Meet the Team | Chris Bull Account Director, Football

team IMG

20.06.2024
Chris Bull x IMG

What is your role at IMG? 

I am an Account Director in IMG’s football media team, responsible for looking after our key accounts across Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. My role also extends into renewals and business development as we look to maintain and cultivate our global football portfolio.  

While media rights are the bread and butter of my role, I also sit at the centre of wider business conversations across other workstreams – including sponsorship, production, digital, streaming – to ensure we’re servicing our clients in the most efficient way. Our offering across IMG is incredibly wide and varied, so my role not only means there’s a familiar face in the room for our partners, but also someone that understands the client’s wider business objectives, beyond that specific area we may be addressing at any given time.  

What strategies do you employ to maintain and nurture these relationships, and why is collaboration so pivotal to your role? 

I believe in fostering personal relationships first and foremost. I think forming a bond beyond just the day-to-day is important to building trust but also makes the job a lot more enjoyable when you’re working with people you genuinely get on with! Being as open, transparent, and honest as possible is crucial in building that trust, which I think is the foundation of any strong relationship, whether in or outside of work. Establishing personal rapport helps both parties feel comfortable enough to outline and assess the real issues/challenges being faced and allows us to address and troubleshoot them collaboratively and most effectively.  

What are some common strategic priorities you see across the accounts you look after? 

A growing trend in the industry, beyond just football, is rights holders wanting to get closer to broadcasters to ensure they are providing as much value as possible to them and their viewers. This goes beyond ‘traditional’ media rights and is increasingly crossing over into other areas – most notably, digital output – that meets fans / subscribers on the other platforms they consume content via. In a landscape where international rights fees are plateauing generally, there is increased pressure on rightsholders to deliver value beyond just the 90 minutes on the pitch and obviously that’s something we try to help with whenever and however we can.  

How are shifting consumption patterns impacting content and distribution strategies? 

Fans’ consumption habits have evolved in recent years, especially among younger audiences. Gen Z’s, for example, are not necessarily watching a full 90-minute football match. And if they are, they’re likely to be engaging in other content through a second or even third screen simultaneously – whether that be scrolling Instagram, X or checking how their fantasy team is faring this weekend.   

I think this battle for attention does present new opportunity, though, particularly when considering the creation and distribution of new content formats. For example, 48-minute highlight shows still have their place but there’s clearly increased demand and interest in shorter-form content that Federations, Leagues and Clubs are having to prioritise, to varying degrees of success. I think there’s an opportunity for someone to crack the code of the perfect second screen accompaniment to a football match, which could really transform the way fans watch games.  

What are some other challenges the football industry is facing, and how are we supporting our clients in overcoming them? 

It’s fair to say the media landscape is facing headwinds at the moment. As a result, we’re working closely with our partners to assess ways of creating additional value beyond just bettering content. That could be exploring competition format changes, optimising kick-off times for an international audience or considering playing matches (either competitive or uncompetitive) in key markets to engage a new fanbase. We try to be as creative as possible, while respecting the parameters put in place by our clients.  

Internally, rightsholders face other challenges – budget constraints and under-resourcing are common, meaning that investment off the pitch is often difficult to commit to (especially for Clubs). Our focus is on helping our clients develop clear strategic priorities, which in turn provide them with the ability to evaluate investment opportunities in the most informed way possible.   

How do you stay ahead of the curve in terms of market trends and client needs? 

I regularly read industry publications like SportBusiness, SportsPro and Sportcal. It’s also interesting to see sports media news increasingly appearing in the mainstream media. For example, I recently read an article in The Guardian about how ITV and Channel 4 are attempting to mitigate the challenge of decreasing advertising revenues by exchanging ad space for equity in companies, which I thought was really interesting.  

Within IMG and across our broad network, we’re able to gather real-time market insights across various sports, which helps us stay abreast of the latest industry trends. That constant stream of information means we always have our finger on the pulse and can utilise that knowledge when considering how to best serve our clients.  

What direction do you see the football industry evolving in, and are there any emerging trends that excite you? 

The obvious emerging trend is AI and the potential it has to change the way we consume football and sport more generally. I don’t think anyone really knows its full potential yet or how far it will take us, but it creates huge opportunity to personalise experiences for individual fans. AI can capture data on a more granular level than ever before so we can gain a better understanding of individuals to tailor their viewing experience. Ultimately, that opportunity comes back to the point of how organizations can meet a younger audience and capture that individual fan’s attention.  

What do you enjoy about your role and IMG?

The thing I enjoy most about my role is also the thing that can be most challenging – the scope of work is incredibly varied, which I think is unique to football, given the opportunities that exist across the full ecosystem of Confederations, Federations, Leagues and Clubs.  

It means every week something different lands on my desk from a different (sometimes prospective) client in a different country or continent.