Tony Rowe - CEO and Chairman, Exeter Chiefs Share PDF Print E-mail
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When Tony Rowe became involved with the Exeter Chiefs Rugby Club they were stuck in the fourth division and playing in a rundown, 100 year-old ground. Fast forward to the current day and Tony has helped the Chiefs become a Premiership outfit, that is renovating their Sandy Park home. Since promotion in 2010, Tony and the Chiefs have set ambitious goals to become one of the best known clubs in Europe. Their story is quite remarkable and shows what can be achieved with the right attitude and business mind-set.

iSportconnect spoke to Tony about his history at the club, how he constructed the commercial aspect of the Chiefs that has helped them reach their current day status and where he wants the club to go next. Tony also lends his opinion on wider issues in rugby, such as the new Premiership salary cap and the future of the Heineken Cup.

By Steve Moorhouse

Tell me a little bit about how you became the CEO of the Chiefs?

I first became involved with the club back in 1993 as a sponsor. The club was languishing in the old fourth division and they did not have a sponsor. They were desperate for money and I was persuaded by a former Exeter player to meet the then Chairman John Baxter. I met with John and we agreed I would sponsor the club to the tune of £4,000. I then started to go down to the club regularly on weekends. I was asked to advise them on various bits and pieces and in a short while I started thinking about what they were doing commercially. By 1998 we were in the second division and we had commercial revenue coming in. The game had just gone professional and the feeling was that the club wanted to move on. I advised them to get on a business footing and we formed the company. I took on the role as CEO and Chairman. We set out our ambition to become a Premiership side and started on our way.

You talk about the strides the club has made and commercial deals. Is that the main ingredient to your success? What other secrets do you have?

There are no secrets. In the professional game you need money. The problem with the club back in the early 90s was they were very small. Their annual income was around £100,000. We take that on a bar some days now! It was a typical sporting club managed by a committee. They could not see the wood for the trees and they didn’t have any commercial savvy. It was therefore a case of bringing in the business people. If you look at rugby and analyse it, supporters are generally from your A and B sectors. They are the people with the money. I quickly set about getting those people into the ground on a Saturday. We started the Gold Card, commercial card scheme and started to bring in match day sponsors. It was about becoming more involved in the commercial side of Exeter in our sport. Now, on a Saturday when we are playing at home, anybody who is anybody in Exeter will watch the game and network.

Speaking about sponsorship deals, is your strategy to look at local businesses or do you look further afield?

We have 400 sponsors at the Chiefs. There are a couple who are national but the majority are West Country companies. We have everything from a plumber to an airline company. We are lucky because we are the only Premiership level team in the area. There are football teams but they are nowhere near the Premier League so we tend to do very well.

Sandy Park is hosting the LV= Cup Final in 2014. What can fans who are attending expect in terms of match day experience who may not have been to the ground?

As usual we are looking to put on some pre-match entertainment and at half time and afterwards. The atmosphere at Sandy Park is always fantastic and after the game we are hoping to put on live bands and other entertainment so everyone enjoys themselves.

There was also confirmation that redevelopment would happen in the New Year. What can fans look forward to when this is done and what time frame are you looking at?

It started on the 6th of January. We are creating a new car park at the bottom end of the ground. Phase one is to build that car park which will be much bigger and to expand the west grand stand. That will all be finished by September and we hope to put in a new east terrace. We want to increase the capacity in this first phase from 10,750 up to 12,500. Then we can’t do anything in 2015 because of the World Cup games, so we will hopefully carry on in 2016-17 when we will redevelop the south end. That will increase our capacity to 15,000. We will then probably take a break and let things catch up with us. Although we have planning permission to build a 20,600 capacity stadium, you have to fill it. I do not want a stadium that big if we cannot fill it. We are averaging just short of 9,000 this season so if we can move that along over the next couple of years, then hopefully by the time the south end is done we will be in double digits for attendance.

You raised £7.5m through the Exeter Chiefs 2020 Bond. What does the bond give to those who have paid in?

It is just short of £8m now. We had a bit of an aborted effort to raise funds back in 2012 when it didn’t work. We sought some advice and we put a preference share out which we released in August. We closed it at the end of November. It was tough but we reached our target. The majority of that money will go on the stadium work we are doing now.


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