Broadcast, Digital & Media, Future Trends, Governance & Commercial Growth, Partnerships, Sport Business | Jan 20, 2021 | 8 min read

Charting the money, the moves, and the media across the global business of sport.

By David Cushnan


Thanks for clicking, hello and welcome, on this busy global news day, to the Leaders Digest, your fortnightly bounce around what’s worth knowing in the global business of sport. David Cushnan at the controls again this time, in for James Emmett.

A reminder to send colleagues and industry pals here to subscribe and receive the Digest each fortnight. We’re here all year.


3  Questions, Answered

1.)    Might this be remembered as a watershed week for sponsors taking a stand?
Quite possibly. See Skoda, Nivea and Liqui Moly, and Ralph Lauren.


2.)    What’s Jimmy Worrall’s secret?
Listen to this and he’ll tell you (and don’t keep it to yourself).


3.)    Can you point me in the direction of a substantial report pieced together by a coalition of experts making detailed and tangible recommendations for the development of women’s sport?
Absolutely, courtesy of the Women’s Sport Trust. And once you’ve read it, don’t forget to sign up for the latest women in sport community call from our Leaders Meet: Diversity Series, delivered in partnership with Facebook, next week.


The Digest, Digested

LV= expands England cricket partnership (1 min)

Vitality to become main partner of GB Hockey (1 min)

The Space Between launches (1 min)

76ers open Buy Black application process (2 mins)

Craig Tiley on the Australian Open quarantine saga (8 mins)

The State of Mobile 2021 report (20 mins)

Private equity firm eyes All Blacks stake (1 min)

Saracens owner in talks to cut stake (2 mins)

Inter Milan in talks over private equity sale (1 min)

NBA may expand private equity stakes in teams (2 mins)

Two Circles acquires Sports Ink (2 mins)

Marloes Sturkenboom – How do you manage? (6 mins)

Leaders Performance Journal (30 mins)​​


What’s new

–    Sponsors stepping up – Clear sponsorship planning and progression, not to mention a focus on participation, in evidence from LV=, expanding its role with England cricket, and Vitality, the new main partners of GB Hockey.

–    Carving out a niche – Congratulations to former Synergy colleagues Lisa Parfitt, Adam Raincock and Tom Gladstone who have gone to market this week with their new ‘faster, more flexible and better value’ sports and entertainment agency, The Space Between.

–    Affirmative action – The Philadelphia 76ers have begun accepting applications for their new ‘Buy Black’ programme, designed to promote local black-owned business and assist them with a range of marketing, advertising, educational and business tools. The initiative is part of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment’s US$20 million commitment to racial equality, announced last year.


What’s trending?

–    Quarantining tennis players – With a good portion of the field placed in hard lockdown after a number of positive Covid cases on the charter flights into Melbourne, it’s an understatement to say preparations for this year’s Australian Open are sub-optimal. The situation is fast-moving, but in amongst the various clips of players finding novel ways of staying active in their rooms, I was struck by this interview with Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley at the weekend. Faced with truly remarkable circumstances – considerable player disquiet, the constraints of Australia’s national health protocols and the general practicalities of trying to make a complex international sports event happen while a pandemic rages – it seemed to me a superb example of how a leader should communicate in a crisis: clarity, transparency, empathy and clearly across his brief and the detail.



As part of its highly recommended 2021 State of Mobile report, App Annie has ranked the most downloaded apps by monthly user over the last year.



PE lesson 
The All Blacks, Saracens and Inter Milan are this week’s sports organisations reportedly in talks about fresh investment from private equity firms. Meanwhile, the NBA is reportedly pondering a change to its rules to allow minority private equity investments in teams.

Two deals, Two Circles 
Two months after buying TRM Partners, Two Circles has added to its growing portfolio by acquiring ticketing and hospitality specialist Sports Ink. Paul Williamson, Sport Ink’s founder and formerly Director of Ticketing at London 2012, will slot in as a Two Circles Director.




–    A hat-trick of job changes at The Jockey Club: ESPN’s Charlie Boss is joining as Chief Commercial Officer; Alex Goldschmidt has been named Director of Partnerships; and Hannah Grosvenor has been promoted to National Sales Director.

–    Former Suzuki MotoGP Team Principal Davide Brivio is the new Racing Director at Alpine F1 (formerly Renault).

–    Nielsen Sports has hired Steve Loader as Head of Business Development in the UK and Ireland.

–    MKTG Sports & Entertainment has promoted Jarrad Provis to General Manager, Marketing Strategy, and Jeremy Francis as Chief Operating Officer. Stephanie Rudnick is rejoining the agency as Head of Global Communications and GM of Hospitality and Events in Australia.

–    Kin Partners has promoted Tess O’Sullivan to the newly-created role of Business Strategy Director.



–    Are you Sydney Swans’ new Manager of Commercial Partnerships?
–    Are you Formula E’s new Senior Partnership Manager or Broadcast Operations Manager?
–    Are you the ECB’s new Senior Manager, Clubs and Leagues?
–    Are you BSE Global’s latest Director, Ticketing Analytics?
–    Are you F1’s new Head of Sustainable Business?
–    Are you Engage Digital Partners’ new Head of Content?


How do you manage?

A window into the working worlds of people from across the sports industry now that nothing is as it was.

Marloes Sturkenboom is Head of Acquisitions and Content Rights at ESPN (formerly Fox Sports), part of The Walt Disney Company Benelux, where she has a dual role coordinating the negotiation of broadcast rights for platforms in the Netherlands and Sub-Saharan Africa and overseeing the domestic and global media sales of ESPN’s rights to the Eredivisie, the Netherlands’ top football league. She lives in the Dutch city of Utrecht with her partner, Danny.

How are you feeling now on a scale of 1-10? 
8.5. I feel blessed that all of my loved ones are in good health. Another personal highlight is that I am currently six months pregnant! As it probably was for the most of us in this business, it has been quite the year from a professional point of perspective. During the first lockdown Eredivisie was one of the first leagues in Europe to be cancelled. But we returned in August with the very successful ‘Eredivisie Comeback’, which was a series of pre-season friendlies. This provided our production and operational colleagues the opportunity to work on all protocols for the start of the actual season.

We have also introduced a new kick-off timing: Saturday 4:30pm; before all Eredivisie matches on Saturday were played later during the evening. This has been well received by clubs as well as our audience.

What makes me tick at the moment is the prep-work that I am doing with a lovely team of people on a big tender process for the rights acquisitions of our Dutch business. These tender processes are always exciting times!

I do miss my colleagues. I haven’t seen many of them for months – having a coffee, talking about how their vacation was or how the kids are doing at school, is something that would normally be part of my daily routine. Currently all conversation are so super-effective. I only speak to someone on the phone, whenever there’s issues to solve. The fact that one doesn’t coincidently bump into someone else in the elevator or at the coffee machine deducts 1.5 points. Therefore: 8.5.

Who was the last person you spoke to before me? 
I just got off the phone with IMG’s Michael Mellor [SVP, Head of Football] and Jake Harkins [Business Development Director, Football] during a monthly catch up. IMG is our long-term international reselling partner for the Eredivisie rights. We talked about the latest Covid-restrictions imposed by the Dutch government and how this would affect the progress of the competition. Apart from a small number of postponements at the start, so far we have been able to play all of our fixtures.

How have things changed since Covid? How has your employer adapted? 
I have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic in March. The pandemic has been a technological equaliser; there was no choice but to adapt to the situation. I hope the best practices will live on. Meaning a more agile way of working. With the greater use of video conferences, I don’t think business travel is ever going to be exactly the same. However, the ability to not see my colleagues every day makes me realise how valuable that was. Besides, I find the in-person interaction a critical part of my work. Also – for me as an extravert – I truly miss being at the office with my co-workers or at conventions meeting our business colleagues.

The Walt Disney Company Benelux has focused on our wellbeing from the start. I am amazed how quickly the organisation adapted to the ongoing challenges. At the moment, we are in the midst of rebranding our Fox Sports channels into ESPN in the Netherlands. Normally, this calls for the project team being at the same place at the same time. It has been an outstanding performance from our marketing and digital team, managing the creative process and overseeing the complete transformation of our digital platform under the current circumstances.

Where do you work? What’s the environment like? 
Most of the time I sit at the dinner table with my laptop. I do have the ambition to vary my work spot from time to time, just to work in a different setting and with other impulses. We were lucky that we were able to transform our closet room into a home office. We can work quietly if we need the space or have confidential meetings.

Who do you share your ‘home office’ with? 
I live together with my partner, Danny Melger. You might know him, as he works in the television business as well. Danny is a television director on projects like the Uefa Champions League. That means he’s is normally out of the house most nights of the week. During the first lockdown all sporting events were cancelled, which resulted in us having dinner together at our dining table like proper grown-ups more often than ever before. We are both very passionate about our jobs. It’s a big plus we have a greater understanding of the business and can support each other also on a professional level.

This is an edited extract from the full interview, which is available here.


Longer read

–   Over at the Leaders Performance Institute, the team have been busy putting the finishing touches to our latest Performance Journal. It’s a banger. Head here for the big interview with Australia men’s cricket team head coach Justin Langer; then stick around for in-depth features on WNBA champions Seattle Storm, GB Hockey and the McLaren F1 team’s role building ventilators to support the health response to the pandemic.


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