• Andy Marston

Networking with Phil Cotton, Founder at Elevate Sports

Welcome to the the Sports Pundit Networking Series. For the latest edition, I caught up with Phil Cotton, Founder and CEO at Elevate Sports. Phil works across a wide spectrum from athlete representation, to brand strategy, content creation, and innovation.

When did your journey (in the sports industry) start? And how did you get to your current role?

My first job in the industry was with a sports marketing company in London called Parallel Media Group. Looking back, it was a great grounding as I was exposed to so many different areas of the sports business, including athlete management, sponsorship sales, broadcast rights, event management and more. From there I joined The Works, a sponsorship and experiential agency started by Ben Pincus. It was a great agency to work for – they had amazing clients and a first-class team. I was initially recruited to create SAP’s global golf programme and ultimately went on to direct the SAP account across all of its sports investments.

From there I was asked to join SAP golf ambassador, and an idol of mine, Ernie Els, to manage all of his business interests, which were considerable, especially for a professional athlete at the top of his game. That role resulted in a 10-year period in the US where I enjoyed some amazing work and life experiences. From there I took a role in a sports agency in Zug, Switzerland where I remained for two years before I decided to return to London and start my own business, Elevate Sports.

I always wanted to start my own agency and felt that having worked across all areas of the industry I could provide a unique commercial perspective beyond merely transactional projects.

Our focus is on helping athletes, brands and rights holders achieve their objectives and maximize results in the sports and entertainment industry.

Photo Source: SAP News Room

Who inspired this journey? And who continues to inspire you today?

Initially probably my dad who was not only a golf professional but also a pioneer for retail and business in the golf industry. Our family business was owning golf courses, so I grew up seeing the operations and commercial side of a sports related business. He absolutely loved what he did, and the majority of his friends and life experiences were through his ‘job’ which really was his ‘passion’ too.

It is difficult to pinpoint one person who inspires today me as I genuinely take inspiration from so many different people, both inside and outside the industry.

One person who was, and still is, an inspiration to me is Ernie (Els). I worked with him through a period where he was at the top of his profession and even with his sublime talent got to see first-hand the work ethic, desire and dedication needed to remain there.

In addition, seeing how he used sport as a force for good and helped not only young aspiring golfers from underprivileged backgrounds in South Africa to achieve major success in golf and life, but also how he and his wife Liezl have created a game changing facility for children and young adults on the Autism Spectrum, the ‘Els Center of Excellence’. It is impressive and rare to work for someone who is the #1 in one industry but can transcend that and become a leader in another sector entirely.

Photo Source: ErnieEls.com

Besides Sports Pundit, where do you look for insight? There is so much information out there, but with time pressures as they are I focus on quality over quantity. I consciously try to consume insights from across a range of platforms and seek out opportunities to share knowledge with my peers.

In terms of digital content, I enjoy well thought through and articulated content like, Sean Callanan @ Sports Geek, Sportico, Front Office Sport, Sports Business and Leaders.

On the more traditional media side I like the Financial Times and WSJ for their business insight as well as sports business specific content.

I really enjoy podcasts especially Unofficial Partner, Are You Not Entertained, No Laying Up and Sub Par by Golf.com.

In terms of social media, I could list plenty of sports commentators and creators, but I always enjoy Murad Ahmed and Sam Agini from the FT, Tim Crow and for anyone starting out in the sports industry Kim Skildum-Reid always has insightful content.

What trend in the industry most excites you for the future of sports? And why?

Lots of things to be honest and the beauty of the sports industry is that it never stands still. The opportunities that exist around harnessing the power of sport as a force for good is something that is exciting for me both as an industry professional and as a sports fan. Sport has always had the unique ability to bring people together and drive positive changes in society and we are seeing athletes and sporting organisations take on an ever more prominent role as change-makers.

More athletes than ever before are using their position and their platform to drive cultural and societal changes with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Naomi Osaka shining a light on topics that can be tough to address. I think the brands and rights holders that truly recognise the power sport has as a force for good and who commit to making CSR an intrinsic part of their wider business strategy rather than an afterthought will be the organisations that will stand out.

I’m also passionate about how innovation and technology can improve different aspects of the sports industry ecosystem. The individuals and teams that can think differently and challenge the old established ways of doing things will reap rewards across sporting performance, the fan experience and commercial operations.

Who is an example of someone that is well positioned to take advantage of this trend?

Innovation is a mindset, and the majority of technology is widely accessible, so it is down to organisations to have that desire to change, searching for and recognising the opportunities to innovate.

Everyone talks about the importance and value of data, but it is how organisations use that data to create a personalised experience that counts. The focus must be on providing an authentic platform that will genuinely improve the experience. Any rights holder or brand that has the ability to be the ‘go to’ companion for a fan or customer will see them deliver a personalised experience that will enhance that customer loyalty.

As an example, I went to Wimbledon where the myWIMBLEDON app is now the main companion for a user experience, including tickets, information, ecommerce etc. The app was good however, I feel that even more can be done to provide a richer and more personalised experience on-site (and for periods outside of the tournament dates). Similarly, why shouldn’t the European Tour or PGA TOUR apps be the main digital companion when on-site at events, providing a richer and more connected experience.

Photo Source: Wimbledon

We are working with a couple of technology partners doing just this. One is a next generation scanning technology, Sodyo, that provides the delivery of personalised content to users by interacting with a scan, essentially connecting the offline and online worlds. The other is a Virtual Reality platform, Eyeora, that empowers entertainers, athletes, brands and rights holders, to create, share and monetise their content.

These are exciting times for the industry, and I look forward to being part of the narrative.


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