Alumni Interview, University of Liverpool | Raj Taprial, Nielsen Sports

Career Highlights:

  • Founder, Splendora Football League – Jan 2018 – Oct 2020 
  • Sports Business and Management student – University of Liverpool Sep 2020 -Oct 2021 
  • Account executive, Nielsen – Jan 2022 –  

What drove your interest in a career in the sports industry? 

The story starts when I was a kid. I started watching football from the Champions League final in 2009. Barcelona had an amazing team and style of play, they defeated Manchester United in the match and I became a Barcelona supporter from there. Watching them closely over the following years made me fall in love with football and all the stories that go with it. When I was an undergraduate, I was always wanting to build a career in sport and never lost sight of that aim. 

This was bolstered even further when during my undergraduate studies I founded my own football league. Football is obviously not a hugely popular sport in India, especially in terms of its recreational presence. There is university level football, but it is not highly competitive, and selection is very politicised, so it’s difficult to make teams even if you are keen to. 

With local football options therefore limited, the idea of the league developed from a few friends hanging round wondering where to play football. It began with two or three small seasons involving 30 to 35 players competing on a five-a-side and seven-a-side basis.  

After a successful first few seasons, I decided it could be something bigger. To push it forwards, I started taking steps like making videos of in-game action and posting them on social media. The popularity spread from here and people seemed to enjoy the style of highlights, while the players appreciated the opportunity to interact with the league in this way. 

By the eighth season, the league totalled 250 different players across Mumbai. This included former professional coaches and former football players. It all built from the marketing and hype. We always had a structure where we would have a trial phase where we’d look at players and then hold an auction for players, which added to the hype. 

Ultimately, the league turned out to be a huge success and in terms of preparing me for my career, I was able to understand different aspects of management through it. For example, I managed all the hosting, which started off small and eventually became a big 11-a-side venue. We also brought in sponsors who were crucial in providing equipment. Financially, it was profitable most of the time. For the first three or seasons around break even as we wanted to focus on maintain interest and bringing value to participants.  

I had to manage the majority of the most recent edition from London and then fly back to India for it. This was the tenth edition and because of the logistics of me now being based in London, it will probably be the end of the story. 

What was decisive when you were considering which postgraduate degree to pursue? 

The University of Liverpool really intrigued me from the outset. I also had other choices but how Liverpool helped manage my situation with the pandemic was appreciated and helped tip the balance.  

The pandemic created an issue because I was supposed to have final undergraduate exams around the time when the pandemic hit, so the exams were postponed to October 2020. Obviously this was problematic in terms of my applications to UK universities, because they were due well before October. 

I communicated the situation to the University of Liverpool to see if we could work it out. They were really supportive and eventually I was able to join the course virtually right on time even despite my final exam results not being confirmed. 

Once you started the postgraduate course, how much did the pandemic impact your experience? 

I started off course virtually from India due to travel restrictions and then moved to the UK in December. At the time, we were expecting restrictions to be gradually lifted and to be able to experience some of the remainder of the course in person. Of course, restrictions remained in place and ultimately meant the course was delivered virtually in its entirety. 

Even though it was not the situation anybody would have wanted, the way the course was delivered was exceptional. Everything was done in a timely manner and we were consistently helped out with individual video calls and other aspects like this, so it didn’t feel like we were away from university as such. 

Some of our projects and assignments were also quite interactive. I love creativity and they were flexible in allowing us to deliver assignments in different ways, such as using video content, which really allowed us to put our own stamp on assignments. It all culminated in a dissertation on Fan Engagement and Digitalisation, two areas I’m incredibly keen on building upon in the industry.

How did you secure your role at Nielsen? 

The people network provided by the course was helpful. Hannah Goodridge of Nielsen Sports gave a guest lecture about Nielsen’s work and the brands and rights-holders which they work with. I realised how big Nielsen is as a player in sport and I’ve always wanted to work with the type of organisations the company works with. 

I pursued the opportunity there and ultimately had a face-to-face interview with Hannah before being offered the role, so there was a link back to the course and its network. 

What is involved in your role at the company? 

Right now we’re working across several of the world’s biggest rights-holders, one example being Fifa. I’m currently focused on the media valuation side of things – how much value brands are getting out of sponsorships with organisations like Fifa. This allows me to help with the process of providing insights into how to get best value out of partnerships.  

Day to day, I stay up to date with sports I’m working on and then analyse the data and identify areas brands and rights-holders could improve in terms of areas like social media and television exposure. Eventually, we present reports which help these organisations with their strategic decision-making. During the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, I was able to work across all brands and make sure they were earning expected value and achieving the right numbers with Fifa in terms of audiences, television values and other measures, making sure it was in line with their initial objectives. 

Overall, it’s been a fantastic experience so far and I’d just like to take a moment to formally thank my parents – my father Varinder Taprial and my mother Priya Taprial for all their support, which has been crucial in getting me to this point.