MANY Digital

Rights holders in sport: It’s Time to Change and Quickly!


With over 25 years in the sports industry I like to think I have a ‘rounded’ view on all things commercial in sport.  I have worked for brands, sponsors, run a sports marketing agency and been on the rights holder side, more recently being Head of Partnerships at Premiership Rugby as well as Co-founding an Athlete Management and Brand Partnership business.

Pre COVID-19 most of us thought we were titanium, thought we were in control.  Matches would happen every week, the Premiership Rugby Final would take place in the sun at Twickenham at the end of May… but these unprecedented times in which we find ourselves, I believe, will act as a ‘wakeup call’, a ‘time to change’.  We have been forced to alter the way we live our lives, our daily habits have changed and that also includes our engagement with our passions and beloved sport.

Digital sponsorship spend is both the “greatest area for innovation” and “the most undervalued asset” in the sports marketing space, according to Two Circles chief executive Gareth Balch. Speaking during SportsPro’s Insider Series, Balch claimed that the sports industry lost out on UK£13.7 billion (US$16.7 billion) in unrealised sponsorship revenue throughout 2019, largely owed to not knowing how to best monetise user data garnered online.

During my time at Premiership Rugby we would talk about ‘New world’ and ‘Old world’ commercial rights.  The reality is that for slow adopters ‘New world’ rights are now already old! and we have to look within, a top down approach.  In a recent SportsPro Media webinar on Digital Transformation they ran a poll on barriers to progress and Internal Buy-In was the largest at 32% way ahead of Budgets, ROI, On Boarding and Solution (for which there are some great products/services out there.

So, if the ‘internal fight’ is the challenge, we (the sports industry) must come up with the solutions.  The ‘Old world’ or traditional ways we make money are changing and by aligning brand strategy, marketing, customer experience and insight you not only understand your customers but you can quickly engage with them to properly service your existing partners and grow new revenue streams.

“Digital is the greatest mis-sold, unsold, undersold, undervalued asset in the sponsorship mix,” Balch said. “Sports properties have been aggregating and growing audiences digitally and building bigger data sets, but not necessarily knowing how to monetise them.

There are some amazing people, agencies, and companies in our industry but they too have to look within, understand the real and immediate challenges and develop services and solutions accordingly.  As anyone at a sporting organisation will tell you –  ‘cost is always an issue’, so we must be creative, honest and work in partnership.  I believe that anyone who can demonstrate these elements and clearly show return on investment, guarantees and create financial partnership models (with little or no upfront costs and revenue share) will be hard to ignore in our new commercial world. Companies such as and are leading the way.

Rights holders must utilise the forward-thinking people, agencies and companies within in the sports industry to help them move quickly, ‘real time’ is now the new norm.  Now more than ever it’s important to be creative, produce meaningful content, digital only commercial packages, content syndication packages, 2nd screen opportunity, virtual stadiums, @home experience etc. and to use these mediums to gain a deeper understanding of their market, to amplify and drive digital commercial revenue whilst also staying natural and native within the Right holder’s environment.

The ‘need for speed’ is vital.  Rights holders must properly integrate their teams, perhaps somewhat ironically, working from home may have helped this.  They must be more connected, no more departments working in silos, and be prepared to make changes to the business from the ‘top down’, with inter departmental changes, restructuring of teams, budgets and targets. They will have to challenge their existing models and structures and the ways of doing things, be more creative with commercial campaigns and inventory.

Life is a learning curve, we are constantly developing and improving skills, always on the lookout for a better opportunity.  We all need to learn to flex, we are often caught up in our own routine, not really sure if we want to stray away from it.  We now have a real opportunity to hit the ‘reset’ button, this is a time to explore, we can and will be bigger, stronger, and faster.

Push the reset button

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