Tom Fox, Arsenal’s Chief Commercial Officer, is confident that he has the right team in place to help the club secure lucrative new deals for kit manufacture and shirt sponsorship when the current agreements with Nike and Emirates come up for renewal in 2014.
The existing partnerships, signed in advance of the move to Ashburton Grove and used to fund the move from Highbury, have been dwarfed in recent years by those done by Premier League rivals. What’s more with the Premier League’s sugar daddy era exploding almost simultaneously, the financial terms, which at the time were ground-breaking, have been pinpointed by frustrated fans as a major reason for the club’s supposed limpness in the transfer market.
Speaking to the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA), Fox made clear that recent progress signing up second-tier partners hinted at a good foundation for forthcoming negotiations.
“We are actually making good progress in the partnerships area, but there was a lot of work to do in this area when I arrived.
“For the past 2 1⁄2 years we have been building the team and enhancing our capability to have the right conversations not only with our 2 primary partners, Nike and Emirates, but with new and renewing secondary partners. We’ve had success in secondary partnerships during this time, renewing Citroen and Thomas Cook and signing Carlsberg, Betsson, Indesit, Airtel (Africa) and Malta Guinness.
“While I can’t go into any detail on where we are with both primary partnerships, this early success in the secondary market gives me great confidence that we have the right team and are well positioned to bring both of these up to the market during the next round.”
Despite the gloomy economic climate, Manchester United’s recent sponsorship deal with US car giants Chevrolet has proved that the boundaries of financial possibility are constantly being redrawn. While Fox is pleased with the progress that Arsenal are making in marketing and commercial spheres, he urged caution against assuming the gap between the two clubs can be closed quickly.
Noting United’s long-standing superiority and their success on the pitch he continued:
“It’s not very realistic to assume that striking these new deals will allow us to match what United are doing commercially.
“We have a great story to tell and sponsors are taking notice, but we have only recently begun investing behind our commercial vision, whereas they started on that journey 7-8 years ago.
“Since then they have had unmatched success on the pitch, which has in turn fuelled further growth. As a result, they are frequently the Club that sets the high water mark when their new deals are done, take Chevrolet for example, and few if any Clubs can match their commercial appeal to partners today.
“Do I believe at some point we can catch them? Yes I do, but it won’t be in the next 3-4 years.”
One area which will likely prove vital in closing that chasm is the exploitation of Arsenal’s increasing popularity abroad. In the last two seasons, and after long-standing opposition from Arsene Wenger, the club have embarked on rewarding tours to the Far East. Outlining the impetus gained from pushing the global brand, Fox concluded that they had been an outright success.
“Arsenal is a huge Club with incredible support internationally, but the difference that touring has made to our profile has been profound, both with our primary partners Nike and Emirates as well as other large brands looking for sports marketing assets. For them, touring is part of being a truly global Club and is a prerequisite to being in their consideration set.
“For the fans, seeing their heroes live and up close is what engages them with the Club, and if they’re engaged and active then our profile with partners is further enhanced. One good example of this is in China, where we have visited 2 years in a row.
“In 3 previous years with our media partner in China, Titan, we registered 15,000 fans into our database. In the past 16 months (around both Tours) we’ve attracted the interest of a larger media partner, Tencent and their portal called QQ, and that number now stands at over 600,000.”
Tom Fox was speaking ahead of the AISA AGM on 10 September. The full transcript, in which the Arsenal CCO talks about touring abroad, the club’s profile and Stan Kroenke’s role, is expected to be available on the AISA website, or can be read here thanks to @GeezyPeas.