San Jose Earthquakes majority owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher are famously prudent in their operating strategy, often to the frustration of fans who want the club to invest in star players to make the end product on the pitch more entertaining and successful. New President Tom Fox was careful this week to satisfy both ends of the spectrum as he assumed the precarious task of reconciling those perspectives in his introductory press conference.
Tuesday’s press conference was largely an exercise in formality, but interspersed between the pleasantries were important clues as to how Fox will approach the job ahead of him and how that will affect the club.
The fifty-three-year-old has an extensive background in marketing, serving at Gatorade, Nike, the NBA and Arsenal, and is more at home discussing dollars and cents than player signings or on-pitch strategy. When asked what short-term and long-term opportunities he sees for the Quakes, Fox focused on enhancing the Quakes brand rather than the on-the-pitch product.
His predecessor Dave Kaval was brought into San Jose to build Avaya Stadium and it is now the central focus of Fox’s tenure to turn a profit on that investment. His statement that “someone’s willingness to lose a lot of money is not a gap that you’re probably ever going to be willing to close” would seem to be aligned with the spending strategy of the owners, but may prove disappointing to fans holding out hope for radical change in the club’s player investment strategy.
Nevertheless, Fox also pledged his loyalty to the club’s supporters, emphasizing that “football clubs exist for the fans” and promising to make himself available through open office hours.
It will be a delicate balancing act to uphold both ends of the bargain.
Fox understands the pitfalls of the task more than anybody, having been lambasted by the English press for failing to succeed in a similar situation at Aston Villa, his last post. Fans argued that the club’s soccer operations were hindered by his lack of soccer pedigree, which contributed to their first-ever relegation in the Premier League era.
The concern for San Jose fans is that the lack of possible relegation in MLS will allow the owners to maximize profits of the team without any considerable improvement on the pitch.
Fox, however, offered hope to the fanbase by arguing that his focus on business is complimentary to the soccer operations staff being built by new General Manager Jesse Fioranelli. “Football operates very much on a virtuous circle and I went through this at Arsenal as well,” he said. “The more success you have, the more revenue you generate, and the more revenue you generate, the more you can invest in your academy and your first team, and then [you have] better qualify of play. You keep working your way around that virtuous circle.”
He sees the Gunners as a template in terms of operating strategy, praising their self-sustainability and ability to enjoy “fantastic success” while turning a profit. However, even this definition of success could raise a red flag for Quakes fans given the widespread dissatisfaction among Arsenal’s fanbase with their lack of title-winning ambition.
That said, Fox is confident that he will employ the important lessons he learned at Villa to grow the Quakes franchise in all aspects. “Thankfully, I’ve been in the US sports business for a long time,” he said. “The people that run the league in New York, I know well. I’ve grown up with many of those people, so I’ve got a huge support group there that are willing and able to help me. I’ve already spoken to the Commissioner…and I think I’ve got a good base from which to begin to learn.
“It’s been a bit like drinking from a firehose and I think it’s going to be that for the next couple months for me.”
For now, he says his job is to “shut up and listen” to all of these disparate voices.