In the latest in our new feature series profiling the people who make the sport industry tick, Sport Industry Group meets Jaap Kalma, Business Development Director at Sports Betting Community (SBC) and Coordinator of the upcoming Sponsorship Forum at SBC’s Betting on Football event at Stamford Bridge.
WHAT MY JOB INVOLVES…
I spend a lot of my time liaising with clubs and sports organisations, as well as betting operators, to make sure we are creating the right kind of content that works for all of them.
The football sponsorship market can be quite cloudy. It’s difficult for operators to value exactly what rights are worth, while sponsorship opportunities are not advertised as clubs don’t want to look like they are desperate for sponsors.
Deals often come about through a number of small sports marketing intermediators, but we take a different approach which is all about transparency and creating better understanding between the worlds of football and betting.
We know the deals, who has partnered with who, what has worked, what hasn’t, so we subsequently have a global overview of what people are looking for and offering.
I’M CURRENTLY WORKING ON…
I’m concentrating on two Sponsorship Forums in the space of a few weeks, next month’s Betting on Football in London at Stamford Bridge (19-22nd March) and Betting on Sports America in New Jersey in April.
Betting on Football will bring together decision-makers from international betting operators to address the recent issues and opportunities in the sports betting industry.
The Sponsorship Forum is an invite-only event and network that provides a platform for sponsorship professionals at sports clubs and organisations, as well as betting and gaming operators, to discuss sponsorship and to find specific opportunities that are available.
We have completed two Forums already and the feedback has been very positive, although we have learned plenty and regularly make tweaks to the format and content.
The Forum provides a different kind of marketplace where parties can find the right partner that works for them. A number of deals have already been struck at the Forum, for instance Betway becoming the shirt sponsor of La Liga side Deportivo Alavés.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN SPORT…
I started as Marketing Director for the ‘brand leverage’ side of the business at Ferrari, focused on everything from sponsorship and licensing to Ferrari retail stores and even the Ferrari theme park, before becoming Global Brand Director with overall responsibility for the Ferrari brand.
It really is a beautiful brand with so many brilliant stories to tell, but it was a pretty rigid company at the time, so after four years I felt I had taken the role as far as I could.
MOVING INTO FOOTBALL…
Further down the line in my career, AC Milan got in touch about their Chief Commercial Officer position in 2014, which seemed like a great challenge, one I didn’t want to pass up. It was another incredible brand to work with.
At the time the club had lost its leading position somewhat, both in terms of results on the pitch and commercially. Back in 2004, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United were about the same size financially. Milan had won everything that could be won, and they had been innovative on the commercial side, but at a certain point their model didn’t work anymore and the market had moved on.
I was there for four years and although it was challenging, it was a really broad and interesting role, ranging from fan marketing and ticketing, to sponsorship and licensing.
On the sponsorship side, which is key of course, the first quick win as a rightsholder is to make sure the packaging from the outside is as attractive as possible. After that you can work to create and mould the offering and the internal processes and organisation to create a winning commercial proposition.
Innovation in the rights inventory and the partnership structure and processes to ensure world-class execution is also important. But perhaps most important these days is your digital media creation, distribution, and leveraging capabilities.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS I'VE LEARNED IN MY CAREER…
At AC Milan, we managed to renew all the major sponsors and add some great new ones like Diesel, despite disappointing results on the pitch. This was because we had created genuine partnerships and were overdelivering on value.
I have seen at other clubs that a lack of service mentality, transparency, and consistency are often the main issues when it comes to disappointing sponsorship results.
The market value of sponsorships is actually pretty clear when you know the market well. However, if you look in practice at the pricing of the packages, with rights like LED minutes, activation and IP, unique hospitality, player appearances, etc, the arbitrary level of fees and the inconsistencies between different positions are often embarrassing.
This isn’t helped by the opacity of the market, with many intermediaries having a limited overview and often a singular focus on making deals.
In addition, sponsors don’t always have a deep understanding of how a sports organisation works and how to get the most value out of a partnership. Solving these issues was ultimately what inspired the Sponsorship Forum.
THE BEST THING ABOUT MY JOB…
The sports betting market is really dynamic and exciting. There is an inherent overlap between betting products and the ‘product’ of sports rightsholders, so the opportunities for creating value are huge, especially as both industries are deeply affected by digital transformation.
Betting operators know SBC well and know we can be trusted to work in their best interests, so we’ve quickly come to work in partnership with many of them, as well as with many rightsholders. Realising the potential value of this category is very gratifying.
THE WORST THING ABOUT MY JOB…
I would say the 7am flight from Milan – where I still live – to London where I spent about half of my week.
On a serious note, I’d say that it is sometimes frustrating when I encounter mistrust from sponsors or rightsholders when we first start working with them in the area of sponsorship.
However, we only started specialist services in this area less than a year ago and people invariably open up when they see our different way of working, expertise and genuine desire to support them and the development of betting sponsorship.
ON MY DAYS OFF…
At this time of year my family and I love to go skiing. Living in Milan, we’re not far from the mountains and we head up there practically every weekend. My wife is from Puglia in the south of Italy, so she loves the beach in the summer, whereas I’m more of a mountain person.
- Favourite place I’ve travelled with work…
San Francisco and Chicago. I used to live there, so I always look forward to going back and seeing all my friends there.
- I couldn’t do my job without…
My phone, I’m embarrassed to admit. Although I have to say that I’m ever more reliant on actually seeing or talking to people rather than emailing or messaging. You get more done that way and I enjoy the contact.
- If I wasn’t working in sport…
I’m passionate about growing business by leveraging brands, marketing, and partnerships – and how the digital transformation is continuously creating new opportunities there – so it would definitely be something related to those areas.
- Best piece of advice I ever received…
A sales director early on in my career said that you should love your customers. It struck me as strange at the time. I was working in FMCG and the relations with retailers were mostly antagonistic with tough win-lose negotiations. But he was absolutely right - when you’re able to combine your company’s interest with genuine care for business partners that translates in understanding and trust, which in the end is the basis of long-term value creation.