Tom Glick always had an uphill struggle to win the hearts of the Derby fans. A slick commercial operator, his super-smooth American patter was anathema to some, while others were left furious or just cynical by his attempts to justify player sales and the club’s failure to make signings when they were desperately needed in 2010/11.
However, while struggling to keep Derby afloat in the second tier against a backdrop of budget cuts (while other clubs were spending freely), Glick was gradually building a serious reputation for himself in English football.
As a member of the Football League board, he was instrumental in pushing through the adoption of Financial Fair Play regulations, which could ultimately put an end to the sort of financial doping strategy currently pursued by Leicester City – although money men will always do their best to circumvent them by whatever means possible, as shown by Sheikh Mansour’s £400m sponsorship of Glick’s new employers, Manchester City.
Glick has had a difficult job to do at Pride Park, particularly since taking responsibility for football matters after Adam Pearson’s departure in 2009. For a man with a sports marketing background, who was new to football and originally hired to overhaul the club’s commercial operations, this was no small undertaking. With the Rams finding life in the Championship extremely hard, Glick found himself acting as the mouthpiece for an ownership group who were not prepared to throw unlimited money at the club – and were tired of spending millions of pounds just to keep it afloat.
His mistakes were sometimes embarrassing – the failure to capture Connor Sammon from Kilmarnock at the end of the January 2011 window was a spectacular gaff, at a time when the club had just been dumped out of the FA Cup by Crawley Town and faced a relegation battle – while his plan to recruit a director of football was steadfastly opposed by Nigel Clough and eventually kicked into the long grass. However, ultimately, Glick did help to bring about changes for the better at Pride Park.
It goes without saying that many of the players Glick helped to shift off our wagebill were overpaid underachievers, while the club’s new policy of youth development is to be applauded and is already bearing serious fruit. For the first time in years, we are actually now in a position where a number of our senior and junior players are coveted by other clubs.
And albeit in a very tightly managed way, the club do now communicate regularly and more effectively with fans, especially via videos and statements posted on the official website, but also through the Derby Telegraph and BBC Radio Derby.
An ‘even’ playing field?
The only problem with the theory that clubs should break even, instead of being propped up by owners prepared to plough millions into them, is that supporters who equate the old Lionel Pickering / Jack Walker model with success tend to think it means the owners are taking them for a ride.
And as long as some clubs are prepared to stick to the old ways, accepting huge wads of loan cash and losing money hand-over-fist in the pursuit of instant success, it will always be hard to make a case for the comparatively dull, prudent, ‘slow train coming‘ approach favoured by Glick. However, if what Glick has described as ‘an era of football financial responsibility’ is indeed eventually ushered in, the Rams will be ahead of the curve.
Once it finally kicks in at the start of the 2014/5 season, Financial Fair Play will hit overspending Championship clubs with transfer embargos, or fine them proportionately to the level of their loss should they get promoted.
This said, FFP does allow for owners to invest a certain amount of money in their clubs every year and it remains to be seen how much money GSE are prepared to give Nigel Clough for players year-on-year. This summer, the answer appears to be ‘none, unless you flog a few first’.
There is an extent to which the owners need to show willing, to inspire fans to get off their arses and keep the turnstiles clicking. Breaking even is fine as a business aim, but the sporting aim of a football club, ultimately, is to compete at the highest possible level and try to win things.
There’s also the complication of promotion and, more pertinently at present, relegation, which can destroy the most meticulously constructed business plan. Sometimes, the reality is that if you don’t spend, you’re going down – GSE did accept this in the summer prior to last season and provided much-needed money for new players, thus keeping us well clear of the bottom three in 2011/2.
Many season ticket holders will always renew, because they love the club, or the rituals associated with it – attending the match with friends and family, going down the boozer afterwards, win, lose or draw. There’s also the tyranny of the ‘Early Bird discount’, which threatens them with a price hike if they don’t renew before a certain date.
Some fans have a genuinely fanatical attachment to the club and would gladly follow the Rams to Yeovil Town on a Tuesday night, but this hardcore need to be supplemented by those Derby folk who require a certain amount of coaxing into the ground. Winning football, the excitement of new signings and the promise of entertainment are three ways you can do this.
Another way of doing it is offering discounts on match tickets. In a recent interview with BBC Derby, operations director John Vicars was charged with presenting the club’s case for demand-based ticketing, an innovation from Stateside intended to attract casual fans to games by offering cheaper deals on tickets bought in advance.
This may turn out to be a better and more consistently successful approach than the occasional Groupon tickets offered last season and anything that raises revenues for the football club can’t be knocked – but it’s vitally important that season ticket holders don’t feel like they’re being undercut.
All in all, Glick seems to have done a good job of preventing attendances from collapsing in spite of the team’s patchy recent record. It remains to be seen whether his marketer’s magic touch will be missed at Pride Park in the years to come.
‘The Glick is dead‘ – long live the Glick?
That said, Glick has confirmed to Radio Derby that he will have a hand in the recruitment of his successor, while chairman Andy Appleby has stated that the new chief executive will be ‘as close to Tom as possible.’
The job description for Glick’s replacement is worth a scan, as it gives some key information about the club’s current policies, goals and exactly what the new chief executive will be expected to deliver.
Firstly, the owners claim to ‘understand the need to maintain and further [the club's] rich history and heritage’ – so it’s safe to assume that the new Kappa home kit won’t be red…
Next, the club’s ‘operating philosophy is to be fiscally responsible and prudent, with a goal of being profitable in each year of operations.’ This would be a major turnaround on previous seasons. Between 2005 and 2011, we lost an average of about £6.33m a year, only seeing an operating profit in the Premier League season of 2007/8.
The team is expected ‘to consistently compete for the playoffs, with a goal of promotion within the next four years.’ By then (2015/6), the FFP rules will be in force and other clubs will be obliged to pursue a similar book-balancing model to Derby’s.
The theory, I assume, is that by then, the fact that the Rams attract bigger crowds than nearly any other team at this level will give them a competitive edge. If clubs are all forced to live within their means, the clubs with the most fans will be able to generate more revenue and run slightly higher wagebills, while wages throughout the division will naturally come down to more sustainable levels.
GSE want Derby to go up to the Premier League by ‘being the absolute best developers, buyers and sellers of footballers.’ This explains the determination to bring through our own youth products – ‘investments [in the Academy] will allow us to bring up quality first-teamers that fit comfortably fit into our wage bill….’ By eventually selling on the best of these youngsters, ‘this development focus will ultimately allow us to make further investments in players’.
This also explains the club’s stance on Jason Shackell – the player is available, but only if the offer is so attractive that it would realistically allow us to replace the player (a difficult task in itself), while also providing extra funds to strengthen the squad elsewhere. Bids that would allow us to merely break even on the player, who has two years to run on his current deal, have been dismissed.
Derby County may not be throwing crazy amounts of money around, but if somebody else wants to throw crazy money our way, that will be just fine.
There are some fans who will see Glick’s departure as a reason to raise a glass. I’m not one of them. He has a huge task on his hands overseeing commercial operations at the newly-created behemoth that is Manchester City and wouldn’t have been approached to take it on if he hadn’t proved himself to be exceptionally capable at Derby County first.
If we’d sold a player to City, we’d all be sad to lose him, but also immensely proud that one of our lads had proved himself to be good enough to secure a move to the Premier League champions. Losing an executive to them is very different, but this move should at least prove to Glick’s detractors that he must have been doing something right. That said, it’s definitely the case that his new role as Chief Commercial & Operating Officer will suit him much better than the Chief Executive role he filled at Derby County.
Now that he’s off to join the Blues’ quest for global dominance, let’s hope he sends us the odd decent loanee in future….