I talked with Daniel Ayers, a lead consultant at Seven League, and we discussed some interesting sports marketing projects he ran over the past several years. I really liked his team’s work at Valencia CF, as I already wrote something about it on Overtime blog. 

Daniel started his career in the music business, and he’s been in sports marketing for about two years now. This is a really interesting interview for all sports marketing enthusiasts. 

How long have you been working in sports marketing? Do you remember your first project?

“Only 2 years, so yes, it’s easy to remember! Before I joined Seven League, I worked for 14 years in digital marketing in music, mostly at Sony Music UK where I was Director of Digital Services in my final role.

My first project at 7L was for ATP World Tour, looking at ways in which they could increase traffic to the atpworldtour.com website. The challenge here was that they already had huge traffic, so making a significant difference to it was not easy.

I thought I knew what ‘big numbers’ looked like from my time in music (we ran the One Direction site, for example), but this was a different world…”

What do you love the most about sports marketing? What is your most interesting segment of sports marketing?

“If I compare it with music (or other entertainment areas), I think there are lots of advantages to working in sport; in both cases you have the passion of the fans, which is always exciting to harness, but if you are a sports club or federation, you have much more control over your IP.

A club owns a venue, controls ticketing, controls merchandise, manages sponsor relationships directly, and often has a strong relationship with the players. The only rights you don’t control are broadcast, and even that may change in the future.

In music, there are so many stakeholders: the record label owns the sound recording, the publishing label owns the written music and lyrics, the booking agent controls tours and ticketing, someone else runs merch and of course the artist and their management have a large degree of control over everything.

This can just make it hard to get stuff done because there are so many conflicting agendas. Plus, sport has a regular schedule, which makes it much easier to plan content and activations.

When I started working with Valencia in 2014, it was great to see how quickly an idea could be executed. Projects could go from ‘concept’ on a Wednesday to being in the stadium by the Saturday, which was always exhilarating.

Of course, working in digital/ technology in particular, there are always new developments and innovations to work with; that’s what keeps it really interesting for me.”

I know you because of your work at Valencia. Since I work in sports marketing as well, I understand the extent of work you have done there, especially in digital communication on a global level. What would you note as the biggest success while working at Valencia?

“From a personal and digital perspective, there were lots of small things we implemented which made a big difference: starting up live match blogs and running them in English as well as Spanish, switching to a Global Brand Page on Facebook, implementing real-time analytics on the websites and having the output on big screens in the office, being the first (and still only, I think!) club to implement a ‘Share to WhatsApp’ button on the website. All of these things helped to create the idea that Valencia CF are innovators in digital, and that’s a powerful reputation to have.

In more general terms, my boss at the club (Luis Vicente, who was Chief Revenue Officer and drove a lot of the marketing, commercial and innovation initiatives), was instrumental in changing the direction of the club; the Junts Tornem campaign, and its use on the shirts for the wins against Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid had a massive impact on the perception of VCF, worldwide. Every match report around the world mentioned the slogan (which means “we’re coming back, together”), which helped to tell a global story that this was a club on the rise. Of course it was a gamble – if we had not won the matches, the stories would not have been written – but it paid off.

Additionally, Luis drove the LTE broadcast trial at Mestalla with Vodafone and a host of other technology providers; that project was spectacular in terms of the amount of energy and effort that went into it, and how cutting-edge the tech was.”

What were you focusing on while setting up a digital strategy at Valencia?

“Building a reputation for digital innovation, and growing the international fan base.”

Which is your favorite sports marketing project so far?

“The Senyera kit launch was a lot of fun; we had great materials to work with (a really nice looking kit, with has a big emotional significance to VCF fans), good creative ideas around both the launch, and presenting the history of the shirt, and it made a big impact (thanks for playing a part in the coverage!).”

Recently, a certain player had his transfer deal cancelled because of a several years old tweet. Many players still don’t realize the importance of social networks. What do you think about this? Is it possible that in the near future clubs demand from players to be active on social networks?

“I think that’s probably true in many types of work; people will post comments without thinking that a future employer might not like them… for players it’s more of an issue because they’re more well known, of course.

I think clubs would always like players to be active on social networks because it can help to build a close connection with the fans. I don’t think you can force them though, it won’t be successful if you do.”

Which new trends can we expect in sports marketing? What do you think might be the next big thing?

“I think mobile messaging apps / chat apps are a very interesting area; Line, WeChat and Facebook Messenger are all platforms in their own right now, and you’ll start to see clubs building apps within them.

Obviously this can be used for marketing, but I think the successful apps will be those which improve the user experience and provide a service; the WhatsApp share button on valenciacf.com is a small feature, but it helps fans do 2 things they already do (chat on WhatsApp, and share news with a 1, or a few friends) more easily. That’s why it’s successful.”

There are more and more companies each year specialized in sports marketing. Does this mean clubs/athletes finally recognized the importance of sports marketing?

“In music, publishing, and other industries where the internet has completely ripped up the old business models, people *had* to get good at digital; if they didn’t, they would disappear. That’s never happened in sport; the traditional revenue streams of broadcast rights and event tickets have not been negatively affected by digital.

In some ways that’s positive- digital marketing in sport has been about innovation and growth, not something which had the future of the business relying on it!

But without that motivation to drive the expertise forward, digital marketing in sport has been left behind by the sophistication of other entertainment industries. Of course there are exceptions, and some clubs/ federations/ sports are very good. But the general level of understanding is lower.

I think that globalisation, and the possibility of new revenues from having a strong fan base in Asia or the USA is what’s making people realise the importance of good marketing. If clubs want to build attract a fan in India (for example), they face a lot more competition than they do in their local region. More intense competition means they have to get good at it, just like we did in music several years ago.”

Thank you, Daniel, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your sports marketing knowledge, experience and insights with us. Good luck on your future projects.  


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