Martin Copus, the CEO of Middle East based Sports Accelerator, MBUZZSPORT, has had a fascinating journey into and through the sports industry after starting his career at one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, Leo Burnett. That took him all over the world from a London start… Chicago (during the days of the Bulls 2 three-peats of ‘Last Dance’ fame), Cairo, Hong Kong & Singapore to name just a few! Martin’s whole family have always been big in sport – he and his wife Chris played international hockey, and their sons Rory and Jamie are both internationals in rowing.
So it was only a matter of time before ‘my weekends met my weekdays’ as Martin says, moving into leading sports media rights firm Sports Revolution in 2011 via his media industry friend – the then Woking FC chairman and Sports Revolution principal shareholder – Chris Ingram. Since then, Copus has played a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s sport while helping MBUZZSPORT to global renown.
The MBUZZSPORT team has been involved in negotiating and managing deals with many of the ‘big boys’ across the sector, bringing an innovative marketing and business approach to the sports industry we haven’t seen before. For example, Martin’s colleague Youssef Abdellaoui negotiated a sponsorship deal with newly-promoted La Liga club Leganés, that included the right to change the shirt sponsor 3 times in the season so as to appeal to smaller businesses that otherwise couldn’t afford a top-flight shirt deal!
So, without further ado, get comfortable for one interview you will not find anywhere else.
Q: How did your career in sport begin?
A: I worked at a big global advertising agency called Leo Burnett when I came out of college. This took me on a world tour, and I was there for about 20 years – including cutting my sports sponsorship teeth in IndyCar in the States. After Burnetts I did some interesting work in the digital space, again in multiple countries, and that’s where I met Chris (Ingram). He asked me to bring digital innovation, mobile especially, into his Sports Revolution media and rights firm in London. The family and I have always been big on sport – competing, watching, and more recently coaching – so it was only a matter of time really before I’d take my marketing and digital experience into sport.
Sports Rev had always had an international skew and after a couple of years in the London business, I went to set up a joint venture in Dubai – Sports Revolution Arabia – with MBUZZ as our partners, an international Saudi telco services company. MBUZZ had realised the value and power of sport in fast-forwarding their core business when sponsoring Sheff United’s shirt in their FA Cup semi at Wembley in 2014 – my first sponsorship deal, actually! After a couple of years running Sports Rev Arabia, I was headhunted into Abdul Lateef Jameel – who are possibly the biggest company you’ve never heard of, with tens of thousands of employees and the world’s largest single Toyota customer, I believe.
The job was to manage the title sponsorship of the Saudi football league – at the time, the world’s second most valuable title sponsorship of a football league in the world (after Barclays in the Prem), so a lot of value to be managed, and not really an opportunity to be turned down. Our partners MBUZZ totally understood – especially as the role would get me deeply involved in the Saudi sports scene where football is as much a passion as in Europe. I think Sports Rev didn’t want to continue without me there to manage it, and hence the birth of MBUZZSPORT, with myself continuing as Advisor outside of my core working hours… approved by ALJ as long as no conflict of interest would result, which never did. The title sponsorship ended in 2018 and I moved into a ‘back-to-the-future’ role at ALJ, running a media division of the company.
At the end of last year though, the opportunity came up to move back into sport full-time and join MBUZZSPORT as CEO. One of the pillars of our business is taking (mostly minority) ownership positions in football clubs across Europe. We own a quarter of Sutton United in the National League, and have a similar position with a club in Segunda B (the third tier in Spain) – and we’re busy right now looking into a couple of clubs in France and Sweden. We also have an early-stage player agency division – MBUZZSPORT Management. One of our players is from Canada and we’re looking to move him to the Middle East or Scandinavia, while another has Champions League and Serie A experience and we’re in process of finding him the right next opportunity on the football ladder.
Q: How have you progressed your career up the ladder in sport?
A: The first challenge was to demonstrate – including to myself! – how transferable my marketing and digital skillsets would be in the sports industry. I certainly had fairly in-depth knowledge and experience of multiple sports, but I still needed to showcase my ability. Luckily the industry was becoming increasingly digital and marketing-driven at the time… no longer were sponsorship decisions largely driven by ‘Chairman’s Choice’, and technology was on a sharp upward curve, in football especially.
It was 2013 and we were fortunate enough to get the brief to wifi-enable Celtic Park, which was the first successful installation of full-stadium connectivity in the UK. The company sweated blood over that, not least as similar installations had failed at the time at some of the big English clubs. The launch was at Celtic v Ajax in the Champions League – with a heaving Parkhead connecting thousands and thousands of mobiles simultaneously to our platform! Luckily… well, skilfully really, it went off without a hitch. So I guess there’s some learning in that – deliver what you say you’re going to do.
Credibility and trust has always been a critical factor in my business dealings – and that’s especially important in football, and especially in the Middle East. In my Burnett days, I’d worked in Egypt for two years and learned that while contracts and agreements are in place for the bad times, it’s personal relationships that matter most. A handshake is almost always more important than signatures on paper in our part of the world, closely allied to respect for the other party.
Understanding cultural differences and nuances, and the ability to navigate new environments was particularly important when I took over running the Dawry Jameel (Jameel League). I’d inherited a number of tricky challenges to resolve – but we ended up running some world-first programmes… like bringing 5-metre tall puppets from Germany to play football in front of 62,000 fans in a season-closing show, or getting the entire league to wear shirts with seat-belts printed on them – even over their sponsors logos – in support of Road Safety Week.
I guess those examples highlight a couple of factors that’ve helped my career in sport – creativity and can-do, must-do delivery… both skills learned in my formative years at Leo Burnett, where the company’s logo came from a saying of the founder’s, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get them, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either”.
Q: At Ash’s Sports Talk, we love digital marketing. At MBUZZSPORT, how do you ensure you get the most out of your digital marketing channels?
A: During lockdown, I’m managing the MBUZZSPORT digital platforms myself – so in the absence of delegation, I’m getting a lot of hands-on experience I otherwise might not get! That said, I was pretty instrumental in bringing the Saudi league’s digital activity up to speed back in the day. Part of our contract as title sponsors was that we had the right – actually the requirement – to manage all the league’s digital channels, and we were able to re-invigorate the website and all the social media channels… Twitter, Insta, Facebook, etc. We even managed the league’s Fantasy game aka Fantasy Jameel.
The good news about lockdown is that taking away travel and commuting time meant there were suddenly more hours in the day. Up to that point, I hadn’t had time to properly review our digital presence, and quickly realised it could do with a revamp. I’m a great believer that digital media not only provides a company’s shop window, it also creates and showcases its personality. So the first job was making it look consistent, current and personable. We’re not there yet, but I think we’ve made solid progress. Over to the professionals as soon as we’re past the corona crisis…
One thing to highlight, and that I’m pretty pleased with, is the NEWS section on our website. We’ve managed to backtrack and uncover articles from different sources, which really tell the story of MBUZZSPORT. I felt this would add some authenticity and illustrate – in the words of others, always better than your own! – what we’ve been able to achieve, and how far we’ve come. I guess it also shows we’re worth writing about! It’s at https://www.mbuzzsport.com/news/ if you’re interested ;-).
Looking ahead on the digital side of things, we’re planning to be in the rapidly expanding world of eSports as soon as possible – which is totally logical for a business with mobile technology at its core. It’s also totally logical in Saudi Arabia, which is not only one of the countries with the highest social media usage in the world, it also boasts the number 1 FIFA player in the world. So watch this space…
Q: What conclusive feedback can you provide for someone who is wanting to break into the sports industry?
A: First and probably most important, assuming you’re already in employment…remember your day job is paying the bills, so don’t let this prejudice your enthusiasm for getting into sport. Same if you’re in college – whatever the industry, employers want to see that you can finish what you started.
Second: figure out an initiative that you can take, that will impress or just catch the attention of a potential employer. Maybe try and evolve out of your current industry into a sport-based assignment, kind of like what happened to me – taking the skillsets of the advertising industry and experience in digital into a sports environment.
Thirdly, people do business with people they like to do business with. Make sure your approaches accurately reflect who you are. Be yourself. The worst thing would be that you manage to open a door, only for the club or federation or agency to think “this isn’t at all the person I thought we were interested in”. In so doing, never underestimate the power of networking. Don’t sit back and wait for something to happen – think about the best way to deliver your message, and do whatever you can to build the best version of yourself.
Oh, and always look for something that makes you exclusive. Like Ash’s blog!… who’s now the first to know – ahead of our press release next week – that MBUZZSPORT just signed an agreement with talkSPORT to market Premier League Live Commentary across the Middle East and North Africa…
This was an incredible insight into Martin’s journey to become an international sporting leader. The key themes that have led to his sports career success include thinking proactively about applying his external skill-sets in a sporting setting to add value. Appreciating the importance of networking by connecting the dots to create his sports career vision. Lastly, using creative approaches to help drive MBUZZSPORT’s growth into game-changing industry innovators.
We hope you enjoyed this blog as much as we did – please leave a comment below sharing what you learnt from Martin’s experience.
And If you’re up for hearing more about Martin & MBUZZSPORT, make your way over to www.mbuzzsport.com and the MBUZZSPORT YouTube channel below.
Did you enjoy this interview? If so, leave us a rating and comment below so we can continue to work on satisfying your blogging needs!