By Kevin Mooney
How does a 123-year-old football club move into the future without compromising the traditions, qualities, and fan loyalty that it has accumulated over its history?
Enter Tom Fox, Arsenal’s new Chief Commercial Officer.
For more than 20 years, Fox has built has an extensive résumé in the sports-marketing industry. After hugely successful stints at Nike, Gatorade, and the NBA, he jumped at the chance to join Arsenal and take on what he views as “absolutely the perfect job.”
His goals are not small. “I want to help build the best organization, not just in English football, and not just in European football,” he said in an exclusive interview with USA.Arsenal.com. “I want to build the best organization in sports anywhere in the world around what I believe is an incredible brand.”
When asked how Arsenal compares to the European giants like Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, he was quick to point out that despite some aggressive marketing strategies in the United States, those clubs really are not too far ahead of Arsenal. “While most Americans would be familiar with them I think I would describe that familiarity as awareness.” He continued, “I would argue that Americans know very little about those brands beyond the headlines they are making right now.”
“The true soccer fans in America absolutely understand what Arsenal is and what it stands for. As a brand, I would put ours up against any club, and really any professional franchise, in the world.”
He will admit that Arsenal does face some disadvantages compared to some other teams. “The fact that we haven’t had any silverware in a while is a disadvantage because in America there is so much information, there are so many other sports, there is so much competition.”
But he does list some simple reasons why the future is bright for the Club. “I’d start first and foremost with our manager. I think if more Americans had an opportunity to hear Arsène Wenger speak, to hear him articulate his vision for the game and listen to him describe what it is he is trying to, there is no better brand spokesman.”
He also pointed out Arsenal’s standing in one of the biggest cities in the world, “We are the London Club. With all due respect to some of the other clubs in London, we are the London Club.”
Fox readily admits that he faces a learning curve, as prior to joining Arsenal in August, his familiarity with English football limited to two matches spread over 20 years. “I think the worst I can do is come over here and think that everything I’ve learned in the sports industry is going to translate,” he said. “I’m trying to learn and be patient and try to soak up as much as I can.”
“Because I’m American, people have this perspective that I’m going to come in and Americanize this, even from a business standpoint. I think in a lot of ways, American sports have lost the plot.”
“I look at sports in the U.S. now and think that the tail is wagging the dog. It’s so commercial, and it’s so much about sponsors and advertising. I look at football here and I think what a great opportunity we have. It’s relatively pure. It’s still about the game.”
He does, however, have a great deal of praise for the state of the game in America. “I think the [U.S.] national team is getting better. What they did in the Confederations Cup was not lost on anyone.” He added, “I have got to give a lot of credit to the MLS because they have grown their business purposefully.”
“They’ve grown. There has been a plan there.”
And he thinks that is something that can only open doors for Arsenal in the United States. “I think if you can get more people exposed to [the game], then we can walk in with a version that looks different, and I think is widely regarded as better at this point. There isn’t a fan of the MLS that wouldn’t be a fan of what [Arsenal] do on the field.”
As for his plans, he says that he wants “to be a part of an organization that is going to take this 123-year-old club into the next 25 years.” He’s very focused on Arsenal’s long-standing policy of being a self-sustaining club, and is firm that he has no desire to not over-commercialize the Club.
But Fox does want to ensure that Arsenal has “the financial resources necessary to do whatever it needs to do to continue to put the product on the field that it puts out today.”
“We want to win and we want to continue to build a great organization around this great brand.”
Fox is clearly excited about the opportunity and the product he is charged with promoting. He’s also excited to be in London, which he cites as one of the attractions of the position with Arsenal. “It’s a city I have always had great affinity for,” he said. “I spent three years [in London] growing up, and still have friends from those days. London has always felt a bit like home, actually more than a little bit like home, even though it was 35 years ago and it was only for three years. I think London gets inside you a little bit.”
And apparently Arsenal does too. “In three short months,” he said, “and I would not have said this before I got here, I would much rather watch Arsenal at the Emirates than any other event in the world.”Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source