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The Big Interview: Commercial chief Organ on new kit, season ticket sales, shirt partner and club crest

Watkins signs new deal
The Big Interview: Commercial chief Organ on new kit, season ticket sales, shirt partner and club crest
  • Season Tickets well on track for 20,000+ 
  • New main club partner to be announced next month
  • New shirts available at end of July 
  • Refreshed hospitality areas ahead of new season
  • Improved Wi-Fi in hospitality
  • Focus on matchday experience 

There’s a new signing in B6 – and he’s determined to ensure the name Aston Villa is held in the highest regard across club sport.

Luke Organ is the club’s new Chief Commercial Officer and arrives from illustrious Premiership rugby giants Wasps. 

His journey has seen him turn around struggling sports organisations to make them commercially competitive and he’s keen to do the same for the claret and blues.

He smiles as he discusses his career path – calling himself a “glutton for punishment”.

After studying sports business at university, Luke took up a role in a private equity leisure and media fund in London then spent time in China in Shanghai and Beijing before joining the Women’s Tennis Association and then Lotus F1 team.

“My career has definitely been shaped by going to organisations that have hit upon hard times and reintroducing the good times.

“At the Women’s Tennis Association, we boosted revenue across our global partnerships, signed the tours first commercial deals in China and Asia and drove participation rates in China. At Lotus F1 team we transformed the commercial models, bringing partners on board such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, EMC and Unilever to drive the team back to podiums.

“Wasps were near total administration but are now flourishing. 

“The most striking parallel in my mind is between Wasps and Villa – the two have won major trophies in the past and have huge fanbases respectively but both have had or are going through hard times behind the scenes.

“Now Wasps are one of, if not the, strongest club in the world commercially and at the sharp end of all competitions. 

“When Villa approached me, it was a meeting of minds with Keith Wyness and Tony Xia. Having been here a few months now, I recognise that Villa needs hard work, care and a big cuddle – and I believe my team can move the club forward.

“It is that big club. You can’t avoid it. You walk in and realise the sheer size of the club. It’s scary. 

“But what is exciting is that opportunity to get things right on and of the pitch – we can be that club that flies. 

“Keith told me when I joined ‘a lot here is broken, please help fix it’. I can’t wait to do that. We are putting in solid work with my team behind the scenes and are well underway with that process. 

“How can you not say yes to the opportunity to work for Aston Villa? It’s a long journey we’re on now but one that I believe will lead to an amazing future.

“It’s helped by the team and staff here behind the scenes, who I have been immensely impressed with. 

“We have mega talent throughout the teams I am involved with and in other departments. The club should never underestimate the quality of the folks it has working for it and the hard times they have also been through, while maintaining Aston Vila’s interests at heart. All we want to achieve is the best for Aston Villa. That’s a genuine recognition to them from me – and it’s a privilege for me to work with bright people who want to move the club forward. 

“We have seen a positivity coming back through the club. There are still many things we have to mend but the positivity is coming – the can-do attitude is there again.”

OrganMainInterviewWeb3Luke’s role is undoubtedly a huge one as he takes charge of a host of departments – Ticketing, Hospitality, Retail, Digital, Partnerships, Marketing and a newly-created division, Data Insights, a brainchild of his which will offer senior management staff the ability to really understand what makes Aston Villa and an Aston Villa fan tick. 

He sees huge opportunity for this to be the commercial growth engine of the club, exporting this knowledge outside of Aston Villa to other sports and entertainment bodies in the future.

One of the key drivers of his position still remains filling the stadium and he’s been happy with season ticket sales this summer.

After breaking the daily record twice in the summer early bird window, we’re now heading easily towards 20,000 – a figure which is up on the same stage as last term.

He’s eager to top that figure before the window closes, but appreciates the club can’t rest there.

“I think the figures we’re looking at would take us into good territory considering, but what this window has shown is the need to invest in our call centre, ticketing technology and our marketing efforts.”

More generally, moves are afoot to make access to the stadium far more seamless for supporters.

“There has been a major overhaul of ticketing providers. We are moving away from Ticketmaster and have engaged with a company called TopTix. 

“We were very impressed with their dedication to customer service and personalisation – but also their ability to help us move forward technologically with things such as mobile ticketing to loading season ticket cards with benefits gifted by the club.

“There will be a full system overhaul by the start of the season with new access technology coming shortly after. We will also follow up with the previously mentioned exciting announcements in relation to membership and loyalty programmes surrounding season ticket cards that the team are working hard on behind the scenes.”

Improved Wi-Fi for fans is also on Luke’s agenda and he says he’s working hard with the IT department to ensure Villa Park is technologically sound for the future.

“We are looking to push the stadium forward. I have previous experience of doing that. 

“I know fans don’t associate us with technology but I want to prove to them that we can move the club forward in this area. I love technology and the opportunities it brings for fans and partners alike and was fortunate to hone my understanding from my days in F1 and my last role. It is a passion of mine. 

“We are working to move that area of the club and our digitalisation forward to catch up with others and hopefully challenge and overtake them very quickly.”

OrganMainInterviewWeb2The 2017/18 campaign is one Luke is relishing as he makes an impact off the pitch with his highly-talented Partnerships team who are in the midst of finalising new partnerships and setting partner activations plans for the coming season.

The two-year deal with Intuit QuickBooks will conclude later this month and he praised the company’s contribution to the club, revealing importantly that a new main partner – showcased on the front of next season’s shirt – will be announced on July 1.

He says this new deal “recognises the size and scale of Aston Villa in terms of the size of the contribution made to the club and the plans for activation.”

The new Aston Villa/Under Armour shirt will also be revealed on July 1 with fans able to view the home and away offering.

There will then be a one-month pre-sale period with supporters able to receive, collect and buy both kits at the end of July.

“I’d like to let fans know the background to kit launch.

“As we know, fans are always keen to see the shirt as soon as possible after the end of the season. We’re also keen to reveal as soon as possible to drive our retail position forward. While we’d have liked to launch the shirt earlier, it is always driven by main club partner announcements and kit manufacture timelines. 

“We didn’t have the front of shirt partner in place when I joined the club, but we have worked extremely hard to get the best deal for the club with very little time.

“We have worked hard over Christmas and into the New Year in order to secure the best opportunity and this was delivered in April. However the timing on this has a knock-on effect in terms of manufacturing and application of logos on to thousands of shirts – it’s a time-consuming, manual job. 

“That has delayed everything, unfortunately. Our focus is very much on kit launch with the front of shirt partner being announced at the same time as our new kit is launched in advance of our first friendly games. 

“We wanted to make sure that fans had the opportunity to see the kit as early as we’re able to reveal it, so we will launch the kit with activation on July 1 - and have an extended sales window through online ordering. 

“The kit won’t arrive into club hands until late July which means the kit will be ready for collection on July 29. 

“We know that this isn’t ideal, but we hope that next season we can work to get everything ready so that we can release the kit earlier.”

HospitalityPicMain2

Bringing Aston Villa back in competition with the elite football world is the shared vision and that is illustrated with by the work within the Hospitality and Catering department.

There has been a major overhaul of this area of the business, with a company called Compass spearheading the drive to improve all aspects.

Our main suites and lounges have all received extensive makeovers – and will be on show in a series of open evenings in the coming weeks.

The premium hospitality offering known as the ‘Directors Club’ will also now return to being a “halfway line experience” after previously moving into the corner of the stadium.

“The refit work to the lounges and suites is underway and we expect to get first sight of those very soon, with a special event planned for seasonal hospitality members in the first instance. 

“Then we will begin a drive for new members and engaging with lapsed customers in the city. 

“Our relationship with Compass has enabled us to put six figure sums into these areas and we are relishing the finished products. 

“The suites will be modern while maintaining some of the previous character and touches.

“We are also recentralising all the hospitality around the half-way line. The club, strangely, put hospitality into the corner of the stadium – we must have been one of the only top clubs to do that. That’s changing from this season.”

In the Marketing area of the football club – a place Luke sees as invaluable to connect and listen to our fans – there will be a fresh approach taken, with a Marketing and Innovation manager appointed to ensure ground-breaking ideas are sought and new ideas are applied with the support of the digital and data teams. 

This will include a revamping the ‘matchday experience’ with Luke understanding the importance of our supporters as he looks to make them proud of Villa Park and what it has to offer.

The crest issue will also be addressed now that Luke has arrived.

“In Marketing there’s a big concentration around branding – and let’s address the elephant in the room on this one. 

“My objective is to deliver profit back to the playing team although we still have to ensure all of our assets say Aston Villa in the same way.  

“We are in the awkward position now with our brand where we are neither one or the other in execution. We have two different crests at present – the shirt has the ‘current’ version but around Villa Park and Bodymoor Heath we have the old logo. 

“We will bring about consistency in stages – it may take three or four years. It must be relative to our total income as a club and our current position. We will treat that sensitively and take bite sizes out of that rebrand over a period of time. I hope the fans see this as a sensitive way forward.  

“Our Marketing team are also looking at driving us into new areas to ensure we are engaging most effectively with our fans. We have to drive our understanding of how we focus and act on the subsets of Aston Villa fans, season ticket holders, single match purchasers, multi-match purchasers, hospitality guests, gender, age, religion, geography etc all the way into the e-sports & digital space. 

"It’s also as basic as ‘way finding’ around the stadium – when you get here. ‘Does it scream Aston Villa enough? How can we heighten that for first time visitors?’ 

“We are also looking at the fan experience on site – things like the family fun zone to half time entertainment. We are lagging behind the times in terms of what other clubs are doing and we need to catch up and surpass them.”

OrganMainPicWeb4This ties in nicely with our new Data & Insights department, which will seek to understand the habits, routines, loves and hates of our fanbase.

“This is a separate business opportunity that we’re developing. It’s in its infancy so we can’t go into it too much detail at this stage. We see an opportunity to build a full understanding of the club – a live real-time view of everything. 

“Does Bob in the Holte End always buy a Heineken? If so, we can surprise and delight him on the final day with a free pint of his favourite beer! Do we know he fills his car up at Shell – can we work with them on a joint loyalty programme to drive benefit to the fan. It’s all about finding ways to engage with and thank him for being a really loyal supporter! 

“The whole purpose is to allow the management of the club to better understand our fans and our business operations. Hopefully the supporter will think ‘Oh Villa are thinking about me as an individual”. The perfect example so far is #MyVillaMoments as part of our season ticket campaign – we personalised that experience for supporters using really basic data insights.”

Finally, in the Digital world, coverage of games internationally has grabbed attention over the past few months, with Luke and his team electing not to tie-in with the standard Championship proposal.

This would have seen our official website being switched to a customised EFL model so Luke was keen for us to keep our strong independent digital identity while not sacrificing the viewing needs of our fans across the world.

Luke revealed that the club would have a good offering in place for the start of the season.

“Most fans will have seen the iFollow announcement. We didn’t go down that route because it required wholesale changes to our website and our app – and essentially involved giving ownership back to the league of those club assets. 

“Because of the strength of our website and app, we decided not to do that. But now that means we have to build out a production service/team to match the level of service that iFollow delivers. 

“I think that iFollow is fantastic but doesn’t quite meet our needs whilst retaining independence. So we are now pilling through tenders and getting things aligned so we will be broadcasting our own games that aren’t picked by the broadcast partners, and we will not therefore use the EFL solution. 

“This is a sizeable project but we hope our fans internationally take up that offering as and when it comes online.”

Life within the corridors of Villa Park is clearly at full-speed with many projects on the bubble in B6.

The benefits of these will be felt positively by supporters in the coming months.

Stay tuned to the official website as we continue communicating the latest behind-the-scenes news.

Why not snap up your SEASON TICKETS now.

Check out our HOSPITALITY OFFERING for the coming campaign.



Paul Brown
By @paulbrownavfc 26th June 2017