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2014 Sports Innovator of the Year: 20 to 11

The SportBusiness International Sports Innovator of the Year recognises the sports executives who have made the most original business decisions throughout the past 12 months. This is the countdown from 20 to 11.

20. Niclas Ericson
Director, FIFA TV
FIFA FILMS, the partner of world football’s governing body responsible for the management of broadcast media from FIFA competitions, used this summer’s World Cup in Brazil to test and showcase production innovation. Working alongside technical partner Sony, FIFA used the electronics giant’s expertise and equipment to produced three live 4K matches at the event, including the final between Germany and Argentina. Around 9,000 fans also watched 8K World Cup productions at four live public-viewing sites in Japan, part of FIFA’s broadcast partnership with Japanese broadcaster NHK. Meanwhile, alongside the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin, FIFA used the OmniCam system to give fans a 360-degree experience of the World Cup final.

19. Dorian Roldan
Vice-President, Lucha Libre AAA
In an attempt to target the United States’ Hispanic population, Roldan launched a campaign to market his Mexican freestyle wrestling franchise to the region via an innovative mini-TV series. Lucha Underground is an hour-long weekly series, filmed on location in Los Angeles, which was first seen on US networks in October. The unscripted show features five real competitors and is broadcast on pay-TV networks El Rey in English, and UniMás in Spanish. Focus has been on promoting the storylines – and subsequently the sport – via social media channels, with Lucha Underground’s official Twitter account gaining almost 19,000 followers in just two months.

18. Poul-Erik Hoyer
President, BWF (Badminton World Federation)
Hoyer, 49, is one of the youngest international federation presidents and IOC (International Olympic Committee) members, having been the sole nominee for membership at the IOC’s 126th Session before the 2014 winter Olympics. Since then, Hoyer has overseen unprecedented decisions for the BWF, including a deal to stage its World Superseries Finals in Dubai for the next four years. He has also partnered with Hawk-Eye to use its tracking system at a range of BWF events, and awarding the 2017 Sudirman Cup to Australia’s Gold Coast will see the mixed-team event go to a third continent for the first time.

17. Paul Rogers
Head of International Digital Development, Liverpool
Rogers led the English Premier League club’s launch of its first official Chinese-language website through a partnership with China’s leading sports portal Hupu.com. Liverpool is considered one of the European clubs leading the online charge in China, and working with Shanghai-based social media specialists Mailman Group, the club has launched accounts on Chinese social media platforms Tencent Weibo, Youku and Weixin (WeChat). This summer, it also joined the Weishi revolution (see pages 18-19). Last month the club also launched LFC Xtra, an international fansite designed to provide English speakers with exclusive club content.

16. Jim Pallotta
President, AS Roma
Pallotta’s innovation comes through his plans to rebuild a home in The Eternal City. Following his investment in the Italian football club in 2012, with three other Americans, in March this year Pallotta announced plans for a new €300 million, 52,500-seater stadium for the team, which is scheduled to open in 2016. While the Stadio della Roma’s capacity will be down on the 70,600 seats it has at its current Stadio Olimpico, there will be a greater emphasis on the fan experience at the new venue. The number of concession points of sale will also rise from 15 to 245, with 50 hospitality suites featuring.

15. Simon Wardle
Chief Strategy Officer, Octagon
After recognising recent advances in mobile technology and fan-adoption of social media, sports agency giant Octagon’s Wardle commissioned a study – The Passion Shift – in March this year. The Passion Shift detailed how sports fans are using technology, and covered over 125,000 fans in 17 countries, quantifying the use of 33 different digital, social media and mobile channels. By looking at trends with each platform, Octagon has been able to predict how likely fans are to change their purchase behaviour as a result of a brand’s sponsorship activation on each platform.

14. Paul Kind
Head of Commercial, NRL (National Rugby League)
Kind has been recognised for his role in helping to create and organising the NRL Auckland Nines, the new annual event that took place in the New Zealand city for the first time this February. The Auckland Nines are a 31-game, two-day rugby league extravaganza that will be held in Auckland until at least 2018, and its inaugural event boasted sell-out crowds. The Nines have also been developed to deliver long-term sporting and economic benefits to their host city, with Auckland using the event to grow participation in the sport and engage the community, particularly in less-advantaged areas of the city. A post-event independent evaluation of the Nines also found the 2014 event had a positive impact of NZ$9.35 million on the Auckland economy.

13. Kelly Fairweather
CEO, FIH (International Hockey Federation)
Having come close to being considered one of the sports to be dropped from the Olympic programme last year, Fairweather has questioned every aspect of the sport’s international federation and, with that, come up with various innovative strategies to lead the future path of hockey. One in particular took place this April, when he signed a global innovation partnership with the UK’s Loughborough University to come up with a “dynamic, entertainment-focused complementary game” that will help take the sport to new audiences and open up new commercial streams.

12. Don Garber
Commissioner, MLS (Major League Soccer)
Garber oversaw a rebranding for the MLS this year – with a new logo set to fully launch in early 2015 – ahead of an expected difficult CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiation next year and anticipated power struggle with team owners regarding league structure. The US league also signed a major eight-year global rights deal with IMG in October to grow its profile overseas (see pages 20-21), while Garber managed to solve the problem of an underperforming Chivas FC by shutting the team down and replacing it with a new Los Angeles franchise.

11. Antonio Zea
Former Director of Innovation, adidas
De Zea drove the development of the adidas miCoach Smart Ball, which was launched in May. Using bluetooth, the Smart Ball is an app-enabled football with integrated sensor technology for use in dead-ball training such as penalties, free-kicks, shooting, corners, long passes or goal kicks. The app offers a dedicated training section for users to focus on improving their skills, with tutorials to help master more advanced techniques. “We decided to create an intelligent football to help children who go to the park on their own with a ball – and inevitably their smartphone,” De Zea told SportBusiness International last month.

2014 Sports Innovator of the Year: 10 to 2

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