2014 Sports Innovator of the Year

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.

Last year the title was won by Dana White, president of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), for making his mixed martial arts property one of the fastest growing in sport thanks, in part, to innovative social media and marketing strategies.

In the next few pages, we will highlight and count down the top 20 executives who have helped to change the landscape of sport for the better in 2014. This year’s list has been compiled by you, subscribers of SportBusiness International, with the final vote cast by an expert judging panel.

Sometimes it can feel like pinning the tail on the donkey when deciding exactly which person, working within a multi-national, multi-faceted sports organisation, is the leading force of an innovative business strategy, but our panel has used its inside knowledge of the sports industry to pinpoint which individual is deserving of the credit.

Ideas in Motion

At the Sport Innovation Summit in Mexico City this October, a question went out to the audience of delegates, asking them to define exactly what ‘innovation’ means when it comes to the business of sport. The general response from the floor was that it constituted anything that changed the way people think and act. And as you will see from our rankings, that can take shape in a number of different ways.

An obvious and explicit way to innovate is by creating or introducing a tool or product that has never been seen or used before in the sports industry. ‘Smart’ footballs, digital analytics tools and wearable technology are some of the best examples of this, hitting the market in 2014 and recognised in our rankings.

Then there is innovation by thinking outside the box when it comes to freshening up age-old major sports events, and the leaders of major governing bodies have done this by looking at new competition formulas this year.

The facelift that has just been announced for the Olympic Games by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is just one of many examples of this.

Sponsorship and sports marketing have historically been a blank canvas for innovation in the industry, and this year has been no different. Despite its status as one of the most commercialised industries in sport, some of the biggest names in north America have, for example, started to embrace legalised gambling operators – which is why one of our innovators in particular makes the rankings this year.

Sponsorship Strategies

But it’s not just about commercial directors looking to sign sponsorship deals with brands that had previously been considered taboo, it’s also about creating rights packages and activation strategies that have never been seen before. 

Financial Fair Play is one of the biggest conundrums that has faced the billionaire owners of European football clubs for more than a generation, and through the construction of an innovative international football group network – complete with its own brand partners – Manchester City, represented in the top 20, may have found a solution.

Finally, there are those who have implemented real change that achieves disproportionately-positive results compared to the resources at their disposal. In sports governance, there is a term for these people: policy entrepreneurs. They do not have the influence of an international sports federation, and they do not have the financial muscle of a world leader backed by a top 10 global economy, but these policy entrepreneurs are
creative enough to position themselves in a situation where they can utilise the strengths of others to bring about real change.

There is no better example of this than our winner, Sir Philip Craven, and the work he did in Russia this year around the 2014 winter Olympics. Positioning himself in a situation where he could use the fast-rising support of the Paralympic Movement, and the wealth and influence of Vladimir Putin, to effect genuine, Craven created lasting change in a country that dismissed the idea of having “invalids” in its country as recently as 1980.

Congratulations to everyone who made it onto our list.

Meet the Judges

Nick Varley
CEO and Founding Partner, Seven46
Varley is well versed in recognising compelling sports stories as the scriptwriter of the final presentation that helped win the 2012 Olympic Games for London. In 2006 he founded sports campaign and content agency Seven46. 

Frank Dunne
Editor, TV Sports Markets
Dunne began his second spell as editor of sports broadcast industry bible TV Sports Markets in May 2010. Previously, he worked as a freelance football writer on Italian football, leading the coverage of the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal and Juventus doping trial for the British media.

Keld Strudahl
Former Marketing Director, Carlsberg
Strudahl has worked in football sponsorship in a career spanning three decades and started out with Carlsberg in the early 1990s. He now runs BrandActivators, the sponsorship agency he founded.

Matt Cutler
Editor, SportBusiness International
Cutler has been editor of SportBusiness International since July 2010. He joined SportBusiness Group in October 2008 as a reporter on SportBusiness International and the BritSport Weekly and TV Sports Markets publications.

Phil Lines
Former Director of International Broadcasting, English Premier League
Phil Lines is a media rights expert who has worked as a senior executive for the Premier League, Creative Artists Agency’s sports division, and Lagardère Group. Lines played a key role in the growth of the Premier League’s overseas broadcast rights values following his arrival in 2002, before joining CAA Sports in April 2010.

Matt Rogan
Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Two Circles
Rogan is the founder of data-driven sports agency Two Circles, which was voted agency of the year at the 2014 BT Sport Industry Awards. Its 45-strong team is headquartered in London and works with clients in 10 markets.


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