Meet the team | Iain Liddle
What is your role at IMG and how long have you been at the company?
I’m Senior Account Director – Football in the digital team and am approaching my four-year anniversary at the company.
What does your role in the digital team entail?
As my title suggests, I lead the digital team in a lot of our work with football clubs in the digital space, working across a variety of projects at any one time.
In the digital team, we are proud of the full-service digital offering we can offer our partners, and this means my work is really varied. An average month could include writing a bespoke digital strategy for one club, while advising on commercial possibilities, delivering weekly actionable insights, and overseeing content production or the running of public-facing platforms for others. We’re lucky to have a fantastic list of retained clients which also adds a reactive element and providing support or guidance wherever they need it in in the moment.
Outside of football, I also write our monthly Digital Digest publication. This is a paid-for report which analyses the most important digital developments each month and considers the specific implications for the client in question. It clocks in at around 9-10,000 words each month, so it is a sizable undertaking, but our clients who receive the document seem to really value it.
What drew you to work specifically within our digital team?
I am fortunate to have worked in the sports industry from several different perspectives, having also previously been at a club, a tech platform and a leading broadcaster.
Over that time, I admired the work of Seven League (now the IMG digital team), from afar and was always impressed when meeting the likes of Richard Ayers, Jon Ford and Peter Clare.
I spoke to the company about a role three years before I eventually joined in early 2020 and continue to be impressed by the curiosity, work ethic and intellect of our team on a daily basis.
You played a crucial role in the development of the 2024 Digital Trends Report. Could you please shed light on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating such a report? For instance, the in-depth analysis and research process.
As the author of our Digital Digest report each month, I have a head start when it comes to thinking about emerging trends in the sports industry.
Every year we start with a blank piece of paper, but naturally there are some trends which are more overt than others. For example, this year we couldn’t not discuss the implications of AI’s rapid adoption on the industry. Others will be less obvious. For example, a year ago, we predicted the rise of generative AI at a time when ChatGPT hadn’t even launched yet.
Our annual predictions are widely read by some of the biggest names in sport and tech which brings with it some pressure to deliver each year, but those high expectations also keep you sharp.
This year we opened the floor to anyone in the digital team to contribute to the trends report and pooled ideas before eventually whittling the list down to a final seven topics which we felt were strongest and most relevant to the wider industry.
A key trend you worked closely on was ‘stop saying social media’. What motivated the decision to highlight this trend? What implications will this have for sports right holders and governing bodies going forward?
I’d encourage people to read the trend and am eager to hear from those who agree and disagree with the sentiments. Plenty have already been in touch.
When Meta launched Threads earlier this year, I was struck by the number of content teams or publishers I spoke with who lamented the addition of another platform to their workload. That is when the idea first came to mind.
There are lots of people within the industry who feel the pressure to be active on every platform and over the years this has become unsustainable. It’s also not the optimal approach for a content strategy designed to deliver against wider business objectives.
I genuinely believe that in 2024, we will see more and more instances of leading rightsholders deprioritising platforms which were once a staple of their channel plans. That will be a good thing.
Some of the leading platforms have changed considerably over the years, and for some organizations, are now a sunk cost. At one stage they were effective for you, but there may now be better options. Having previously put time and effort into a platform is not a reason to keep doing so without a worthwhile return.
In some ways “Stop saying ‘social media” is more of a call to action than a trend as such, but I hope it gives some readers who need it the validation and conviction to press ahead and go against the established, habitual norms of digital publishing. They and their organizations will be better for it.
Among the remaining six trends, which one are you particularly excited about and eager to see unfold?
I am generally in awe of Dan Ayers’ digital intellect and way of approaching things (and I would say that even if he wasn’t my line manager). His trend on the importance of true personalization for the sports industry is a must read, and should prompt meaningful action from some rightsholders, teams and governing bodies before they lose relevancy with a younger audience.
In this year’s report, there’s a notable introduction of the ranking of third-party media platforms. What prompted the decision to incorporate this feature for the first time?
As we say in the report, the power rankings are a general guide based on where we see clients investing their efforts and the ROI they achieve.
This list will hopefully start a conversation among readers in the industry about where they are placing their efforts and why.
A list like this can never be definitive, and even when compiling it, there were disagreements about which platform should be top, but I think that is part of the fun. I’m Team YouTube, by the way.
This list also throws up some results which may surprise people.
For example, if you have spoken to me about work in the last four months then the chances are I have brought up WhatsApp Channels and been enthusiastic about the potential.
That feature is a big reason why WhatsApp was fifth on the list, one place ahead of X, despite the latter having been used by many sports organizations for 15 years or so.
What is your biggest achievement at IMG?
Finishing writing the Digital Digest each month feels like a big achievement at the time!
Broadly, I am proud whenever a client entrusts us to do an increased scope work for them. That means we are having a tangible impact on their business. It’s a privilege to go to work every day with organizations you grew up watching or in some cases supporting.
What advice would you go back and give your 21-year-old self?
Three of the companies you will go on to have amazing experiences working for don’t even exist yet, so focus on doing what you enjoy rather than try to plan too meticulously.
Also, buy Amazon shares.
What song do you have on repeat? My Spotify Wrapped would tell you it’s something from the Spidey & His Amazing Friends soundtrack (thanks to my five-year-old), but I’ve been listening to a lot of Jamie Webster lately so let’s say “Something In The Air”.
What’s your favourite sporting event in the calendar? I’m determined to get to the T20 Blast Finals Day for the first time in 2024.
Favourite Movie? Accidental Michael Owen here, but I don’t watch loads of them. I’ll go with Juno.