Tom Fox prepares to help take the San Jose Earthquakes in a new direction

Tuesday morning at Avaya Stadium, Dave Kaval passed the torch on to Tom Fox as the former Arsenal and Aston Villa executive took over the reigns of the Earthquakes front office. Fox arrived in San Jose earlier in the week, but will not officially begin as president until July 1st. “I am only here for four or five days, I have to go back to London and pack up my life of 8 years before I come back. I’m really starting officially July 1st, but I wanted to spend some time getting to know the staff, starting to get to know the market, so even when I’m back in London I feel like I’m connected,” he said.

Dave Kaval was brought in to bring a soccer specific stadium to the Bay Area. Tom Fox’s central role is to generate more revenue for the club that can be reinvested into other aspects of the team such as first team players, the academy complex, and more. “What I want to see are great successful consumer brands understanding the value an MLS club like the San Jose Earthquakes can bring to their businesses in this part of the world. I think that’s part of the growth trajectory for the league as a whole. The sport is growing, but in terms of what we represent in the potential sponsorship marketplace and the brands we can entice to help us on our journey and help expose us – I think we can do a better job of convincing them that we have a very strong role to play in growing their business through our property. I talked a little bit about it but I think the connection that soccer clubs have with their fans and the difference between the demographic of the people that follow soccer – I think we need to be able to bring that to life more on behalf of those brands. It is not an easy thing to do, but I think it is a really important thing to do. When we look at the group of companies we’re associated with, we already have an incredible roster of partners, but I want to continue to add to that with businesses and brands who believe in what we can do for their business.”

Fox also made it clear that he won’t be heavily involved with the technical side of the club. “My role at Aston Villa was exactly the same as the role here, it was to manage all areas of the club including to manage the football side. The way I viewed it was my role was to try to build the best possible organization and give them every resource they needed to be successful. On the football side particularly, I’m so excited about Jesse Fioranelli, Chris Leitch, Bruno Costas, and Alex Lafita, and what they bring to the table,” he said when asked whether his role at Aston Villa would differ from his role with the Quakes. “My job is not to know as much about football as they do, my job is to make them as successful as possible and give them every resource that they need, and it’s the same across all areas of the club – to give the partnership team, the operations team, and to give everybody the space they need to operate and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Silicon Valley is a hotbed for successful and growing companies, but sports organizations have often struggled to gain partnerships and sponsorship deals with top companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook. “I think we can [break through and build relationships with companies like Apple, Google, Facebook],” Fox said of the opportunity to work with companies in Silicon Valley. “I don’t know them yet, I haven’t had a conversation with them. It may not be necessarily approaching them to become a sponsor because those are brands that don’t typically sponsor sports, but I think it’s more an opportunity for us to get to know each other, for us to understand their business, for them to understand what we believe we represent in this market. I can’t imagine that the businesses that are fundamental to Silicon Valley can’t understand what it is that we represent to our unique fanbase and unique demographic of people here, and want to be apart of that and want to build something together. It may not be sponsorship, but it’s certainly a mutual interest in Silicon Valley and the branding of San Jose, and the growth of this market. I’d love to have those conversations with anybody in this market that wants to talk.”

Dave Kaval had an open door to any fans that wanted to discuss or give their input on the club. Tom Fox plans on doing the same with the Quakes. “I did that at Arsenal – I made myself available to anyone that wanted to talk, I built relationships with some of the great longtime supporters and some of the traveling fans. At Villa, I had people in my office on a regular basis and try to explain to them what was happening at the club and why that was such a difficult turnaround, and to try to let them know that I understood if they had frustrations or what their hopes for the club are. It’s probably my favorite part of the job – getting out to talking to people. Football clubs exist for the fans. We are not in the business of selling tickets and food. We are in the business of selling pride and belonging. The more we can make the fans feel a part of what we’re doing as if they belong to the club, and the more that they feel pride for the things that we do in the community and on the field, the business takes care of itself. I want to communicate that to as many individual people as I can. I’ll be available, I’ll be around, I’ll be visible, that’s the part of the job I like the best.“

In a market with big successful franchises such as the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco Giants, the San Jose Sharks, and more, it is going to be difficult for the Earthquakes to establish themselves as household names. Fox understands this challenge, but still believes it is very possible, and it starts with one simple step. “We have to win. In order to win, you’ve got to have a football operation that has a strong point of view, that has the right infrastructure, that is making all the right moves from the development of young players all the way up through the first team. That is a long term journey that we need to be on. In order for us to be more relevant in this marketplace, we have to win, and in order to do that there’s a lot of things that need to happen. Thankfully, the ownership group has already started to put those pieces in place before I got here. I think it’s fundamental. If we can start to generate some consistency in our results, generate a style of play that is exciting to watch – which I know we will do under Jesse – we will start to be competitive, then we will start to win, then I think we will attract the big audience that we want.”

Fox also briefly discussed his philosophy and the ownership group’s approach to spending money. “Football operates on a virtual circle, and I went through this at Arsenal as well. The more success we have, the more revenue we generate, the more revenue we generate, the more we can invest in the academy and our first team, and the better the quality of play is. The better the quality of play is, the more you win. And you just keep making your way around that virtual circle. It’s always difficult to know where to enter that virtual circle, because there is no beginning and end, but I think from what I can see so far – what Jesse and his team are doing, we are going to be making strives on the pitch in terms of performance, and that is a great way for us to start that virtual circle spinning ever faster for us.”

When asked about the team’s willingness to spend large sums of money on players, similar to what teams like Los Angeles have done in the past, Fox reiterated a lot of what Jesse Fioranelli has said in the past. “At some level, someone’s willingness to lose a lot of money is not a gap that you’re probably ever going to close, and from my perspective, nor do you ever really want to. I use my Arsenal experience as a great metaphor for this – at Arsenal, everything we did at that club we did on the back of the revenue we generated ourselves. That club is self sustaining, it does not incur operating losses every year, and yet it has fantastic success. To me, in this market place, I think in San Jose we want to deliver consistency, competitiveness, and success. We don’t want to do it by spending the most money, we want to do it by spending enough money to give us the ability to be successful. That’s the more exciting part of the journey for me. How do you enable the operation to deliver success on a consistent basis by being better at what you do by being smarter about how you approach the football side of the operation. That’s much more interesting to me than spending your way to success.”

Fox understands that taking on this new role in the unique league that is Major League Soccer is going to be a challenge, “It’s been a bit like drinking from a fire hose, and I think it’s going to be like that for the next couple months for me.”

Anay Patel

I have been a lifelong Quakes fan, and founded Quakes Epicenter in November of 2014. I have been credentialed to cover the Quakes since the 2015 season, and currently serves as the lead editor of the website. Outside of the Quakes, I am currently a student at the University of Southern California studying Computer Science and Business Administration.

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