SPORT - INTERVIEW
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
SPORT - INTERVIEW
by Meryem Aksoy
Mark McCormack was considered the first true super-agent in sport when he started representing the likes of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas in the 1960's. Now days agents representing athletes and brands is common place within sports and entertainment, looking after the interests of their clients ensuring they sign agreements under the best conditions possible. I talked with Adam Acworth, founder of Santara Group, in order to understand the sponsorship process from the perspective of both parties involved in the agreement.
Adam, when were you first interested in the sports industry? Could you tell us about yourself and your professional career?
Graduating from university and law school, I knew I wanted to work in the sports industry. I’d try to make it as a professional golfer when I was younger but didn’t quite get there. As a result, I thought the next best option was to work in sports. I started my career at IMG in the tennis department, then I moved into Formula 1 where over a four year period I helped manage a range of commercial partnerships including the multi-million dollar title sponsorship agreement between Infiniti and Red Bull Racing. In 2014 I launched Santara Group.
How did you decide to establish your own talent management and marketing agency?
I’d always been very entrepreneurial, setting up small businesses and money making schemes throughout school holidays and university. By 2014, I felt I’d gained enough experience working with top athletes, brands, and events to go and set up my own company.
Could you tell us about Santara Group?
Yes, Santara Group is a talent management and marketing agency that represents the world's leading athletes, icons and brands. We manage and advise clients in a range of commercial areas (sponsorship, content creation, marketing, activation, PR) using our experience, contacts, and knowledge within the sports and entertainment industry. We guide, develop and manage our client's careers, objectives, and goals.
James Hunt - copyright Ralph Howard
What type of services do you offer to your clients?
We offer our clients a full range of services. Each client is completely unique so we tailor our services according to their needs. On an athlete level, we offer - career management, contract negotiation, sponsorship sales, digital management, PR, licencing and legal, finance and accounting. On a brand level, we offer - marketing strategy, content creation (film & imagery), sponsorship activation, event management, and digital marketing.
Richard Murray - Super League Jersey - copyright Super League Triathlon
Could you tell us about some of the brands and athletes that you are working with or represent?
Yes, we can’t talk about all of them as many are confidential but the ones I can speak about include icons like the estates of James Hunt, Jonah Lomu and Barry Sheene, athletes like Richard Murray, Kristian Blummenfelt and Thuri Helgadottir and brands like Hackett, Chevron and Suzuki to name a few.
Thuri Helgadottir - copyright NOCCO
What are the reasons for companies to prefer working with athletes for their brand marketing?
There are so many reasons why a brand wants to use athletes for marketing. On one side, athletes are successful, credible, hard working and passionate about what they do, great traits for a brand to associate themselves or their products with. On the other, athletes are admired and loved by their fans and often have a huge global network (TV, media, digital) which allows brands to promote their products and create new opportunities through their global audience and fanbase who are already engaged, passionate and connected to the athlete.
Motorcycle Live - copyright Suzuki
What should a company pay attention to while looking for an athlete in order to create a new sponsorship collaboration? Is it enough to find a successful athlete?
One of the first things we look at is, is there a natural fit between the potential sponsor and the athlete. From there, we’ll also assess what the sponsor is looking to achieve, who is their target market and can the athlete help in these areas and ultimately create great value for the sponsor. It’s not enough just to find a successful athlete, pay them some money and get them to endorse your product. There needs to be a much more in-depth and strategic plan behind any sponsorship programme to really make it work and create true value.
What does a talent agency contribute to the athlete's career? What kind of opportunities do you offer to the athletes you work with?
In simple terms, a talent management agency looks after everything for their clients, so they can focus on training and competing to the best of their abilities. Within this, the agency will find new playing and commercial opportunities for the athlete, help manage their everyday lives, help build their personal brands and look after their contracts, accounting, insurance, financial, legal and general business interests. We are essentially the trusted advisor, helping the athlete navigate and build their careers as successfully as possible.
Barry Sheene - copyright Gerard Kampen
What are the most important things that an athlete has to do to get the attention of sponsors?
Three things – 1. be as successful as they can on the court, pitch, track, field, 2. build a great fan base around them, 3. be true and honest to themselves and what they believe in. If they do that brands will want to work with them. Oh and 3a. get a great agent ;-)
What is the importance of social media in the world of sponsorship today?
Social media plays a massive part in the world of sports sponsorship today. If an athlete, team, event etc has a strong, loyal and engaged fanbase/following it is a very cost-effective and efficient way for sponsors to communicate their messages to a relevant and engaged audience quickly, easily and effectively.
Hackett British Army Polo - copyright British Army Polo / Sam Churchill
How does the general sponsorship process proceed? Who is stepping first?
It completely depends. Sometimes the brand or their agency will identify an opportunity to work with an athlete to promote/market their product or services. Normally it is the agent of the athlete, looking at opportunities and then reaching out to company’s they feel the athlete can add great value to. If the company is interested then it’s a case of putting together a programme that benefits both sides and allows the brand to create a successful marketing partnership.
Are wages and expectations changing in each sponsorship deal? Is there a general acceptance according to the type of sport, level of the athlete, or the size of the company?
It completely changes depending on the athlete, sport and company and what they are wanting to do. If that athlete is a multiple world champion in a mainstream sport that attracts millions of viewers across TV, in the press and on social media and it’s a global campaign with a blue-chip company then that’s going to look very different to a mid-level athlete in a niche sport which attracts a much smaller audience. Everything is done on a case by case basis.
Throughout their career, injuries are a serious problem for athletes. If an injury occurs, what is happening during the sponsorship process? How does the contract protect athletes and brands?
In all athlete and brand contracts, there are clauses that kick in if an athlete was to get injured. This protects both the athlete and the brand and of course, we implement good insurance policies for all our clients to mitigate any situation like these.
What is the secret of successful and long-lasting sponsorship collaboration?
Once you’ve established it is the right fit and association for both sides, it’s simple, to create a partnership that works well for both parties. When agreeing on a sponsorship deal, honesty, loyalty and commitment to work hard together as partners are crucial to a successful programme. I sometimes think people forget that.
Kristian Blummenfelt - Super League Jersey - copyright Super League Triathlon
Do you have any advice for athletes who want to pursue a professional career?
It’s cliche but work hard, commit yourself and understand you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot to get to where you want to go. The money, fame, and everything that comes with being a world-class athlete is a by-product of the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve put in, it has to be earned first. There is no substitute for hard work.
Do you have any advice for companies which want to increase their brand awareness by using the power of sponsorship?
Yes! When a company is thinking of getting involved in sports or entertainment, work with an agency who understand the industry, how to maximise the opportunities for them and what the market rates are. I’ve seen so many companies come into sports, get blinded by the bright lights, pay way over market rates and leave a few years later scarred by the whole experience simply because they didn’t get the right advice and guidance at the start, thinking they could do it themselves.
How can our readers follow you?
They can follow us on social media at
What is next for you?
Our focus is to continue to improve our services and support we provide to all our clients, so they can be more successful and achieve their goals, objectives, and ambitions.
Thank you Adam for this enjoyable interview.