Steve Lansdown: The billionaire hoping to make Bristol a sporting force

By James LawBBC Sport
Steve Lansdown
According to Forbes, Steve Lansdown is worth an estimated £1.3bn

Many sports fans dream of winning the lottery, buying their underperforming local team and bankrolling them to eternal glory.

For all but a fortunate few this far-fetched ambition is never realised, and if a multi-millionaire businessman does come on the scene they are often met with scepticism about their true motives.

Steve Lansdown's story is an amalgamation of the two - a billionaire thanks to his financial services firm, he started by becoming involved at boardroom level with his first love, Championship side Bristol City, in 1996.

But a burning desire to turn his home city from sporting outpost to capital has since resulted in him building a Bristol-based empire, with Bristol City and Bristol Rugby Club - who are finally back in the big time after winning promotion last week - integral parts of it.

"It's been a sporting backwater for many years and one of the things that always grated with me was the fact that people always took the Mickey out of it," Lansdown told BBC Sport.

"Certain comments grate and in my own way I wanted to try to prove them wrong, that there's a passion for sport here - let's bring it to the forefront, shout about it and make it even more successful."

Rugby rags to riches story

Steve Lansdown
Lansdown kept a cool head while all around him celebrated Bristol's promotion...

"It was going out of business and we clawed it back from the brink."

Lansdown does not just jump on sporting bandwagons, as his experience with Bristol Rugby proves.

His involvement with them started alongside Chris Booy in 2009, the year they were relegated to the Championship, and the journey has seen the club overcome off-field meltdown and play-off heartache to finally seal their Premiership return last week.

"The club financially had significant debts and basically it was minutes from going out of business really," he explained to BBC Sport.

"We didn't make a lot of fuss about it at the time, but we had all the papers in place for administration."

How times have changed. This was by no means an overnight turnaround, but promotion was finally achieved in front of a packed Ashton Gate, meaning the likes of Bath and Gloucester will soon be in town.

"We know those games will bring crowds in and so it was a very important business night as well as a very important sporting and emotional occasion," said Lansdown.

"I suppose you look down the road at Exeter, they played for the Premiership title [against Saracens on Saturday] and that's what we've got to aim to do - Bristol is a rugby hotbed."

Combining business and pleasure

Steve Lansdown (left) and son Jon Lansdown
Lansdown's son Jon (right) is vice-chairman of Bristol City

As the old saying goes, never mix business with pleasure because it will almost certainly be a recipe for disaster.

But you can think again because, although Lansdown's fortune has been made from the financial services firm he co-founded, he has constantly dabbled in his passion for both Bristol and sport, bankrolling clubs in the city across five different sports.

However, you do not make it into the top one thousand richest peopleexternal-link in the universe without being savvy at the same time.

"I think in life you believe in yourself, and you believe in the people you have around you, because that's what business is all about - getting good people around you," he added.

"We look at how we can maximise the commercial aspects of all the sports we deal with, in order to maximise the returns for those sports to develop even further."

Lansdown has lived in Guernsey for the last six and a half years, but insists: "This is where I was born and bred and I've got a lot of history with the area."

A man for all sports

Bristol Flyers
Bristol Flyers have risen from the fourth tier to British basketball's top flight in less than 10 years

Football, rugby, cricket, basketball, badminton, racing - you name it and the 63-year-old has a large slice of the pie in the region.

Bristol Rovers are the only major club in the city Lansdown does not have an interest in, with an intense rivalry and Football League rules standing in his way, but can he really be fanatical about so many different teams?

"My main sporting passion is football and I've been involved with Bristol City now for over 20 years, so yes that's first and foremost," he said.

"The idea of bringing a number of sports together under one banner in Bristol Sport was formulated from that, and is gradually being developed."

Lansdown's sporting group
Team nameSportDivision
Bristol CityFootballChampionship
Bristol City WomenFootballWSL 2
Bristol RugbyRugby UnionPremiership
Bristol LadiesRugby UnionPremiership
Bristol FlyersBasketballBBL
Bristol JetsBadmintonNBL
Bristol Sport RacingMotorsport

It is not just the mainstream, potentially lucrative sports that have caught his eye, strengthening the feeling that Lansdown really does have the city's best interests at heart.

"The new venture for this year is the badminton - it's a new exciting product in the sense that the professional league is now in full force and we have a contingent of players in this part of the world," he explained.

"Why am I doing it? I suppose life is full of challenges and this is one of them, to put Bristol sport successfully on the map."

Next step... UK domination?

With Bristol Rugby preparing for the Premiership and Bristol City preserving their status in English football's second tier, what is the next aim for the businessman and his ever-growing Bristol Sport group?

"To spread our wings to encompass more sports and maybe even different areas," he said.

"The Bristol Sport concept is really good for this city but it applies elsewhere, so maybe that's something we'll look at doing in the future."

Boosting the capacity of Ashton Gate to 27,000 is the more immediate development, making it a stadium fit for flourishing football and rugby teams.

Now all that is left to complete the ultimate sports fan's dream is to achieve eternal glory.

"A stadium is no good unless it's got people inside it enjoying themselves and, to put it bluntly, spending money," he said.

"It's the central core of what we're doing in Bristol - make it a destination, so people want to come to the stadium, not just on match day but for other events."

Ashton Gate
Ashton Gate, still undergoing redevelopment, was full for the second leg of Bristol Rugby's play-off final


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories