“As an owner, you need to be patient and build relationships with the media and the fans.”
In Conversation with Simon Jordan
Simon Jordan is a businessman, former owner of Crystal Palace FC and he currently hosts along with Jim White, White and Jordan, which is Talksport’s most popular show. Simon made his money from the mobile phone retail business, The Pocket Phone Shop, just as phones were becoming ubiquitous. He owned Crystal Palace, who he has supported since childhood, from 2000 – 2010.
DH: Drawing on your previous experience as the owner of Crystal Palace, what for you are the key ingredients to ensure that as an owner you have a well-run football club?
SJ: There are a variety of key ingredients that an owner must have to ensure that they have a well-run football club. They need to acquire as much knowledge of the club as they can, they need to get people around them who understand the club and they need to immerse themselves in the business. I spoke to Todd Boehly (Chelsea owner) whilst I was out in Qatar and I think that Gary Neville’s criticism of him is ridiculous, because how else can someone like Todd gain an understanding of his business without immersing himself in the club. It’s all about gaining knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the club and learning from your mistakes. It was easier for me, because I was a lifelong Palace fan. As an owner, you need to be patient and build relationships with the media and the fans. You need to be transparent and communicative.
DH: You invested a lot of your own money in Palace and I know that you had a vision of the club being an established Premier League outfit with a stadium owned by the club and so how do you look back at your ownership experience? Is there some happiness given some of the memories like the 2004 promotion or are there regrets over how your ownership ended?
SJ: It was a very different time (when he owned Palace from 2000-2010), because the best owners used to be the ones you never heard from, now it’s changed. Owning Palace was at the start a labour of love and then it became all about the labour. I tried to build a culture of one for all and all for one. Ultimately, I exposed myself to a lot of risk and it was a case of a fool and his money were lucky enough to get together in the first place. I had to kiss a lot of frogs until Neil Warnock came along. There were a lot of battles for me particularly at the end and the football establishment ganged up against me on many occasions during my time as owner. But there were moments of pride and moments of enjoyment and great moments for my family. I wanted Palace to win and I wanted Palace to reflect my desire to win and to reflect my personality, my will, resilience and substance. For me, owning Palace was all about the club winning on and off the pitch.
Historically, banking and commercial people thought that getting involved in a football club was a great way to lose money (the industry has matured now), but at Palace we developed one of the best academies and we achieved our KPIs in terms of our ticket and merchandise sales and attendances.
Having other people’s money (as a club owner) is often the best kind of money to have and I have little regard for the Palace owners now. They have four-five people doing what I did on my own. There were fleeting moments of enjoyment, but I am not bitter, I want to be better. That’s my mentality.
Today, owners are involved for very different reasons compared to when you had the likes of myself, Steve Gibson and Jack Walker there. Those types of chairmen are few and far between today. The reality is that my focus was on Palace all the time and I was thinking about how to develop Palace and not Simon Jordan as well. That’s not to say that I should’ve used Palace as a platform for myself, but just that I was completely focused on developing the club at a cost to me.
As an owner, you need to be patient and build relationships with the media and the fans. You need to be transparent and communicative.
DH: If you had to be selective, what one reform of English football governance would you like to see?
SJ: For me it’s not just about one reform. I’d like to see proper governance and cost controls. It’s not right that nation states can be involved as they are, because it leads to hyperinflation in the market. When I was in Qatar I spoke to Nasser Al-Khelaifi (PSG President) about my concerns around nation states getting involved and the issue of inflation and as he said, develop better governance then and that is the right and proper answer. The issue that we have is that whatever Chelsea and Man City do, the effects trickle down. And it may take salary caps and if that’s what’s required in order to ensure cost control, then so be it.
DH: What do you think of some of the proposed reforms of English football, such as fan groups owning a golden share in their clubs and the abolition of parachute payments?
SJ: I don’t have a problem with significant fan input over decisions such as what kit their team should wear or how to build an effective club-fan relationship, but you can’t have them in the boardroom, it doesn’t make commercial sense. There would be significant issues around confidentiality and fans would likely become too emotionally invested in their club and that over-sensitivity would impair their decision-making.
Football should never want a regulator, because greater regulation creates its own issues, but football deserves one. It deserves an independent regulator, because the Premier League is very arrogant about how it operates; it forgets about the important role of the lower leagues. There are a couple of factors to keep in consideration with any reforms, which is that you must balance redistribution from the Premier League with protecting the league’s finances and you must ensure that clubs will be competitive when they get promoted and sustainable when they are relegated.
15-20% of the overall football proceeds generated in our country should be going down into the three divisions below the Premier League and there should be salary caps in those lower divisions. And I disagree with Rick Parry about abolishing parachute payments.
The issue that we have is that whatever Chelsea and Man City do, the effects trickle down. And it may take salary caps and if that’s what’s required in order to ensure cost control, then so be it.
DH: Has English football become over reliant on foreign investment?
SJ: English football is susceptible not over reliant on foreign investment. We do have a tendency though in this country to want to sell everything to everyone else, look at the case of the Harrier Jump jet and the London Stock Exchange.
The Premier League is a unique economic powerhouse. We are in a globalised world and sport and English football shouldn’t be and isn’t immune to that.
DH: How have you found the transition from business to football to media? How important is that versatility and breadth of experience for you?
SJ: I didn’t enjoy the media whilst I was at Palace, I thought they were full of hyperbole and nonsense. The news media, especially when it comes to geopolitics and society, often talk nonsense and they have their own agenda.
Scarcity always sells and currently there are no former football club owners who have a media platform apart from myself. I used to have more money and less influence and now I have less resources, but more influence, because the media has given me a platform. And the media work creates commercial opportunities for me too.
I’m not speaking for clicks or controversy. I’m speaking with insight, experience and substance. I’ve got older and wiser and I don’t want to be deliberately controversial. I want to hold the media’s feet to the fire as well and I know when to speak and when not to. When you’ve actually done something, that helps when you speak about a related issue. Now I say to journalists, when did you own a football club? When did you hire a manager? When did you buy a player? And the answer is never and so they are only repeating what has been said to them.
Scarcity always sells and currently there are no former football club owners who have a media platform apart from myself.
Also, my finances aren’t determined by my media work, so I can be more independent, be stronger in my opinions and I don’t have to worry about getting cancelled.
DH: With your media work, do you ever see yourself branching out into politics/current affairs?
SJ: Maybe, I can talk about all the theoretical stuff like NHS reform, House of Lords reform. I have immersed myself in other people’s thinking when it comes to those kinds of issues. I offer critical thinking as well as being pragmatic and thinking about the commercial situation.
Look at the situation with Prince Andrew and his out of court settlement. Look at the media stories that are being run about it by Piers Morgan and Dan Wootton, about how he can overturn the settlement. He can’t appeal against an out of court settlement that he freely agreed to.
The media (news media) is a busy, noisy space and I’ve thought about testing myself there, but I’m happy where I am. If I want to be a big noise in media then sport is as good a space as it gets.
DH: I remember when you gave your talk at The Oxford Union last year and you talked about how disappointed you were at the quality of political leadership in the UK across the political spectrum, so what leadership skills do you believe our politicians need?
SJ: Accountability and deliverability are the two key skills they need. Our politicians need to be paid enough so we can have the best in class. Around £80000 for MPs and £142000 for the PM is not enough, look at how much money Boris Johnson has made outside of politics.
The issue is that our politicians believe that they are pop stars. I mean how can Nadhim Zahawi have been Chancellor throughout the summer when he knew he had tax issues to settle with HMRC? We need far less theatre and far more substance and integrity in our politics.
We need far more cross-party work regarding policymaking and we need good ideas. We need good incubators for good ideas. We also need a re-rationalising of the blob of civil servants who have jobs for life and who don’t need to deliver outcomes.
I was inclined towards Brexit. But that was because I thought we had politicians at the time who could harness the opportunities of Brexit and that assumption was wrong. And I mean ‘opportunities’ in a more general sense. Brexit was not only about ensuring that we are a sovereign country able to make our own laws; I believed that we had the economic nous to exploit some of the commercial opportunities from Brexit, such as the trade deals.
Sometimes you must take one step back to take two forward. But the issue is that Brexit was used as a vote winner for politicians like Boris Johnson. But politicians need to produce outcomes, deliver on them and own them.
The issue is that our politicians believe that they are pop stars. I mean how can Nadhim Zahawi have been Chancellor throughout the summer when he knew he had tax issues to settle with HMRC?
DH: As a successful businessman what kind of economic policies would you like to see the government pursuing?
SJ: I understand that raising corporation tax needs to be used to generate revenue, but there should also be careful consideration about ensuring that the UK economy can be internationally competitive. I think that the government should also look carefully at each sector and see if it can provide more support, so I think there should be more support for the retail sector.
We aren’t terrible at being an incubator for start-ups, although we used to be the start-up capital of Europe. Look at Israel, there are start-ups there left, right and centre. The issue that we have here is that government is getting in the way of business and we need less regulation.
DH: Why do you think you and Jim White have made such an effective partnership on Talksport?
SJ: Jim is a very experienced presenter and he understands that I want to provide my own opinion. I think we have a pace, power and fearlessness around the subject matter. I have no interest in being a presenter, Jim does and we don’t want to be Ant and Dec. There can still be friction in the relationship from time to time, but we understand each other.
He’s sixty-five years old and he can make the opening of an envelope seem exciting, so he’s a very effective presenter with multi-decades of experience.
Image credit: TalkSPORT
Image description: Simon Jordan sat in TalkSPORT chair