The unceremonious exit of Football Association marketing chief Paul Barber has left his successor, Jonathan Hill, facing a tricky home fixture.
Hill takes up his role as chief executive Mark Palios begins to stamp his authority on the organisation. Palios’ first major decision proved to be the boardroom putsch that transferred Hill from his role as marketing director for FA subsidiary Wembley National Stadium to FA commercial director (MW last week).
With Barber gone, the organisational structure that he and former chief executive Adam Crozier created is being dismantled. The marketing and communications division has been split into a communications arm, led by sports journalist Colin Gibson, and a commercial team, headed by Hill.
Hill will be responsible for existing sponsors but it’s not clear whether his duties will extend to general marketing. Areas to be considered range from brand development of properties such as the FA Cup, to creating marketing campaigns, such as the anti-xenophobia work earlier this year (MW May 29).
One FA insider admits Hill’s position as commercial manager will be more of a caretaker role of existing sponsors than a marketing job. He adds: “Where that leaves marketing of the FA is an open question.”
This uncertainty troubles others in the organisation, with some marketing staff still unsure where they will be relocated, including marketing and communications manager Nick Barron. One source says: “It is fair to say that not everyone is 100 per cent happy.”
That Palios has rejigged the organisation is hardly surprising, particularly given Barber’s attempts to take the chief executive job after Crozier left last year. It is an incoming chief executive’s prerogative to build his own team, as Barber acknowledges: “I’m sad to leave, but there is no longer a role for me with the division being broken up.”
Barber and Crozier overhauled the organisation’s structure four years ago, creating five distinct sponsorship brands – men’s, women’s, community, elite and youth. These were sponsored respectively by Carlsberg, Nationwide, McDonald’s, Umbro and Pepsi, all of which have access to the England team and FA Cup.
Barber successfully signed up each of the five FA partners to four-year deals worth £10m in 2002, at what was a difficult time in the sponsorship market. However, according to Tony Simpson, managing director of sports agency SP Active, there is much for Hill to do.
Simpson says the test will be whether Hill can protect the FA sponsors next year at the Euro 2004 championships. He makes the point that there will be at least 15 brands investing “a lot of money” all trying to wrestle the tournament from the FA sponsors. “The sponsors will see whether it was a good deal next year,” he adds.
But one source suggests the new FA structure could hamper Hill’s efforts. He says Barber and Crozier created strong teams which easily managed the various FA brands. Brand maintenance might not be as easy now the marketing division has been broken up, he adds.
“Strong brands were created – including the England team itself – but these need to be nurtured to stay strong. Brand management will be more difficult when they are breaking up the division,” he says.
Also in question is the future of the sponsorship package. The source describes Palios as an “accountant more interested in numbers” than in creative marketing. He says there “is always a risk that he will break up the sponsorship structure”, which could upset existing sponsors and make Hill’s task harder.
However, sponsors do not echo such concerns. A spokesman for Nationwide says: “The sponsors worked well with Barber, so we are all sorry to see him go. But we know Hill and look forward to working with him.” A spokesman for Umbro adds: “Hill’s job is to make sure that what we bought is what will be delivered.”
Hill would be wise to heed these words – it is he who will have to renegotiate the sponsorship contracts in 2005. Sportacus managing director Stephen Pearson knows the difficulties better than most. He battled with the FA for the attention of the same sponsors during his tenure as Premier League commercial director.
Pearson says Hill is equipped for the role, as long as he keeps his head down: “Barber spent too much time boosting his own profile, which the FA doesn’t like. Hill has the sales background and, importantly, as an existing employee he comes at the right price.”
Hill, meanwhile, remains tight-lipped about his FA role, preferring to talk about his past. But it is not a move into the unknown: Hill joined the FA in 1993 as commercial director for the Euro 96 tournament, leaving to join sport agency IMG’s football division in 1996. He moved to Wembley in January.
Hill’s background is suited to the commercial aspects of managing the crown jewels of football sponsorship, as well as his other revenue- generating responsibilities, such as merchandise and new business development. He will need to sign deals for the overseas screening rights and the new media rights for the FA. However, as the FA outsources its licensing deals, much of the responsibility for this side of the business will be out of his hands. About 90 per cent of FA revenue is derived from television and sponsorship rights sales, but there is more to do at the FA than simply generate revenue.
The organisation has long been trying to make football a more inclusive sport, promoting causes such as anti-racism. As it is not clear where responsibility for such campaigns lies – be it with Hill or the communications team – there is a danger that the task of marketing football for the good of the game could fall by the wayside, leaving the new structure to focus solely on the FA’s coffers.