Ellis Short provided his first press interview yesterday to Total Sport. Here we provide our thoughts and recap what he had to say.
He and Ellis discussed the recent announcement of the deal with Invest In Africa, and what that means for the club moving forward as well as summer transfer plans for the club.
You can listen to the interview yourself HERE if you fast forward to about the 39-minute mark, and all in all, it was a very interesting listen as nothing was shirked, and Ellis certainly gave off a vibe which will leave fans feeling confident about the clubs future.
Here's our recap of what Ellis had to say in the interview...
First on the table was talk of the new shirt sponsorship deal with Invest In Africa. Ellis provided us with more background on the charity, who are an arm of Tullow Oil, and what it means for the club moving forward;
Well I hope it sends out a positive message. Tullow Oil, the initial founding partner of Invest In Africa, is a blue-chip, very serious, successful, well-run and prominent company, and they will bring in other companies like themselves into this initiative. So the kind of international companies that will be within global reach and that we can be associated with, I think reflect the fact that now we're an established Premier League team who is steadily improving.
It seems as though Invest In Africa could not only be a good deal for us as far as bringing some international recognition, but also sets us up for further deals of it's sort by bringing us together with other companies through the initiative, who might in turn want to sponsor us. It's a very clever strategy for future growth of the football club it seems.
Ellis went on to further discuss the deal with Invest In Africa, what they actually stand to get out of the deal as well as what it means for us to have an international sponsor after years of local companies;
Yes and we have had some fantastic sponsors. Tombola was wonderful for us - local company, done very well, loved the club and they were very good for us, but as you said, we're an established Premier League team, getting a little bit more coverage with a manager like Martin O'Neill, we expect to really improve, and with that will come even more coverage. So to now be sponsored by an initiative which his backed by some big, serious, international companies, is a good reflection on us, and does indicate that we've taken a step up.
So in it for them is more exposure, and for us is the cash and the contacts as stated above. Just what everyone wanted really. It's also good to see that the chairman believes us to be an established Premier League club now after years of yo-yo-ing between the Premier League and Championship, stating it twice in as many minutes. We certainly are that, and it's about time we got serious about it.
After other teams have chosen to try and crack the markets in the Far East and the Americas, the question was put about why go into Africa, and how come nobody else had really done so;
Well, commercially this is a good deal for us, but more importantly it expands our presence and expands our fan base potentially. In the modern world of football, we are going to be living with Financial Fair Play, so our spending will be limited by what we bring in. The Premier League is a global business watched by millions and billions worldwide, The reason that the TV revenues are so high, and continue to grow so high is a reflection of how many people watch it - so to thrive going forward, we need to be able to grow revenue, and to grow it locally doesn't make any sense. This is where our fans are, and this is by far the most important area for us, but even the UK with 60 million people isn't enough when you're looking at TV revenue generated by billions. Africa is a very fast growing continent, with 300 million people watching Premier League matches. If we can become a very popular team on that continent, it's better than being the 100th most popular team in the richest economy in the world.
Ellis talks a ton of sense here. While many people think of the starving children adverts when the name Africa is mentioned, it's not always the case. Yes, of course it is happening, but there are also thriving areas with folks who are just as comfortably living as you and me.
It's certainly a risk going into an emerging market, but the Invest In Africa partnership should be of great help to grow the brand. Look at how American sports teams have grown in the UK. The New England Patriots were recently voted the most supported NFL team in the UK, initially via the tenuous link of "England" in the name. Partnering with a company who wish to see growth in Africa could well help on a similar level after already agreeing a deal with Asante Kotoko in Ghana.
Back to happenings on the pitch however, and Ellis spoke honestly about the clubs position in the league. It certainly seems that the American knows his stuff when it comes to Sunderland, including the fact that he isn't happy with 13th position or even continual midtable positions in seasons to come;
It's a lot of pressure. The first step is getting into the Premier League, we're there. The next step is staying in the Premier League, the next step is being considered an established Premier League team. There is a lot of pressure not just to stay in the Premier League, but to improve. We're not happy with finishing 13th, we're not happy at all, but we realise that you need steady progress and continual progress - you don't want to finish 7th twice in a row and get relegated the next season, which has happened in the past. We do feel right now with Martin, and with the progress we've made we are well positioned. We want to be well within the top ten. We certainly can't promise that, but we're not happy with where we are and we do want to improve, and yes, there's huge pressure to do so - from the fans and their expectations, but also from the sheer size of the economics of the Premier League.
A clear understanding of how the fans feel, and of course it's clear he's looked at the clubs history citing the failure to progress on Peter Reid's highest league finishes. I might even be reading too much between the lines, but it seems perhaps there's a pop at Steve Bruce there too in that we want to be "well within" the top ten, as if we need reminding, Bruce has often championed himself for fluking us to tenth the other year. It's also clear that the circa figure of £500k per Premier League placing is highly important to Ellis.
Ellis also seemed happy to discuss this summer's transfer policy and budget now that Martin O'Neill is back from his holiday and players are returning from various breaks and tournaments this summer;
Well Martin and I speak frequently, so this wasn't a surprise to him. He and I have been talking all summer long about what we're going to do. I think the fans [and everyone else] have a pretty clear idea of what we need to do. So now, Martin is looking at specific players that we might want, and then there'll be a lot of work in trying to get them players here, but we don't want to sign players just for the sake of signing them, or because it feels like they're inexpensive for some reason. We want to identify players who are good, and will definitely improve us, and we'll try to bring them in.
It certainly seems that Ellis has his head screwed on when it comes to transfers, and this could well be a summer where we go for quality over quantity. The days of Steve Bruce signing 10+ players each summer look over, and rightly so with Financial Fair Play looming.
There's also the fact that Ellis talked about players who seem inexpensive. There's plenty of names on free transfers at the moment, but we'll only be looking to make a move is both Short and O'Neill feel that this is a player who will improve us, regardless of cost.
Ellis didn't give too much, if anything at all, away on how much we have to spend, or about who we're interested in, which is a change and a good one. You certainly don't want to be showing your hand too early, as was sometimes the case with Niall Quinn, bless him, in his excitement and boundless enthusiasm.
Overall in the interview Ellis comes across very well. He seems very in tune with the fans and the local area, and talks in a measured and confident way - nothing slips out, nothing is said by accident. It's safe to say that we should be encouraged by hearing this and with Ellis at the helm I firmly believe we're in very, very good hands for the forseeable future.