this club. There is something that’s more heartfelt when you feel as if you’re part of something. That’s what we had under Peter Reid. At Spurs, everyone was working hard every day. You look around the room and you know that your mates aren’t letting you down. I spoke with a guy today, he used to work at Nissan. At Nissan, they have that culture. What’s the point in not working? If you increase productivity the day goes faster. I don’t think people aren’t working hard at the club, far from it, the staff are working extremely hard. They want to work hard and believe in something, the emotive reason, as well as money. You need both.

Will you need to add extra incentives for people buying corporate boxes or the more expensive seats this season? When we’re playing Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United they sell themselves, but, it’s a totally different ball game now.

I’m not a fan of discount. Prices are sensible for the league we’re playing in. I do think we have to sell a bit better. It was immediately noticeable that the sponsorship person sat on a different floor to the hospitality team. If you separate sales people who might both be chasing the same clients, you get competition rather than collaboration and you leave money on the table. You need to understand what motivates a client, it could be winning business, rewarding staff or they might just be a massive lads fan who doesn't want to queue for a pint, either way, if you understand, you can help. There are less restrictions in League One, in the Premier League people might not be able to afford LED advertising. Now we’re in League One, why wouldn’t you want to see your company’s name up in LED lights. You can get that now for £5,000 a season, in the Premier League that would have cost £50,000.

Because of the TV deals?

That, and because the rights deal you do, you sell your rights to be aggregated with other clubs. Funnily enough, the company I used to work for Lagardere, we’d stop Sunderland from selling LED advertising to local companies because Lagardere owned the rights and we saw it as a cheap deal undercutting our agreement. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

So, that’s a good contact to have?

Obviously, we’re speaking to all of the agencies about helping us get through the first year. They can help with partnerships, and we’ll pay them well through commission. We haven’t got a sponsorship sales force like Man United, with 50 people and a posh office in London. We have a handful of people selling everything. Hopefully, now we’ll see the deals come though and the incentive will be there through commission.

Something that Stewart and Charlie have mentioned is that they don’t want the staff to be so dispersed, which they are now with the Black Cat House, the Academy and the Stadium of Light all separate. Will there be a move to get you all together so there is a team?

It used to be like that. I mean, the playoff final in the Reidy era. We all worked in the ticket office if you remember the queue was snaking around the stadium. Everyone was in at the crack of dawn and everyone was there until the last seat was sold. That’s what you did. It needed to be done. You do what has to be done. You knew that some of your mates were in that queue and you didn’t want them to wait any longer, so you just worked harder. People won’t do that if they don’t feel part of something, or if they’re not being paid enough, or if they don’t respect the people who own the club. Charlie has been in the ticket office opening the doors! I can’t wait to see him working behind the counter, that’ll be funny in his red trousers! That was the only bit of advice I gave him before the takeover, well you guys know this because we spoke to ALS first, but I said, “don’t wear your red trousers when you go to Sunderland and meet them!”

That’s funny you should say that! When we had a pint with Charlie he asked the barmaid to take a photo of all of us with his red trousers to send to you to prove he’s been out in Sunderland and not been beaten up with them on!

It was the last thing I said to him before he went up: ‘when you go to Sunderland, for God sake, don’t wear those trousers! And he just shrugged his shoulders.

It must be a thing, when Quinny came back he landed at the airport with his white jeans on and we took the piss. Do you remember when SAFC fan Chris Cowen wore your Samson the Cat head in a pub at Southampton in the Reidy years and at 2.30pm you suddenly remembered you had to lead the teams out and were running around the bar asking, “Anyone seen me head?”. To be fair you found it and were on the pitch by 3pm...

I can’t remember exactly, maybe they’d been a bit too much beer on the go! I loved being Samson, it would be wrong to say I didn’t. Loads of videos have emerged and I found an article at me mother’s when I was tidying up the other day to move into my new place, and there’s a picture with the cat head off in The People magazine. I did love the experience of leading the team out at Roker Park and the first game at the new stadium. But, things have moved on, I haven’t been the cat for 15 years.

Is there anything you’d like to go on record as saying before we finish?

I think I’d like to reinforce that the business side of the club is separate to the playing side, which I have very little to do with. I saw Tony Coton today, we have a lot of the same contacts and connections agent wise. He knows everyone he needs to and more, there’s not much I can contribute to that side of things. I will if I can or have to, if there’s any way I can help. I think it’s important to get across that they’re not mutually exclusive. Everyone at the club doesn’t need to be signing players. The business side of the club has to work regardless of what happens on the pitch.

When you’re both settled in would you like Jack Ross to help you in selling corporate seats?

Yeah, definitely. And he absolutely will. And I’ll help him if he decides he needs a new bit of kit that the club can’t afford, I’ll find a sponsor for it. I want to get him everything he needs to put a winning team together. If that means I’ve got the odd deal to do, well then that’s why I’m there.

How would you describe your role as managing director?

Stewart and Charlie have very busy lives, with businesses to run. I have to be that focal point, very much their man at Sunderland. I’m a Sunderland fan, but ultimately, I’m there to do their bidding to a certain degree. At the same time, I’d like to give the staff some sort of consistency of leadership. People need that. People need to know where to go if something is happening. Being a Sunderland fan helps, it’s not absolutely necessary but it gives me that edge. I know what this, being a Sunderland fan, is like. I remember being with Bob Murray when we were beaten 5-1 by Newcastle. I wanted to leave at half-time. You can’t, you’re sat in the director’s box. Bob was getting it off the Geordies really bad. I was sat behind him thinking ‘this is not an enjoyable experience!’

You need to have an understanding of what it feels like or you won’t be able to relate to it. You don’t need to be a Sunderland fan per se, but you do need to be a fan. If you’ve got a background in the football industry, it saves you a lot of time. If we needed a tonne of water for the players I have ten numbers I can pick up the phone to, they might not give us it for free now we’re not in the Premier League, but I’ll give it a good go.

Part one here

Part two here