I am very happy we had opportunity to talk with people responsible for the most successful sports conference in Southeast Europe, SPORTO Conference. SPORTO is not just Conference, it’s more than that. It’s also Magazine, Awards, Brands, Charity Auction & Brunch (Belgrade and Zagreb).
I was there last year, and it was unforgettable experience, we had really great articles about it (Richard Ayers – Don’t Waste your Money on Digital! / 5 lessons from Sporto 2014). I spoke with Tomaž, Dragan and Luka about past and the future of this leading sports conference!
How did the whole SPORTO story start? What was the idea behind the launch of the conference?
Tomaž: The idea about the SPORTO Conference came to life in 2003. In our agency, we felt that in Slovenia the field of sponsorship in sport is not looked at as business field, but more as social responsibility. We felt that the biggest sponsors didn’t have enough know-how and experience to manage their sponsorships investments. The potential that only sport as a communication platform has was not recognised yet. This was also true for marketing in clubs and federations. Our agency was in business relations with some of the foreign ones – foremost SPORTFIVE from Germany – and through that we saw that there is a different, more effective approach; an approach that our market has not yet embraced at that time. With this in mind, we started thinking about organising such an annual event and contribute to the market with sharing experience. At that time, we were in partnership with Sanja Pola Katavić from Croatia, who joined us in setting the SPORTO foundations (we closely co-operated at the first three events with one of them held in Croatia); Hans-Willy Brockes from Europäische Sponsoring Börse (ESB) also helped us a lot. Already the first conference, held in Ljubljana in December 2004, showed that we were right in assuming that our market was »hungry« for such content; over 200 people participated. We are pleased that in the recent years SPORTO developed into a truly regional platform, the leading of its kind in this part of Europe. The nearest comparable event is the annual event in Poland, while Austria only had its first event of this kind in 2014.
When did you start publishing the SPORTO Magazine and how satisfied are you with its concept? Who is among the recipients of the magazine? How can you get your copy?
Luka: It all started in 2006 with a publication in Slovenian and Croatian before the third annual event. Since then already seventeen issues in Slovenian language and five in English were published. The international version was added with an aim to offer the quality content to a broader readership in 2013. The recipients of the magazine are primarily the participants of our events and the people in the sports business community in our region, while we also send it out to our fellow ESA (European Sponsorship Association) and ESB members, meaning it also gets to sports properties and sponsors such as Arsenal FC, All England Lawn Tennis Club, Borussia Dortmund, Barclays, Coca-Cola etc. The Slovenian edition of the magazine is also an addition for the Slovenian Marketing magazine subscribers for many years. We are not a publishing house and we are not journalists, we see ourselves more as content creators and see the magazine as an added value for our community and also investment in SPORTO brand. The concept of our magazine is pretty straightforward – we believe in good content! Twice a year (in May and October) we offer exclusive interviews with industry leaders and other content pieces that offer an insight into world of marketing and sponsorship in sport, connecting our regional content with international. We try to follow trends, deliver insights and opinions about the challenges the industry is facing. We also co-operate with top columnists like sponsorship consultant Ben Wells or S&E Sponsorship from Canada. We are happy to be able to promote our print issue in today’s digital world. For a copy please contact us via e-mail or our social media platforms.
What are the guests you are most proud of? Who was the biggest star of your conferences up to today?
Dragan: It is difficult to expose the names, we are privileged that speakers and guests respond to our invitation. In previous years SPORTO has hosted a lot of the key global players, from sports properties (IOC, FIFA, UEFA, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid …), to sponsors (Coca-Cola, P&G, Heineken, Castrol …) and leading agencies (Havas Sports & Entertainment, Octagon, Synergy …). Apart from global leaders, we are also happy to be able to host the leading players from the region, Olympic Committees, federations, clubs, creative directors and inspiring start-ups like Nordeus (Top Eleven) last year and many, many others that give that special appeal in presentations and discussions for the 400 participants from South Eastern Europe. Each year we also bring to Portorož a variety of sports celebrities – athletes, without which the sport industry would not be here in the first place. We have hosted several Olympic and Paralympic winners or world champions. We were privileged to host pioneers of the sponsorship business like our good friend Karen Earl (ESA Chairman, previous Karen Earl Sponsorship) or sports marketing mastermind Patrick Nally (West Nally). It is always fascinating to hear influencers that have shaped the industry. Those who were at SPORTO 2014 will also probably never forget the epic »digital« debate between two great experts: Thomas van Schaik (Adidas, Global Brand Director) and Richard Ayers (Seven League, Founder and CEO). Each of the guests adds the part in the final programme mosaic of the event.
Are you satisfied with your every year improvement? What would you like to improve?
Dragan: In a world where things can come and go very quickly, we are most pleased to see that we are still out there after 11 years. Because of this we’d like to use this interview to thank everyone involved, guests, partners, delegates and media! It hasn’t always been easy, but we always tried to put ourselves into the project and we never put the commercial side in front. Nevertheless, we believe that we have improved SPORTO every year and managed to generate trust internationally. From the agency’s point of view the organization brings also great part of responsibility. As an agency we are not participating in the programme and our team serves as moderators. With participants from 10 countries last year another step into making the event a truly international one was made. But the goals are still the same as in the first year: we want to make a positive difference and contribution for everyone on this field of expertise on all involved markets. We believe that more people in our region should be involved in the field of marketing, sponsorship, PR and digital communication – not only at clubs and federations, but also on the side of sponsors, who can benefit from having experienced and savvy sponsorship managers on their ranks. We know that some things are hard to change and that they take time: even in the most developed markets, sponsorship is still sometimes a niche marketing element; although we are happy to see more and more people believing in it and combining it with other tools and approaches. Yes, we definitely are thinking of the future and ways to improve ourselves, the format and strategic partnerships. When we started there was no Facebook and Twitter, so you might assume things changed and need to change further.
Is there something you would point out as the biggest benefit or curiosity?
Dragan: We are excited when we see SPORTO as motivation and a new inspiration for a club’s or sponsor’s work and when know-how from conference and magazine is being used in practice or even as part of an academic paper. It is great to be recognised as a voice of such a big community, while it’s for sure also some kind of responsibility to be in the role to represent our region on a bigger, European level. SPORTO Awards (Presented by Marketing Association of Slovenia) are part of the ESA Excellence Awards, while SPORTO Brands (by research company Mediana) shows how successful our athletes are – also on the marketing field. Throughout the years we have gained a lot of sincere friends, true SPORTO ambassadors. One of the benefits that conference offers is the opportunity to speak on one place to a director of sponsorship of a global brand, a digital strategist of the world’s leading clubs and a boxing world champion or a Paralympic golden medal winner … The networking and consequently business opportunities through the event, SPORTO Dinner & Party are definitely one of the biggest treasures. SPORTO also opens doors that we would have never imagined to be opened to us before we started with the event. That gives us – as sports marketing enthusiasts – immense satisfaction. You can hardly get a better compliment then with the reactions we get from people we host. Shaun Whatling (Red Mandarin), one of leading sponsorship strategists, was so determined not to let us down that he went on the SPORTO stage even though he arrived from London with a severe fever.
What can we expect this year? What are the topics you will be focusing on the most?
Dragan: We have already announced our first international guest. Experts from the exciting world of Red Bull Air Race, Borussia Dortmund – the club with the “most intense” football experience –, Royal Dutch KPN (ESA Excellence Awards Best of Europe winner 2014 and Dutch Sponsor of the year 2011 & 2014) and Twitter Sports will be joining us and sharing insights on November 19 – 20 at the Mediterranean coast. We will be announcing other guests, topics and other conference activities in the following weeks and months, definitely also connected to Rio 2016 Olympic Games that are approaching. We are primarily focusing on sponsorship (strategy and activation) and the power of communication and fan engagement that sports properties have, especially now with the digital environment. We believe in harnessing the power of sport and that there are great stories to be told and topics to discuss! For more information please follow #sporto2015 updates.
Dragan Perendija (@draganperendija), S. V. – RSA, sports communication Project Director, SPORTO Head of Programme and SPORTO Magazine Editor-in-Chief
Luka Maselj (@LukaMaselj), S. V. – RSA, sports communication Project Manager, Head of SPORTO communications and SPORTO Magazine Deputy Editor-in-Chief
If you are thinking about which conference to attend this year, my advice is SPORTO. You will learn from great marketing experts, have a chance to network and enjoy the beautiful city of Portorož. If you are there, contact us for coffee and sports marketing talk.