As Global Sports Week sets out its vision with a launch at the French Embassy in London, Sport Industry Group speaks to Co-founder Lucien Boyer and Executive Director Noemie Claret to hear how the Emmanuel Macron-backed forum – which will take place at The Louvre in Paris in February – can serve as a platform for the UK sport sector in a post-Brexit world.
Boyer is the former Vivendi CMO and Global President of Havas Sports & Entertainment, who also took the helm of the group’s UK agency (now merged with Cake) in 2014-15. Alongside GSW, he is currently co-launching a €200m growth fund exclusively focussed on sport. Claret is the former MD of Havas S&E Brazil and Head of Brand Marketing at the Paris 2024 bid committee, who has been named one France’s 12 most powerful Under 40s in sport.
Why did you choose London for the launch of Global Sports Week Paris?
LB: London remains, and certainly has been for a long time, an international platform for sports marketing and sports business. The UK is obviously a very influential country and we think it’s interesting for the international community based in London to be aware of what’s going on in Paris, and to be connected to the next big wave of major events that will be held there. So it’s also, let’s say, to create a bridge between the island and the European continent, which is still quite relevant regardless of the context we all know about!
Lucien, you were involved in judging for the Sport Industry Awards 2019. What did that experience reveal to you about the current state of UK sport?
LB: I was very impressed by the fact that this industry is so bullish, even in a moment where the uncertainty of Brexit and the slowdown in consumer growth might make you believe that sponsorship would suffer. It seems to be the opposite, and that’s very good news. So I was very surprised by the resilience of the industry and even more by the new dynamics with the emerging entrepreneurs and agencies who are investing and really believe in this way to engage people. Alongside that, you also have strong creativity and very robust organisation and teams across the UK sport sector.
How does it compare to the state of the industry in France?
LB: France is still much smaller. It’s roughly where the UK was around 2008 in terms of having a big series of events coming up and looking at how we can grab this opportunity to grow and be more internationally-focused, which was not the case so far. So first, in terms of the agency landscape, it’s less mature and consolidated – and the players are much smaller.
And when you look at the brands and rightsholders, it’s quite sophisticated in France, but it’s not yet big. For instance, overall sponsorship spend in France is about 2bn Euros, while the Paris 2024 Committee is going to raise 1.5bn by itself. It’s going to give an enormous boost to the market, and I think there’s a way for France to catch up with the dynamism of the UK.
The last point is that the UK [sport industry] is much more international. You have a lot of connections with the world. That hasn’t been the case for France, but we are now starting to look outwards and think about how we can do more international business in sports, following the example of the French luxury, fashion and beauty brands. It’s a big challenge, but many people have the objective to catch up to the UK – including speaking English as a main driver for that.
Should the UK be worried of losing global share to France?
LB: Well, we should remember that the market overall is growing. I do believe that the growth is going to come more from France than before, but that does not mean it will be at the UK’s expense.
What can France and the UK learn from each other?
NC: I have less direct experience of working in the UK, but comparing the two, I would say the British are more direct and efficient in deal-making, while the French sports market is more oriented to collaboration, which might facilitate more innovation – even if things take more time.
LB: France brings something different in the way sport, business and society function together. Actually, this is a key ingredient of Global Sports Week Paris. In France, the state is strong so there is always a central power that will organise and plan and distribute things, whereas in the UK it’s more about individual initiatives. This mentality gives France an edge when it comes to delivering big projects – major events – because we have most of the structure in place to be leveraged by the various stakeholders, for example small and social businesses.
What do you see as the big opportunities for UK firms to tap into these emerging opportunities in the French sports market?
LB: This is a no-brainer for me. There is a level of experience and expertise in the UK that is so far unmatched here [in France.] The London Games was not long ago, and there has been a follow-up through Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang, with various companies able to bid based on their London experience. This will be very relevant and useful in terms of grabbing the opportunities around Paris 2024 – and also the 2023 Rugby World Cup, as you have also hosted this tournament very recently.
What you also have, and nobody can deny this, is the English language: that will reassure the rest of the world. Any English-language company that establishes itself in Paris can serve as a great go-between to facilitate the work of those NOCs, global sponsors and media that will need support around the Paris Games.
It’s normal that French companies will grab a large share of the opportunities, but I also foresee a lot of collaboration between French organisations and those UK agencies that are more experienced and international. It’s one of those special connections that could be created through the next four to five years, which will also help the UK sport industry not to disconnect with Europe, and perhaps to use Paris 2024 as a great bridge to keep up with what’s going on in the continent, regardless of Brexit.
From your broad global perspective, what do you see as the most significant mega-trends affecting sport right now?
NC: This was the question we asked ourselves as we were starting to develop the GSW programme. We’ve had a lot of discussions with the industry, and we landed on five core societal shifts, which sport still needs to better understand and integrate: climate, lifestyle, equality, power and data.
LB: To build on that, it’s clear that sport is growing in cultural and social currency, but we need to really understand those dynamics to fully realise the opportunity. And we also need to recognise that sport is in competition with the overall culture and entertainment world, especially in the context of new lifestyle habits and the expectations of younger generations.
That’s why Global Sports Week is putting a strong emphasis on Gen Z, whose access to and savviness with technology changes everything. Really, it goes to the heart of the sport economy, with this power shift we are seeing. If you look at some models that have historically formed the backbone of our industry, such as TV rights, they are definitely being challenged by the new way people consume content and the appetite for stories and, for example, gamification.
Sport is really at a crossroads. It’s central to the traditional human experience and the balance of life, which we want to protect, but if we do not move with society, the risk is that sport will become obsolete.
This is the moment where we really need to change, and to grab the opportunities which create a lot of potential in terms of IP, franchise management, digital content etc. But it must be balanced with this vision of sport as something that has values.
It’s where we, as business people, need to take into account the specific sport stakeholders, but also society’s stakeholders. It’s the mix of these three that will create the balance for a bright future for sports. This is exactly what we’re trying to do with Global Sports Week.
Lucien, you’re also heavily involved in the launch of a major, €200m European growth fund – the first of its kind exclusively focussed on sport. What do you see as the hot opportunities from an investor’s perspective?
LB: What unites the two initiatives is that, more and more, private equity firms now realise that they need to have responsible and meaningful investments. That’s a very interesting thing – to see finance aligning with social responsibility. Because obviously the investors need to respond to their own constituents and demonstrate that the firms in which they are going to invest are complying with these new societal expectations: integrity, equality and environment and so on. Investors understand that sport is both a resilient and meaningful environment, with the potential to creative positive impacts across, for example, education, health and social inclusion. And any business that we will invest in is going to share this mindset.
With our fund, we are going to raise €200 million, which means our portfolio will be about 10-12 companies, and we see a lot of synergy across the board through data and the ability to share learnings across industries when you connect them through some kind of value chain. We believe that the rightsholders – and also the icons that drive interest in sport – are the same regardless of the industry, so we can have a lot of tools and elements that can be mutualised and we can also find synergies across the portfolio.
Coming back to Global Sports Week specifically, why do you think the world needs another sports business convention?
LB: Well, this is not another sports business convention! This is a new “rendez-vous” that will bring sports business and society together in a very different format, with a very different ambition.
We recognise, respect and like very much the existing offer, across the different sub-sectors, but we believe there is a need for a place to open up the business of sports to the wider world, where leaders of business are exposed to leaders of sports – not just the commercial ones, but those right at the top. Because sport is much bigger than “the industry”, sport has an influence on the whole of society – and it is also influenced by every kind of technological change and movement in society. So we believe that sports leaders need to look outwards and really learn from different kinds of decision-makers and experts to open the mind of everyone.
NC: Our aim is to create an annual event that will take place at the beginning of the year, every year, to set the agenda in terms of challenging the industry, in the way that Davos does.