|Nick Thompson - Managing Director, Hull City AFC|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 01 November 2013 15:16
Nick Thompson has been the Managing Director of Premier League football club Hull City since 2012. He joined halfway through a successful Championship campaign that saw the Tigers promoted back into the Premier League.
Prior to Hull, Nick worked predominantly in the news industry, starting at News International in 1987, before becoming the Marketing Director of Trinity Mirror Southern in 1991 and the Marketing Director of Sport First Newspapers in 1996.
In 1998 he became the CEO of radio production company GNB, before holding the same position at Life Newspapers 2001-2004.
You became the MD of Hull last year and have overseen the club’s promotion to the top flight. What did you find the most challenging aspect of working for a club halfway through a season?
There were three big challenges. The first was getting up to speed with where the club was and where everything was at commercially. The second was gaining an understanding of the resources and requirements needed for the playing side. Then three was trying to make an immediate difference commercially, when we were halfway through a promotion push, because you want to ensure the best possible commercial outcomes if you are promoted.
You have spent a lot of your career working for newspapers. How have you applied the skills you have learned in these roles to your job at Hull?
For me the key thing about any commercial activity is customer insight and the use of data. If you look for a consistent thread throughout my career, gaining insights from customers is it. I also think there are a lot of similarities between newspaper publishing and football. You can cast the editor and the manager in the same role, the coaching staff with the section heads and the footballers as the writers. The big similarity is the fact that you cannot delay things in these industries. You have to work in those time schedules and that experience has been extremely beneficial.
Very recently you announced you will step down from your position at Hull for family reasons. What is the latest on this development?
The situation is my wife had a health scare in September and she needs some time from me. However, if I could shape something that gave her that time and allowed me to contribute to a club then l would be keen to do so. Football has an engagement with its fans that any sensible business would give their eye teeth for, and for some reason not many clubs understand the opportunity for a meaningful brand connection. I have met a lot of wonderful people in football, playing and commercial, and it is a brilliant business with a host of opportunities to create a deep brand connection with their supporters.
I count it a pleasure and a privilege to be part of football and to have contributed in some small way to helping Hull City win promotion to the Premier League and god willing retain their status for next season.
With the new Premier League broadcast deal this year, tell us just how important it was for the club to seal promotion.
I think every time there is a new deal it is the best year to get promoted! But really, any year is a good year to be promoted. To go into the Premier League at a time when you are seeing that huge uplift is a good thing for us. The other side of the coin though is that there are expectations from the players in regards to their salaries. The increased income from the Premier League is well broadcast, so there is a lot of expectation with it.
Do you think the club’s relegation from the top flight in 2010 and subsequent years in the Championship has allowed the team to learn from past mistakes?
I think the previous experience has left a scar on the club. People are very much aware of where they have been before and they do not want to repeat those same mistakes again. In my transfer pack I kept a picture of Jimmy Bullard (player who signed to Hull for a record fee and large contract) in the front to remind us that it is very easy to make mistakes. It is never the fault of the player, it is the club’s choice. Without the intervention of Doctor Allam saving the club it would have been liquidated. It would not have been a case of bankruptcy, it was so serious the club would have gone, and he saved it. To get back into the Premier League within three years of that was an incredible achievement and one we have celebrated as a club.
The big news around the club is the rebranding to the Hull City Tigers. How will this propel the club forward and do you see this as a way to break markets like the United States?
When you set up a brand it is all about commercial application. When you look at the club’s name, the reality, in terms of “AFC”, is that no one ever knew the club as that. The words that were in common use were Hull, City and Tigers. We are a club that describes ourselves as the Tiger Nation. We define ourselves as the Tigers and that is incredibly important and a part of our heritage. We play as Hull City, but as a business, Hull City Tigers felt right.
To be successful internationally you have to have Champions League football in order to build a fanbase. That is not a realistic expectation for us at the moment. We want to compete in the Premier League which is a global brand. Obviously there are sponsors internationally who are attracted to the appeal and reach of Premier League football, but it is more about us as a club and creating ourselves as a brand. One of the things I struggle with in business is the volume of people who think that a brand is the identity. Given how important the Tigers is to us, then that helps us shape how we are as a brand and it means we will behave in a certain way.You mention the word brand, but it hasn’t gone down particularly well with the fans and protests last month said you were a club, not a brand. Can you understand their frustration and what would you say to those fans who are not impressed?
Yes I understand their frustrations. We are all driven by emotions. People buy into and commit to football in ways that businesses can’t. Our chairman often says that he wants to treat it like a business. I pointed out that I worked for a telecoms company for ten years and I never had anybody who wanted to have their ashes scattered in one of the exchanges. Football transcends business. However, the reality is that everything is a brand. You cannot choose whether you are a brand or not. Supporters saying “we are a football club not a brand,” well I’m sorry but yes we are a brand. The minute we make decisions and have opinions on it we become a brand. However, it is important we recognise the history, traditions and legacy of the club because there will be a club long after the current players, manager and owners are gone.
One of the ironies is that the fans who are campaigning to retain the letters AFC in the official business name, actually don’t use it to describe themselves. It is about keeping the key elements that are important to the identity and the essence of the brand. Two brackets an AFC and the word Limited are not essential.