As well as being an integral asset to the International Tennis Federations’ (ITF) commercial sponsorship team, Arnaud is also a guest lecturer in sports broadcasting at the AMOS Sport Business School. This interview sees Arnaud discuss where his career started, the essential skills behind creating effective sponsorships in sport and the beauty of dealing with challenges in a cut-throat industry.
Question 1: Arnaud, it’s brilliant to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. I’ll let you serve first by sharing how your sports career began.
Thanks for having me Ash, it’s great to be here. I’ve always been a big sports fan, and I’ve played football all my life. After high school, I pursued a degree in business management which was excellent. However, I was passionate about studying for a Masters in International Sports Business at the AMOS Sports Business School. I did the 1st year of my Masters degree in Bordeaux and then decided to move to London in my 2nd year because of the opportunities surrounding sports events. I became lucky enough to land an internship at the ITF. After a short while, I proved myself to be a worthy asset which now finds me as the ITF’s Commercial Coordinator.
Question 2: I appreciate you’ve had a diverse sports career journey thus far. How did these experiences enhance your sports career development?
Working at ITF was my first authentic sporting experience, and it’s given me the chance to work on multiple but diverse events. It’s opened doors to other opportunities, such as myself becoming a Guest Lecturer at the AMOS Sports Business School, where I educated the next generation of sports industry professionals through my experience in broadcasting at ITF. I’ve done this since 2019, and it’s been a humbling experience to interact with students through my story.
Question 3: At what point did you recognise the commercial side of Tennis was your sports industry niche?
Interestingly, Tennis was never a sport I had an initial passion for. However, once I stepped into that world, I gained a real passion for the work. I joined as a sponsorship intern who sat within the Commercial team. This experience built up my knowledge around sports partnerships, eventually finding me working with ITF’s partnership team to travel worldwide and coordinate multiple events through sponsorship and broadcasting. It’s been such a fantastic opportunity.
Question 4: What does your position as a Commercial Coordinator look like?
The significant part is on the commercial side; I have various roles within that section. Some include attracting and building sustainable relationships with partners for multiple competitions ITF hold.
Another element of my role is TV broadcasting as I’m sometimes serving as a TV representative of the ITF. For example, I went to Seattle last February for the FED Cup (now called Billie Jean King Cup) as I was the main point of contact around TV rights holders, taking care of production and connecting people together. I take care of the event management processes, including coordinating timings for player walk-ons and the first ball played. It’s been a wonderful experience as I’ve met many professionals who’ve taught me about the bigger picture of sports broadcasting.
Question 5: what insights can you share about Tennis being a 24/7 industry, and how do you cope with this?
It depends on what position you have as they’ll impact you in different ways. For example, the experience will differ if you’re a journalist compared to a salesperson, an event manager to a TV broadcaster, a marketer to a writer etc. However, the closer you get to an event, the tighter tasks and deadlines get. This increases pressure and presents a great challenge, but it’s the most exciting part to unlock your sports career potential.
Question 6: I understand commercial sponsorship fits in firmly with your role. How have you experienced this sector pivot within the sport, and what do you think lies ahead for the future of commercial sponsorship in Tennis?
It’s changing. The attitude of sponsorship used to lie with putting a company logo on a banner. Now, we treat sponsorships more like a gateway to becoming a partner. By all means, the initial process involves advertising rights and brand visibility, but the bigger picture stretches way beyond that. Our focus is on developing a ‘360 partnership’ that involves digital activations, hospitality and unique experiences, and matching values with various businesses.
I’m currently working on the Billie Jean King Cup, where gender equality and female empowerment are two critical values for the tournament. Therefore, my team and I need to investigate the synergies between ITF and our partners to promote those principles. Plus, tournament formats are changing with sponsorship as well. We’ve created a world cup format where it was played on a home and away basis before, whereas now, 12 countries will come to 1 city for the Finals stage. Therefore, what the ITF aims to get out of sponsorships and partnerships differs from that in competition.
Question 7: Do you feel the relationship between luxury fashion and Tennis could grow further, or could its transition create a new culture?
Luxury brands and Tennis have always been a good match, particularly timekeeping brands. For example, Rolex and other luxury watch brands are very much involved and connected to Tennis. Louis Vuitton has recently been associated with the Davis Cup as well.
Plus, tennis players are becoming more and more powerful. Let’s take the example of Naomi Osaka. She’s built a big audience, created multiple impacts on diverse communities, recently signed to two luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer. She is now the most remunerated female athlete of all times.
Due to the leverage luxury fashion has created, the relationship between tennis and luxury fashion will only keep growing more and more.
Question 8: What makes an effective commercial sponsorship in your line of work?
It’s imperative to know we’re not selling a product; we’re selling an event. Many sponsors could pivot towards other sports, which makes it essential to offer something unique. Our network has been crucial to our sponsorship success; sport is a small industry which makes it likely to bump into people you’ve met or interacted with before. Therefore, necessary skills like first impressions are vital in building strong relationships with potential clients.
Cultural sensitivity also plays a significant role, as we’re commercialising sports events they must appeal to the game’s culture. Our approach can differ, which leaves ITF lucky to work in a cosmopolitan atmosphere where people take part internationally, which supports our growth.
Question 9: With any successful sports industry journey, some challenges occur on the way. Could you share some of the difficulties you’ve experienced?
I like challenges, they keep me excited, and sports is an industry full of competitors. An organisational challenge for me has been working on an international level by learning to adapt and organise myself efficiently. For example, I was working on the 2019 Fed Cup Final, which took place in Australia and as we know, the time difference is huge between Europe and there. Therefore, I had to adapt my working hours to contact my colleagues and sponsors who were on-site.
Going through format changes with the new world cup format was a new experience to take on board. It impacted how I approached sponsorship and partnership sales.
The obvious one, COVID19, has presented multiple challenges for the sporting world. It’s affected lots of events, travels for players, cancellations etc. This slowed down commercial sides of ITF’s business as other firms had other priorities to ensure their affairs remained sustainable. However, it’s allowed us to acknowledge digital more and adapt the platform to better support our partners.
Question 10: Arnaud, reflecting on this discussion, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting to work in sport?
Be competitive because sport is a competition. As mentioned, the industry is relatively small, and opportunities are rare, so be courageous to go the extra mile and stand out! Prioritise building a network and make a good impression as these two values open lots of doors. Lastly, be creative, curious, open-minded and innovative.
Wow, what a terrific interview with Arnaud. It’s a breath of fresh air to interact with someone who’s early into their sports industry career but has already created so much impact. The most fantastic thing about Arnaud’s journey was that there wasn’t a road map, a strategy nor a plan. Instead, he made the most of an opportunity presented to him and grasped it with both hands!