The days of jumpers for goalposts are over. Soccer clubs are global brands, attracting investment from Russian oligarchs and the Chinese government, spending and making billions of dollars a year.
In May, Forbes valued Spanish soccer giant Real Madrid at $3.6 billion. And with more money on the line than ever before, the big names in sport are mimicking the big names in business, using big data analytics to drive decision-making and reduce risk.
Michel Richaud is an ambitious entrepreneur tapping into the business of sports. In 2013, he took a two-year MBA the George Washington University School of Business, focusing his studies on sports management and big data analytics.
Now, he’s started Mexico City-based Deportes Inc., an online magazine and sports consulting startup working with teams, leagues, brands and athletes to help sports professionals grow their business.
Dubbed Mexico’s answer to the US Sports Business Journal, Michel’s magazine features cutting-edge reports on the latest sports trends. With it, he hopes to boost the credibility of the Deportes Inc. name, and with sponsorship and marketing-focused consulting, drive the professionalization of the business of sports in Latin America.
During his MBA, Michel interned at DC United, analyzing characteristics of the US soccer club’s fan base. On a consulting project, he conducted research and data analysis to evaluate Little League, High School, and College baseball players. And it was at GWSB that he came up with the idea for his new business.
How did the idea to start your own business come about?
There’s a website and magazine in the US called the Sports Business Journal. It’s kind of the bible for the sports industry and everyone in the US who’s involved in the sports industry reads it.
There’s nothing like that in Mexico. So after coming home after my MBA, I decided to start Deportes Inc.
What do you hope to achieve?
I want Deportes Inc. to be the go-to place for anyone in the sports industry in Mexico and Latin America.
We’re innovating. An online magazine which is also a consulting company is unique. We want to get our brand set, so people can see we do the online magazine well. Then, we want different brands, teams and leagues to partner with us and have us feature them on our website.
Right now – on the consulting side of the business - we’re just starting to look for clients. I’ve had two conversations with brands looking to make partnerships with Mexican soccer teams.
What do you say to purists who oppose the commercialization of sport?
That’s a tough question! I would say, don’t fight against it. For good or bad, it’s not going back. Sport has become business; teams run on revenue streams and the teams’ owners need to be profiting because if they don’t, they’ll stop investing.
In English Premier League soccer there’s 20 teams, and only one is going to be champion. No one expected Leicester to be champions! Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United; even the big teams cannot expect to be champions every year. They need to be business-savvy.
It’s a matter of finding the right balance between what you are offering on and off the pitch. FC Barcelona does it well. It doesn’t matter who’s coaching or who’s on the field, they have a clear identity and they always play the same way. Off the pitch, they’re innovating in the way they’re pitching their business ideas to different sponsors.
How is big data analytics changing sport?
A lot of people in the industry are applying data in massive ways to improve athletes’ performance. And huge software providers are looking for clients in the sports industry.
You can see it in soccer with the German national team and Bayern Munich. How much they use tracking software – to see how the players are moving, how much they’re running, how they defend – is amazing. Once you see it, you’ll want your team to use it!
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at GWSB?
I wanted to go outside my comfort zone, to learn from a different culture, meet new people and expand my network. I targeted GWSB for its sport management program, and it didn’t disappoint.
Most schools will have one year of core classes and then a second year where you plan how you spend your credits, but GWSB was one of the only schools that had an actual sport management concentration that complemented the MBA.
What stands out from your MBA experience?
I had an Internship at Major League Soccer club DC United. I went to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics for 10 days of behind-the-scenes access. It was amazing!
Would you have started Deportes Inc. without the GWSB MBA?
Definitely not! I started business school without really knowing what it was about the sports industry that I was most interested in. My internship experiences and the feedback I got from teachers and mentors at GWSB, helped create this path for me.