In May, the Uefa Champions League final returns to Istanbul, 15 years after Liverpool staged a remarkable resurrection to come from 0-3 down to beat Milan on penalties to lift the trophy in the Ataturk Stadium.
Things have changed since then and, according to Octagon’s head of football Phil Carling, the host city should be prepared for a rather different experience this time around.
Speaking at the Brand and Sport Summit at Istanbul’s VW Arena yesterday, Carling explained that the continued evolution of the Champions League meant that hosting the showcase had become a whole new ballgame in the intervening decade and a half.
Today the Champions League has become soccer’s Superbowl; a more interactive and immersive experience capping a week of fan and football related activities. Expect a party, Carling told delegates.
The 2,000 people registered for the Summit, which featured Turkish and international sports sector figures, ranged from veterans of sports marketing and media to fresh faced students eager to make their way in the business. And on the face of it, the Champions League final coming to town would tend to suggest that the domestic sports sector is buoyant.
But one of the issues facing them is whether – despite Turkey’s proven ability to host some of sport’s biggest events – the sports sector will develop sufficiently to provide opportunities for them.
It’s an issue on which Ahmet Gülüm, chairman of the Istanbul based sports marketing organisation Sportsnet Group and organiser of the Brand and Sport Summit has a clear perspective.
Gülüm, a former captain of the national volleyball team and president of the national volleyball federation, knows the sports business in his country better than most and believes that an over-reliance on government funding and what he describes as ‘irrational money’ – donation masquerading as investment – is hampering the development of a truly effective and dynamic sports sector. After all, when a bail-out is always possible there’s not much incentive to follow best business practice.
He believes deeply in the future of sport in Turkey but it also aware that professional standards have to be raised if it is to realise its potential. This is, after all, a country of more than 80 million with a significant overseas diaspora and it is a country where sport and its stars are revered. But, while the current dip in the country’s economic fortunes hasn’t helped, it would appear that there is still some way to go before its domestic sports business is able to thrive.
The Brand and Sport Summit was, in part, a response to Gülüm’s determination to raise levels of professionalism in the sports sector in his country and so that it is able to grow in the years ahead and it is good to see a successful entrepreneur investing for the long term success of the sector in this way.
With the country’s national football team having qualified for the upcoming Euros and considered a ‘Golden Generation’ by the Turkish FA, the future for Turkish sports and sports business comes loaded with potential. With a new generation of stadia open for business around the vast country – thanks to a state supported development drive – it is likely that there will be new bids to secure major competitions and commercial opportunities they bring with them.
To take full advantage of them requires a knowledgeable and skilled professional sports business base and the Brand and Sport Summit was an imaginative step toward achieving just that.