Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Alex Tunbridge and I am the Chief Executive Officer at Stevenage FC. First and foremost, I have been a supporter of the Club since I was 10 years old, and I am now in the very fortunate position to be leading it off the field.
Having graduated from the University of Southampton in 2008 in Sports & Business Management, I wrote to every Club in the Premier League and Football League asking for a job. I received two replies, one was a thank you but no thank you and the other was an advert for the role of Young Fans Co-Ordinator at AFC Bournemouth. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the role which I saw me focus on the development of the Club’s young supporter base and in turn it got me into the industry.
In early 2009, the Stevenage FC Chairman made a public plea to get the town of Stevenage to support its Club, with it languishing in mid table in the National League with crowds of 1,800. I saw an opportunity to help my Club and drove to their offices and handed in my CV and a letter outlining what I could do. A week later I met with the Chairman and was appointed to drive their community engagement activities.
Over a 7-year period at the Club I launched its Foundation, assisted with the management of its Academy facility and established a day nursery bringing in vital secondary income. I said yes to ever opportunity, I learnt, I failed, and I had fun. In 2016 I had the opportunity to go to America and assist in opening an indoor soccer centre, I had always wanted to work in the States and the timing seemed right to challenge myself.
Following a year in America I was drawn back to the English game and took up the role of Club Secretary & Head of Operations at Newport County AFC. They were rooted to the bottom of League Two and were 12 points adrift from safety. On the last day of the 2017/18 season, they scored in the last minute to stay in the EFL and I was appointed CEO. The following season proved to be vastly enjoyable with a fantastic FA Cup run and the opportunity to professionalise the fan owned club.
In the summer of 2018, I joined Stevenage FC with the task of driving the Club forward and embedding it within its local community.
What do you do in your current role and what does your week look like?
Each and every week and indeed each and every day is different. My primary focus will be on the strategic development of the Club and overseeing its staffing structure.
We are based over three Club sites which we manage and also includes a nursery school therefore, facility management, health & safety, HR, finance and safeguarding are core themes which I focus on daily. In addition, my time will be spent focusing on income generation, be that working with our commercial department on new sponsorship opportunities or with our media and marketing team to promote matches and attract new fans.
Our Head of Recruitment and Club Secretary oversee a lot of first team matters therefore, my time spent on this area of the Club can fluctuate depending on the time of year.
The diverse nature of the role and its correlation to the ups and downs of what happens on the pitch is a great motivator to get up each day and drive the Club forward.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I have always wanted to run a football club since I started my degree. The dream was to run the one I supported, and I have been fortunate enough to achieve it. The sports industry is like no other, when you work in it it becomes more than a job, it becomes a way of life.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
I think the biggest excitement is around technology. As a result of COVID the industry is beginning to embrace it more than ever. If you look at the American sports industry, they are miles ahead of us. App based supporter engagement, e-commerce and our developing media platforms, mean that the ways in which the industry can operate and interact with fans is now endless.
At Stevenage FC, we have just launched our own e-sports platform, this is also another very exciting area of the industry which I think will develop in the course of 2021.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Everyone at the Club is a custodian and we have a collective responsibility to ensure when we walk out of the door to our next challenge, we leave it in a better position. Alongside this focus I also think it is important to not get caught in a bubble and to lift your head up.
We are a Club which is embedded in its local community and therefore, it is important that we are community and fan focused. Our decisions must be commercially driven but balanced against the interest of these two important stakeholders.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
Burn out is probably a subject within the industry that gets overlooked. Often a football season can comprise of 50+ games plus pre-season which can involve traveling thousands of miles. Lots of people think you put your feet up in the close season, often the close season can be just as busier if not busier.
Football can be an endless cycle, before one seasons finishes you are already planning for the next. Managing your workload and finding time to invest in your personal life is key and it is important to strike a balance over the course of the long seasons.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
The sports industry is unlike many others. It is fast paced, ever changing and if you stand still, you will go backwards. Sometimes you can affect what goes on the pitch and sometimes you can’t. A bad refereeing decision can lead to a bad run of results and the loss of a sponsorship proposal you have worked on for months.
There are highs and lows and sometimes you can have extenuated periods of one feeling or another. However, sport allows you to make a difference to the community in which your Club is embedded into. Don’t underestimate the effect you may be having and the social value. In summary give 100%, say yes to opportunities and don’t stand still.
How to connect with Alex Tunbridge on social…
Alex Tunbridge on LinkedIn
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Alex Tunbridge! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.