Sport Business Summit 2015: Money Is the Name Of the Game:

“Sports”, the American social campaigner and journalist, Heywood Broun, once remarked, “Do not build character. They reveal it”. So would he have approved of just how commercialized this sector has become – epitomized by the event which took place at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium on the 7th & 8th October?

Organized by the “Leaders In Sport” company (founded in 2008 by James Worrall of Executive Sport Ltd), its objective was to bring together over 1,500 of the industry’s most influential people, among them “CEO’s (Chief Executive Officers) from clubs, franchises, leagues and federations from around the globe to share their knowledge from across global sports”.Bustling around the smartened-up exhibition area where Chelsea fans usually assemble before going to their seats in the West Stand were representatives from Real Madrid, Juventus and Poland’s Legia Warszawa (among many others) looking to strike deals with potential sponsors and also investigate whether any of the technological innovations on display could be utilized to their benefit.

“Fanmode” from Ireland, for example, was offering a “gesture based smartphone app.2, which, they claimed “allows fans to share their emotions during the game with fellow fans around the world” and thereby provides the sports industry with a new “commercial tool”.

Facilitating the interaction between brands and viewers was a key theme of many of the exhibits. “Virtually Live” from San Francisco has developed “a patented media system using optically-tracked statistical data” which enables stakeholders from the Sports, Music and Live industries to “monetize their events through virtual ticket sales, targeted marketing and other new revenue streams. The Italian “Be Sport, Media & Entertainment” consultancy was portraying itself as being able to “transform the way companies engage with their customers to enhance brand loyalty and boost profit optimisation”.

The discussion in the “session rooms” also invariably revolved around the concept of sport as a business and how to generate as much income as possible from it. That, after all, was the whole point of this “Summit”. On Day One, Will Chang, co-owner of DC United and San Francisco Giants, delivered a speech on the “Globalisation of Sports Ownership”, followed by The Sun’s Chief Operating Officer, David Dinsmore, taking about  “Media, Audiences and Monetisation” and Brad Sims of Cleveland Cavaliers with his suggestions on “Maximising Stadium Revenues”.

On Day Two, Andrew Wilson the CEO of “Electronic Arts” analysed “The Evolution of the Games Industry” – an environment which is “fiercely competitive and where people are surrounded by screens and devices and inundated with content and interactive experiences”. A panel chaired by Stuart Shaw, Regional Director of EMEA, Twitch, considered how & why “The Fast-Growing eSports Industry” will become “The Next Big Thing”.

There were occasional exceptions to the focus on the financial aspects of sport. The Football Association’s (FA) Heather Rabbatts, along with Chris Ramsey, Manager of Queens Park Rangers and Chris Powell, Manager of Huddersfield Town, assessed the “prospects for aspiring football coaches from the Black, Asian and Minority (BAME) communities” and how diversity could be improved both in the dug-out and the boardroom. The former England player, Emile Heskey (currently with Bolton Wanderers) and the Uruguayan Gus Poyet (Sunderland’s Manager until he was sacked in March) shared their experiences of being “responsible for the hopes and dreams of fans” and provided “a unique insight into life at the top and the changing nature of football”.

There was a somewhat inopportune appearance by the South Korean FIFA presidential candidate, Chung Mong-Joon, who presented his “Manifesto for the Future of World Football” to the Summit. The following day, the FIFA Ethics Committee banned him from all footballing activity for 6 years and fined him 100,000 Swiss Francs (£67,000), for alleged corruption.

As was evident from the various publications being circulated, several key transactions had already been concluded prior to the Summit. The “Sports Sponsorship Insider” reported that Sony “has doubled its investment as a UEFA Champions League sponsor to $66.7m” and that Mastercard “is understood to be paying  around 35m euros per year for rights in the same competition, up from around 30m euros pa in 2012-15”. Sony is apparently concerned that it is “losing ground to Apple and Samsung in a mobile phone market which is migrating to cheaper Chinese and Taiwanese alternatives”. The company is hoping to reverse this trend “by offering pre-loaded Champions League content on new handsets”.

According to “TVSportsMarkets”, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) “is thought to have earned $55m in global rights revenue for the 2015 British Open golf tournament” and this could “jump dramatically to about $90m in 2017”. A new broadcasting agreement between the Six Nations rugby union and the BBC & ITV “is understood to be worth an average of £50m pa from 2016-2021”. In tennis, the “LeTV Sport”s venture operated by the Chinese-owned IPTV have paid a so far unspecified amount for rights to transmit the Wimbledon Championships from 2016-2018.

It would seem the writer George Orwell’s view that “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is war without the shooting” may be a little out of date, as he was referring then to what happens on the pitch. The fiercest battles now are being fought between the multi-national companies who’ve invested heavily in the sports industry in the expectation that it will provide them with a continuous and lucrative source of income.

Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 23rd, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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