High & Low Life, High Life,

Flying higher

Fulham FC have been building on a fabulous promotion season – and behind it lies a true sense of family at the club.

After four years of promotion and relegation, it really feels like Fulham FC are settling into their stride. Those topsy-turvy days – which overlapped with the turmoil of Covid – are no longer on the agenda.

When the Premier League paused for the World Cup Fulham FC lay in ninth place, and barring an unprecedented collapse they will surely start next season in roughly the same position (alphabetically).

Jon Don-Carolis, Fulham FC’s commercial director, is the man who brought Fitzdares on board as the club’s official UK betting partner. As the oldest and arguably ‘poshest’ club in London, Fulham FC like to choose their friends carefully. “It’s so, so important for Fulham FC to work with like-minded brands,” says Jon. “The calibre, the synergies, the shared values. That’s what our portfolio is based around. It’s paramount to the club.”

Of course, Jon’s remit to make deals that work for the brand are largely tied to the club’s performance on the pitch. Last season, having just been relegated, Fulham FC challenged themselves once again to bounce straight back up.

In the summer of 2021, out went Scott Parker and in came Marco Silva. “The new manager came in with a new philosophy, training schedule, nutritional plan. Coming with his pedigree, it was a very exciting time to be at the club. We knew his favoured formation [4-2-3-1], which we were sure would bring the best out of [Aleksandar] Mitrovic. The first transfer window was incredibly positive, and we felt the new additions really added touches of quality to the squad.”

Unlike a lot of Premier League teams, the working environment is very family-oriented, where the players and staff overlap  almost everywhere, bar the wings.

“It’s very buzzy,” says Jon. “I know it sounds cheesy but there’s a real family feel to the club. We’re all based at the training ground with the senior squad and academy teams, so you really feel the wins and the losses. You can walk in on a Monday and sense the result even if you didn’t actually know it. You very much feel part of the team. It’s rare for a top-tier club to have the corporate and performance areas integrated on one campus; Fulham FC is different. There’s a real feeling of togetherness.”

And the playing staff are happy with that? “They seem to enjoy running rings around us when we play staff football together on a Thursday morning! But it certainly does help commercially. Bumping into the players on their walk to the cryotherapy chamber or chatting in the canteen helps build the relationship and trust, so when it comes to collaborating with partners on commercial projects there is a level of comfort and the boys feel more relaxed getting involved in initiatives that might usually be out of their comfort zone.” 

It’s this sense of togetherness that was essential to the success of 2021/22. After such a tough relegation season (it took Fulham FC until March to get their fifth win), they needed a fast reaction. There were demons to exorcise. Under Silva’s shrewd guidance, they got off to a flyer.

“The number one objective was instant promotion,” says Jon. “The year we were relegated was the Covid year. We had a short transfer window and not long to turn things around. We didn’t really start clicking and winning points until January, and by then we were faced with an uphill task. The next season in the Championship featured the nucleus of that Premier League squad which had finished the season so well in terms of performances.”

Four wins in their first five games in autumn 2021 marched them to the top of the Championship. Promotion was suddenly expected, which added to the pressure, and an inevitable slump arrived. They won just two of the next six games, ending in a crashing 4-1 defeat at Coventry. “It felt like a wake-up call,” says Jon. “It was a shocking result but showed that no team can suddenly turn invincible. It was arguably a blessing in disguise.”

I know it sounds cheesy but there’s a real family feel to the club… You very much feel part of the team.

From there on in, their season was a graph that just kept on creeping up and up. In early January the team really clicked into gear with a stretch of results – 7-0 at Reading, 6-2 at home to Bristol City and 6-2 at home to Birmingham City – that made Fulham FC the first club to score at least six goals in three consecutive games in the second tier since Everton in 1954.

“It was such a highlight to see Carvalho flourish – a genuine product of the academy, having joined at nine years old, having such a huge impact on the first team. And the Wilson-Mitrovic link up play was special. It was just such an exciting season, full throttle from start to finish. Confidence was sky-high. The stadium was buzzing, every game was sold out – both tickets and hospitality. It was the hottest ticket in town.”

Yet it is in those moments, when there’s pandemonium and optimism and hope and glory, that Jon is there to keep a level head. After all, if the team can get the results on the pitch, he needs to deliver off the pitch. Football is a fun business, but it’s still a business.

“Pressures come around the principal partnerships,” he explains. “The Premier League and the Championship present vastly different offerings in terms of market reach and relative investment level to match, so typically you do tend to see rotation in these relationships when navigating between the divisions. In that sense, the real pressure comes from the short window to sign these top-tier partnerships, while it’s also hugely important to keep the crux of our portfolio happy – those vitally important long-term brand partners that have ridden the roller-coaster of both divisions with us over the years.”

While Jon was lining up the deals, he couldn’t pull the trigger until promotion was confirmed. On 19 April, they beat Preston North End 3-0, guaranteeing a top two finish. “Everyone at Motspur Park was over the moon. It was also a great moment for the commercial team, because it allowed us to put pen to paper on all those exciting projects we’d lined up until that moment.”

They couldn’t do it all at once, though. Jon and the team had to consider the transfer incomings and outgoings in the summer, aware that they would have a huge impact on the marketability of the club to potential partners. Not that he can meddle in transfer activity.

“It’s so interesting to see the hotspots of our popularity change over the years,” he says, citing the USA, some African countries and Israel. “It’s a fun aspect of our jobs, building international strategies. We’ve even become the number one club in Costa Rica!

The more the club achieve, the more powerful they’ll become in the market. Signings like Willian and João Palhinha have increased their visibility in the Portuguese-speaking world – something the commercial and transfer teams have already begun to explore.

Either way, the last season and a half has brought a new vigour and excitement to the club. With the new Fulham FC Pier/Riverside stand coming next year, as well as the exciting brand of football under Marco Silva, they are here to stay. We can’t wait to continue our partnership with Fulham FC into the new year and beyond. 

Jon Don-Carolis is Fulham FC’s commercial director and brought Fitzdares on board as the club’s official UK betting partner.

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