As first impressions go, it could have gone better: “Gtech? Who are Gtech? I’ve never heard of them!”
This is what Nick Grey, the founder and inventor of Grey Technology (Gtech), overheard a young girl say to her parents the first time he watched a football match at the stadium which bears his company’s name, he told Jay Harris at The Athletic.
Brentford left Griffin Park and moved to their new ground, which they share with Premiership Rugby side London Irish, in August 2020, but they only announced their naming rights deal with Gtech a few months ago. The 10-year partnership represents the biggest sponsorship deal in the club’s history.
Jon Varney, Brentford’s chief executive, spoke about how they conducted the search for a sponsor with “caution” and that they wanted a “progressive, community-minded partner”. As part of the deal, Gtech will support Brentford’s Community Sports Trust too.
Grey set up Gtech in 2001 from his own garage in Worcestershire and the company has become one of the leading domestic appliances brands in the United Kingdom. Its expertise is such that it was asked by the government to produce ventilators to help the NHS cope with the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, although it was ultimately stood down.
Grey, 54, grew up supporting West Bromwich Albion and was a huge admirer of their pioneering black players, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, and Brendon Batson, known as the Three Degrees. He had been approached in the past by other clubs about working with them and he initially rejected Brentford’s interest too. So how did they convince him to change his mind?
“Peter Wright (Brentford’s partnerships director) reached out to us in May and said they were really interested in hooking up. I said, ‘No, I don’t do sports sponsorships!'
“One of my colleagues supports Leeds and he was invited down to watch a game (on the final day of the 2021-22 season). He came back and said: ‘Brentford are an interesting club, they do things differently. There is a lot of thought behind what they do’.
“My main thing was, can Brentford survive in the Premier League? The numbers work at that level but not so much in the Championship. Four billion people per year watch the Premier League. The global reach is fantastic. Gtech have a nice brand in the UK, but we want to grow outside it.
“Lots of clubs are run in an old-fashioned way, the decision-making is appalling and there’s politics, but Brentford seemed very different. It is a club where the people behind
Brentford finished 13th last season, 11 points above the relegation zone, but before he signed off on the deal, Grey needed to know how the club would react if their best players were poached by other teams. The club failed to convince Christian Eriksen to accept a new contract offer, which would have made him the best-paid player in their history, and he joined Manchester United.
Others may now be targeted. Since the start of the 2021-22 campaign, only Harry Kane (27), Mohamed Salah (26) and Son Heung-min (26) have scored more top-flight goals than Ivan Toney (20) while David Raya has broken into Spain’s squad. It would be no surprise if they were already being considered by bigger clubs.
It is not just players, either. Head coach Thomas Frank is in talks over a new contract, but has been linked with roles at Leicester City, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion.
“These are the questions we asked,” Grey says. “If we sponsor you and then your manager leaves or you sell your top striker, what happens then? Ollie Watkins left and Said Benrahma went to West Ham. You think it would have ripped the heart out of them, but they have got Ivan who seems even better. They are a group of people with a plan and a vision. I just trusted them.”
Grey also saw the value in forging a strong connection with the club’s leaders and learning how they conduct business. Since Matthew Benham became owner in 2012, Brentford’s data-led approach has given them a crucial edge in the transfer market. They signed Vitaly Janelt from German club Vfl Bochum for only £500,000 and he has excelled in the Premier League. Watkins cost the club £1.8million when they bought him from Exeter City in 2017. Three years later they sold him to Aston Villa for a club-record fee of £28m.
“I like the way they use data and insights — it is very modern and very advanced,” Grey says. “We’ve started to use more data in how we market and how we go forward, but I wanted to get better at it.
“They are experts in this and I’ve sort of said, ‘Look, if you can help me with Gtech, I will plough more money into Brentford’. I will sponsor the shirts if I can afford it as well and things like that. I saw it as a strategic partnership, not just a sponsorship opportunity. I wanted to learn from them and throw our support behind a really well-run business.”
Brentford’s shirts are currently sponsored by the South African-based gambling company Hollywood Bets and their current deal expires at the end of the 2022-23 season. Grey, who owns Gtech with his wife Louise, has been featured on The Sunday Times Rich List twice and in 2018 his fortune was estimated to be £120million. In its latest accounts, which cover up until November 30 2021, Gtech’s turnover was £65.1m and it recorded a pre-tax profit of £12.6m.
For now though, Grey’s focus is on finalising the branding around the stadium. He has never actually met Benham, but the pair plan on arranging a date in the near future. Grey mainly communicates with Varney, Wright and club director Nity Raj.
“Nity works in mysterious ways,” Grey says. “He is in the background doing lots of clever stuff. If he’s working on it, you know it’s important. He works closely with Matthew.
“When we came to brand the stadium, there was pushback at first and they said, ‘No, our stadium is red’ (Gtech’s logo is green). I said, ‘Red and green look great together, it’s like a Christmas tree!’. We can harmonise. I think the ground looks fantastic. It all seems to go perfectly well. We are really thrilled.”
The first Premier League match at the stadium with Gtech’s official branding was Brentford’s historic 4-0 victory over Manchester United. It was a milestone moment for Grey which vindicated his decision to leave his senior role at electrical goods brand Vax and set up his own business over 20 years ago. However, he missed the grand reveal.
“I couldn’t believe it. I promised my kids I would take them to the Boardmasters festival in Newquay and I didn’t even know about the Brentford deal at that stage,” Grey says. “I watched it on TV down in Newquay and it was incredible, but I would have loved to have been at the game. I have loved all the games apart from when I went to Villa Park (where Brentford lost 4-0 to Aston Villa on October 23) because that was painful.”
Brentford have played only six home matches this season and, apart from the demolition of United, the highlight has been their 5-2 victory over Leeds. Toney scored an incredible hat-trick and was rewarded a few days later by being called up to the England squad for the first time.
“One of my favourite ever goals I’ve seen live was when Ivan dispossessed Leeds’ goalkeeper (Illan Meslier),” Grey says. “The whole defence was running at him and he just dinked it over them. It seemed to be in slow motion. He scored that incredible free-kick as well and a beautiful penalty. But that is Ivan all over — he’s thinking on a different level.
“I loved what he said about taking penalties and the neuro-linguistic programming of imagining he’s on a beach having a cocktail. It’s genius.”
Grey says there were a “few sceptics” at first when the sponsorship deal was announced, but their “warmth grew and grew”. It helps, he says, that Gtech “have no skeletons in the closet”. He now runs a competition for every home match where he gives fans the opportunity to win free tickets.
Grey’s mother recently passed away which meant that he was unable to attend the 0-0 draw with Chelsea on October 19 but he was touched by the messages of support he received from the fans.
“Stadium sponsors can be really unpopular,” he says. “But when I’ve been to the ground lots of people say hello to me and it’s amazing. It’s more than just giving tickets away, I think they appreciate that I am interested in the football club and emotionally deeply invested in them already.
“I’m probably stronger for Brentford now than I am West Brom, because I do feel that affinity with the supporters. I see Gtech as my own money, so when I spend a lot of it I would only do it with something I really genuinely believe in.”