Bristol City CEO Premier League

Meet the Member: “The club and the city are Premier League ready”

May 17, 2023

After 26 years at Crystal Palace, Phil Alexander joined Bristol City as CEO. We spoke to him about his new club, sustainability and playing American football.

So Phil to start, take us through your journey in sport?

I really have been fortunate enough to be involved in sport for pretty much my whole life. Growing up, I played football for England U-18s and then went on to play for Norwich City for a couple of years before going away to play in New Zealand. I came back and played non-League for a period before I was selected to play for the London Monarchs American Football team. This was an unbelievable experience, not only learning a new sport but playing in front of 75,000 people at Wembley Stadium. 

I was always really interested in the commercial side of sport and, following my time with the Monarchs , I had an opportunity to run Bracknell Town Football Club, which I did for a year and was a great learning curve for me. From there I had the opportunity to join Swindon Town as Head of Commercial and they were in the Premier League at the time.

Unfortunately, Swindon didn’t last long in the Premier League and I then got the opportunity to join Crystal Palace. I was in the CEO role there for over 25 years before I joined Bristol City a few months ago. 

You have been at Bristol City for just over four months now, what are your first impressions of the club? What has surprised you the most?

Simply by just walking around the stadium and training ground you can see that the club is Premier League ready. I have been really impressed by the ambition the owners have shown and the money they have invested into not just Bristol City, but the whole Bristol Sport Group, which includes the Bears Rugby and Flyers Basketball teams; as well as the planned development of the arena next door to Ashton Gate. So yes, the first impressions are just how Premier League ready this club is, now we just need to deliver it.

Has it been tricky joining halfway through the season?

It has been fine, it really has. I think I have worked in football for so long that I know the general rhythm of a football season. You have got the January transfer window, season ticket sales campaigns, summer sales campaigns and recruitment campaigns as well. The general ebbs and flows of the season are the same for pretty much every club so it hasn’t been a problem.

You were recently announced as the most sustainable football club in the championship, tell us about some of the work you have been doing as a club? 

It isn’t something I have been across massively having recently joined the club, but sustainability is incredibly important for us at the club. We have bought into the UN Sports Climate Action Plan which has the big target of reaching net zero emissions by 2040. 

It is also something we really believe in rather than just being used as a tick box exercise. We are doing some great things in terms of sustainability with initiatives ranging from our waste management to power generation.

Generally, sustainability can help you attract sponsors who have similar values. Most companies now, when they are tendering for new business, have to show proof of sustainability, so it is a great way to work together with local partners to help achieve our goals.

Phil, you were at Crystal Palace for so long tell us a bit more about that experience and what were some of your biggest learnings from the time you spent there?

Yes, 26 years in total. I think I saw about seven sets of owners and goodness knows how many managers and players. It was great in terms of experience, learning how to create revenue when you’re in administration and really have no money to get promoted to the Premier League and having a sustained run in the league. 

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Going up through the play-offs in 2013 was a bit earlier than when would have been ideal but I suppose it’s never a bad time to get promoted! The transition to being a Premier League club was a challenge and we had to hire a lot of new people to fill the roles that came with promotion. I am so proud of what we achieved as a club at that time. Palace are safe in the Premier League for another year and with the new stand being developed it’s a great time for the club. Credit to Steve Parish as well, he’s been a great leader and champions the smaller clubs both in the PL and in European football.

One of the things I have really learnt is that if you get a good team all pulling in the same direction then you can achieve great things in football even without massive resources. You see this quite a lot in the EFL when clubs get themselves organised and aligned behind the scenes and suddenly find themselves flying up the league. That works the other way as well because if a club is dysfunctional then it can fall down the league rapidly no matter what they spend on the pitch.

Looking forward then, other than the obvious goal of promotion, what are you aiming to achieve at the club?

Like I said earlier, the club is Premier League ready and that is the absolute end goal for me and the rest of the club. In terms of goals for me it is really what I mentioned earlier on about trying to pull everyone together in the right direction from the top of the club to the bottom. I also want to be able to offer my experience to help guide individuals as well and then I really think we can make something special here.

What are some of the challenges the club faces at the moment?

Generally, I think working inside the financial frameworks and getting the squad in the right place to be able to compete. We have got some great young players coming through the Academy that will go onto to play in the first team next season. It is going to be exciting over the next few years giving these guys the chance to develop. But working within the financial framework of the league while trying to get the squad in the best shape it can be, is our biggest challenge.

How much would promotion mean to the club and to the city?

The club is Premier League ready, but the city is ready as well. Bristol is one of the biggest cities in the country, with so much passion for football. The fanbase is huge and I would expect Ashton Gate to be full every week even with a sniff of promotion. It would also mean so much to the Lansdown family after the investment they have poured into the club, not only with the football club but the Bristol Sport Group as a whole – they really deserve it.

Bristol City CEO Premier League