SPORTO Online Experience: A recap

The 17th edition of the SPORTO Conference, one of Europe’s leading events within the sports marketing and sponsorship industry, is successfully completed. There were quite a few uncertainties and challenges before this completely digital premiere due to the limitations and adaptations in this fragile time. We are very pleased that the two-day gathering featuring top sports marketing and sponsorship experts and more than 500 participants from as many as 34 countries ran smoothly. The lectures were extremely informative for the engaged audience, with the eminent guests revealing their different views and insights (through the lens of the pandemic). The SPORTO Online Experience was intense, offering 12 hours of programme over 14 online sessions and two Workshops/Masterclasses with 21 guests from four continents. We also hosted three world champions and many media representatives from across Europe.

The event started with a guest from Australia, Kim Skildum-Reid (Power Sponsorship), a thought leader in the sponsorship field, who shared her views on the impact of the pandemic. “Coronavirus has sorted great sponsors from the pretenders. Sponsors are getting rid of dead wood,” Kim said. She also emphasised the importance of valuing remote fans and concluded: “In the short term, the pandemic will be painful for everybody, but in the long run, this will make our industry stronger.”

Luca Massaro, CEO of the award-winning, performance-driven sports marketing agency WePlay, talked about how sports organisations can win in the digital age. “Engaged audiences are twice more likely to purchase a product or service and spend twice more versus unengaged audiences. Whatever drives audience, drives revenue, so invest in building your audience to build revenue and future-proof your business,” was one of his insights and advice.

Florian Lamblin attracted a lot of interest, especially among the Slovenian cycling enthusiasts. As Head of International Development at the Tour de France (ASO), he offered a behind-the-scenes look at how the TDF has adapted to the Covid-19 crisis. Quick decisions were needed for this year’s Tour. A few takeaways: “Maximise the chances of success, so work closely with public authorities. Explain to get support from fans and partners.” Lamblin also discussed the next virtual TDF, the one in 2020 being a sort of a trial version: “The objective was to test something new and have an impact within the ecosystem. The results were very encouraging, with 8 million viewers on Eurosport and 765,000 unique visitors on the website.”

Edel McCarthy and Anne Smyth (Electric Ireland) presented the background of their award-winning sponsorship partnerships with the Irish Football Association (Game Changers) and the inspiring work with the charity Pieta (Darkness into Light). They pointed out three P’s in the sponsorship approach: partnership, potential and passion. “We must strive for ‘win-win-win’ situation. We must deliver it for the audience, for the brand and for the sponsorship property. Meaning of the success in our case? A property is probably better because Electric Ireland is involved,” Anne Smyth said.

The digital stage was shared also by Matthew Entwistle, Group Managing Director at Two Circles, Franjo Bobinac, Vice-president and Managing Director for Global Marketing at Hisense, and Guy Edri, Executive Vice-president of Business Development at Vidaa. They discussed the future of sports consumption and ways to put the users and their habits at the centre of the (TV) experience. “Content type is changing and people are spending different time on different formats. We see highlights, near-live and clip rights massive on mobile, but we also see the move to the big screen for live digital watching or long-form documentary,” said Entwistle. Edri added: “In the next 10 years, the TV will become more powerful and how you present it to the user will be the most important, and if it’s convenient, they will use it.”

Our guest from the Northern Europe was Stefan Gunnarsson (Icelandic Football Association/KSI). He provided an insight into the high-profile and award-winning rebranding of Iceland’s national football team. “The concept for the rebranding was “think big” – the brand identity that KSI wants to be world-known for and that is alternative to others.” The rebranding was based on the tradition and history of Iceland. “The market outside Iceland perceives us as the Vikings, so we put a little “Vikingness” in it as well, but the rebranding was primarily meant for the people of Iceland,” said the Commercial and Marketing Director at KSI.

The high point of the first day was at the end, when SPORTO hosted Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, best-selling author of “How to Win at the Sport of Business” and serial entrepreneur. A former Slovenian NBA basketball player, Managing Director at ELPA and podcaster Boštjan Nachbar was a great moderator in the exclusive talk with Cuban, who pointed out some very interesting views on the Mavericks brand, pandemic challenges, connection with fans and the parallel with other industries: “If you want people to be there for you, you have to be there for them. When you’re winning, everybody is fired up and that only happens in the sports industry. If Google, Netflix or Facebook has the best quarter in their corporate history, nobody throws the parade. When your team wins the NBA Championship, the whole city is on fire.”

Another very prominent guest was also the first speaker on day two of the SPORTO Online Experience – “Le Professeur” Arsène Wenger, the renowned French football coach and manager, who talked to Carsten Thode (Founder at Aphetor) about leadership, interdependency between the sporting vs. commercial objectives in elite sport and the future of football. Wenger also emphasised the role of fans: “During the Covid period, one of the positive things is that we realise how important of a part of professional sports fans are. It’s incredibly important to think about how we can involve them better in the game.”

He also shared his view on data: “The data science can help you make decisions, but it’s not supposed to dominate you”. Another important point was the growing role of women’s football around the globe: “The most important thing for developing women’s football is the quality of coaching and doubling the infrastructure, because stadiums are already overcrowded.”

Lewis Wiltshire from Seven League discussed, in his presentation, the digital trends and how sports organisations are becoming media businesses. He offered a piece of advice and a prediction: “You don’t need a digital strategy. You need a digital plan which delivers your organisational strategy. The virus has created a world where rights holders will engage the fans more directly via digital memberships and create a new revenue source.”

Gemma Schmid, Head of Brand at Purplebricks, and Nicholas Rogers, Sponsorship Lead at Cadbury, joined the moderator Andy Westlake, Chairman at the European Sponsorship Association, in a dive into the learnings from the partnership with Team GB (Purplebricks) and Premier League Clubs (Cadbury), discussing the companies’ approaches to adapting to the changes in the sponsorship sector.

Fnatic Founder and CEO Sam Mathews shared his insights about the ecosystem of one of the most successful esports brands of all time and his views on esports specifics. “Streaming is live TV reinvented and the pandemic is additionally accelerating the viewership. Increasing accessibility, penetration and maturity of mobile games will further accelerate esports growth. Fnatic fans are like no other. They don’t want ads, they want stories. They want a brand to enter their space and enhance it.”

Among the last to appear on the stage was the incredible tandem with vast experience in the world of sports marketing, Michael Payne (Payne Sports Media Strategies) and Ricardo Fort (Coca-Cola). Their Olympic-themed discussion, including the evolution of Olympic sponsorship with Rule 40 in the 2020s and Tokyo 2020, was another highlight of our SPORTO 2021. Payne, also the IOC’s first-ever Marketing and Broadcast Rights Director, touched on the power of the rings: “There’s always been a unique magic around the Olympics. Also connected to marketing … there were things that made it different from other events. When you’re bringing the world together, it’s important for everyone to understand the guidelines because the objective is to keep the Olympics special.” Fort, the Coca-Cola Company Vice-president responsible for global sports and entertainment partnerships, added: “There are many TOP Olympic partners but each of us is different and can be specific in their own way. We’re not competing, we’re helping each other to build the Olympics.”

Bob Mitchell, a dedicated sports lawyer and Head of the Sports Group at the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, discussed in his lecture (session in cooperation with SportLex) the impact of the pandemic on the sports sponsorship agreements. “Termination is the last resort and it’s in no one’s interest to terminate agreements. Be more specific about what happens in certain scenarios. Before anything happens – discuss, discuss and discuss!”

The official part of the SPORTO Online Experience ended with the revealing of the 2020 SPORTO Brands (most marketable athletes according to the Mediana Research Institute) and a chat with two outstanding athletes from the Adriatic region – the best athlete in Serbia, the World and European Long Jump Champion Ivana Španović, and the multiple Sport Climbing World Champion Janja Garnbret from Slovenia, both also Red Bull athletes.
Besides the two world champions, SPORTO also hosted the Chess Grandmaster (WGM) Laura Unuk, who discussed, among other things, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit and female chess players.

We can hardly wait for the 18th edition of the SPORTO conference, coming in January 2022. While it is still uncertain whether our next conference will be digital or live – where all participants can also mingle, have coffee, meet for dinner and attend the SPORTO Party, we hope that you enjoyed this one and found something new and inspirational for your field of work.

The replay of the conference will be available through the conference platform until Sunday 21 February 2021. In case you missed the event and would like the access, please contact us at