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“The world of sports was where my heart lay”

In the second part of the series, Simon Gresswell reveals how SGLP began to take shape before an 11-year stint at IMG.

Like many people, I hadn’t envisaged a career in licensing, but sport and licensing was as fun to work in as it was to play, so what did I do next?

I left TCC and joined Universal Studios CP in London. Although blessed with some great archive movie IP and characters and a burgeoning slate of movie releases and premieres – including the second coming of ET, the third Jurassic Park movie and the start of a small franchise called The Fast and The Furious – sports were where my heart lay.

I left USCP and took up a role heading up new business for an agency specialised in marketing and promotions in the drinks industry, Interface CMS, based in Harpenden. This was a bit of a departure from licensing, but was also not too far from the world of sport, with Heineken and specifically the UK launch of Amstel into the on-trade, the first new business pitch secured. A great team at the agency certainly pulled up trees on occasions, impressive for a non-London set up and I must thank Vince Tickel, the owner, for treating me well when times were tough all round and Kings, Al and Dom for their ‘insights’ on our fact-finding mission to Amsterdam, to live the Amstel dream…

Before I found my way back into the corporate world, I opened SGLP’s doors for the first time, with TCC as an initial client, for which I thank them again, still focused on rights acquisition and commercial creativity for football, as well as more diverse sports. This included working closely with Chris Rodman, vp EMEA of Topps and the Premier League for a loyalty programme in 7-11 Hong Kong and meetings with the likes of the Austrian Ski Federation in Innsbruck, followed by lunch atop the Olympic ski jump and discussions about the Tour de France and Roland Garros rights, at an exhibition tennis event with some of the greats of the era, in Paris.

A loyalty programme in 7-11 Hong Kong saw Simon working more closely with Topps.
A loyalty programme in 7-11 Hong Kong saw Simon working more closely with Topps.

I combined this with licensing strategy and sales activation projects for LEGO (in partnership with Ian Downes and working with former USCP colleague and LEGO licensing guru, Hilary Plummer), Tesco and some promotional agencies, but hadn’t racked up quite enough business to jump on a flight when England won the Rugby World Cup in Sydney in Nov 2003. Regret? No, another anecdote came out of that early morning final… for another time…

I transitioned out of my consultancy business, joining the mighty IMG in November 2005. Frankly, I was in awe of this sports marketing agency behemoth, so when they came a’hunting, I took an opportunity presented to me by Rick Isaacson RIP and Sarah McNaughton, based on the theory of “what if I don’t do it, will I regret it?”, plus a load of excitement about the prospects to grow the portfolio and work again within the world of sport.

I’d had some dealings with departments of IMG in the preceding few years, trying on more than one occasion to persuade them to licence video clips of classic Olympic moments from the Olympic Television Archive Bureau they manage, for collectable loyalty programmes, but like all rights holders and big agents, I learned quickly that this apparently simple request was far more complex and multi-layered than I could imagine. I knew back then I had to get inside this type of company and obtain inside knowledge to bring some of my ideas to fruition.

Signing new clients, growing the business and doing licensing deals on behalf of some of the most prestigious sports events, institutions, icons and brands in the world (the list is too heavy to drop here all at once), was and remains simply a honour and a privilege. I lived and breathed the client-first approach pioneered by Mark McCormack RIP for many decades way before I joined and combined this with my lust for prestigious new clients and strong client, licensee and retailer relationships and a track record of delivery.

A GALP Portguese medal collection (Euro 2004 window) from SGLP 1.0.
A GALP Portguese medal collection (Euro 2004 window) from SGLP 1.0.

A notable early example of this was via an extension to the IMG licensing portfolio, but actually outside of sport. Thanks to an intro from Andrew Levy, I pitched successfully to the MoD for the rights to manage and develop L&M for the Royal Navy. We held a stunning launch event on HMS Albion, moored on The Thames in Greenwich, in blazing summer sunshine, with 100+ industry attendees on board, the finest food and drink the RN could provide (HM the Queen was due on board the following day, so we were the dry run) and the Royal Marines band playing us out with Sunset on the aft deck. All worked a treat and I invited several senior colleagues from other IMG divisions, which resulted in three Royal Navy TV documentaries and many plaudits and future approaches from other divisional heads.

Very importantly, from the outset, I networked with, cooperated with and supported other divisions in the business, which not only unveiled potential new business opportunities at the time, but has also now given me an invaluable network of commercial connections and friends, from those days onwards, such that we all still talk, socialise and work together as and when we it makes commercial sense.

Again, I was very fortunate to meet and work with some great people and in IMG’s case without doubt some of the genuine leaders and pioneers in sports events, production, licensing and merchandising, media and other lifestyle ventures the company grew into over the last 20-30 years.

Simon was at IMG for 11 years.
Simon was at IMG for 11 years.

Leaving IMG after 11 years was a hard decision and hard to actually do, but like many companies, many things had changed and my experience and way of working was I felt, probably best suited elsewhere.

As it turned out, this was not at Sanrio, where I was coo EMEA, Aus/NZ & India for a little under two years and where I and they perhaps discovered I was more of a dog person, than a Kitty person (although I hasten to add, Kitty is not a cat), albeit I was reunited with my favourite character IP of all time, Mr Men and Little Miss, some 23 years after the previous encounter. It’s still pure, simple genius.

Tomorrow, SGLP 2.0 opens its doors.

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