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Infront unveils major structural reorganisation, including Ruibal exit

The Infront agency has today (Tuesday) revealed details of its first major structural reorganisation since 2006 by forming four core business units, a new management board and executive committee, while announcing two senior departures.

Infront, part of Wanda Sports Group, said the revamp will align it with future business needs, consistent with the overall structure and strategic direction of its parent company. The transformation follows WSG’s debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in July with its (downsized) initial public offering.

Announcing the changes today, Infront said that the company will be structured around a nine-person Group Management Board (GMB) and a newly-formed executive committee, while four operational business units have been introduced.

As part of the restructure, Claude Ruibal, senior vice-president of digital, production and sport solutions, will “retire” from the company at the end of the year to “pursue new projects”.

The experienced Ruibal joined Infront in May 2016. He was previously global head of sports content at Google/YouTube and chairman and chief executive of Universal Sports Television Network. He rose to prominence in the digital streaming space in 2006 when he co-founded World Championship Sports Network, the US sports streaming platform in which NBC Universal acquired a stake in 2008 (leading to the rebrand as Universal Sports).

Wolfgang Streit, Infront’s chief financial officer and senior vice-president of finance, legal and administration, will leave the Zug-based agency in the fourth quarter of this year. Infront said that Streit has “decided that the opening of a new chapter in Infront’s history post-IPO is the right time for him to take on a fresh challenge”. He will retain an association with Infront in a consultancy capacity and select board membership.

The nine Group Management Board members will be appointed internally and both that board and the executive committee will be led by Philippe Blatter, who will continue to serve as Infront’s president and chief executive.

Infront said that the board will “continue to develop and implement Infront’s strategy and oversee all business operations, while the ExCo, which is composed of the key functions and responsibilities relevant for Wanda Sports Group, will have an additional focus on driving integration and synergies” within the parent company.

Infront’s four new business units will be: Spectator Sports Media & Marketing, Personal & Corporate Fitness, Production and IX.co.

Spectator Sports Media & Marketing will be led by Bruno Marty (senior vice-president GMB/ExCo). The unit brings together all existing sports units, including Football (led by Stephan Herth; senior vice-president of GMB), Summer Sports (Julien Ternisien, senior vice-president of GMB), and Winter Sports (Stefan Krauss, vice-president of GMB). There are also dedicated new functions for Media Sales & Operations (Amikam Kranz, vice-president of GMB) and Marketing Sales (Michael Witta, vice-president of GMB), as well as Brands 360 (David Cipullo, vice-president of GMB) and Sports Services (Sven Biner, director).

The Personal & Corporate Fitness segment brings together all mass participation businesses of the Infront Group and will continue to be led by Hans-Peter Zurbrügg (senior vice-president, GMB/ExCo). Production will be led by Dan Miodownik, chief executive of HBS (GMB/ExCo), the Infront subsidiary that handles the host broadcast of the Fifa World Cup.

IX.co, headed by chief executive Christoph Heimes (GMB/ExCo), will oversee Infront’s digital business and provide a digital solutions platform for WSG. IX.co was launched by Infront earlier this year and is its ‘digitally native’ direct-to-consumer operation that connect brands and sports rights-holders to fans.

Meanwhile, the newly-created People, Innovation & Corporate Services unit will be overseen by Christian Müller (senior vice-president, GMB/ExCo) and includes the responsibility for Corporate Services – Structuring & Tax (Michel Brändli, vice-president of GMB), HR & Administration, IT and Procurement, Business Development (Joel Speier, vice-president of GMB), Infront Lab and Virtual Sports, as well as a new coordination function for all group companies.

A Finance unit is headed by Sönke Ziebell (vice-president of GMB/ExCo). Thomas Oehninger (senior vice-president, GMB/ExCo) will continue to act as general counsel in charge for Legal, Regulatory and Compliance areas. The Strategic Communications unit will be headed by Jörg Polzer (vice-president for GMB/ExCo).

Infront said the transformation of the organisational structure will be completed by January 1, 2020.

Blatter remarked: “In our first major structural reorganisation since 2006 we have formed a solid basis for Infront’s future success. It not only provides us with a great deal of stability and continuity within Infront’s leadership team, but also increases operational efficiency now that each operational business unit will have a homogeneous business model, segmented customer approach and specific management and revenue focus.”

On the two exits, he said: “Wolfgang has played a crucial role in Infront’s success story right from the inception of the company back in 2002, helping Infront to develop into a leading global sports marketing company. We owe him considerable acknowledgement and a huge debt of gratitude for a job expertly done.

“Claude has played a key role in strengthening the digital, broadcast, production and service capabilities of Infront. His contribution, collaboration and insight over the years as a GMB member, were and always will be appreciated. We are truly grateful for his significant achievements for Infront.”

Today’s news comes shortly after Wanda Sports China, a subsidiary of WSG, appointed Yimin Gao as president and chief executive, replacing Dongwei Yang. Yang resigned from his role, and from his position on the company’s board of directors, for personal reasons, according to WSG. Gao is expected to soon be appointed to the board.

Gao’s appointment coincided with the release of WSG’s second-quarter financial results, which showed a 30-per-cent fall in revenue to €283.8m ($322.8m).