|Tony Scholes - CEO, Stoke City FC|
|Profile of the week|
Thursday, 02 May 2013 15:10
Tony Scholes joined Stoke City as their Chief Executive in September 2004 and during his tenure has been an influential figure in progress which now sees the Club established in the Barclays Premier League. As well as being responsible for formulating the Club’s strategy with other members of the Board and the operational delivery of those plans across all areas, he plays the lead role in the negotiation of all player transfers and contracts.
A former Director of the Football League and member of the FA Council, Tony previously spent six years as the Chief Executive of Preston North End before leaving that post in 2002 to set up a sports lottery business prior to his appointment at the Britannia Stadium.
When did you join Stoke City as CEO and what were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
I joined the Club in September 2004 at a time when we were under Icelandic ownership. The main challenge was maintaining the essential functions of the of the Club in an environment where the owners had really fallen out of love with the project. Like many people who buy into football, they came in thinking it would be a lot easier than it actually is, but they got to the stage where they wanted the Club run on a minimum cost basis. Therefore, wherever a penny could be saved, it would be saved. For example, I had to persuade the owners to keep the Academy open.
We were also a struggling Championship side and there was a lot of tension between the supporters and the Club. On top of this, we had an ageing crowd. Back then, our age profile showed we only had 15% of the crowd under 21 years old; a worrying trend and we arguably lost three generations of supporters.
In 2006 the club was sold and the Coates family became the owners. From this point the objectives of the club changed completely.
The Club were promoted in 2008. How important is it for the Club to stay in the Premier League and are you surprised that for the first few years in the League, it has been relatively straightforward to maintain top-flight status?
I would never describe it as straightforward to stay in this League! It is probably the best League in the world, so every game you go into is tough. For a club which has just got promoted, you are obviously some way behind the competition. We invested significantly into the playing base to try and bring our squad up to a level that would be competitive on the pitch.
In the first season, one of the bookmakers paid out on us getting relegated after our first match because we had a very poor start, so this isn’t the first time we have had difficulties, but it is arguably the first time we have had problems at this late stage of the season.
How important is it then for Stoke City to stay in the Premier League in a business sense?
It is critical. If we were to get relegated, our turnover would reduce by around £40m. It is very very difficult for any medium sized business to withstand that.
Football, as a business is short, medium and long-term in its nature. Right now, the most important thing for this entire organisation is the next game, for the reason I just said. At the same time, as CEO, you have to look at the medium and long-term.
Do you think the players understand the importance of staying in the league for the financial reasons you mentioned?
They certainly don’t understand it in terms of the numbers I’ve just outlined. They will understand it from a personal point of view of not being on the television every week and how it affects their wage slip at the end of the month! Most importantly though, they will be determined to stay in the Premier League because they are professional sportsmen and they want to continue to play at the highest level they can.
The Club reached the FA Cup final against Manchester City a couple of years ago. How was the day out for the Club and what benefits did it have on the business?
From a business perspective, staying in the Premier League is by some distance the most important issue for us. However, we are a Football Club and you are in football to win games and, hopefully, win trophies. That keeps the supporters engaged and helps us grow. The FA Cup Final and the Europa League campaign were not significant in the short-term impact on our finances, certainly compared to the Premier League. In terms of the profile that it gave the Club and the engagement that our fans had with it, however, it was huge. The FA Cup Final still is a flagship event, a great television event and we were viewed, playing in our red and white stripes all around the world. For our profile, it was hugely significant.
The Europa League came only three years after promotion. How did this expand the brand and was there a plan to reach Europe so soon after promotion?
No, there was no plan to be in Europe; our objective was to establish ourselves as a solid Premier League club. In doing so, you put yourself in a position where you can be competitive in the cup competitions.
We didn’t set out to raise our profile in Europe, we set out to embrace the campaign, to enjoy it and to succeed as far as we were able.
There’s the view that the Europa League is more harmful for teams than beneficial. From a business sense, do you agree or disagree?
If you look at the finances, three or four places in the Premier League are probably worth more than an entire Europa League campaign. There’s an argument therefore, that from a business sense, participation isn’t the best if it has an impact on your Premier League form. However, you won’t find anyone associated with Stoke City saying anything negative about our participation in the Europa League. It was a fantastic journey for us and one that the fans and everyone at the Club fully embraced. You are in sport for those kinds of occasions, rather than perhaps finishing one place higher up in the League.
In terms of transfers over the past five seasons, Stoke City are third in the spenders list. The Club’s been very consistent in positioning and points total, but would you expect to see more based on these figures?
Our objective is to be a Football Club playing in the Premier League that is self-sustaining financially and is one that all our supporters are proud of. In order to be in the League, we have to have the appropriate quality and to be self-sustaining, we have to make sure our recruitment policy and our development policy through the Academy is effective and achieves value for money. When we came into the Premier League, it’s fair to say we were some way behind the competition in the strength of our squad. It’s almost by necessity and understandable that we had to invest heavily into our squad to get it to a level where we were comparable with those we were competing with.