Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Shedding Elitist Image - Tony Copsey, Managing Director, NEC Harlequins

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Shedding Elitist Image - Tony Copsey, Managing Director, NEC Harlequins

Article excerpt

Tony Copsey cut an intimidating figure in his days as a professional rugby union player. Indeed, he was eulogised by fans of one of his former clubs, Saracens, to the tune of Winter Wonderland: 'There's only one Tony Copsey, One Tony Copsey, Seven feet tall, Built like a wall, And he's got your bollocks in his hand.'

'The Judge', as he is known to former team-mates, actually stands 6ft 7in tall, and rather than NEC Harlequins, where he is now stationed, he spent most of his career at Welsh club Llanelli, and made 17 appearances for his adopted country. Despite his Essex roots, Copsey is no mercenary. When asked where his loyalties lie today, he ardently answers: 'Wales, of course.'

Having played at the highest level, the 42-year-old is, by his own admission, a nervous spectator. And two years ago he could only look on as a last-minute penalty miss cost NEC Harlequins its place in English rugby's top-flight for the first time.

Some observers suggested that relegation was the best thing that could have happened to the club, as it had been in decline for years. That theory, says Copsey, is nonsense. 'It was a case of disaster management - but we'd planned well for it.' Despite drawing improved crowds following relegation, the club was hit financially as its revenue sources shrank and the TV rights money dried up.

The South-West London club had thrived during rugby's amateur era, attracting players by using its City connections to aid their off-field careers. The professionalism of the game put an end to this and the club, which had a reputation for being aloof, began a steady slide.

Copsey has worked tirelessly for the past seven years to rid the club of its elitist image and create a family-friendly brand. He himself is a family man and, although the gruelling days of 5am workouts before work may be behind him, short nights are soon to return to the Copsey household as his wife, Anna-Maria, is expecting their third child.

The rugby is the least important part in some ways, he says, drawing similarities between match days at The Stoop Memorial Ground to a day out at a theme park. Harlequins now hopes that more families will spend the day at the ground rather than just supporting the team for 80 minutes. …

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