Meet the Team | Robert Pongracz Senior Director, Football

team IMG

27.06.2024
Robert

What does your role entail at IMG?

As Senior Director within IMG’s Football team, I oversee our partnership with the German Football Federation (DFB), facilitating communication between DFB and our sales teams in APAC and the Americas.

I also support the strategy and planning for the sales teams, including insights on global and regional football trends and evaluating new business opportunities.

What are your key priorities when looking for brand partnerships for your clients?

Our key priority is to meet the expectations of our clients and enhance their level of partnership with brands, exploring exciting opportunities in key target football markets and seeking dynamic partnerships that add value. It’s crucial that the brands align with our clients’ values and objectives, and vice versa, for a successful, long-term partnership.

The relationship between us, our clients, and brands is of utmost importance.

Commercial partnerships have significantly boosted revenue for leading football clubs, showing 17% growth in the last year according to Money League. What trends are you seeing?

Football’s popularity has soared over the past decade, making it an attractive platform for brands to engage with a growing fan base. Partnerships with clubs, leagues, and federations offer brands opportunities to increase awareness, promote products, and enter new markets. Live football captivates an emotive audience, perfect for brands aiming to enhance their market presence.

Adjusting to the changing media landscape, rightsholders need to understand how to create additional assets within matches without compromising premium branding or over-branding as they introduce more partners. With limited visual space around the pitch or on a player’s shirt, rightsholders are investing more in their digital assets offering to add value for brands away from the playing field. Additionally, we’re seeing our partners establish regional partnerships in foreign markets, often involving organized exhibition matches to boost local interest and awareness.

What similarities or differences do you see when working with leagues, clubs and federations within football?

Every rightsholder is unique, even those within the same category, as each has its own objectives, principles, and strategies. They also vary in structure and competencies, depending on how football is organized in each country.

These differences become more pronounced when comparing rightsholders from different categories. Clubs differ from leagues, leagues differ from national associations, and national associations differ from confederations. With this diverse array of possibilities, brands must thoroughly understand this ecosystem to make informed investment decisions. At IMG, we provide support and advice to identify the best options for brands.

How do brand partnerships differ regionally? 

Every region naturally influences the structuring of partnerships. Taking into consideration diverse habits, mentalities, and legal frameworks, these differences are apparent in every brand conversation we engage in. Despite these nuances, the objectives remain the same: determining how a partnership can enhance value and business for both the brand and the football properties involved. Variances primarily manifest in the rights packages, offerings, and activation possibilities available.

Can you give us an example of a recent agreement that you’re proud to have worked on/led?

One that stands out is IMG’s partnership with the  Confederation of African Football (CAF) that kicked off last year. With limited time before the season started, we were delighted to secure sponsorship deals for CAF with PUMA and UNILEVER and have since had many discussions with renowned brands for future editions. Additionally, we are very proud to continue working with Real Madrid, the  German Football Association (DFB), and CONMEBOL to bring new opportunities.

What are some key challenges your team faces when securing global partnerships in football?

Understanding the objectives, culture and vision of both the property and the brand to create a suitable partnership that satisfies both parties, can be quite challenging. The process involves a lot of analytical work, paired with local market understanding. We are constantly looking out for opportunities for our clients, creating proposals for them, arranging meetings, and supporting in the creation of material and contracts. Even discussions that don’t come to fruition are an opportunity to gain a lot of insights, knowledge, and expertise, which we apply to future opportunities in the same scope.

Your main focus is partnerships for our clients, are there other areas of focus for your team? 

Beyond partnerships, our team consults on stadium and facility management, sporting and youth development, commercial aspects, governance, and football operations, just to name a few. Even the best stadiums in the world, require a high  level of facility management and operations to ensure a positive  fan experience. Likewise,  youth development and governance are central to  sporting success, which can make your media and commercial rights more attractive. So, all these areas need to be aligned to provoke trust and growth.

How do you support clients in territories without any pre-existing market presence?

First things first, we analyse the market, category, and all the key brands operating within the landscape – through both our analytics team and with expertise from our teams on the ground across our global network. Largely, the aim is to establish or increase market presence and increase local awareness, ideally by playing exhibition matches to reach a new fan base. Often, we find this is the most efficient way to increase partnerships from “untouched” territories.

We also look at the political and economic climate; how present the local institutions are in the new market, or in the case of clubs, what players the club has contracted from  territories that the club wants to expand to. Every aspect we could build on is important for us to start establishing a connection. 

What do you think the future of sponsorship in sport looks like?

Football’s ability to inspire and unite people will always draw brands and partners to the sport. Equally, football will continue to depend on sponsors, not just for revenues but to help tell their story and build connection.

We see continued investment and development in the industry, acknowledging the need for professionals who clearly understand the global partnerships market and the need for creativity and innovation to create a product that attracts new and interesting partners. I feel privileged to work in the space, alongside a team who are remarkably talented and continue to add value for our clients.