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Succeeding off the pitch

Behind the scenes at Britain’s most successful football club of the last decade with alumnus, Chris Townsend, Director of Commercial at Chelsea FC.

Chelsea: a suburb of West London, famous for its affluent residents (including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) and proximity to the hustle and bustle of Central London life – only 20 minutes to Harrods!

Recently, it has become internationally synonymous with its highly successful football club, Chelsea FC. Built during the twilight years of Queen Victoria’s reign, Stamford Bridge is unrecognisable from the dated arena it was just 20 years ago. It was the success on the pitch that launched Chelsea on the path to become one of Europe’s most successful clubs of recent times.

This level of success on the pitch has been reflected off the pitch, and some of our students had the privilege of spending the day hearing from Chelsea’s current Director of Commercial and Newcastle University Alumni, Chris Townsend, and some of his team about the way in which Chelsea FC have cemented their place in world football’s commercial elite.

Chris hosts an impressive CV. He opened the day with a presentation of his own illustrious career, beginning with a graduate role at EMI, followed by HP, the BBC and then Sky, where he launched SkySports just as the Premier League signed a contract with the company, Sky Movies and the first ever Pay-per-View event in the UK, a boxing match between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson.

After these huge successes, he moved to Taywest and was responsible for their merger with ntl to create Virgin Media. By this point he had reached his goal of becoming financially independent and so he was now in a position to accept projects purely on their own merit. He saw an advert in the Times that TfL were seeking someone to launch the now-ubiquitous Oyster and successfully rolled it out to over 6 million commuters in the first year alone. He was then headhunted by the 2012 Olympic team to raise funds and successfully raised 2.4 billion, running the procurement and marketing teams. After a stint at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Chief Executive of SuperFast Broadband, he was approached by Chelsea to lead their Commercial Team, two years ago.

He chose Chelsea for its USP – it’s location in one of the most affluent parts of Central London. He joined what was already a hugely successful operation, with successful men’s, women’s and academy teams, and a fanbase of over half a billion worldwide. Furthermore, the club finds itself 8th in the overall financial league table of clubs worldwide. With the ever-rising popularity of the Premier League and the room for growth in the financial league table, Chris took on the challenge of growing this club still further.

Perhaps the biggest project as part of this is to build Chelsea’s brand new stadium, which is currently on hold despite the plans and permission being in place. Chris and his colleagues all highlighted how important it is to keep up with other UK clubs’ developments, particularly like the recent development of Tottenham Hotspur, whose new state-of-the-art stadium has increased the pressure on clubs like Chelsea to be at the forefront of football. They stressed how this increased competition should be seen as a positive thing, as this focuses minds and ensures things don’t go stale.

The event was certainly a memorable one for the students, who shared their favourite parts with us on the train home. They were inspired by the array of different speakers, who shared some really great insights with us throughout the day, including the importance of attributes such as adaptability, resilience, creativity and passion. The absence of any technical, football-related discussion was obvious, and this highlighted the vast range of career opportunities available in the world of football, an industry that continues to grow both in the UK and abroad.

Students at Chelsea FC
Students at Chelsea FC

published on: 19 June 2019