Simon Cohen - CEO, Leicester Tigers Share PDF Print E-mail
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Tigers' Head of Rugby Operations since 2005, Simon joined the Board of directors in 2011 in the new position of acting Chief Operating Officer. Simon was appointed Chief Executive Officer at Tigers in February 2012. Previously a sports lawyer and partner at James Chapman & Co in Manchester, Simon represented the England rugby team, Rugby Players Association and British & Irish Lions players. He also set up Rugby Class, a nationwide rugby coaching company, and was an agent for a number of England players including Jonny Wilkinson.

By Steve Moorhouse

You have been with the Leicester Tigers since 2005 and have risen through different positions before becoming the CEO in 2012. Was the transition to CEO an easy one, having been at the club for some time?

It makes it a lot easier because you know the people, systems and structures of the club. There are not many at Leicester Tigers but you also know any politics that exist. So yes, it did make it a lot easier when I became the CEO.

What challenges did you face in 2012 and what steps have been taken to overcome them? Have you overcome them now?

I think the challenges we face are the same that most other rugby clubs face. The challenge is to make enough money to fund the performance side, to enable them to keep winning. It is a simple business model but it is not that easy to overcome. We are all about winning at Leicester Tigers. That is the most important thing for us. It is not making a profit. The business is all about the balance between where you spend your revenue. You can choose where to spend the revenue, whether it is in facilities, in marketing or in the performance side. We will always put the performance side first and if you give anyone at Tigers a choice between making a profit or winning a trophy, then everyone will choose the trophy. That is the culture at this club.

People are in sport to win trophies, but there is also a balance to run the club sensibly. Is it a tough balance to achieve?

It is a very tough balance. Richard Cockerill (Tigers Director of Rugby) and I have known each other for 20 years. We have been friends, I have been his lawyer and I have been his agent and we have a great relationship. However, we argue almost every day about the amount of money made available for the performance side. His job is to drive that very hard and my job is to find the balance that is best for the business.

You were previously a sports lawyer and worked with rugby organisations and players. How has this role prepared you for working at a rugby club and have you always had an interest in the sport?

I have always had a keen interest in rugby. My father was the County Treasurer at Cheshire for thirty years. He took me to big games from a very early age and I have always loved the sport. I was a lawyer who acted for the England team and the British and Irish Lions players in conjunction with the RPA, who I also represented. That knowledge of how lots of organisations work was really helpful. It was also helpful to know how clubs were perceived in the outside world. Without a shadow of a doubt it made a big difference and it made the job a lot easier because of the contacts I had elsewhere in the game.

Moving on to the club, you moved into operating profit for the 2012-13 year. How have you achieved this after recording a £1m loss the previous year?

To be fair, the operating loss was occasioned in a Rugby World Cup year, which is always difficult for us. There is a Rugby World Cup allowance for players who are absent. We have more players that are away than any other club. We get a bigger allowance but we do have to fund that, which is hard. In addition our events suffer from not having any autumn internationals so there is no revenue from the hospitality market. The combination of those factors means that Rugby World Cup year is always going to be a difficult year. It is therefore not comparing a like-for-like year. What we did was focus on keeping our costs under control, cut out any unnecessary costs and focused on maximising our revenue as much as we could.

You thanked the loyal backing of sponsors after announcing the results. How crucial is it that you strike relationships with good sponsors and what do you look for in a sponsor, what ethos and commitments?

Everybody says the same but I really mean it; Tigers are a family club. The relationships and partnerships with our main sponsors are therefore very long lasting. For instance our main sponsor Caterpillar has just signed on for another three years. That takes them to eight years in total. The stand sponsors Holland & Barrett and Goldsmiths have also been with us for a long time. It is very important that people understand what we are trying to do as a club and that they buy into it. They have to understand the emotional pull and they want Tigers to win. The relationship part of it is very important to us.

Did winning the Premiership help bring new sponsors and encourage existing partners to sign again? Or are the older partners with you regardless of whether you win the league or not?

I think they are there regardless, because they expect us to be there or thereabouts. Part of the reason they partner with Tigers is because they expect the club to be involved in finals and semi-finals. If you are there or thereabouts every year, like we are, then you have a good chance of winning these tournaments from time-to-time.

Does this attract new sponsors?

Yes I think people want to be involved in the culture of success. But there are other things about our culture that are important. It is very down to earth, it is a very hard working culture and we are renowned for that. All of those values are important for sponsors who want to buy into that. Of course winning the Premiership and being successful year on year is another important part of what they buy into.

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