New online technologies have revolutionised the way fans interact with sport. The rise of social media has enabled fans to be one click away from a short conversation with some of the biggest stars in football and boxing. New players on the sports coverage scene such as BT Sport have exerted influence in an area traditionally dominated by the behemoth Sky. Fitness has become a multi-billion dollar industry, encompassing clothing, supplements and expert equipment: still surging through the trend of online-influencer driven marketing. Within this revolution in sports, new players attempt to tackle the dominance of the sports industries traditional titans: football. Meanwhile, through the internet, sports communities have formed creating standalone entertainment and commentary separated from classic sports punditry: stimulating comment and mass engagement on sites such as YouTube and Facebook. In our forum’s centrepiece panel, we’ll be discussing the rise of fan-driven sports connectivity with Ben Francis, Robbie Lyle and Paul Whapham.
Ben Francis is the founder and ex-CEO of Gymshark. Ben founded Gymshark and grew it to global prominence through influencer-driven marketing. Through sponsoring top fitness YouTubers who in turn wore Gymshark clothing, Francis was able to grow Gymshark to the point where it was valued at more than $1B in an August 2020 deal. During this pandemic, Gymshark has expanded its reach and scope, tailoring its clothing to more varied body types and enlarging its UK HQ.
Robbie Lyle is the founder and manager of Arsenal Fan TV. Robbie grew AFTV from humble beginnings in 2012 to today where the channel now has 1.3 million subscribers and 978 million total views. AFTV is the world’s most popular fan-based football community platform, featuring several post-match fan interviews and commentary. Always at the source of discussion surrounding Arsenal, AFTV has cemented itself as one of football’s most exciting online franchises.
Paul Whapham is the Corporate Brand Director at Ospreys Rugby Ltd. Whapham has helped spearhead the Osprey’s efforts in becoming a global brand, helping secure the Ospreys’ appointment of PumpJack Dataworks to steer the club’s transformative use of data. Through furthering the Ospreys’ brand, Whapham hopes to secure the Osprey’s prominence within the global sports industry.
Gone are the days where the NFL and NBA were franchises solely enjoyed in the US. Today these franchises, alongside new US sports, are making inroads into the European market. US sports aren’t only making their mark on fans but potential players also. In 2018 1.7% of NBA players were born outside the US, now, almost forty years later, that figure has risen to 24.8%. It’s not only these two major franchises making inroads. The Las-Vegas-born Ultimate Fighting Championship has seen significant success in its Europe, cleverly adapting to recent coronavirus restrictions to create a purpose built ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi to stage live events. Ireland-born UFC star Conor McGregor has certainly helped with this growth, with his recent loss to lightweight Dustin Poirier selling the third all time amount of pay-per-view buys at 1.6m. Also exported from the US is the now established Spikeball. Launched in 2008, Spikeball now has 4+ million players all over the world, hosting 150+ tournaments every year, and utilising online apps and social media to connect players and even forming friendships through the sport. In this panel we are welcoming Garry Cook, Nick Cowell and Chris Ruder.
Chris Ruder is the founder and CEO of Spikeball. After helping Spikeball surge to popularity in 2008, Ruder led the company’s growth: appearing on US business series Shark Tank. There Ruder rejected a $500,000 offer for the company for a 10%, aware of Spikeball’s full potential. The popularity brought to Spikeball by the Shark Tank appearance led to further viral growth, leading to eventual broadcasts of Spikeball championships on ESPN in 2018. According to Forbes, since 2018, Spikeball’s annual revenue has been $15,000,000.
Nick Cowell is the Director of Global Partnerships at the NBA. Nick managed commercial sales and partnership management of multiple key Pan-European firms: including Adidas, Nike, 2K, EA and Foot Locker. In aiding with the delivery of creative and strategic planning in driving the NBA brand to the forefront of the European consciousness, Cowell is a central figure in the rise of US Sports in Europe today.
Garry Cook has worked as the CEO for Manchester City, for Nike and most recently, for the UFC. At Nike, Cook spearheaded the firm’s marketing for the project “Brand Jordan”. As in Nike, Cook made significant inroads at the UFC, leading its massive drive into the EMEA region during 2012 – 2016: with UFC events and mass attendance all across Europe, from Stockholm to Glasgow. Such success led Dana White to describe Cook as a “rock star” in the sports industry.
It is no secret that China is on the rise in the sports business world. In September of 2019, the Chinese State Council released a circular memo detailing plans to cement China’s worldwide sporting standing, including tax breaks for companies in the sports industry, encouragement to build a more complete sports industry chain and increased international sport exchange. Building on the foundation of its 2008 Olympic success, China has also risen to prominence in football, with Chinese teams completing audacious transfers for players including Oscar and Carlos Tevez. Looking towards the future, there has been an Olympic Sports Boom in China, with new ski-resorts opening around the country, including the giant Wintastar Shanghai. On the basketball front, China is also rapidly rising through the ranks, with an estimated fan base of 450 million, the Chinese Basketball Association has grown to be the No.1 basketball league in Asia. Many experts believe that by 2029 China will become one of the top four basketball powers in the world. Our panel will be featuring Simon Chadwick, Derek Chang, Matt Beyer and Benjamin Wahl.
Derek Chang is the ex-CEO of NBA China. Leading the NBA’s growth in China, Chang spearheaded NBA Chinas efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic which led to the indefinite postponement of the NBA season. Under Chang’s guidance, the NBA opened its largest store outside of North America in Beijing and greatly expanded partnerships with Chinese media companies: leading to a new era of global basketball as facilitated by China.
Simon Chadwick is a researcher, consultant and speaker with more than twenty-five years experience working across global sport. He is an expert on Eurasian sport, co-authoring the ‘Routledge Handbook of Sports Marketing’ and ‘The Business of Sport Management’.
Benjamin Wahl heads the Borussia Dortmund office in China. Inspiring as many people as possible to join the growth of one of Germany’s most remarkable and exciting clubs, Wahl has helped cement BVB’s international outreach.
Matt Beyer is the CEO of the East Asia Super League: a regional basketball league featuring clubs in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. In 2021, under Beyer, EASL plans to hold an in-season league featuring clubs from greater China, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines: cementing basketball’s international role in solidifying participation from across East Asia.
Esports has seen tremendous growth over the last five years. By 2029 it may very well be the largest sports industry in the world. Seeing the potential of reaching a huge, engaged audience, brands are investing in Esports. Even the current pandemic has failed to quell Esports’ rise, with its digitally-driven platforms in Twitch, YouTube and other online and streaming channels thriving under repeated lockdowns. Within Esports, stars such as Faker, Ninja and the UK’s Wolfiez. Before the pandemic, Esports’ incredible physical potential has also been foreshadowed: with thousands of global crowds packing Esports stadiums around Europe, America and Asia and Esports teams gathering and growing their brand as the global sports industry’s new kid on the block continues its disruptive rise. Attending this exciting panel are Julien Dupont, Grant Rousseau and Rasmus Sandstrom.
Julien Dupont is the Head of Partnerships at Team Vitality. Since its foundation in 2013, Team Vitality has excelled in numerous Esports competitions, holding World champion titles in Rainbow 6 and League of Legends. Next on the agenda is complete European Esports dominance.
Grant Rousseau is the Director of Esports at Guild Esports. Preceding this, Rousseau was the Head of Operations for the most well recognised and premier UK Esports brand: Excel Esports. There Rousseau helped Excel with a major rebrand, rebuilding the Excel performance division and operations division.
Rasmus Sandstrom is the co-founder and CEO of Learn2Esport. Learn2Esport helps educate people through Esports: offering an interactive platform that facilitates dynamic learning for students of the sport. Offering certificate courses in entrepreneurship, programming, sports and health specialization, Learn2Esports brings a new dimension to this thriving industry.
The evidence for regular exercise or sporting activity providing a strong source through which to boost one’s mental health is immeasurable. However, as one progresses further in exercise or sport, one can often find themselves pressured or stressed by issues of performance and external comparison. What good is it to better one’s physique when there are thousands of shredded men and women on social media whose bodies seem better? What does performing at the highest level in athletics achieve when there are two dozen athletes still ahead of you, resulting in a dearth of funding and a career that bears little financial fruit? Issues of mental health permeate throughout sports business precisely because of these competing repercussions of delving into sport. Our panellists: Nicholas Dann, Steven Caulker and Alessandro Carmelita, are here to extract the positives from the negatives, whilst simultaneously exploring the fascinating and converging topics of mental health and sport.
Steven Caulker is an ex-Tottenham and Liverpool defender now playing at Turkish side Alanyaspor. Caulker has been vocal on the need for greater mental health support within football. Caulker has experienced the thrilling highs and awful lows of a football career in a unique way. Struggling with depression and anxiety, Caulker took to drinking and gambling to cope during his career’s peak. Now recovered, and looking to help other athletes facing similar situations, Caulker represents an important addition to our panel team.
Alessandro Carmelita is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist, specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the Psychotherapy School of the APC in Rome. Alessandro started working with patients who were suffering from Anxiety Disorders (Panic attack, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, general anxiety, social anxiety) and Mood Disorders (Depression, Dysthymia, Hypomaniac Disorder, Bipolar Disorder). Now he is especially trained in the Mirror Training method: involving using a mirror to root out and solve psychological issues that are preventing athletes from becoming the true winners they are.
Nicholas Dann is a volunteer with Sporting Minds UK. He has written a multitude of articles concerning the intersection of mental health and sport and how to improve one’s mental health through physical activity: particularly within this time of great stress during the pandemic. Sporting Minds is a mental health charity that works on helping the mental health of athletes: working as a free consultation service with young athletes to ensure they are fully supported.
The past five years have seen changing attitudes to women in sports. Female representation in the boardrooms of Britain’s publicly funded sports has reached an average of 30 per cent for the first time. Major sporting events such as the Rio 2016 Olympics and the 2019 Women’s World Cup shot women’s sport into global prominence. However, structural issues with the representation of women in sport remain. Just 5% of sports media coverage features women. For every 53 articles written about sporting men, there is one about a woman. Women’s sport receives only 0.5% of the sports world’s total sponsorship income (men get 62.1%). To discuss these issues, and the positive change that has occurred within women’s representation in sports business, we are welcoming Axelle Legout, Stephanie Hilborne and Karen Dobres.
Stephanie Hilborne is the Chief Executive of Women in Sport. Stephanie is dedicated to promoting equality opportunities for women and girls in sport: pushing for greater outlets for women to both get into sport and flourish in sport at a professional level.
Axelle Legout is a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Synergy Sports. Synergy Sports is changing the playing, coaching and commercialisation of sports, using advanced sports technologies to increase performance on and off the field.
Karen Dobres is the Elected Director at Lewes Football Club: responsible with co-directors for the strategic direction of the Club, with particular responsibility for ‘Impact on the World’, Diversity & Inclusion, and ‘Financial Sustainability’. Lewes FC is the first football club to pay its male and female players equally.
Whilst improvements have been made recently, the sports industry is still highly unrepresentative of the general population. This is seen in the UK. Only 5% of sports board members declare or consider themselves to have a disability, compared to around 22% in the wider UK population. Out of all sports boards in the UK, 5% are from BAME backgrounds. Moreover, Inclusive Boards’ findings also show that the sport sector is falling behind FTSE 100 firms (8% BAME board membership), third sector (6% BAME board membership) and the UK population (13% BAME). Despite the positive headway that is being made in the sports industry at present, how can one improve this situation? Our panellists Tony Simpson and Jamie Dapaah are here to discuss precisely that.
Tony is a former CEO and at present is the head of advisory at Savannah Advisory: a global executive search and advisory firm. Currently, Tony’s clients include many of the world’s leading broadcasters, sport franchises, governing bodies and media groups. We at the SBG first became interested in securing Tony for our panel after reading his article on Sports Business.com: ‘The year when sport had to act on diversity and inclusion’. There Tony evaluated the positive impact of the normalisation of diversity and inclusion in the workplace: especially pertaining to sports business. The disruptive force COVID-19, whilst destructive in and of itself, through Tony’s lens, has led to remarkable positive change: as evidenced in Marcus Rashford’s success in attaining free meals for children.
Jamie Dapaah is the Equality and Diversity executive at Fulham Football Club. Fulham is a football club committed to diversity and inclusion: wholeheartedly embracing the FA’s recent Leadership Diversity Code. Through this Dapaah is helping Fulham tackle inequality across senior leadership positions, broader team operations and coaching roles. In the past, Dapaah has also worked as a Youth Development Coach at Crystal Palace Football Club, and subsequently at the Premier League Charitable Fund as part of the Equality Advisory Group.