A born and bred Wolves supporter, Russell Jones’ personal and professional life revolves around the gold and black in his role as general manager of marketing and commercial growth. Following more than a decade spent working across the West Midlands at Aston Villa, Jones returned to his boyhood club in 2017 where he has the challenge of helping Wolves become one of the biggest global sports brands.
Russell, what are the responsibilities of you and your team at Wolves?
My main responsibilities are fanbase growth, localising content in new markets, partnerships and Wolves’ brand verticals, such as Wolves Esports, Wolves Fashion, and taking those newfound markets and commercialising them, with licencing, membership and sponsorship. My main responsibility is then setting the commercial vision and making sure that everyone understands our challenger brand narrative, as well as embody our brand values in everything they do.
Tell us a bit about your background before joining Wolves.
My background is sports marketing. I have worked in and around sports for around 20 years, starting out with the marketing and comms team for the IAAF, working across several world championships before spending a large proportion of my career at Aston Villa, working very closely with Randy Lerner on his projects in both the US and in the UK. I also oversaw the marketing, digital and content teams at Villa, before setting up my own business in 2014, working with small and medium businesses in the West Midlands to develop their business growth and digital transformation. Then in 2017, I got the call from Wolves.
What attracted you to the Wolves project?
To be honest, I wasn’t looking to move out of my business and I was really enjoying it. It was the first time in a long time when I had that work/life balance, because football is more of a lifestyle than a job. But I’m a Wolves fan, I live in Wolverhampton, and it was too good of an opportunity to not go and at least talk to the directors. Five minutes into my conversation with Jeff where he shared the vision of Fosun, it was something I was desperate to do. Thankfully, I was offered the job and everything that was explained to me in that vision has come true.
How do your team embody the Wolves spirit?
The single biggest change I’ve seen over the last three years has been a complete change of our brand strategy. We moved away from an acceptance culture and more to a driven culture, with being ‘progressive’ becoming our key and most important value. The idea of daring to be different, driving every day to be brave is something that is deep-rooted in our DNA. But, being humble is also one of our values, and it’s really important to marry the two, because however driven and progressive we are, it’s still important to understand who we are and where we’ve come from.
What do you love about working for Wolves?
The thing I love most about working here is our togetherness – that one pack mentality. I’m not just necessarily taking about the staff, I’m talking about the fans, the city and the community. I remember my first week in December and the snow clouds were looming over Molineux. On the Thursday, a call to arms went out across our staff that snow was coming and asked everyone to come to work with a shovel and a woolly hat, and that’s exactly what happened. I’ve never seen togetherness like it, everyone from the directors to the finance team to the marketing and media teams came out in force shovelling the snow to try to get the game on.
What are your objectives for the future at Wolves?
Our main commercial objective is closing the gap on the ‘big six’. On the pitch, we are close, but off it, the gap is still significant. If we simply follow the same pathway as those other clubs, we’ll never do it, so what we need to do is bring in a culture of daring to be different, be brave in our approach to other projects. Wolves Esports is something we believe will open up a totally different market, we’re working hard on Wolves Fashion, and we’ve got other verticals in the pipeline that will be out in the open.
What would you describe as your best achievement while working for Wolves?
Even though I’ve only been here three years, there’s been so many highlights and it is difficult to pick just one from that. As a Wolves fan, the promotion party was an incredibly special day, and I loved every minute of being part of the organising group and working very closely with the city council, but the biggest single achievement has been the growth in our fanbase. When I arrived here, we had half a million fans across our English channels, now we have more than five million followers, across six different languages channels. We are the fastest growing football club across all five European leagues, and earlier this year we were named in the top 20 most valuable football brands.
Finally, tell us something about you that we didn’t already know.
One of my passions outside of work and family is cars. I’m a bit of a petrol head and do have a couple of classics, but I’m afraid they are bangers, rather than E-types. Earlier in June, we partnered with Gulf Racing and entered the virtual Le Mans 24, so that was a great pleasure for me to work on both professionally and personally.