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SBD Global/March 28, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Hangin' With ... Sports Marketing Company Infront President & CEO Philippe Blatter

Infront President & CEO Philippe Blatter talks about media rights.
PHILIPPE BLATTER is the president & CEO of sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media. He joined the company in Dec. '05. Prior to joining Infront, Blatter spent 11 years working for int'l management consulting firm McKinsey & Company as a partner. Under Blatter's leadership, Infront has moved into new sports, opened new offices around the world and increased the number of events and revenue.

On Infront's rights portfolio and growth potential ...
Blatter: Over the years, Infront has achieved a most diversified portfolio, extensive experience and full-service capabilities, allowing us to deliver more than 3,400 event days for major sports across the entire globe. We continually strive to further strengthen our No. 1 position in winter sports as well as our broad football portfolio on all levels. In summer sports, we’ve recently made a major step into the growing field of mass participation events. Partnering with more than 120 rights holders in more than 25 sports, we’ve had great success extending and expanding our existing long-term partnerships, with a high renewal rate of more than 90%. Going forward, our focus is threefold. First, we continue to meet the broadening needs of our existing partners, building on our capabilities as a full-service provider. Second, we pursue new sports, properties and geographies to make the most of new business opportunities in regards of new rights-in agreements or our own through strategic partnerships. Finally, we focus on strategic acquisitions in order to access additional valuable sports rights, new markets and complementing service capabilities.

On sports media rights and technological changes ...
Blatter: Consuming content anytime and anywhere is a major trend, with multi-media platforms opening up new opportunities to produce and distribute sports content. These days, rights are increasingly being sold "technology agnostic," meaning that large media groups are competing for the same rights, presenting an opportunity for rights owners to drive up prices through intelligent packaging and tendering. However, at the same time, we register a growing polarization between "must-have" events and the rest. While media rights for top-tier properties are still on the rise, emerging properties have to find ways to protect and monetize their rights in a multi-platform world of pervasive -- and often freely available -- digital content. Staying current in media production is also crucial, as we find new ways to stay innovative and integrate the newest technologies, such as 4K ultra HD or value-added second screen offerings, to deliver the most exciting sports experience to viewers.

On competition ...
Blatter: Since we operate globally, we have a variety of competitors on national and international level, in specific sports or business segments. These are not only major sports marketing companies, but also specialized agencies, which cover one aspect of the value chain. In my view, Infront has four "USPs" (Unique Selling Points). First, we have a winning strategy based on strong diversification across sports, geographies and business segments, a long-term approach and high priority on quality and excellence. Additionally, we are one of the few companies worldwide that covers all commercially relevant aspects of top sports events -- a true full-service provider. Each and every day, our team delivers almost 10 events worldwide. The third differentiator is the fact that Infront is primarily a sports-oriented organization, as opposed to a functional one (media or marketing for example), resulting in close client relationships, high flexibility levels and stability -- with a strong and diversified long-term portfolio. Some of our partnerships last for more than 30 years. Finally, we have a strong team at all levels with low fluctuation, living a consistent corporate culture across our global network, with all companies, subsidiaries and passionate staff joining together.

On emerging markets ...
Blatter: Sport is a global phenomenon. It fascinates people worldwide and can be consumed all over the world. As part of our strategy, Infront’s focus is on Europe and Asia. However, we see the great potential in emerging sports markets such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America -- stimulated by the awarding of major sports events. Thanks to our strong positioning not only internationally, but also nationally, we can give companies access to attractive growth and expansion markets. Just last year, we brought U.S. companies such as Stanley Black & Decker and ExxonMobil as sponsors into the booming CBA league in China. With the growing demand for participatory sports, supported by trends in health/well-being, we are also working hard to establish a new strategic pillar within the group comprised of all active lifestyle sports. We see great potential in the marketing of these endurance events -- in particular as they continue to gain popularity among a demographically attractive target group and open the opportunity to obtain quality consumer contacts through engagement marketing.

On being the nephew of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the resulting accusations ...
Blatter: Infront’s specialized role with FIFA goes back many years before I became president & CEO in mid-2006. My appointment was designed to facilitate growth and diversification of Infront’s portfolio. Today we are one of the leading and most respected sports marketing companies in the world with an international team of more than 500. We are working with 120 rights holders in 25 sports; FIFA is just one of them. Given the success of the diversification strategy introduced, the accusations of nepotism are unfounded and even contradictory. As with all other partners, we are working for FIFA due to our competitive commercial offers as well as the ability to grow sports and events through our long-term experience in sports and the provision of first-class specialized services. Our professional track record and achievements are absolutely undisputed within the industry. We are seeing sustained growth and development across all the properties we work for. And this is precisely what we will continue to do for FIFA, notwithstanding the existing family connection.
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