Business of Sport: Technogym helping Olympians shine

Mark Lomas 10/08/2016
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Technogym: At the heart of things in Rio.

Italy’s role at the forefront of the fashion world is well known but in fitness, too, the country has long been firmly on trend.

Since 1983, Technogym has been revolutionising the environment in which people work out – stamping Italian style across gyms around the globe. First came the transformation of imposing steel structures into sleek, modern designs – before technological innovation became a guiding principle.

And having established a reputation for excellence in the field of fitness over the past three decades, Technogym’s position as a market leader has manifested itself in Rio de Janeiro this month, with Olympic athletes relying on the company’s cutting edge equipment to enhance performance.

Technogym is the official supplier for the games – for the sixth successive Olympics – and has kitted out gyms in the athletes’ village and at Rio 2016’s venues. Many of those going for gold in Rio are already familiar with Technogym as its gadgets and gizmos are key training tools for coaches and athletes alike.

“We have built 15 gyms in Rio and are providing equipment, digital support and trainers to help the athletes and their teams,” Technogym’s UAE managing director Michele Moro explains.

“It’s about helping athletes complete the last steps of the preparation, to manage the stresses associated with competition. It is the sixth time in a row we have been involved in the Olympics and is another wonderful opportunity, as well as being a big responsibility.

“The expectations of those athletes are getting higher and higher; there are thousands of people working day and night – sometimes just for 10 seconds that can change their lives or for one game. This means we need to be perfect, to have perfect equipment and provide perfect support for these men and women chasing their dreams.”

S

Preparation is everything for athletes and Technogym certainly views the four years between the games as important as the three weeks that make up the Olympics.

“It is in those four years that we develop the relationship and the trust, as well as through the previous editions,” Mori says. “So we need to be ready, provide what they need, be there and make sure that everybody will be focused on the objectives that many have been working their whole lives towards.

“We work shoulder to shoulder with the athletes – we see what they do, and try to get feedback to see what is next because in four years there will be another event.”

Helping athletes go ‘Stronger, Higher and Faster’ – as Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic motto famously states – is a central tenet of Technogym’s philosophy. But there is no question that, from a financial perspective, the mass market of amateur fitness fanatics is more crucial to the company’s ongoing success.

We can’t have Olympic athletes everywhere but you can have a life objective, the gold medal you will personally be chasing. It is no less important.

So are its products built for the elite, trickling down to the grassroots? Or is it an amateurs-first approach?

“Often it is the same product, whatever the level,” Mori says. “At the least it is the same family of product, with slight variations. There is of course a wide gap between amateurs and elite athletes but Technogym’s aim is to accommodate as many people as possible.

“Events like the Olympics are designed to inspire, to encourage people to do what athletes do. Obviously we cannot have Olympic athletes everywhere, but you can have a life objective, the gold medal you will personally be chasing. It’s no less important.

“Of course there is certain equipment made for Olympic athletes that aren’t as helpful for beginners but typically, what we try to develop solutions that appeal to a cross-section of society.

“We recently brought the Skillmill to market, for example, which is a typical example of our mass market appeal. It is perfect for high intensity training, and can be used by anyone from rugby players to burgeoning cross-fitters.”

One of the key players in dragging gym-based exercise into the mainstream, it is a legacy of which the Italian fitness giants are particularly proud.

“Historically, most gym equipment looked like medieval torture devices. Gyms were intimidating places. But we introduced the Italian style and design to make the experience more enjoyable for a regular person. We wanted to attract new people to the gym and to change their lifestyle, that’s why we created more sports-orientated equipment. Suddenly it wasn’t just all about dumbbells anymore.

“Now the fitness industry has exploded. I like to use a restaurant analogy. There are hundreds of different formats of restaurants – fine dining, buffet, fast food and then sub-categorised into Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese and Indian. The fitness industry can be the same, there is so much choice now. Something for everyone.”

TECHNOGYM FIGURES

  • 35 million people regularly use Technogym equipment
  • The company is present in 100 countries
  • 200k private homes have Technogym equipment
  • Technogym has 300 patents

The digital revolution has brought with it new challenges, notably greater competition and an increasingly saturated marketplace. But Mori says the industry changes have been wholeheartedly embraced.

“Remember that technology, design and innovation are part of our DNA. Previously we were perhaps a little too out there, too ahead of the curve but now the fitness industry is moving so fast – we are at the heart of that.

“This gives us excitement and motivation. Developments like the app have been great because it helps the users and the operator to know more about needs. What is our base? What is our goal? The key to the success of any company is knowing about your clients, whether you deal in credit cards or fitness equipment.

“We are in a service and experience industry and I think in the app we have a beautiful tool, an opportunity to engage and excite more people and at the end of the day a healthier community.”

Here in the UAE, Technogym has had a presence since the mid-nineties, kitting out some of the country’s most luxurious facilities, including those at the Burj al Arab and Emirates Palace.

The fitness boom in the Gulf certainly shows no signs of abating and that is music to the ears of Mori and Technogym.

“The trends are always changing and we need to be on top of those, providing appropriate solutions. Classes have become really popular but still we are seeing a desire for people to make their fitness experience more intimate. So we’re talking about smaller classes or personal training, which have more interaction.

“Maybe you want to go into weights then you want to go into cross-fit; maybe then you will say that because everybody is trying to run a marathon I want to run a marathon or do a triathlon.

“The gym as we know it has changed beyond recognition. Now, the solutions are in our home, on the cloud.

“Fitness is now just one component now to be honest. In reality, it is broader and wider. That’s why we consider ourselves to be a wellness provider now.”

In terms of figures and reputation, the Italian fitness giants appear to be a picture of good health at present. Add a few Technogym-inspired gold medals in Rio to the equation and their rivals will not be able to hold a torch to them.

THREE KEY TECHNOGYM INNOVATIONS

First Generation Gym Equipment

“Arguably our most important contribution was the way we designed gym equipment at the very start. We made it look appealing, non-intimidating and sexy. We played a key role in making gyms are more welcoming place for people of all abilities. The equipment was, and still is, easy to use and makes the experience of training a smooth and enjoyable one.”

My Wellness Cloud App

“In this world of physicality and fitness, it is amazing that our most important development is not something that you can actually touch. The cloud infrastructure means that all devices and equipment are inter-connected. The interface is on whatever device you happen to be using and you can train for a marathon, set your goals. It really is totally personalised to reflect your own parameters.”

Skillmill

“A new innovation, it is a complete workout and is at the heart of our Olympic gyms. I can work on speed, stamina, strength and power and it is connected with the app, too. I can use it by myself or as part of a class, which is why it is probably our hottest product right now.”

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Business of Sport: Manchester Met forming sports leaders

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a new kind of pitch: Former England spinner and current MSd student Ashley Giles.

Decision making in sports management has never been in greater focus. With revenues rising in the majority of the major disciplines, media attention sharpening and the choices made having a more profound influence on commercial, political and social issues, the importance of prudent executive guidance is paramount.

Against this backdrop, a role has gained prominence. Football, Formula One, rugby union, cricket, cycling, athletics and the world’s other great pursuits have all attempted to marry these often conflicting concerns together within the position of sporting director.

To pioneer tomorrow’s leaders who impact social well-being and economic growth, Visionary Sports Investment (VSI) have partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to produce the Masters degree in Sporting Directorship (MSD).

The aim is now to deliver this first-of-its-kind accredited qualification in Manchester for the UAE market, equipping sports and business professionals with all the skills and practical experience needed to progress their careers.

E-Sports managing director Gareth Mordey and Hamilton Aquatics chief operating officers Pippa Clarke have already travelled from Dubai, putting them on the same path as a number of high-profile fellow students since it began in 2013.

These include Lancashire head coach and former England spinner Ashley Giles, Manchester United’s head of athletic development Tony Strudwick, ex-Nigeria and Stoke City midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, Oxford United manager Michael Appleton, Audi DTM Rosberg performance consultant James de Mountfort and ex-Doncaster Rovers Belles assistant general manager Becky Easton.

“You are taken out of your comfort zone,” says Giles, who took 143 Test wickets from 1998-2006. “But I feel I have really benefited from the experience.

Signed up: Seyi Olofinjana.

Signed up: Seyi Olofinjana.

“The academic side opens your mind to new ideas, but as much as anything else it has been working alongside the rest of the group that has been really important. I have been able to hear and see how other sports deal with issues, and you can’t help but learn so much from their experience.”

Sporting directors provide a figurehead for the institutions they are involved in, helping twin business and competitive interests. They will work to give support to head coaches on the pitch, while often also taking responsibility
off the pitch for the commercial growth which underpins them.

Prominent examples include Monchi at Europa League champions Sevilla and Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford, while in the UAE ex-West Ham United and Watford administrator Guianluca Nani performs the role for Arabian Gulf League giants Al Jazira.

Manchester is placing itself as the global hub for executive education in sport, with this scheme at its heart. Crucial to this progress has been the strengthening of links with the UAE, exemplified by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s takeover of Manchester City in 2008.

Regeneration of the east of the city has been twinned by success on the pitch, developments which the vice chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, Profes- sor Malcolm Press, would like to re-pay by advancing sporting performance in the Arabian Gulf.

He says: “Sport is deeply ingrained in the DNA of Manchester. It is a particularly proud and exciting time as the city’s football teams prepare for a new season and Manchester-based British Cycling are hopefully set to aim for more Olympic glory.

“At a time when we all have to redouble our efforts to build new global alliances, it is fitting that business relations have never been stronger between the communities of the UAE and our city.

“The owners of City Football Group, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his family, have been instrumental in the regeneration of East Manchester since arriving at the club. Their legacy for the city is already written and we are hugely appreciative.

“We also want to give something back and believe that we can play a big part in creating a new generation of UAE sport leaders, educated by academic partners from Manchester and working closely with our colleagues from VSI.

“Three years ago, Manchester Metropolitan University launched what we consider to be the blue ribbon programme in elite sport leadership: a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship.

“Sport in the Gulf states has never been stronger and we would like to contribute our experience in Europe to educating men and women capable of leading sports to the pinnacle of world sport.”

The MSD is a two-year part-time course which teaches a unique curriculum, designed to give students all the skills required to meet the demands of leading sporting organisations. Covering sports leadership, personal development, masterminding innovation and change, sport governance and best practice – alongside a diverse range of hands-on extra-curricular activities – the course provides unrivalled preparation for the role of sporting director.

With remote study twinned with on-campus commitments, a significant opportunity exists for sports and business professionals in the UAE to gain all the skills and practical experience needed to take their next career step.

“From the conception of the programme we have had interest from individuals and groups in the UAE,” says Tony Faulkner, co-founder and VSI director. “Gareth Mordey from E-Sports in Dubal and Pippa Clarke from Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai are both on the programme in Manchester.

“We have visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi meeting with governing bodies in sport and potential future students. Sport creates a competi- tive mindset, everyone has the will to win but only the very best have the will to prepare to win.”

The course also aims to investigate the process behind sporting success, with the study of neuroscience key. MSD believes understanding the drives behind human social behaviour will lead to improved leadership and results.

Ex-England right-back Easton is convinced this knowledge will allow her to get the very best from herself and those around her.

She says: “Much of the course is underpinned by neuroscience and this on a practical level will really help me in dealing with people.

“Understanding how the brain drives performance is vital in any management position.”

The MSD is aimed for ambitious self-starters who want to take the next step, be that in sports or business. Mordey, of E-Sports, who provide a range of services for children’s sport and coaching, leisure and adult recreation plus corporate sports and events, is set to graduate this year. He is sure taking on the challenge will boost his career

He says: “The Masters in Sporting Directorship course has been a game changer for me personally and professionally. It has enabled me to better understand myself and once understanding myself then understanding others better.

“Professionally the learning, the theories and the models that we have learnt on the course have enabled me to better understand leadership and decision making.

“There is nothing like this in the UAE, the profile of person on the course, access to world-leading talent through pioneering and innovative partners like Manchester City FC, GB Cycling, Saatchi & Saatchi makes this a highly-attractive programme for leaders and potential leaders in sport and business across the UAE.

“I would think this is something the sports federations across the gulf should look into, as this will provide them with a world-leading platform to develop their people.”

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Business of Sport: Old Trafford cricket ground charting a new path

Denzil Pinto 19/07/2016
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Historic: Old Trafford cricket ground.

From Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century” to Dominic Cork becoming the first Englishman to take a Test hat-trick in 38 years, and Sachin Tendulkar’s first Test century, the then-named Old Trafford boasts a rich history of magical moments.

Just like when the first Test was played in 1884, cricket has evolved dramatically since then and not more so than the stadium itself.

When Pakistan return to Manchester for the second Test against England on Friday – the first time since 2006 – not only will they be playing at the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC) but also Emirates Old Trafford (EOT).

The 10-year sponsorship deal with the Dubai-based airline Emirates, believed to be worth £10million, in 2013, is no doubt one of the biggest signings for the club.

The announcement could not have come at a better time with the £44m redevelopment of the stadia already completed.

That saw a series of changes including a rebuilt pavilion, a new players and media centre, two new double tier stands, the opening of The Point Conference Centre as well as the turning of the square on the pitch by 90 degrees.

Unsurprisingly, after two profitable years in 2008 and 2009, the building works and lack of international cricket saw the club suffer financially with annual losses registered between 2010 and 2012. In the latter year, the figures looked pretty grim with an operating loss of £1.5m.

The figures, while substantial, at least showed the club were going in the right direction after a record loss of £3.96m in 2011.

The return of Test cricket was secured in 2013 with the biggest of them all – the Ashes – and that played its part in securing an operating profit of £3.5m.

“The years between 2009 and 2012 was a very challenging period for us and we had to do a lot of refurbishment on the ground,” said Daniel Gidney (pictured), chief executive officer at LCCC. “The phase development has taken the club forward and we are in a very strong period now.”

There’s every reason for them to be optimistic. In 2014 and 2015, net and operation profits of £793,000 and almost £763,000 were announced and with the Pakistan Test and the T20I in September, it’s likely there will be another positive result this year.

General admission tickets for the first two days of the Test have already sold out, while more seats have been added to the capacity to cope with the demands.

Gidney expects the Test will be very well attended on each of the five days after the club worked with South Asian communities as part of their marketing strategy.

“One of the biggest challenges in the game is trying to convert people who watch the Ashes, which is the biggest thing in cricket, to come to other Test matches at Emirates Old Trafford,” he said.

“There is a lot of interest in Test matches in England whoever the opposition is. But we have to understand what fans want when they come to a stadium.”

To ensure there are high attendances, Lancashire worked with US-based The Aspire Group in incorporating a ticket sales strategy for the matches.

“The club adopted the Aspire Ticket Marketing and Sale Strategy which focuses on greater pricing complexity,” he said.

“This approach stretches pricing so that the best facilities on the best days attract higher pricing. That enables a greater number of lower priced tickets than previously available. This year, on the Saturday of the Test match, the Pavilion Terrace tickets will cost £80 and yet a junior ticket in the family stand on the Monday will cost just £5.”

England and Pakistan will be just among a number of visiting teams at EOT this season.

As Lancashire’s home, the stadium also hosts their English County Championship games including the 50-over and NatWest T20 Blast encounters, with the latter hugely important.

Just like the internationals, the domestic ones are crucial for Lancashire. Last season, the Red Roses were crowned NatWest T20 Blast champions for the first time, often playing in front of big home crowds.

With the shortest format a big draw for families, tickets are available at affordable prices. For example, prices for a T20 begin at £8.50 for Under-18s, while they range from £12 to £17 for adults. Contrast that to the 50-over games, U-18 prices are £7.50, £8 for groups and £15 for adults.

“The English Cricket Specsavers County Championship is very important for us,” said Gidney. “We don’t get large crowds during the season but the T20s helps us. We work hard on our costs and give a good fan experience. The commercial model is based on T20 and when we play we always have a good crowd. From our experience, the matches have proved to be more popular on Fridays as you can get young professionals and families out.”

Unlike football or rugby, whose campaigns run for more than six months, the English cricket season is held from April to September during the spring and summer periods.

But at EOT, even if there is no cricket on the pitch, it’s still business as usual.

Over the years, it has established itself as one of the top music concert venues in the UK. Rihanna and Beyonce are just two of the high-profile artists to have performed in front of thousands of fans.

Gidney admits it is a significant part of their operation as the club gets a big chunk of its revenue from the events business.

The Point centre celebrated its sixth birthday earlier this year and with a capacity of 1,200, it can host a wide range of events from banquets, dinners, conferences and exhibitions.

“The conference and business events can bring in around £5million a year, while day rates would be approximately £50 per head plus room rates,” he said. “For a large event over three or four days, it would be around £100,000 so it’s quite significant for us.”

Another new change will be the £13m Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Replacing the now-demolished Old Trafford Lodge, the brand new four-star 150-room hotel is due to open next summer and will be operated by the club. One of its biggest selling points is that five floors will oversee the pitch which can also be converted into hospitality boxes on matchdays.

“We want to increase our business and need a number of bedrooms on site,” said Gidney. “On its own, it will support events and grow our events. There are some companies who will not choose you if you don’t have any quality bedrooms on site.”

That project is not the end of the journey with EOT looking for more success off the field.

Gidney acknowledges the Emirates deal, whose logo is printed on Lancashire’s T20 jerseys, is of huge significance in ensuring business continues to go from strength to strength.

“They bring so much to us in terms of brand and their partnership is without doubt the best one we have had,” he said.

“It’s really helped us to get out there and create a non-sporting brand particular from the conference and events business.”

With international matches confirmed until 2019 including five World Cup matches in that year, it presents an opportunity for people to not only visit EOT but Greater Manchester as well.

“Prior to the World Cup, we’ll be working with the government funded tourism boards,” said Justin Hopwood, sales and marketing director at LCCC. “We have a role to play to make sure that people have the best experiences, not only with us but other places in the region.”

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