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A balanced future for commercialism in womens sport

SIM Ξ Miscellaneous


Management companies have grown up very quickly over the last couple of years as women’s sport has seen exponential growth and women have been awarded
full time contracts.
With the Olympics and Paralympics on the horizon the quest to sign up athletes is higher than ever before. I thought that it would be good to talk with
Ian Byers founder and MD of 17 Sports Management Limited about their unique approach to sports management. What I have liked about Ian and his team
from day one has been the care and value they place on the athlete and their wellbeing that far outstrips any financial value to them. It is this ethos
that has bound women around the world for years as they have struggled to balance full time jobs and international careers.


Athlete’s need to train and focus on their sport, but they need money to compete and live yet for so many so much of their time is taken up with trying
to be a businesswoman/administrator that they aren’t reaching their potential. What Ian and the team provide is an environment in which the athlete
can focus on their training knowing that there are people putting their best interest at the fore and handling the business and administrative side
of their lives for them.


Like so many involved in women’s sport Ian started in a voluntary capacity, helping and managing Paralympic gold medallist Hannah Cockroft MBE for 12 months.
With a background in the corporate world and no previous experience in athlete management, Ian came to it with a completely different view and approach.
As Ian explained “this was a good grounding as each decision was made with Hannah's best interest in mind, at all times, never what was best for me”.
Good news spreads fast and soon people were asking for Ian to represent them and 17 Management was born with Ian and Hannah.
Ian describes the ethos of the company in a nutshell, “what is in the best interest of the athlete” he explained and expanded on what he sees as their
role “we are a combination of minder, PA, secretary, defender, friend and shoulder to cry on”. To many it may seem that the role of the management
company is to get sponsorship but as Ian explained it’s far more than that and it didn’t even feature in his above list which is a lot longer than
most would expect of an agent. For a start they communicate with each athlete a few times each week about everything from how training is going, to
how they are feeling, to the obvious of potential work. What might surprise many, is that as well as this, the key to any relationship 17 Management
have with an athlete is that they spend significant time on increasing the athletes profiles. Ian is very clear that they want to be able to approach
potential sponsors with athletes that have profile and are known. As Ian explained “this is the long game” when talking about this strategy and how
they see their stable of athletes. The approach is simple, take talented athletes on, look after them and ensure that all their admin and business
needs are taken care of. Then build awareness of them and increase their profile all whilst developing a relationship with them by being in contact
very regularly so the team can understand the athlete inside out. Only at this point do Ian and the team start to look for sponsorship and revenue
streams for the athlete. This is athlete centric management that builds for the future.


Sponsorship, appearances and speaking events are clearly the core of how 17 Management seek to bring revenue to the athlete’s. Its very easy to take a
quick buck and run but Ian doesn’t want to do that, he wants to build a future that is sustainable for the athlete and this is of immeasurable value
to them. Having known and worked with Ian for more than a year and seen how the business has grown and the athlete’s that I have had contact with via
17 Management, I can see first-hand how this approach is working and the benefits it brings. The athletes looked after by Ian and the team are just
that, looked after and they know it and it is making the world of differences to them.
For me what is very revealing and sums up Ian and the 17 Management team is his reply when we speak about Rio and their role with their athletes in the
build up to it and post Rio. Going into Rio his focus is on shielding them from the pressure of external expectation as well as too many media engagements
that detract from their training. Post Rio Ian talked about manging the various issues that come from winning and losing “the value of difference between
gold and silver is huge and yet the distance can be minimal, as little as .001 of a second in time.” For the winners Ian’s focus is on once again doing
what is best for the athlete and not just accepting every lucrative offer that comes along. He is clear that in the post Rio euphoria the media and
sponsorship interest will be huge and the team will be looking after and supporting the athlete to ensure they aren’t pressured into anything. This
will include getting down time to recover, fulfil all their commitments and accepting financial deals that retain their core values. This is a tough
challenge in a world that loves to maximise the money they can make as quickly as possible at the cost of the athlete, the antithesis of 17 Management.
For the athletes that “lose” and I use this in loose terms relative to gold, silver, bronze or no medal. My view is that just getting to Rio is an achievement
but sport is measured in medals. As a subject this is very rarely dealt with and so I find it surprising that Ian mentions this in the same breath
as the winning athletes and his focus post Rio. For these athletes Ian says “it’s about managing the disappointment and ensuring they don’t get forgotten”
this comment alone for me shows the ethos and values that are in action. The conversation is always about the winners but there are those that trained
as hard and are as committed but on the day didn’t get to that line 0.001 of a second faster than the next person. It’s for these athletes that people
like Ian are good for them and why 17 Management is a good example for sports management, transcending the chase for money and winners.
People like Ian and the team at 17 Management are the measure with which management companies should be compared and I look forward to seeing the benefit
of this in women’s sport around the globe.


Editors note: To see more about what 17Management are doing and who they look after, visit: or @17_management at Twitter.