Money Smart Athlete Blog

Global Expansion in Sport Entrepreneurship: Challenges and Growth Strategies

Nov 29, 2023 | Athlete Entrepreneurship

By Iacovos Iacovides, Contributor

Over the past couple of decades, we have witnessed the increasing internationalisation of sports. National barriers can no longer restrain sport personalities, athletes and clubs. Social media, 24-hour news cycles, podcasts and transnational brands do their best to keep you engaged for as much as possible. Whether you live in the Americas or Australia, you can still follow your favourite athletes and clubs daily, keeping up to date with the latest news and developments, even if they are based hundreds of miles away. Moreover, emerging markets such as the Middle East and Asia invest a lot of money in an attempt to become important players in international sports. In countries such as the UK, there is some speculation that in the context of football, people below the age of 20 are slowly shifting their focus away from clubs and towards athletes, meaning that the younger generations might turn to following athletes rather than clubs. Nonetheless, it is a moment in which athletes can expand their ventures globally.

Naomi Osaka left her former agency to cofound Evolve the first talent agency ran by a female athlete. LeBron James launched Uninterrupted, a platform that enables athletes to engage directly with fans. He also co-founded SpringHill Entertainment, which focuses on creating content for diverse groups. The former baseball player Alex Rodriguez set up A-Rod Corp, an investment firm focusing on sports, tech, and the entertainment businesses among other things.

There is however, a fundamental precondition; you have to be good at what you do and there is no way around that. There are of course some outliers, but they are rather the exceptions that prove the rule. Having a strong brand at your back and a global appeal boosts your chances of securing deals, finding open doors and increases the likelihood of success. You will of course face a different set of challenges.

Athletes are usually being approached by dozens of acquaintances, promising them easy money and the deal of a lifetime if they invest some money with them. That is to say, that people knowing that you have capital and that your expertise lies elsewhere, might try to take advantage of you to invest in sloppy businesses. Appreciating your shortcomings is paramount. Having your people around – those who have your best interest at heart rather than whatever business you are about to embark on – is therefore a must.

It might also be useful to start building relationships using your sport side by engaging with an audience, before making a business move that relates to them. Identifying emerging and fruitful markets might also be the prudent thing to do.

While opportunities for global impact are on the rise, they also come with a caveat. The increased connectivity also highlights the tensions between national and regional societies. Setting shop in a specific part of the world might demonise you in another. Put otherwise, moves have to be thought out carefully in order to avoid any moral conflicts, as there are risks and costs that come with them. Opportunities might be global, but audiences are diverse and social impact seems to have become an essential factor in the decision-making equation.

Don’t hesitate to draw upon your experience as a high-performing athlete, team player and skilled individual. The traits that drive sport success – setting goals, following plans, resilience and perseverance – also fair well into the business world. Being accustomed to working under pressure, overcoming roadblocks and adapting, are vital skills in an entrepreneurial journey.

Having a good idea is not enough; you have to identify your target audience. Is it global, national, regional? For example, is it like LeBron’s Uninterrupted, which can have a global appeal, or does it look to fill in a gap in a market in Asia for example? Thinking about emerging and profitable markets might also be a good idea; follow the money. This confluence of opportunity and time can prove pivotal. Such markets include parts of Asia and the Middle East. Having done that, you also need to think about marketing strategies, partnering up with local and regional actors in the process, in a similar fashion as Gerard Pique has done and is doing with Kosmos.

Athletes are no longer confined within their sport’s narrow borders, but are using their fame, skills and personal brands to build successful business ventures. By embracing your entrepreneurial side, you can secure you financial future, through post-sports opportunities. The success by which some athletes have done so is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit within athletes and the endless possibilities awaiting on the global stage. In short, identify, research, engage, plan and execute.

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