UAE

Sporting heavyweights help make Leaders Abu Dhabi a huge success

David Cooper - Writer 12:39 23/01/2020
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Some of the biggest names in sport were represented at Leaders in Abu Dhabi

The second edition of the Leaders Sport Business Summit, Abu Dhabi, took place on 21st and 22nd January at Yas Marina Circuit. Here are six takeaways from an action-packed two days.

Fit for purpose

The UAE has launched a new brand identity – and a smart new pin badge to go with it – and while the marketing messaging has been refined, the role that sport is playing in building this nation, and its capital here in Abu Dhabi, remains central.

As HE Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, outlined in his opening address, Abu Dhabi is now an experienced major event host – with judo, cycling, triathlon, athletics, tennis, and of course motorsport all having cemented major Abu Dhabi meetings onto their calendars – and the effects, both projected outwardly and trickled down inwardly, have become established. The 450 international delegates here at the Yas Marina Conference Center would testify to the first, and the thousands of people – expats and locals alike – taking advantage of the open evening at the Yas Marina Circuit to cycle, run, or walk around the track are evidence of the latter.

Royal approval

HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who recently took full ownership of Premier League side Sheffield United, brought a dynamism and a personality not overly constrained by a corporate communications line to his turn on stage on day one of the summit. Giving his views on sports ownership, Prince Abdullah, who made his money in Saudi in the paper industry, articulately expressed a kinship with the people of Sheffield, the
city of steel whose industrial history is ingrained in its people.

He was also forthright on every issue that was put in front of him: the potential for Premier League broadcast revenues to dip in the next cycle? No chance, “news and sport are the only two things that people still watch live, so they have an edge with the advertisers.” A World Cup in the region in 2022? Bad news for that summer, where we’ll have to forego football to “spend more time with the family”, but good news for the game “because the best players will be at their peak”. And while we’re on the topic, burnout, he believes, is a real issue in English football. “I think we can do without the Carabao Cup; players get exhausted and there are too many games.” VAR in the Premier League? “I think we have to find a solution; it’s ridiculous now. Every time I watch the goal that was disallowed against Spurs I feel pain.”

Gerry the pacemaker

RedBird Capital Founder and Managing Partner Gerry Cardinale sees athletes as the next big finance opportunity in sport. He’s put his money where his mouth is by investing in a new vehicle called OneTeam Partners, a joint venture between RedBird and the players associations of the NFL and MLB focused on commercialising athlete IP.

“Players, teams, leagues; that’s the value chain in sport,” he explained in a session on sports investment. “Two thirds have evolved and matured with capital. One third has never touched capital and that’s the players. But we now have a platform where we can show the players how to build their own businesses.”

Redbird watching

Spurred, perhaps, by fellow panellist Javier Alonso’s tale of how Kosmos Sport had bought a fifth tier Spanish football club based in Andorra and brought them to the brink of the Spanish second division in a matter of of two years (and within a very favourable tax environment), Cardinale also opened up on what he’s setting his sights on next: “We’ve been spending the last two years going deep thinking about soccer. The one thing we can’t do in the US is own a team. They don’t allow professional or institutional investors to own teams.

“In Europe you can actually own the team; but there are challenges; it’s very difficult to invest offshore when you don’t have a presence on the ground. In Europe, you don’t really own the team, the fans do, and they see the owners as just passing through. We have looked at teams in London, Madrid, France and the Netherlands. I’m not looking at the big teams – I’ll never write a cheque for Chelsea or Tottenham – but we’re looking at teams in the 6th to 11th category [in the league] – a multi-team, multi-country model, like City Football Group have done – partnered with a strong analytics firm, set up to be stable and consistent cash flow wise. We just haven’t been able to find the right grouping yet on the ground.”

Future-proofing

Innovation was the name of the game for several of the panel sessions, particularly the ones exploring the future of golf, cricket and esports. The times they are a-changing, and golf and cricket are working hard to change with them. Esports is already there. First, in golf, where a panel featuring Navin Singh of the USGA, Peter German of IMG, and Guy Kinnings of the European Tour pinpointed what they believe will be different in their sport in the not too
distant future. “The concern around the aging demographic,” said Singh. “And for us to not be having that conversation anymore.

There are so many different modes and platforms by which golf is consumed that we put out of our minds this idea that traditional consumption is going down.” Kinnings agreed with him. “People need to start acknowledging that you have played golf if you have chipped and putted or played golf on a computer. We also need home-grown talent competing against global superstores around the world.” While German put sustainability at the core of his
prediction. “It’s an issue that golf will have to address,” he said, “and perhaps by having not so many events worldwide.”

In cricket, the ECB’s Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, the new format and competition being rolled out this summer, explained how a huge research project underpinned the modelling of the new tournament. To reach new fans, Patel said, cricket needs to become shorter, easier to understand, and more exciting. And, without taking any of the established competitions out of the current calendar, The Hundred is focused on doing just that.

OverActive Media CEO Chris Overholt, meanwhile, sees 5G and VR as the two new technologies that are poised to allow esports to scale at the level many believe it capable of, with both set to democratise new and deeper experiences in digital gaming.

A nudge in the right direction

The word ‘translation’ is banned in the Manchester United offices, Ian Nolan, the club’s Global Head of Content and MUTV explained, and that’s because an effective international engagement strategy relies on true localisation – localisation that speaks in an authentic voice to different people in different regions on different platforms. United run 15 digital accounts across the world – and have not yet taken the jump into TikTok – and are still focused on driving engagement back towards their owned platforms. One of the club’s engagement measurements, Nolan revealed, is fan emotion, with tactics in place to nudge those fans disappointed with, for example, a bad result back towards positive anticipation of the next game.

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