Brands & Sponsorship, Broadcast, Digital, Future Trends, Governance & Commercial Growth, Sponsorship, Sport Business, Sports Marketing | Oct 15, 2019
With near enough 2,000 executives joining us for our Twickenham debut, manifold private meetings, masterclasses, corridor encounters, and power huddles, and most of you sticking with us for the all-new programme of ‘Leaders After Dark’ events in the evening, we can’t promise that this will be comprehensive, but it should at least provide a few nuggets from what was an action-packed agenda once again.
By James Emmett


The Headline Stage

–    Something of a mic-drop moment from beIN Media Group CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly, who used his session at Leaders to deliver a powerful message to the sports industry, and to rights holders in particular: take action on broadcast piracy or be held responsible for the disintegration of the business model that sustains professional sport. beIN is one of the biggest spenders in sport, with a rights portfolio worth $15 billion, and exclusivity in almost every major sporting competition across its main region of operation in 24 markets across MENA. But for over two years, pirate operation beoutQ has been stealing beIN’s output, undermining its business, and threatening the fragile equation that sees consumers willing to pay for sports content. “Winter is here,” Al-Obaidly said. “And from now on we’re treating all our rights as non-exclusive and the fees will be reflected in that.” Make no mistake, piracy is a sports industry problem, not just a sports broadcast industry problem.

Special Report: BeoutQ – an unprecedented piracy story

–    Sports broadcasting titans Peter Hutton and John Skipper, on before Al-Obaidly on the headline stage, acknowledged piracy as a problem that could do with more focus, and provided a compelling window into the bold new worlds they now find themselves in at Facebook and DAZN respectively. An energetic and entertaining session saw Hutton reiterate Facebook’s current position in sport as a “business solutions company”, but, as Skipper himself pointed out, the nervousness about Big Tech going large on sport remains in sports broadcasting boardrooms across the world. “Are we concerned about Facebook, Apple etc coming to the table to bid for tier one rights? Yes. Our job is to get far enough head so that when they do, we’re strong. But Peter, if you promise not to bid lots of money for rights, I will promise to use Facebook as a marketing platform.”

–    Juventus and ECA Chairman Andrea Agnelli set another stall out for change in his opening session on the headline stage, talking somewhat cryptically about the need to maintain an open system in top tier European club football. “If a couple of us move to a room next door after my speech and decide to found a club, we must be able to have the dream to win the Champions League one day.” After reform efforts were curtailed earlier this year, there is no current concrete proposal for format change, but, according to Agnelli, if the ECA finds a “programme that has 70% to 80% consensus among the clubs, then it’s going to be a great thing,” and it’s going to be a great thing by the deadline for going to market with a new concept in autumn 2022.

–    Vast TV audiences strongly suggest India is emerging as the newest sporting power in the world, said Mumbai Indians owner and IOC member Nita Ambani as she pitched her country to the sports industry. “The opportunity is now. No country is more conducive and open to the development of sport as India at the moment.”

–    “Athletes and artists have common themes,” explained Pixar Animation Studios Art Director Deanna Marsigliese, “natural talent that requires practice; passion etc. I’m an animation athlete – animated film production is a marathon; four years minimum. Endurance is required to take early scripts to final designs via believable personalities.”

–    Gillette has a relatively new man in charge in CEO Gary Coombe, but the same broad attitude to sports sponsorship: it remains a crucial part of the marketing mix. But the brand’s recent positional shift in its marketing approach, taking a much more overt values-driven stance, is playing out in its partnership acquisition choices too. Raheem Sterling, Coombe revealed, was signed as a Gillette endorser recently, explicitly because of the public stance the Manchester City and England footballer had taken on combatting racism. “His stance is very congruent with our values,” Coombe said. We look for partners who share our values. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have now.”

–    Bold talk from progressive Mexican football executive Alejandro Irarragorri Gutierrez, Chairman of Club Santos Laguna, sitting on a panel of challenger soccer clubs, sounding the call again for a joint North American football league to go alongside the joint North American coming to Canada, USA and Mexico in 2026. “We share 2,000 miles of border with the US and we also share a fan base that cannot be divided by a wall; the way forward is to join forces and have a North American league and that could offer potential opportunities for TV and digital.”

–    More endorsement for values-based partnerships from key sports sponsors Visa and DHL in a lively session with senior brand marketers Tuesday Uhland and Sabrina Kreienborg. “We look for partners who share our values and look to be nimble and innovative,’ confirmed Uhland, before Kreienborg advised the waiting hordes of business card profferers on how best to pitch a new partnership to DHL: “it’s important that we are approached in a tailored way and a one-size-fits-all proposal is not going to be taken further; we want partners to tell us how they can provide opportunities and take us forward.”


The Marketing Stage

–    Hublot Chairman Jean-Claude Biver was a charismatic delight opening up the Marketing Stage with M&C Saatchi CMO Kate Bosomworth, herself never short of vim. Highlights included Biver’s assetion that he is “very much a woman”, at least in that he has leaned to trust his instincts and intuition; that he agrees with Confucius that only dead fish swim with the current; that, as a luxury brand, your marketing needs to be providing dreams to the people you want to be buying your product in 20 years time. He also revealed that Maradona, a Hublot ambassador, always wears two watches, one on either wrist. And he engraves the underside of each watch with the face of his two daughters, and sets the watches to the respective timezones where his daughters are. “Of course,” cackled Biver, “he has two watches but he never knows the time where he is.”

–    Former Players’ Tribune chief Jaymee Messler is aiming to repeat the trick of helping tell athlete stories dtc with her new venture (co)laboratory. “At the Players’ Tribune we had [dwell times of]  six minutes a page, which is unheard of at more traditional outlets,” she said, before highlighting podcasts as the medium set to explode.

–    According to Russell Stopford and Enric Llopart, digital chiefs at Barcelona and PSG respectively, there has been a structural increase in the demand from sponsors for digital inventory where brand storytelling is the core asset. And in an age when industry disruption is very much on trend, Barcelona are on their mettle: “We need to have a disruption paranoia,” said Llopart. “We need to be aware of new areas of content consumption.”

–    An interesting tidbit from Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, who had seen numerous teams move into sparkling new arenas in the years leading up to his own franchise’s move to Chase Center this year. “We didn’t want to lead with technology,” he said. “Because if you lead with technology, and then the technology doesn’t work, then where are you?”

–    Terrific news for ‘content creators’: long-form is alive and kicking. DAZN’s John Skipper, a famously voracious reader, insists that a 6,000-word piece is still the best medium to tell any story, and JOE Media owner Niall McGarry and Reach Group Head of Social Yara Silva both suggested that long-form is thriving. ‘When someone can consume’ dictates how much they consume. The idea of young generations having lower attention spans is a fallacy.

–    Chatting with any audience is the best way to understand them. Social influencer Geeohsnap spends 30-60 minutes per day understanding why stories worked or did not.

–    New Carolina Panthers CMO Meredith Starkey, brought in from an illustrious career ‘brand-side’, as the sports marketers would say, was bullish on the opportunity ahead for the NFL. “It’s in humanising the players and strengthening the affinity with the fans,” she said. The All or Nothing series was a way to create new fans and build player affinity. Atul Khosla, Starkey’s counterpart at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was singing from the same hymn sheet. “Everyone wants more access to players,” he said. “‘Helmets-off’ is something we bring to life – you don’t see their faces during the game so how do you get to know these people and fall in love? That requires coordination with [the] coach and staff. It’s trying to show player personalities.”

–    The biggest question in esports at the moment is how to build robust revenue strategies, and a trio of session on the marketing stage for the esports forum examined a few that are being tried. One of them entails investment in physical infrastructure where teams, fans, and players can interact, a strategy that Chris Overholt at Overactive Media in Toronto is very much behind, with bold plans to build specialist facilities for ‘esports and entertainment’ in Toronto.


The Tech & Innovation Stage

–    On a day of big numbers and big new ideas on the Tech and Innovation Stage, the standout was perhaps this detail from the Chief Technology Officer of SoFi Stadium and the surrounding entertainment complex, the new NFL stadium under construction in Los Angeles. Skarpi Hedinsson revealed that the stadium has been designed around its video screen, a 70,000 square foot, oculus-shaped LED board. It’s apparently the equivalent of hanging a four-storey building off the roof of another building, so no surprise that while it was the first component of the ambitious project to be designed, it will be the last to be built and installed.

–    Sticking with stadiums, Populous, engineering firm SCX Group and Tottenham Hotspur were on stage to outline how exactly the North London club’s new stadium was designed with both the Premier League and NFL in mind, notably the 10,000-tonne sliding pitch feature which allows for a rapid transition from one sport to another. It’s a project astonishing in its complexity but, intriguingly, when asked about what the next frontier in stadium design and construction might be, Spurs’ Technology Manager Paul Jennings was quick to point to turnstiles as an area of potential focus; in an era of enhanced security checks further away from the stadium bowl itself, are they becoming defunct and can camera technology ultimately be a reliable replacement?

–   The NFL’s General Manager of Club Media George Scott was on hand mid-morning to explain how the league has worked with Deltatre to standardise and centralise its digital ecosystem, charting the 32 teams’ journey from scepticism to enthusiastic acceptance. In a fascinating case study, Scott outlined a couple of key tips for any central rights-holder looking to do similar: total transparency of purpose and objectives was key in the NFL project, as was selecting two clubs, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, for a beta phase – including a launch 45 days prior to the bulk of the teams. Scott was also keen to point out the thought that the NFL gave to educating content creators and in-house media departments at every team, to ensure the transition was seamless and the output retained the qualities associated with the NFL and its key team brands.

–   And congratulations to Bet Prophet, the secondary sports betting marketplace where you can cash out bets, for winning the Leaders Tech Startup Competition this year.


Winners of LSA

Congratulations to all our winners from another star-spangled night under the old bones at the Natural History Museum.

On Screen Experience
by LA Clippers & Second Spectrum

Content Creation
Google Home Mini Launch
by Toronto Raptors

Williams F1 and Unilever
by Williams F1 and Unilever

Live Experience
Formula 1 Gran Premio De Mexico
by Formula 1

Executive Huddle
By San Francisco 49ers and SAP

Community Award
Common Goal

Lifetime Achievement Award
Jill Ellis, Two-Time FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning coach

And click here for the full list of the 30 inductees on the Leaders Under 40 Class of 2019.


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