Sponsorship Essentials Part 3: Q&A w/ Gareth Roberts, Commercial Director at Edgbaston

By: Claire Lingley

This week in “Sponsorship Essentials”, we reach across the pond to learn a little bit more about the ever-changing sponsorship market in the cricket world. Gareth Roberts is the Commercial Director at Warwickshire County Cricket Club (WCCC) and Edgbaston Stadium, and I spoke with him about his experience in the industry, where the challenges lie, and how he plans to adapt to them. All signs point to big things on the horizon for Gareth and the Edgbaston team.

Q:  You’ve been in this industry for quite some time, and as a result, you have an incredibly diverse background.  You worked with Carlsberg UK for 22 years and in various roles in football following that, so what was it that drew you to cricket and Edgbaston? 

A:  As you say I had 22 fantastic years at Carlsberg UK, building my experience and skills in sales, marketing, sponsorship and communications. Over the last 12 years, I was responsible for developing and implementing the sponsorship strategies for the UK business. Mainly revolving around football and rugby (Union and League) during the early stages but adding a large music portfolio and other properties such as Premier League Darts in the last 3-4 years. But having worked for the Brand owner’s, negotiating and securing rights from the ‘rights holder’, my next natural step was to move to a ‘rights owner’ organization.

Edgbaston had just gone through a major £32M stadium re-development which significantly changed the company dynamics. In simple terms, it went from a county cricket club business, to a year round major sport (stadium) and conference and events business overnight. I saw Edgbaston as a perfect opportunity to use my skills gained at Carlsberg to make a major contribution and make a difference in the ‘new company’.

           **At this point, I was going to ask Gareth how his past experience has helped him today, and he took the words right out of my mouth**

With the significant change in the business following the re-development, new teams and new departments were being created. The Commercial Team I took over was just 2 people with one of those being a student. However, I took this as a real opportunity to shape a new team and create a robust and exciting new structure to take on the challenges of the business at that time and for key future projects.

 The better the experience, the more likely the customer is to be positive about it and return.

My commercial background enabled me to introduce strong sales strategies that targeted the core revenue streams from the cricket side of the business.  The immediate and most important area to focus on was the creation of a new CRM programme and a database of customer information. To know who your customer is and what they buy is key to any successful ‘customer led’ organization.

In addition I had to tackle the poor commercial partner programme I inherited. A good understanding of what a brand based business needs to achieve its core objectives became invaluable in putting in place a strong commercial partner programme. With very few partners secured, it was important to create a target list, a hierarchy structure and confirm the inventory of rights and properties that would be attractive to any company, in any brand sector. My sales background then made it easier to produce sales pitches that matched our products and brands to commercial organizations and then secure via simple sales strategies. The success is proven as we now hold nearly 40 commercial partners at an annual income of over £1M.  

My media relations role at Carlsberg taught me how to use the media to drive benefits for the brand and on some occasions either promote or protect the image and reputation of the business. Although the landscape of media has changed dramatically with the inclusion and rise of social media and the Internet, the principles and objectives remain the same. We produced a simple strategy with a few focused objectives and a set of agreed upon and relevant ‘key messages’. As we became more fluent and covered more areas of cricket and the business, we then started to develop opportunities via the growing social media channels and produced new up to date website platforms to give our customer easier access to information and content and also an easy option to buy.

We were the first to break out our websites in to 3 bespoke products, to cater for 3 different groups; 1) Edgbaston.com – for those who came to the stadium for international matches and conference events; 2) WarwickshireCCC.com – for our members and those interested in the County Team and the competitions, and finally 3) BirminghamBears.com – a unique and bespoke site for all those interested in the growing format of T20.

Q:  You mentioned social media and also the more traditional media, i.e. newspapers, radio, etc.  How do you balance bringing in new audiences and appealing to new crowds, while also ensuring that the older crowds are still getting the same experience that they’ve known, and that has kept them coming back?

Sending the right message to the right person at the best time for them to receive and react positively is absolutely key to achieving immediate action from the customer.

A:  Cricket has a number of different demographic groups, mainly due to its history and three different formats of the game. The county and test match formats still have a very traditional following so we still use a lot of traditional media in newspapers, radio and TV. However as this generation gets older more social and digital media will start to come through. The more exciting and vibrant formats of the game, commonly referred to as ‘white ball’ cricket, are certainly the future and are vital in attracting new audiences. The new fan is content savvy and content hungry.  If we want to attract them to cricket we need to create impactful, dynamic and visual content. To ensure Edgbaston can deliver, I introduced a Digital Content team 18 months ago to produce relevant designs and videos, etc., that can be used in various communications across the Internet and all social media channels. This vibrant and exciting content has proven to be a huge success in particular across the Birminghambears.com site. With the striking American style logo supported by more fun, informal and relevant content, this site caters for the cricket fan who loves T20, loves the match day experience and thrives for visually simple and fun content

It seems obvious, but in communicating with our various groups, sending the right message to the right person at the best time for them to receive and react positively, is absolutely key to achieving immediate action from that customer. This, combined with a very interesting and relevant piece of content, will deliver results.

Q:  What does the future hold for Edgbaston, and what challenges come along with that?

 A:  We’ve got a lot of exciting plans at Edgbaston over the next 3 years.  Already signed off is the construction of 390 new apartments on the adjacent land to the stadium. As part of this new development, a new plaza will be created that will also include café bars and leisure outlets that will not only service the new residents but will be fantastic draw for match days at the stadium. In summary, we are creating a new centre for Edgbaston and a year round destination.

Another major project up and running is our Connectivity and Digitalization Project, which is designed to transform the stadium inside and out by using LED and digital structures. In the stadium bowl, our aim is to install LED perimeter signage on a permanent basis, plus a huge digital screen that would include the scoreboard, video replay and various other options that would allow customer engagement, i.e. live twitter feeds. This really would significantly increase the customers in bowl experience and entertainment levels. Around the rest of the stadium we are looking to add digital tariff at all bars, more screens that show the match live and additional screens for both customer information and potential partner advertising. The Connectivity part of the project is to ensure the digital properties all ‘talk’ to each other and therefore deliver the best stadium experience possible.   The better the experience the more likely the customer is to be positive about it and return.

The day to day business remains imperative and as important as ever. We will still continue to drive ticket sales and strive to achieve capacity crowds on all occasions. As these can be up to 40% of the company revenues, they have to be delivered to create strong foundations on which to build and gain surplus funds that can be re-invested in projects.   Matches, (like the Ashes) are the best to have in the portfolio, as the demand for these are extremely high and you can implement a sales strategy with a pricing structure that truly maximizes the revenue opportunity. T20 Finals Day is a new property that is reaching the same heights as the Ashes and is securing over £1M ticket revenue for one day of cricket. However, this competition may be challenged with the introduction of the new domestic T20 tournament that will begin in 2020. This is based on The Big Bash in Australia which has seen huge success and year on year growth over the last 4 years. This is also a fantastic opportunity! If we are confirmed as a venue to host one of the eight city-based teams, our initial challenge is to once again produce capacity crowds and strong customer experience.  This is is a major opportunity for us as a stadium and a business, as we will be hosting the best players in the world in a new T20 competition exposed all around the globe.

There are some major challenges ahead but get them right and we will be in a very good place!

Q:  What was the one deal you were the most proud of getting across the finish line?

A:  During my 12 years as Director of Sponsorship at Carlsberg, I would have secured well over £25M worth of sponsorship contracts, from football to rugby and darts to music. I enjoyed the internal brand consultation and customer focus groups that led to the Holsten Darts Premier League sponsorship and the securing of the Rugby Football League naming sponsorship (Tetley’s Super League) during my time. But I would probably say that the one I was most proud of was the English Football Association contracts, renegotiated twice over a 5-year period, with a value of around £8M.

As the deal included sponsorship properties from grass roots football all the way to the England Team and also included the new Wembley Stadium, I knew how important this partnership was to the business and the connection with the Carlsberg brand. In simple terms wherever England were playing, each regional team (Carlsberg global) had the opportunity to create related and associated sales and marketing campaigns. Every World Cup and every Euro Championship gave Carlsberg an exclusive period of opportunity to drive sales across both existing and new customers, using the England sponsorship at the centre. It gave access to the players, the (football) venues and to client entertainment that was only available via the Carlsberg relationship. For example, one of my last events and client activity was taking a group of CEO’s to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. This was for a full week, taking in the England v USA group game but also a full programme of daily ‘entertainment’ – what an amazing trip that was for some of the top Carlsberg customers (and of course for me).

I can confidently say that Carlsberg’s sponsorship of the England FA and Wembley Stadium delivered huge benefits and upsides across all areas of the Carlsberg business.

Whether I’m speaking to the CEO of a company or I’m speaking to someone at a junior level, it’s all about respect.

Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A:  Good question.  My father was my role model, always very blunt and very simple, and he always said, “Look, be yourself. Respect everybody from the cleaner all the way to the Chief Exec, they all play a part”.  Whether I’m speaking to the CEO of a company or I’m speaking to someone at a junior level, it’s all about respect. So bringing this to day to day work, business to me is all about building strong and relevant relationships and I believe you still ‘buy off the person’. That’s a philosophy I have used everywhere I have gone and believe it’s been a major contributor to my career success

Q:  If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would you choose?

A:  This is a very tough question. I have always enjoyed entertainment legends such as (don’t laugh) Sir Bruce Forsyth and Sir Terry Wogan, as they just had this natural ability with people, a warmth an empathy but delivered with a bit cheek and humour. However, I ended up with the legend that is Mohammed Ali. Just an unbelievable talent in his own sport of boxing, and a style and confidence that I don’t believe will ever be matched. He lit up the sport in the ring but also had a huge personality outside, also bringing a lot humour to his ‘brand’ and lifestyle. He was no doubt a huge role model to a huge amount of people but I could imagine also had some very dark and difficult times during his lifetime.