This week, I’ve spoken with Rohan Shukla, Watford FC’s International Marketing Officer. Rohan has had a digitally focused journey into sport which started by studying a Sports Management degree. This interview sees Rohan open up about his experiences at Watford FC, including the club’s challenges, developments in their digital strategy and how the Indian market is a big deal for them.
Question 1: Rohan, it’s a pleasure to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. How did your sports career begin?
My dad was a United fan, and my passion grew from there. After that, I wasn’t so bothered about becoming a professional player. Instead, my interest was in sports business. I was in India when I studied for an undergraduate degree in sports journalism, which led me to report football and cricket emerging in the nation.
I still wanted to be involved in bigger things. I then came to the UK and did my masters at Loughborough University in sports management. I worked my heart out to get into sports clubs but was rejected everywhere, and I was on the edge of giving up. Eventually, I decided to give it one last shot by studying for another Masters Degree at UCFB in Football Communications and Digital Marketing. Two months in, we had the Commercial Director of Watford FC, Paul O’Brien, attend our campus for a guest lecture. The club had been relegated but still wanted to be recognised on a global scale, particularly in India. I made sure I spoke with him before he left, as I had a lot to say about my views on why many football clubs aren’t growing in Indian territory. He gave me his business card, and from that point on, I joined Watford FC as an Intern and have recently been offered a full-time role focusing on the club’s Indian and South Asian markets.
Question 2: Tell me more about your role at Watford. What do you do, and how do you contribute to the club’s bigger picture?
My role is heavily targeted across the Indian market and how we can do things differently to other clubs. A key focus is to identify mutually beneficial partnerships across Indian territory; we’ve recently developed one across the technology landscape.
I contribute to the bigger picture by providing exposure to how we function as a club. We’re launching ourselves on an Indian short-form video app.
I’m involved in researching potential partnerships with hotel chains and other category blocks in India as well. We’re looking not only for something mutual but also sustainable.
As a marketer, I concentrate on all the club’s sponsors and how they can benefit based on their positioning. Focus areas include monetisation reports and how much we’re delivering to our sponsors.
Question 3: From your experience, what makes a robust marketing strategy for a sports organisation?
It’s essential to focus on the REAL insight that the market wants and lacks. Once you nail that, you should have a holistic understanding of that sector. This has been a major issue with the first time many Premier League clubs targeted India; I’ve not seen clubs truly cater to the Indian culture. There will always be initiatives that work and don’t work; however, those that don’t will give you a more authentic insight into the market.
Question 4: What have you found effective at branching the Watford FC brand overseas?
Influencer marketing, targeting influencers in the right way can make their audience become your audience.
Age also has a big factor in which apps dominate your phone, which we’re trying to cater towards, such as what apps are more fixated with different age brackets.
Making content exclusive per platform is key as well. We’ve launched on a Chinese social media platform called Weibo and will soon embark on an Indian social media app; this will need an exclusive approach to the audience.
To truly engage younger audiences, I’ve learnt they want content straight away. The way apps like TikTok and Instagram and are positioned could put us in a lucrative position.
Question 5: What have been some of the key skills you’ve learnt as a sports marketer?
You’ve got to be very dedicated to what you want to do. There’s always room for improvement as there are so many avenues you can target.
You must be good with the words you use. My job is directly related to how the club performs on the pitch; talking with the same confidence level when Watford loses or wins can be challenging. This is a constant process I’m continually learning.
Be ready to adapt and learn, particularly from those higher up in the hierarchy. Most of my learning has come from observing how our Commercial Director, Paul O’Brien and Marketing Manager, Owen Arnold, tackle problems.
Question 6: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in your sports career?
Getting myself working in a sports club was the hardest part of my journey. There are people out there applying left, right and centre. It’s why I cherish every single day because of how hard I’ve worked.
It wasn’t easy to convince people where Watford stood when we were a Championship club as championship-level football isn’t typically broadcasted in India. It also made partnership proposals more complex when we got relegated as we were in the Premier League for the last five years before 2019/20. However, we’ve learnt how to talk with more confidence over time.
Question 7: What’s your key advice for upcoming sports enthusiasts?
Get out of your comfort zone. Approach people on LinkedIn. Attend guest speaker sessions organised by your university or by sporting organisations. Conduct research on the industry and keep finding those areas where you believe you can contribute and fill a potential gap inside a football club. Club’s are always on the lookout for the next best thing. Get out there and think outside of the box. If you have the passion, you’ll succeed.
What a brilliant interview with Rohan. He’s relatively new to Watford FC but has so much to share. To think it all started from a guest lecture at University is commendable.