New Commercial Director for Saints

Northampton Saints has appointed a new Commercial Director, Tony Davison, who joins from Sunderland Football Club at a time of unprecedented uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with Tony to get an update on how he has settled in and to understand where Saints go from here

Welcome to Northampton Tony, probably not the start you expected when you joined the Club?

Not at all. Coming from a role where I was helping to steady the ship at a football club which had just suffered successive relegations, it was exciting to be joining a stable organisation at the top-end of the table, with an ambitious 5-year-plan and a strong balance sheet. I couldn’t wait to get started but just a month in I’m obviously having to rethink the commercial strategy.

What steps have Saints taken to react to COVID-19?

Rugby clubs are, by and large, loss-making enterprises, so faced with an immediate and significant slowdown in our income it was important that we quickly implemented a range of cost saving measures.

All players, playing staff and commercial staff agreed to take a 25% pay cut – although this did not apply to staff remunerated below a certain salary threshold to ensure they were protected. We have also taken advantage of The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furloughing) for approximately two-thirds of our staff.

We decided that rather than furloughing all staff, we needed to operate a team large enough to communicate regularly with our clients to ensure a high retention rate and to recover.

Where possible we have also looked to make cost savings by scrutinising all non-essential expenditure and pausing any projects that are not considered absolutely necessary at this time.

How do you intend to recover?

The recovery started the day the lockdown started. We have been trying to keep the supporters informed as much as possible, as well as keeping them engaged and entertained via our social channels and the Club’s website. For instance, we have been streaming classic Saints matches, sharing players’ home training footage and offering lots of exclusive competitions and promotions. Plus, we have been in regular contact with our sponsors and business customers – who have all been superb and extremely supportive. It is essential that once rugby starts again, that we can retain our existing client base.

It is also important that we use this period wisely to reach out to the business community to forge new relationships and start conversations so that we are ready to capitalise on opportunities once the outbreak subsides. I am hoping to use this period to speak to as many business people in the region as possible.

What opportunities are you forecasting?

First and foremost, once the restrictions are fully lifted, I think a lot of people are going to be desperate to watch live rugby!

This presents an opportunity for our customers to utilise our range of corporate hospitality offerings to rebuild relationships with their clients which may have weakened during this period. There are also likely to be more staff working remotely in the future so regular fun events will become extremely valuable for staff engagement and reward.

It is apparent that more organisations are searching for innovative ways to utilise new technology and social media during the hiatus, this is likely to continue. I also believe that more companies than ever will want to be seen as “Good” members of the community. This provides an excellent opportunity for Saints to offer partnerships which use the power of professional sport and players to match these aims and tell a brand story in a positive way.

How about if there is a deep recession?

Good point, but our most important task is to demonstrate a solid return on investment. Will companies really be able to risk their biggest clients walking away or competitors stealing market share by being more interesting, engaging or innovative?

We have never seen a recession quite like this before. However, the economy before the outbreak was strong so we all hope that the underlying conditions are still robust and it will bounce back relatively quickly. Either way, we need to be ready to help companies when it does.

When you were at Sunderland, you participated in the Netflix series “Sunderland ’Till I Die” - what was the experience of having a production crew in the Club observing you 24-hours a day like?

I’m barely in it! Dozens of hours of filming didn’t make the cut. I don’t suppose watching me pouring over spreadsheets or having a coffee at a networking event is very exciting for the tens of millions of viewers around the world. That said, Fulwell73 [the production company] have put together a fantastic series and it was a lot of fun to be involved with. Having a camera crew in the room brings a whole new level of intensity to making big decisions with serious implications.

And finally, if there was a camera crew following you for the next six months, what will they see?

They would see lots of meetings with local and national companies of all sizes. They would see an organisation working hard to deliver innovative solutions for their partners. Most of all, hopefully they will see a Franklin’s Gardens packed to the rafters and top of the Premiership!

If you would like to discuss opportunities with Northampton Saints, please contact Tony on 07552 161 453 or