The TOP Sports Business Executive list of the year 2017 is out. The survey done by one of the leading Sports Business news platform of Europe, sportsbusiness.com has named two Indians in the top 10 list.
BCCI’S CEO, Rahul Johri is at number 4 on the list and Ipsita Dasgupta from STAR India, a relatively unknown name in the Indian Sporting industry, has been placed at number 2. Ipsita, President, Strategy, and Incubation, Star India, has been credited with the phenomenal growth of Pro Kabaddi League this year, Sports Business has reported.
Ali Baba’s Joe Tsai is at the bottom of the table.
10. Joe Tsai – Vice Chairman, Ali Baba
Alibaba vice-chairman Joe Tsai came to prominence in October this year when he acquired a 49-per-cent stake in NBA team the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that valued the team at around $2.3bn. Tsai reportedly bought the Brooklyn Nets with his own money and it was not the only sports investment he made this year. A collegiate level lacrosse player at Yale, he also purchased the new expansion team in the National Lacrosse League (NLL), the San Diego Seals for $5m.
9. Ferran Soriano – Chief executive, City Football Group
Ferran Soriano is the chief executive of English Premier League club Manchester City. Under his leadership, the City Football Group began to reap the benefits of the work that Soriano has done in franchising the club’s brand. Success on the pitch delivered by fellow FC Barcelona graduate Pep Guardiola has been met with success in the boardroom as the club announced a glut of new local, global and regional partnerships.
Soriano has previously described how he admires the global franchise model of the Walt Disney Corporation and how it blurs the lines between entertainment, retailing and theme parks. With clubs in Australia, Japan, and the US, the City Football Group is well on its way to duplicating the model. The club has also taken an innovative approach to digital media, striking a £10m partnership with Amazon Prime to create a four-part behind-the-scenes documentary about the club. This year it also became the first EPL team to reach one million followers on YouTube.
A 21-per-cent hike in revenue to £473.4m and a ranking of No.5 on the Forbes list of the most valuable football teams, with an estimated value of $2.08bn, shows that the club is forging a reputation as a truly global sports property.
8. Tom Harrison – Chief executive, England & Wales Cricket Board
Tom Harrison was appointed as the CEO of the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in October 2014, beginning his role at the start of 2015. But 2017 has been the year of reckoning for the former IMG media rights salesman.
This year Harrison has pushed through reform to introduce a new T20 competition from 2020 onward; finalised a significantly more valuable domestic TV rights deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky, which includes free-to-air coverage on public-service broadcaster the BBC; agreed several significant sponsorship deals; and continued to push ahead with the ECB’s marketing and grassroots campaigns.
Although the media reception to the addition of a new, city-based T20 competition has been mixed, ECB members voted overwhelmingly in favour, with 38 of 41 members voting for the change. Many cricket experts regarded the change as necessary given the increasing popularity, and commercial success of Australia’s Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League.
The new media rights deals with Sky and the BBC, worth a combined £1.1bn over five years from 2020 to 2024, represent an increase of almost 180 per cent on the ECB’s previous domestic TV deals and safeguards the future of the sport in the country. In May, Harrison told local media the ECB had “no ambition to be the richest, most irrelevant sport in this country”. The BBC/Sky deal guarantees revenue and will see the return of live ECB content to free-to-air television for the first time since 2005.
7. Bobby Kotick, Chief executive, Activision Blizzard
As CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick has built and will oversee the company’s newly-created Overwatch League, the first major global professional esports league with city-based teams.
After a slow start in which it looked like it would struggle to persuade investors to stump up the $20m needed to buy a team under the league’s franchise model, Kotick has surpassed expectations with the launch of the 12-team competition. In recent weeks major global tech giants HP and Intel signed deals to be the first league-wide sponsors of Overwatch League. In the last year, Kotick has also overseen development of Blizzard Arena Los Angeles – a dedicated esports facility and global broadcast studio in Burbank, California, that will host the inaugural season of Overwatch League – as well as other major Blizzard Entertainment esports initiatives, from game franchises including Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and World of Warcraft.
6. Lisa Borders – President, WNBA
Lisa Borders has had a transformative effect on the fortunes of the WNBA since she became the league’s president in February 2016. Attendances for the 2016-17 season were at their highest level for five years, TV viewership on ESPN recorded double-digit growth and the league achieved record growth in audiences across social media. When the league tipped off again in May this year, it was announced that 31 per cent more games would feature on television this season versus the last, with 222 local broadcasts. Borders has been clever to partner with the NBA, the league’s “Big Brother” as she calls it, to grow the popularity of the WNBA, and advertising campaigns around the men’s league have delivered tangible results.
5. Jamie Graham – Chief executive, Team Marketing
It’s been a busy last 12 months for Team Marketing and Jamie Graham, who has led the commercial business of the agency in its sales of media and marketing rights for the Uefa Champions League and Europa League competitions.
The Team began the sale of media and marketing rights for the next three-season cycle, which will run from 2018-19 to 2020-21 December. The sales process was delayed as top clubs threatened to launch a European Super League, with that danger averted by the promise of four qualification places from Uefa’s four top-ranked markets, as well as greater revenue. However, the knock-on effect is that Team has a smaller window than usual in which to sell its rights.
The agency is targeting revenue of €3.2bn ($3.77 bn) per season from these rights and its early deals indicate it will comfortably surpass the expectation.
4. Rahul Johri – Chief executive, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)
Johri has been credited with successfully conducting the IPL bid for BCCI. Johri was appointed as CEO of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in April 2016, beginning the role on June 1. His first task was to organize a tender for Indian Premier League media rights that guaranteed a transparent process, rather than awarding rights to Sony Pictures Networks India in the pay-television broadcaster’s window of exclusive renegotiation. Despite a legal challenge from the Supreme Court into the governance of the BCCI causing the postponement of the original tender process, global IPL media rights were awarded to Star in September in a $2.55bn deal from 2018 to 2022. This represented an increase of more than 550% on the value of the previous deal with Sony, from 2008 to 2017. The transparent process coaxed an enormous $600m bid from social media platform Facebook for digital rights in the Indian subcontinent – its biggest offer so far for media rights.
The Star media-rights deal was preceded by two sizeable sponsorship deals. In June, Chinese mobile manufacturer Vivo paid about $340m – a 554% increase – for IPL title sponsorship rights, while the BCCI in March agreed on a lucrative deal with the Indian division of Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo to act as the main sponsor of India’s national team.
3. Tim Zulawski – Senior vice-president and chief revenue officer, AMBSE Group
By the time the cutting-edge Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons (NFL) and Atlanta United (MLS) opened in August of this year, Tim Zulawski and the AMB Sport and Entertainment team had secured nearly $1bn in contractually obligated revenue from sponsors. The figure was a new record for a US stadium, and far exceeds revenue commitments for any other new sports venue anywhere in the world.
Although the design of the stadium provides a rare digital storytelling canvas for sponsors – including a giant ‘Halo Board’ circular LED video screen and 101-foot LED ‘Mega Column’ roof supports – Zulawski deserves credit for getting such an astonishing number of sponsorship deals over the line.
As AMBSE Group’s senior vice-president and chief commercial officer, Zulawski helped to strike partnerships with SunTrust, IBM, Equifax, Coca-Cola, NCR, Novelis, The Home Depot, American Family Insurance, SCANA Energy, AT&T, and Georgia Power. He also helped negotiate the naming rights deal for the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which runs for 27 years, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground (Atlanta United’s practice facility) and the ATLUTD kit.
2. Ipsita Dasgupta – President, Strategy & Incubation, Star India
The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), has been one of the success stories of 2017 and the credit to its growth has been given to Ipsita Dasgupta who has been named number 2 in the list of top sports executives of 2017.
Ipsita Dasgupta, president, strategy & incubation, Star India, has been the engine room from a profit-and-loss perspective since founder Sharma began taking a less active role.
The changes she has led, and the increase in viewership for PKL, were rewarded in May when Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Vivo spent $50m (€43m) to become a title sponsor of the competition. According to Star India, the deal was the biggest title sponsorship deal for a non-cricket sport in India. As per the estimates, PKL revenues had risen by 320% this year and the number of the advertisers jumped three fold.
1. Ioris Francini – Co-president WME-IMG
Ioris Francini wins the award for Sports Business Executive of the Year for being the undisputed driving force behind a storming year for IMG. Following his appointment to the position of co-president WME-IMG in late 2016, he was personally involved in a number of headline-grabbing deals in 2017, especially for the media division of the global agency.
“On the media-rights side of the business, they were far and away the outstanding large agency this year,” says William Field, Prospero Strategy.
Among the most notable developments for IMG Media in 2017 were two landmark football deals: winning a four-year contract to market the commercial rights for South American football federation Conmebol in a joint venture with Perform, and securing a three-year deal for the exclusive global media rights for Italy’s Serie A. Francini was reportedly instrumental in the latter deal, having delivered a powerful presentation to the heads of the Serie A clubs in his native Italian.
“Serie A was a huge deal for them,” says Robin Jellis, editor of sister title TV Sports Markets. “Ioris has personally lobbied the clubs for years and was the driving force behind them getting that contract.”
Under Francini’s guidance, IMG also broke the sales world record for the international market for a boxing fight with the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor crossover event in Las Vegas. With just three and half weeks to sell the fight, the agency smashed through every one of its higher-end targets to agree 63 deals and arrangements, distributing across every single market on the planet. As the fight then introduced boxing fans and neophytes to McGregor and the UFC, the agency was a major beneficiary having purchased the mixed martial arts property in 2016. 2017 was also the year the agency took the decision to rebrand its sports archive business to IMG Replay to reflect the broadening scope of its services. The new platform includes the addition of daily sports clips from sports news video agency SNTV and mixed martial arts content from the UFC, with plans to expand with content from entertainment and fashion properties from the wider WME-IMG resources.
Most recently, IMG partnered with the FIVB to launch the new Volleyball Nations League. The latter undertaking leverages the model of IMG’s successful reformatting of Euroleague basketball, which has seen larger attendances and more competitive games. The wide-ranging optimisations and enhancements have resulted in larger TV audiences, better deals with sponsors and a number of improved media-rights contracts.