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The Aston Villa Business Model


JohnCresswell
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So what exactly do I mean by the Aston Villa Business Model? Essentially I’m talking about how AVFC conducts its business – i.e. football, understanding and acknowledging that success on the pitch requires steady foundations off the pitch. This is one fans view of what he sees happening very positively at AVFC.

This is particularly relevant when we see the likes of Man City being taken over by Multi-billionaires and being paraded as the next guaranteed ‘dead-cert’ for top-fourdom; Leeds going from Boom-to-Bust and now slowly trying to claw themselves back from the abyss; clubs like Everton with millionaire owners saying they can’t compete in the Premiership in the 21st Century; and both West Ham and Newcastle playing ‘Hunt the new manager’ having managed to completely under-mine the previous incumbents.

So what are Villa doing that’s right, receiving plaudits from around the football fraternity?

'Ownership'. Randy Lerner took over just over two years ago and brought a proud history of sound business acumen and philanthropic support. The Lerner Foundation has supported the National Portrait Gallery and countless other good causes as well as having a good grounding with the Browns NFL club in the US. The money comes, as someone once put it, from the sensible-end of credit cards, i.e. the issuing and running of them with MBNA, rather than using them. He displayed his business acumen selling the company in 2005, with his share being approximately $1.5 billion, to focus on other interests. He’s very much here for the long haul, not for a ‘quick buck’. He’s not a hobbyist like Abramovich, playing fantasy league football with Russian oil millions. He runs businesses but understands tradition and the ‘right’ way to do things; Transfers, Sponsors, Communication to name a few.

At this point we should remind ourselves that Doug Ellis played his part in selling Aston Villa to the current owner where other less suitable partners had been rejected. He should take due credit for leaving the club in good hands.

'Manager'. The club has a top-drawer manager in MON who appears to have very clearly defined roles and responsibilities. He makes the tactical decisions that guide the way we play, without owner interference or coercion. In the same way a General in Iraq or Afghanistan wouldn’t send a Lieutenant into combat with a platoon of 32 men and then attempt to micro-manage how they performed their task and which direction they took at each corner – the same applies here.

Randy and the Directors have frequently acknowledged the cast-iron principle of MON being the man who knows how to manage, so they give him the tools to do the job and let him get on with it! He’s ably assisted by John Robertson and Steve Walford and a dedicated team of back-room staff ensuring the team are as prepared as possible for each game. Additionally there are support and link-men like Richard Faulkner, assisting with strategic matters in the background. What we see is clear business strategic direction and delegated control. So many organisations have power and control centred upon one person who has to sign everything off (memories of Deadly Doug querying people’s expenses when claiming for a cup of coffee at the airport when on official business anyone?) General Krulak has often voiced the principle ‘That it is better to act and make a mistake than sit on your hands and be assured of failure through inaction’.

And what of the famous General Charles ‘Chuck’ Krulak? He’s a Director with what appears to be a wide-ranging remit. He’s been an instant hit with the fans with his touring of the stands and concourses on matchdays. The much publicised verbal joust and classic put-down of the SHA Director of Gaffes and Funny Walks, as well as most impressively being available to answer questions from fans on a variety of Internet Message Boards.

Communications, which are central to any successful organisation, previously meant communications with the media and briefing reporters etc. But this is ‘comms’ at the rough-end down in the weeds, with the thousands of rank-and-file Villa Supporters. The General talks common-sense and understands that there’s a right and a wrong way to do things and fans know that he has Randy’s ear. He comes over as a no-nonsense man’s man, with a good sense of humour but commanding respect. He has dealt with literally thousands of posts on at least four sites on issues from the significant to the faintly ridiculous, logging on from VP and whilst ‘on the road’ on business. That’s dedication.

It should be remembered that this isn’t some stuffed shirt. He ended his military career as Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, a force roughly three times the size of the entire British Army. He had the reputation as being someone who would listen whether you were a senior officer or the lowliest grunt, and he retains that now.

He seems to have applied the principles, if not all the methods (!) of military leadership and his subsequent management experience with MBNA to good effect with AVFC.

I know of no other Premiership club where fans have such regular unfiltered and unfettered access to a senior Director of a club to ask him direct questions which are then unfailingly answered or directed to an appropriate club official with unerring patience even when faced with such repetition.

Communications with the fans is very healthy indeed, in no small part due to General Krulak’s efforts. Well done that man!

Add to this free transport provided by the club to the Chelsea away Cup-tie and free scarves for the 25th Anniversary of the ’82 triumph as well as 3,200 free shirts provided personally by Olof Mellberg on his departure last season and you see that ‘doing things right’ has knock-on effects.

'Branding'. Within football, this can often be seen as brash and too commercial but the fact is AVFC is a business and the re-branding exercise continues. I believe it has been done effectively and with due consideration to the proud history of AVFC.

A few examples: The new Crest was the subject of extensive consultations where everyone had the opportunity to have their say. The down-side of this amalgam was potentially a mish-mash of styles, but what we have is a badge which has grown in popularity as people have got used to it and is worn with pride both on and off the pitch.

The clothing partnership deal with Nike finally moved us away from Hummel and let’s face it the Nike ‘tick’ is a watch-word for quality sportswear.

The new sponsor, ACORNS, was a truly superb move, the icing on the cake and exactly the right thing to do. Made me proud to be a Villan! Add to these, the excellent changes around the ground, the Mosaics, the back-lit lettering, the mass photo-shoot as well as the Traditional ‘Classic’ home shirt, it all smacks of doing things properly and raising the profile of our great club.

Yes it’s a business that is there to make money but realising that a football club is more than bricks and mortar, more than eleven men on a pitch on Saturday. It is its supporters, the history, the tradition, the potential. It’s a living organism, capable of growing and shrinking, of improving or waning, living and dying. The owners understand this, ‘Randy gets it’ and has embraced it wholeheartedly.

'Proud History – Bright Future'. Tag lines and mottos are often viewed with a healthy amount of cynicism, it’s the British way! But I think that ‘Proud History – Bright Future’ sums it up rather nicely, acknowledging past achievements including the 1982 European Cup triumph as well as the bright future that awaits us.

'The Up and Coming'. I believe the Business Model also stresses the importance of the Academy structure. A significant number of players have come through the system and continue to work their way towards first-team football. This is good for the individuals, good for Villa and good for English football as a whole.

For anyone that regularly watches the U18s and Reserves play you’ll know the names and the real potential that is waiting their chance to make that step-up.

It makes sense good business sense as even if the U18s don’t make it there is still a good chance of their being taken on by lower league sides. Aston Villa do things properly though with the lads having to complete and often excelling in their studies and if football proves not to be their path then alternate career paths and courses at Loughborough University have recently been achieved.

Man City have acknowledged that with the owner’s billions, there is little likelihood of any youth players making the leap into the Man City first team. I firmly believe that although the bar has been raised at Villa, the chances are still there to be taken.

We’ve also seen a significant number of England call-ups at U17, U19, and U21 as well as at the senior level. It’s significant that the manager supports their England call-up rather than resenting it.

Augmenting the squad has been at the front of most people’s minds for some time. The Business model I witness has seen intelligent, targeted acquisitions, supplementing a team and ensuring the manager has the tools to do the job. No ‘Blunderbuss’ signings like Man City and frankly I’d rather have Ashley Young than Robinho any day!

Frustrations were witnessed from some quarters early on in the window but these were quelled when the intelligent signings started to roll-in.

The whole Gareth Barry situation showed that the Business Model clearly made sure that we are no pushover and no longer to be perceived as just a ‘feeder’ club to the so-called big four and the dealings with the FSW demonstrated that there is a right way and a wrong way to do business and Liverpool – you got it wrong, consistently wrong.

'Catering for the ‘Average’ fan'. I say average in inverted commas as there’s really no such thing. Villa fans are unique! I believe the Business Model acknowledges this and attempts both to provide suitable facilities for the Corporate entertainment sector, important in these days of Premiership football, as well as the fan who is passionate about the football and is happy with a pie and a pint and a plastic seat.

We’ve seen a steady improvement in catering and facilities on the concourses – yes there’s a way to go but it’s moving in the right direction, whilst in the Corporate area we’ve seen an embracing of the history of the club with restoration of stain glass windows and other nuggets of history.

'So where does this leave us?' Well I believe it’s firmly a ‘No boom and bust mentality’. No yo-yoing up and down the divisions. No five-minute quick fixes. We achieve consistent improvement yet have realistic expectations. It’s No Leeds Utd for us, financially over-reaching ourselves, No Man City Mega-buys, No easy pushover as a feeder-club to the so-called big Four.

Remember the ‘82 European Cup team were widely acknowledged as not individually being the very best of footballers on the World stage at the time, but what they did prove to be was the best ‘team’ in Europe at that time. They gelled and they delivered and the rest, as they say, is history…

The pointy end of all this is of course the 11 guys who walk out wearing the Claret and Blue. Yes they have to deliver and MON has to mould HIS team to enable this – but the foundations – the processes – the support – the passion is there and they WILL achieve.

And as for the AV Business Model – delivering success – I truly believe the best is yet to come…

Ian D - UTV

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Great Article, I just wanted to add really that things like the obvious Bodymoor Heath improvements, again demonstrating that the model provides the manager, and the academy with the best possible tools to do their jobs.

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Many thanks for all the positive comments folks. I love what’s happening throughout the club and I can only see it getting better. It was quite cathartic to write down all the things that are so right about Villa!

Excellent point Trigger about Bodymoor Heath and how the investment there shows intent and is providing return on investment by keeping the ‘talent’ going. I think it’s rather encouraging that with all the excellent things going on I actually missed Bodymoor off my chuff chart!

Ian D - UTV

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Excellent article, one thing i think you have perhaps failed to mention though as part of the Villa's efforts with the fans is the ticket pricing.

You can still get a match-day ticket for under £20 in the North Stand and the season ticket there costs just over £250, vastly cheaper than comparative clubs (i.e. Tottenham, Everton, Man City and Newcastle etc) and cheaper than many lesser clubs (including some outside of the Premiership (QPR springs to mind obviously)....

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Totally agree BannedfromH&V. The prices although having increased in some areas have been managed so as to allow 'budget' access in the North Stand lower and to a lesser extent in the upper too. My brother goes to Oxford to support the Yellows in the Blue Green Red Square Triangle Conference Premier (or whatever it's called this year... :winkold: ) and he pays the best part of £20 for football the best part of 4 leagues below us. I find it genuinely encouraging that people keep coming up with 'You've missed out this - or forgotten about that' because it reminds us of how many things are right at Villa. Superb and keep 'em coming!

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General Krulak here:

1. A fine article that has been forwarded to Randy. I would only add my own two cents worth: There are really 3 keys: 1) Randy Lerner. At the end of the day, Randy is the Commanding General of AVFC. His personal stamp, his care and concern for the ethos of the Club, his belief in tradition, his awareness of the Fans, his understanding of the need to build a "total" infrastructure...all set the foundation for the work done by the rest of the "Family." 2) MON. He has accepted the totality of the role of Manager...no ifs, ands or buts. His leadership, his strategic vision, his ability to motivate, his unflappable outlook, no matter how difficult the situation, ALL make him a very special person. He is comfortable in his own skin!! He and Randy think alike and have great mutual respect. 3) The People of AVFC. Simply put, we have some great folks...all the way through the organization...who make the day-to-day running of this Club as professional and customer friendly as possible. Without good people, the first two points would not be enough to make the Club a success. 4) The Fans. At the end of the day, it is the Fans who keep us all going. One cannot be at Villa Park on game day...or away...without recognizing that the Premiership does not have better fans than those who bleed claret and blue.

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What a great read! I know some will say "oh no not another kiss ass post" but WE SHOULD celebrate what we have and we should spread the word about what is happening at Villa because the press wont! The press only report the doom and gloom and with a lot of people turning their backs on the game becasue of the likes of what is happeniing at middle eastern road they need to hear stories like this to give them some comfort knowing that not everyone is following the football club plaything ethos.

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In the dark days of DoL and the bastion of sorrows that was Villa Park, when people used to ask me if I followed football, I would reply, "No, I'm an Aston Villa Fan".

Now I'm proud of our club, and it is OUR Club, we don't have the ego of Abromavich, the incompetence of Gillet & Hicks or the debt's of the Glazier's. What we have in Randy Lerner is a quiet man who wants to let the manager manage and create a legacy for all Villa fans present and future enjoy.

If professionalism and common sense were criteria for judging a clubs size we would be the Biggest club in the world!

Proud History.. Bright Future ? Well the future is already here, and we all better put shades on because it's going to get a whole lot brighter.

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  • 1 month later...

Excellent article, I dont believe thats a kiss ass thing, to me that was a sensible view of how things are seen from a level headed Villan`s perspective (well mine anyway).

We may not be a get rich quick club like the light blue Mancs but slowly catchy monkey IMO

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