By Kate Madley

Born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, raised in Herefordshire and educated in Hull, Jonathan Ford is now based in Cardiff as the chief executive of the Football Association of Wales.

He brings to Welsh football a wealth of experience in marketing, media and sponsorship and has worked across some of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Ford’s early career started at the Foster’s brewing group before moving to MTV as a project director. Jonathan then went on to spend almost 10 years with one of the globe’s biggest brands, Coca-Cola. He gave up being Coca Cola’s sponsorship director in 2009 to make the move to Wales.

At Coca-Cola, Ford worked on global business building projects out of Portugal, and subsequently looked after key sponsorship assets such as the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA European Championships and the Olympic Games. Ford brings to Wales a stock of international business expertise.

Jonathan Ford met with Wales World Wide to discuss the impact of sport in Wales, and the business of football.  Today, we publish the first part of our interview.

 

Do you think sport and business are closely connected? Would you say that sport often drives this?

“Sport and business are very closely connected, and much more so now than they used to be. I remember Bill Shankly saying, ‘in football there’s three things that matter: one, the players; two, the fans, three, the coaches and managers.’

“He went on to say the directors are there just to sign the cheques, and that is probably to a degree still true, but of course it has to be a relationship that works. If you are unhappy with a manager, it is the director that has to make the decision to replace the manager, so they have to work very closely.

“Since the mid 90’s the realisation of the value of sports has become very apparent, television and sponsorship has really brought the necessity of sport to act much more like business.

“Another quote which I think is very true says, ‘my job is 50% about football, 50% about business and 100% about politics.’

“It emphasises that business and sport are very closely linked, as you know, the turnover in sport is just immense these days. But, if you look at the Olympics Games of 84’ the IOC almost went bankrupt. FIFA made a loss on the world cup in 1990, whereas now they are turning over phenomenal amounts of money.

“The FAW turnover just 10 years ago was a fifth of what it is now; our growth has been 500% in matter of 10 years. This shows how business and sport are so much more integrally linked now.

“I think there has been a change in circumstances, there’s better business management now, as well as satellite TV, there’s more opportunities. They’ve been savvy and been able to supply where the demand was, interests have been commercialised, but there’s also been a massive influx into the industry.

“Historically, I’m a businessman, I did well in my chosen sport but I was never at a level where I was able to carry it on as a career. I went into business and I’ve been brought back to sport as a business manager who’s got a passion for sport.

“If you look at the LOCOG organisation, Lord Coe was there as chairman but all the other people he brought in weren’t former athletes, they were business people with specialism’s in their respective areas.

“If anybody was looking to have a career in sport administration I would suggest they gain their business skills first and then move back across.”

In your opinion, does sport help to distinguish Wales as a nation to do business?

“I think it does, football is of course the biggest sport in terms of the numbers of spectators and participants. On a national level, the rugby team has done an excellent job and I take my hat off to their success, but I think combined, we are packing way above our weight as a nation.

“We have successful rugby and football teams at both grass roots and at senior domestic level. By the end of the season, Wales with a bit of luck could have a successful 6 nation’s campaign and Cardiff could enter the premier league. It would be phenomenal to have 2 teams in the premier league.

“I think it’s well catalogued that sport in this country, on both live and home spectator basis has increased in Wales compared with England; this includes the number of Sky subscriptions for example.

“We are a sport loving nation and that’s great, but it isn’t quite so good when you’re not performing as well as you should, we need the support at all times.”

Do you think Wales is better known in countries where there is a significant football following?

“Tell me a country that doesn’t have a significant football following? The beauty of football is that there are more member countries in FIFA than the United Nations has members. There are of a couple of anomalies, the British Isles is one, but there are 209 countries that are members of FIFA, and in the UN there are about 207 or 208.

“When FIFA meets as a group of countries, which we do once year, it’s the biggest meeting of countries on the planet; there is no other sport that can compete on a global level. Football is the dominant sport; it’s not a level playing field when you compare it to rugby. If you take the Rugby World Cup, Wales of course are able to turn up as a founding member, but in our case there are 209 countries competing for 32 places.

“In UEFA’s Europe there are 53 countries competing for 13 slots, and for the European Championships there are 53 countries competing for 16 spaces. This is increasing to 24 in 2016 but it’s a much more competitive landscape for us to actually get through to qualification.

“Football is a dominant sport wherever you go, it’s a common language. The Football Association of Wales is the third oldest football association in the world – England first, Scotland second, Wales third and Northern Ireland fourth.

“We’ve got a very proud history, and as a part of that we sit at the top table for many things, one of them being the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the law maker of the game globally. So we have many different privileges within football and we are proud of those. It is probably for those reasons we are known than unfortunately for our cup winning success of major titles.”

Do you see sport as an export for Wales?

“Yes, definitely, and it’s everything that goes with that sport. Our level of support for sport is fantastic, I do believe we are a good nation, and we are a well behaved nation, a party nation and I think of course, on a fan basis we are good export and a good team to play against.

“As far as a business is concerned, of course it’s an export, and there’s many business opportunities that we try to exploit. It’s a little bit harder than doing it from a domestic basis, but we do still try and utilize that on a global basis.”

Continue to part two of our feature interview with Jonathan Ford here.