Having made the move from his role as head of motorsport at Fanatics, to join Wolves as head of retail in May 2019, Vinny Clark is now part of the club’s leadership team as general manager of commercial operations. Clark has a depth of experience having worked alongside some of the biggest teams and stars in world sport and has brought his knowledge to Molineux to help improve the commercial offering which is available to old gold supporters.
Vinny, what are the responsibilities of you and your team at Wolves?
I oversee the trading elements of the club, whether that be retail, through to ticketing and food and beverage (F&B) – everything from your pie and a pint on the concourse, right through to our most premium hospitality offering. We also have a fourth area which is known as ancillary sales, which includes car parking revenues, lottery, museum and stadium tours. My remit is to grow those areas and make us more commercially competitive.
Tell us a bit about your background before joining Wolves.
I’ve worked in the sports industry for the majority of my career. Earlier roles were in product buying and sourcing, but for the best part of the last decade I worked for a company called Fanatics who are the leading retailer of licenced sports merchandise. I’ve worked with some of the biggest clubs in the world, such as Real Madrid, but I’ve also had the privilege of working with the Tour de France, the French Open tennis, England Rugby Union, so I’ve had the benefit of seeing how other sports operate. In the last five years, I was working in Formula 1, which is a really unique sport, but it was great to see how they run hospitality, ticketing and merchandising and being able to bring that knowledge here to Wolves.
What attracted you to the Wolves project?
I had a really lucky and privileged job – travelling the world, having a lot of fun and great cultural experiences in places I would never have ordinarily visited, such as Russia and Azerbaijan, and I wasn’t looking for a career change. But I was asked to come down to the training ground for a chat with Jeff, and, if I’m honest, I went into that meeting closed minded because I was really happy in my job. But within 10 minutes of speaking to Jeff, came away with a bit of a dilemma, because I was really excited by what we’d discussed. A lot of owners in football talk a good game and say what they’re going to do but don’t necessarily have the nous, but after spending half an hour with Jeff, you knew that Fosun were really behind this project and it was something that I was keen to be involved in.
How do your team embody the Wolves spirit?
The Wolves values are engrained in us and form the basis of all our decision making. They’re all important, but the key value for us is about being progressive. I sometimes consider us to be a 140-year-old start-up company – we have great heritage, but since the Fosun acquisition, it has been a new dawn. We’re all developing, changing and improving the things we do, and that gives the individuals who work here a licence to be entrepreneurial. Humility is another key value for the club, and that comes from the top because Fosun are a very humble organisation. You only have to look at Nuno and Conor – I don’t think there are more humble people who you could possibly have as the face of your club.
What do you love about working for Wolves?
The staff are great, and ever since I came into the club, everybody’s been so welcoming and it’s a real great place to be around, but my passion is about problem solving, developing and improving. When we take a decision or a course of action that gets a positive fan reaction, or gives us a greater return on our investment, watching those improvements come to life is what keeps me going.
What are your objectives for the future at Wolves?
As a club, we want to be competing consistently at the very highest level, and on the pitch, the gap between ourselves and the biggest clubs is quite small, but off the pitch, the gap commercially is still fairly enormous. If we want to be competing at that highest level, we have to get bigger and we have to get better at what we’re doing. The second key objective is to always have the fans at the forefront of what we’re doing. We know some decisions we make will work and some will not, but the fans have to be central to everything we do.
What would you describe as your best achievement while working for Wolves?
The big focus we’ve put on the last year has been around product. We’re really keen on getting our product right; whether that’s in retail or food and beverage. We feel that we can improve on what we’re doing and in retail we’ve focused on an overall product overhaul. We now buy directly from the far east, so we have greater product control over that product, and we’ve taken the spec and quality up from where it had been recently, and I hope fans have been receptive to that.
Finally, tell us something about you that we didn’t already know.
I can fly planes. In 2008 I headed over to Florida to get my pilots licence, because becoming a commercial pilot was all I ever wanted to do. I finally scraped enough money together to go to Florida, and had the best time, flying over the skies of southern USA. Unfortunately, when I came back home, there was a huge financial crisis and the dream was over because the funding programme to support me stopped, and I had to go back to selling keyrings and badges at shops.