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Tributes paid to ‘sports digital pioneer’ Mike Ingram

Mike Ingram

Tributes have been paid to Mike Ingram, one of the key figures behind digital sports rights agency Inform Group, who has died suddenly.

The 47-year-old was one of four sports industry executives to come together during the digital and betting streaming sector’s infancy to create Inform, which subsequently merged with digital sports media company Premium TV to create Perform Group in 2007.

Ingram, who began his career in the sports industry 20 years ago as commercial manager at Media Partners Group, the Italian sports rights agency, has been described by his peers and former colleagues as a “digital pioneer”.

Following the creation of Perform, which has since divided into the DAZN Group and Stats Perform businesses, Ingram stayed on for a few years but then moved into other industries, including a wine business run from Italy. However, he continued to remain involved in the industry, attending the Sportel trade fairs in Monaco and Uefa Champions League finals.

The tributes have been led by John Gleasure, Simon Denyer and Stefano D’Anna, the other executives who joined Ingram in setting up Inform.

Gleasure, now executive vice chairman at DAZN Group, described Ingram as “integral to what we did”.

He said: “There were some relationships that Mike would bring to the table that would have taken us longer to build up. Some of these relationships and partnerships, even with him leaving the business, he maintained to this day and they became lifelong friends as well as being industry friends.

“He built up not just partnerships but trust with people from all over the world and brought them to bear to the business, helping us to grow and be seen as the leaders in the digital space at that time. We were seen as the pioneers and Mike was very much part of that in terms of what he brought to the table.”

Denyer, former chief executive at DAZN Group, met Ingram through a mutual friend at the time he was leaving IMG/TWI and when Ingram was with Media Partners.

“We immediately got on, he was very charming, very dynamic and had huge levels of energy and determination,” Denyer said. “From a sales point of view he was completely fearless. He’d be willing to call anyone or get in to see anybody.”

He described Ingram as having a “pure entrepreneurial sales spirit” and as being a “major driving force” at Inform and during Perform’s early days. Ingram was, according to Denyer, one of only “five or six people” who really understood the digital landscape at the time and (who was) able to come up with digital strategies and explain them to rights-holders.

Denyer continued: “That’s when we got on the march with the first streaming deals. Selling streaming rights to bookmakers, YouTube or telcos around the world. A lot of that was based on the early sales efforts of people like Mike.”

Denyer also shared the anecdote of a ‘mountain goat clause’ that was in operation among the four Inform directors that proved to be highly prophetic.

“When we set up the original shareholders agreement for Inform, we had a clause called the ‘mountain goat clause’, where if one of the four of us wanted to leave then you could do so elegantly and with no hard feelings,” he explained. “If one person wanted to go and herd goats on a mountain, then we’d all, as friends, find an amicable way for them to do it. Ironically, Mike ended up buying a farm on a mountain and got some goats and grew some wine.”

D’Anna said: “When Simon put the team together back in 2005, Mike and I didn’t know each other. It was Simon who introduced us. He was from the rights world and I was from sales.

“Apart from a monumental 2006 where we were all in the thick of the World Cup in Germany together, we had common ground. We both grew up in Liverpool. The connection was strengthened by the fact that Mike had spent a lot of his career in Italy and had Italian family and I was brought up as bilingual Italian. We were also both coffee snobs.

“Mike was a loyal guy and always made time for his friends. He was forward thinking and great at connecting people to make things happen. I will also miss his late-night rants!”

SportBusiness also spoke to other figures in the industry who knew Ingram well.

Diogo Caldas, chief executive at Portuguese football rights-holder Sportmultimédia: “It all started with Mike Ingram. Mike was definitely a very good friend, but furthermore he was one of the smartest executives in the sports media industry and he brought me along. We came a long way together and we were just halfway. Deeply saddened but very happy to have met him.”

Jacopo Tonoli, chief commercial officer at DAZN Group: “Mike was one of the pioneers of the digital sports industry, finding innovative ways of distributing and monetising digital rights. As one of the founders of Inform Group, he contributed with his strategic vision to set the basis of what later became the successful story of Perform Group. Always loyal and supportive towards his colleagues and clients, he was fearless in work as he was in life. I was fortunate enough to start my Perform adventure at his side and, in the years that followed, to share a close friendship with him.

“He was extremely sharp, funny, and beautifully unpredictable. Everyone who got the chance to know Mike will remember his kindness, generosity, his relentless desire to live life to the full, his loyalty towards his friends and, most of all, his love for his children. All my thoughts go to them, and to his family, in this incredibly sad moment.”

Ignacio Arrola of Mediapro (previously at Audiovisual Sport / Sogecable): “Mike was a great guy. Really great, one of the best people and not just in our industry. In real life.

“When we met, Netflix was a DVD rental service by post, and at that time, in 2003, as in the jokes, an Italian, Andrea Radrizzani, an Englishman, Mike Ingram and a Spaniard, me, traveled around the world trying to sell the mobile rights of each of our leagues but nobody bought them until we decided that it would better to get together and make a common offer. And it worked. Terra Brazil was our first client. The party, always with Mike, was historic. After that, we continued through the rest of the countries, in Asia, America, the Middle East…

“Our lives went on, many Sportels, and whenever we saw each other it was as if the last time had been yesterday. The last one, in Porto, at the Uefa Champions League final this year and like always both of us talking faster and faster, half conversation, half laughter. Liverpool and Real Madrid, business, projects, wine, driving in the Isle of Man, Paola and the kids. I’m going to miss you too much. Ciao amico.”

Riccardo Silva, founder of Silva International, the owner of SportBusiness Group, said: “Mike was creative, dynamic, unique. One of the pioneers in the digital sports industry, a good friend and a great person, we lost him really too early and we will all miss him.”