European mission for London IrishBy Paul Robins
November 19, 2009
Andy Martin has swapped the recession-hit world of banking for a rather more aggressive pursuit – rugby.
As the new chief executive of London Irish, he joins a business riding the crest of a wave with record season ticket sales and attendances at Madejski Stadium up 45 per cent this year.
“I want to make sure the London Irish story is heard far and wide,” he told The Reading Post.
“We have a great business, great players and there’s a huge interest in us – people from some 130 countries visited our website last month alone.
“I want to see London Irish become one of the most successful rugby clubs in Europe both on and off the field.”
Quite a target – but a quick glance at the club’s balance sheet or the Guinness Premiership top flight league table will show you The Exiles are well on their way.
“Overall rugby audiences in England are up over 10 per cent with London Irish leading the way,” said Martin.
“Events such as the Lions tour, the World Cup and the entry of the sport into the Olympics are clearly helping, however I sense that our overall package is pretty attractive today when compared to other sports that have become huge global franchises.
“Rugby offers a good value family day out and, whilst the recession has clearly had an impact, people are still prepared to spend where value is good.”
Martin arrived at the club in September with a big reputation, having worked his way up the corporate ladder to become managing director of global sales at Barclays Commercial Bank.
But he says running a professional rugby club is not that different from any other large enterprise.
“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of providing great service to our customers, ensuring our own people love working for the business and ultimately making sure the business is focused on providing an acceptable return to shareholders,” he explained.
“But whilst emotion exists in traditional businesses – it is much more high profile in the sports world.
“Emotions run very high, everyone has a view and weekends can be made or broken by the quality of show we put on both on and off the field.”
Martin, who has an MBA from Henley Management College, is responsible for developing the London Irish brand globally and locally.
He spends his days liaising with a senior management team consisting of a commercial director, finance director, rugby manager and head coach.
He said: “My day-to-day role is very much a mix of setting direction for the business, providing leadership and creating space for the team to execute on our plans. Recruitment, development and retention of talent across the business are also very much part of my responsibilities again working in close consultation with my senior colleagues.
“Weekends see my role turn into a combination of a proud rugby supporter and relationship manager for our corporate partners.”
The club’s main revenue comes from TV rights and sponsorship, but as with any professional sport, results on the pitch are what really count.
He said: “Clearly a winning team is easier to sell commercially, however the true test of success is if we still sell the brand despite experiencing one or two defeats.
“The club has diligently focused on building a quality playing squad over the past few years, fit to compete at the highest levels. We believe we now have this.
“We are now focused on ensuring we have the team and facilities off the field to be able to ensure the on field success continues.
“We are currently working on a planning proposal that, if successful, will see us build a state of the art £12 million training complex – fit for elite sportsmen.”
But what if London Irish, who made it through to the Guinness Premiership final last season, were to suffer the same relegation woes as their Madejski Stadium counterparts Reading FC?
“It would be awful and I hope that is something that never happens, however we do not have the extremes of the likes of football,” he said,
“For example, we operate under a salary cap that restricts the quantum of pay we can give to our squad. This keeps us honest and drives business efficiencies that would help in any relegation scenario.”
Martin continued: “We’ve certainly made huge strides forward [in becoming as popular as football], however there is clearly some way to go.
“That said, as rugby clubs really embrace the commercial opportunities ahead of them I am sure we can close the gap even further.
“We just need to make sure everyone sees the benefits of getting involved as we strive to fill the stadium every week.
“I am sure as and when people try us, and sample our match day experience, they will come back.”