E.ON boss heads for Europe

As E.ON's UK sponsorship boss, Mike Thompson has presided over the company's remarkable seven-year association with Ipswich Town Football Club and its association with the FA Cup. Now he is set to move to Dusseldorf to take charge of the firm's global sponsorship operation. But he won't be giving up his Ipswich home...

As E.ON's UK sponsorship boss, Mike Thompson has presided over the company's remarkable seven-year association with Ipswich Town Football Club and its association with the FA Cup. Now he is set to move to Dusseldorf to take charge of the firm's global sponsorship operation. But he won't be giving up his Ipswich home, as he tells Sarah Chambers.

IT'S likely to be a busy few months for E.ON sponsorship boss Mike Thompson.

On Saturday, he was preparing for the FA Cup, where E.ON has enjoyed a couple of years of fruitful sponsorship.

On June 22, his wife, Kirsty, is due to give birth to their second child, and on July 1, he takes up the helm in his new job, leading global group sponsorship for E.ON. The family, which also includes the couple's two-year-old son, James, will then relocate to Germany.

Mike Thompson, 38, an Ipswich Town fan himself and a resident of the town, presided during E.ON's successful seven-year sponsorship of the football club, which is now at an end.

“I was sponsorship manager until February 2006, then I was promoted to be head of sponsorship then about a year ago I was promoted to head of sponsorship and events. My remit was to look after the UK market for E.ON,” he says.

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“Sponsorship of Ipswich Town was in 2001. We were already a community sponsor then took over the main shirt sponsorship from 2001. That was under the brand of TXU Energi.”

Mike's job has taken him all over the country, and he has lived in Coventry, Peterborough, Nottingham and now Ipswich.

“I keep coming back. It's a bit like a boomerang,” he says.

The Ipswich Town sponsorship was particularly fruitful, and Mike feels the very good working relationship with the club, and a forward-thinking approach, meant they were able to go beyond a “take the cash” superficial shirt sponsoring deal. The team at Ipswich Town were “brilliant to work with”, he says.

“You sit down and brainstorm these ideas working with the club to come up with some really good ideas,” he says.

They worked with Ipswich Town to become the first UK carbon neutral club, with about 14,000 pledges made by fans to cut down on their carbon footprint.

The same idea was used for the FA Cup, where, as sponsors, they have been able to gain about 164,000 pledges nationally. The FA deal is for four years, and they are halfway through the cycle.

It was ideas like the carbon neutral challenge which made the partnership so fruitful, and, while most football sponsorships last just a year or two, with one or two notable exceptions, the ITFC/E.ON collaboration became one of the longest running sponsorships in the game.

Accolades followed, and E.ON eventually decided it had achieved everything it had set out to, and would finish on a high.

“We spoke to the club back in November last year, early days, earlier than we needed to, and explained we would not go beyond our current terms,” says Mike.

“We had actually achieved our objectives, so where would you take it? We had just done everything we could with it.”

But Mike admits that on a personal level, it was hard.

“I'm very sad personally, because I'm an Ipswich fan. I grew up supporting the club as a kid,” he says.

“The other side of that personal thing is it's better to leave things when they are going really well.

“That's the advice I have always been given, to do something different when things are going really well.”

Of course, E.ON's sponsorship deals extend beyond football. There is rugby, the arts, cultural sponsorship, sponsorship of women's sports and support for schools programmes.

For Mike, who heads up a 12-strong team from the E.ON headquarters in London, it's a gruelling, but rewarding, challenge.

One aspect of his present post he won't miss is the London train commute, and he is looking forward to living close to the Rhine when he moves to Germany.

An economics graduate, Mike has worked in sales and marketing for 17 years, and has covered more or less every marketing discipline. He became involved in sponsorship eight years ago.

“I'm quite an ambitious person,” he says. “I wake up on a Monday and actually look forward to going to work.”

As a sports fan, getting to meet some of the great names in football and other games is one of the job's perks, but behind the scenes, it's a hard slog.

“I spend a lot of weekends working, because obviously a lot of these things are weekends,” he says.

“I suppose on paper it does look quite glamorous, but then you have got to look at the long hours. It's great, and I do love that part of it, and it's a real privilege to do it. I love sports.”

The job also carries a lot of responsibility, and everything has to be right on the day, particularly for events such as the FA Cup.

“Those pictures are beamed to hundreds of countries across the world. You need to get it right and you don't get a second chance when the captain raises that trophy above his head,” he says.

“You are briefing people to do some quite high profile things.”

Of course, things can go wrong, such as one particularly hairy moment during the 2001/02 season when Ipswich Town was due to play in Italy in the UEFA cup. E.ON had teamed up with a national newspaper and was paying tribute to hit film The Italian Job with a drive from Portman Road, all the way to Italy. The driver and co-driver duly set off, only to hit a hitch before they had even crossed the channel. It was a comedy moment worthy of the film.

“He drove and got to Dover and he realised he had forgotten his passport,” recalls Mike.

There was a mad scramble to get it to him, and they missed the ferry. Fortunately, they did arrive in time for the match.

“That was a bit of a cock-up, I suppose. How do you legislate for that one? You have just got to use your common sense and do what you can,” he says.

Although he is looking forward to the challenges of his new job, he won't be leaving without a pang or two.

“It's quite a tough choice for me personally, because obviously I love my current job,” he says.

“I'm keeping my house in Ipswich.”

With sponsorship, he says, you work out over a period of time what you want to achieve.

“Done in the right way, what sponsorship can do is add real emotion to the brand. Sponsorship is about a dialogue with the customer,” he says.

“You measure it in terms of our objectives. Awareness of E.ON, awareness of us as an energy company, what people feel about us.”

E.ON operates in Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and other countries around Europe. When he arrives in Germany, where the E.ON brand is already very well known, he will be looking at where they need to take it from here.

“The first thing I would like to do is to work out the objectives of the brand, then work out from those objectives the best sponsorship, he says.

He is “really excited” about the promotion and the prospect of learning a new language, but this is mixed with some apprehension about how he will fit in with the culture.

“I'm going into a bit of the unknown,” he admits.