Gavel / In the business of making a success of sport

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Brave guys Warren Apps, left, and Jamie Wilson… “We didn’t want to see another national sporting team depart.”

FOUR years ago, advertising executive Warren Apps had no involvement in ice hockey before he and partner in Coordinate, Jamie Wilson, moved to invest in and secure the licence of the Canberra Brave.

Tim Gavel.

When Mick Spencer was in the early stages of setting up his global custom design sportswear company On the Go he had no inkling that six years later he would be involved in a Canberra bid for an A League team.

Meanwhile, Michael Wallace and the IT company he works for, Netier, moved to secure the financial future of the National Capital Rally.

All three people come from completely different backgrounds yet all three have reinvigorated sport in Canberra using their business expertise.

THE Canberra Brave sits on top of the national league, four years after the team faced possible extinction. For Warren, the formula is simple; what is required is “the injection of some commercial acumen and a transformation in the way various stakeholders think about their role in the team”. 

He says he and Jamie became intiially involved through their passion for Canberra rather than a love for ice hockey, which has now grown into a passion. 

“We didn’t want to see another national sporting team depart and we threw our hat into the ring as part of that community campaign to provide some assistance to get the team back up and running,” he says.

“Little did we know that within a few weeks we would actually hold the licence and be operating and running the team.

“I think it taught us a lot as well. It has actually improved us as business people, so the learning runs both ways”.

MICK Spencer and On the Go colleague Michael Caggiano, joined the Canberra bid team for an A League side late in the piece but their influence has been significant, particularly with their ability to tap into a vast business network. Their clients include the Australian men’s and women’s hockey teams and English football club Sheffield Wednesday.

Michael says he often harboured a desire to be one day involved in a bid for an A League team. 

“My passion is football, I am a football fanatic,” he says.

“The opportunity with the business Mick and I have built at On the Go is sort of an intersection between sport and business. I think it lends itself well with what we have done in the last few years. The lessons we have learned and some of the networks we have built plug into certain expertise and gives some energy to the bid, which I think it needed.”

Mick says: “We have raised millions of dollars in venture capital and we know how to raise capital. We know how to build profitable, sustainable businesses and sport needs to be run the same way. 

“We have been able to identify talent in Europe and the UK who have come on board because of our business relationship. Business is built on relationships and sports teams need to be as well.” 

FOR Michael Wallace, his entry into sports sponsorship emerged from his involvement in rallying for 20 years in Canberra as an official. His company Netier dipped its toe in the sports sponsorship water three years ago. 

“Netier had reached a size where we wanted to become more involved in the Canberra community and support Canberra community groups and Canberra people,” he says.

“We had a look around and I suggested to the director that maybe Harry Bates, who at that stage was an up and coming rally driver, might be a good person for us to start with. So we sponsored him for a couple of years. 

“Then last year the director wanted the Netier name on all the cars so we stepped up to become a sponsor of the rally. This year there was a risk that the rally may not go ahead for financial reasons and we felt as though it was an important event for Canberra. We didn’t want it to go, so we stepped up to be the naming rights’ sponsor and as part of that we also took on all the marketing and communication for the rally and I became the event manager.”

What is fascinating about the insights provided by three different companies is how sport can so obviously benefit from the involvement of people who are successful at running a business not necessarily related directly to sport. 

More often than not sporting groups are reluctant to embrace the business community. But as Michael Caggiano points out: “Sport is a business and we play it every day”.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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