Rochester businessman gets a kick by buying a soccer team across the pond
By Susan Howes
Andy Appleby carries himself with a quiet sophistication not typically expected from the owner of a pro-sports team. His gentle demeanor contrasts with the more typical brash jock persona of billionaire owners of sports powerhouses.
With a master’s degree in sports management and marketing, the Rochester businessman may be more academic than athletic in style, which may explain why understated Brits enthusiastically embraced him as the new owner of one of their beloved soccer teams.
Earlier this year, he realized a lifelong dream when he paid $100 million for a British Premier League soccer team, the Derby County Rams Football Club, which is based in the East Midlands, England, on the banks of the River Derwent.
“It’s not only a 124-year-old team, it’s also been the only game in town for 124 years,” Appleby says. “So you can just imagine [Appleby’s voice takes on an impassioned enthusiasm here] the wonderful generations of people that are fans… where it is the only game in town. So it’s quite a spectacle to go to these games. I kind of fell in love with it; this is very high quality, high emotion; these games really matter.”
Ten years ago, Appleby left his job as a marketing executive with Palace Sports and Entertainment Inc. with a big objective in mind: “To someday put together a group to buy a major-league team.”
On the way to that goal, he founded General Sports and Entertainment (GSE), in Rochester. He oversees GSE and all of its subsidiaries with a simple operating principle: Sporting events are part of the fabric of life and can be powerful tools in building relationships.
Now he’s applying his philosophy to team ownership. “Most sports owners made their money outside of sports and want to own a team to have some fun,” he says. “What gives us a huge advantage over anyone else is we have what most people consider a very good operational expertise — sales, marketing. We grew up in this business. We know it.”
As he speaks, his BlackBerry sets off vibrating again, something it does almost continually. He checks the message quickly and then apologizes, noting that since the acquisition of the team he receives — and personally responds to — a high volume of e-mail from Derby (“dar-bee,” as the locals say) fans. And yes, many of them are breaking through to his mobile unit, which has the potential to become a bit of a problem. For now, however, he’s savoring it. Judging by the nature of the e-mails, most fans are also enjoying chatting with him.
The Appleby family is enthusiastically embracing Derby County, as well. Appleby’s wife, Kris, has begun hunting for a house in the “quintessential English countryside,” where the couple plan to entertain business partners and other associates who attend Derby matches. As co-founder of the charitable Suite Dreams Project, Kris was quick to learn how the charitable community functions in Derby, and she’s exploring how she can lend her skills to their needs. (She’s still active here at home where, this month, she’ll be involved in the Hats Off Luncheon at The Townsend Hotel May 9.)
The British soccer experience, although still new, is already expanding the horizons of the Appleby family. The two elder children, Brock, 11, and MacCall, 9, were at their father’s side for the January announcement of the acquisition and for the fun part: cheering on the team for a rousing game.
“What a great experience for us to share with our children,” says Kris, who adds that her husband is being treated a bit like a rock star in Britain. “The BBC is hounding [Andy]; it’s fun for the kids to watch.” — Susan Howes
Follow the Derby County’s progress at dcfc.premiumtv.co.uk.