The football and business worlds assembled in London on November 6th, as clubs and associated organizations collected the first silverware of the 2014/15 season. Away from the European and domestic campaigns, the third annual Football Business Awards, held at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, saw sports stars and business professionals gather to celebrate the work of the game’s off-pitch talent, collecting their own business Balon d’Or.
The event marks a cultural shift amongst football fans, who no longer simply concern themselves with results on the pitch – results off it are now just as important. Commercial is king, with sponsorship deals and financial reports now filling newspapers alongside stories of the latest big transfer signing. In an age of economic uncertainty, prudence and good business in the backroom is increasingly valued.
It is for this reason that the Football Business Awards was established, to recognize the efforts and achievements of those who’s work to support the game often goes unseen. The ceremony included categories for hospitality, marketing, apps, CRM and fan engagement, as well as individual CEO awards for each of the domestic leagues. Alongside the clubs in the audience, were lawyers, architects, sports marketing agencies, charities and sports agents, showing that football extends much further than just 22 men and a ball.
‘Today business and football are strongly connected’, explained Simon Burton, Director of the Football Business Awards. ‘Football’s role within the UK is incredibly influential with the sport able to make a real difference in communities, whether social, charitable or educational. It is important therefore that the work football undertakes is inspirational and exceptional and the entrants into this year’s FBAs embody that perfectly.’
If one of the purposes of the event was to champion football’s power for social good, then no-one this year reflected that more so than the recipient of the night’s showpiece prize, the first ‘Global Football Ambassador’ award. As Sir Bobby Charlton ascended the stage to collect the honour for the work of his charity, Find A Better Way, he received a standing ovation from the room of his peers. The charity’s efforts to fund research into engineering biological limbs for victims of landmine disasters, as well as its work in education and recovery projects, is just one example of football’s extensive humanitarian initiatives around the world.
The other big award of the night went to Derby County’s, Sam Rush, who was named ‘CEO of the Year’ following a vote from all 92 English league clubs. Rush, already named as the Championship’s ‘CEO of the Year’, beat Arsenal’s Ivan Gazidis, Colchester United’s Robbie Cowling, Hartlepool United’s Russ Green and St Johnstone’s Steve Brown, all of whom won in their respective leagues.
Elsewhere there were a number of big name winners and a few surprises, none more so than League One’s Notts County, which took home ‘Best Club Marketing Campaign’ ahead of Premier League opponents Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. The club’s football activation, the Bench project, which treated each new season ticket purchaser as a new signing, was deemed innovative and original and led to Notts County receiving unprecedented season ticket renewals.
Manchester City may have come up short against the Nottingham side, but it did beat Premier League rivals, Chelsea, to the ‘Best Match Day Experience’ crown. The Blues, hosting the awards on home soil, were not to leave empty handed though, taking ‘Best Football Club Hospitality’ over London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
Other winners included Queens Park Rangers, Perform at St. George’s Park, Firstkind Ltd and the Football Foundation.