LicensingSource.net finds out more about this year’s UK Rising Star nominees. Today, Arsenal FC’s global licensing manager, Leigh Simpson.
Leigh Simpson, global licensing manager, Arsenal Football Club
My route into licensing went something like this…
I joined Arsenal as licensing executive in 2018, having previously worked for Saracens Rugby in a business development role. At the time, my licensing knowledge was very limited, but I was hooked by the opportunity to work on the products that I’d played with and collected while growing up (e.g., trading cards and stickers, football video games).
How long in the industry?
Just over five years.
When I was growing up, I had no idea that ‘licensing’ was an industry, so I wanted to be…
A professional goalkeeper. I played District, County and Centre of Excellence/Academy football up until 16 years old, where I was fortunate to play with (and against) some incredibly talented players (including Raheem Sterling).
Biggest inspiration in the licensing industry?
I’m most excited by the collaborations that bring together brands from vastly different worlds, inspiring me to push boundaries and develop products that reach wider audiences. The football industry has seen several great examples in recent years, such as Borussia Dortmund x SpongeBob (2020), AC Milan x Rolling Stones (2022) and Arsenal x Transport for London (2022). Very cool!
Best thing about your role?
The opportunities that come from managing a global cross category licensing programme for one of the biggest clubs in world football. For example, I thoroughly enjoy travelling internationally, attending trade shows and industry events, and hosting licensees at our annual Licensee Day at Emirates Stadium. I love collaborating with the talented Arsenal licensing team, licensees and international agents to give our supporters increased and localised access to Arsenal products.
What are you most proud of within your licensing career to date?
I’m most proud of the projects that bring our international supporters closer to Arsenal, reinforcing the important role that our licensing programme plays in connecting and engaging with our communities. A recent example was managing Arsenal’s retail operation during the 2023 pre-season US Tour, with games in Washington DC, New Jersey and Los Angeles.
Licensed character you can most identity with (and why)?
This is a hard one… Let’s go with Donatello (Donnie) from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Like Donnie, I’m not the loudest sibling or most effective in physical combat, but I always aim to contribute through problem solving and curiosity. I can’t claim to have invented any vehicles or gadgets though…
What were your first thoughts when you were revealed as a nominee for the UK Rising Star Award?
I felt proud, honoured and incredibly thankful for the recognition; it’s great to be shortlisted alongside such impressive individuals.