Dublin based David McHugh is Founder of Line Up Sports. In an interview David reveals to IIBN that, Line Up Sports is Irelands best sports marketing agency and work across athlete management, sponsorship and strategic consultancy with the ethos of matching brands to sport!

You can visit the Line Up Sports website Here

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Our goals are two fold:

  • To deliver a world class service to our talent combining on and off field to a wide range of elite performers. Whether Olympic medallists, world champions of professional rugby players, we use our time, knowledge and expertise to support them in their lives and maximise their earning potential on an off the field.
  • Advise brands, agencies and rights holders on where sport fits in the marketing mix and how best to create, manage and deliver return on objectives and investment.

What are your biggest challenges?

Its hard to identify one single challenge but a combination of the following:

  • Always delivering consistent and valuable support to a wide range of brands and athletes with a small team
  • The scalability in the Irish market and having a wide enough range of value ads for all aspects of sport marketing.

How has your business strategy been adapted in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?

Post Covid, in the short term is about restricting and managing cashflow to match revenue. Then it becomes far more about evolving and learning and making sure we can do things better and essentially differently in the new world of what Sport 2.0 might look like. One thing is for certain, doing business post Covid will require a great deal of creativity and a combination of what we know and have learned and how we can adapt and continue to grow.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We have a small team and that helps greatly and combined with a culture of continuous learning and good communications, I would say we are going well! Now is a great time for blue sky thinking, creative though and research and a rare time where we are not busy doing, so I see this time as very positive and hugely important to the future of how Line Up Sports looks.

What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Aside from the obvious trend of a reduction in spending on marketing and sponsorship due to the financial impact of Covid, I would say it’s about reacting to how the industry will look in the short, medium and long term.

We are fortunate to work with some of the best athletes in Irish Sport and some of the most creative and invested sponsors in sport. Our focus will be on the maintaining of those relationships and the continued drive to innovate and use sport to differentiate from other.

Without a crystal ball it’s very difficult to predict the future, but we are confident that the short term measures we have put in place with the longer term strategic plan will serves us well and leave us in the best possible position to thrive!

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

There is always innovation in sport and sponsorship. The trends may now be bucked a bit now, but the opportunity only becomes greater as sport is such an integral part of our culture and society.

I think that private equity will pay a large part in the necessity for sustainability and growth of sport and we are seeing increased interest in acquiring sports rights like CVC have done in Formula One and now rugby.

I think fundamentally broadcast will have to evolve too to allow sport permutate household – the ongoing debate of free to air and pay wall is inconclusive and ongoing and have huge impact both on revenue but also on growth of sport.

Never more than now the benefit of recreational sport and exercise is being seen as a physical and mental stimulus for health and wellbeing and I think that while mass participation might be impacted short term, it creates huge opportunities going forward for tangibly linking sport, health and education for those that can create an innovate!

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Again, very hard to pin point exact changes – we would obviously like at a macro level for sport to be treated as a separate government department from travel and tourism and for the agenda to align with health and education for the long term, but who knows. On the professional sports side, the model may have to change in the short term from a “bums of seats” model to more of a fan engagement model, but medium to longer term we would love to see the likes of rugby marketing themselves better to the non-traditional audiences as well as continuing to perform at world level both provincially and internationally.

On high performance, a continued commitment to support and development of an elite pathway and the ultimate goal of more medals at Olympics, Paralympics and world level

Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Certainly there will always be gaps – for me, research and sponsorship evaluation have become so much more invaluable in creating and delivering partnerships and I would be an advocate of having science as a more focal part of sponsorship. The other main gap for me is “critical thinking” – essentially sport and sports administration can stagnate and continually need creative input to evolve and using our circumstances, the value of learning from other industries and people who have no connection to sport has been hugely valuable in our learning and development and has helped us see the wood from the trees many times.

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

This is hard to predict – we are Ireland centric and despite having a small number of athletes earning outside the island, we only rely on the UK for a small part of our revenue. The unknown again will present opportunities should we be capable of adapting!

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success for me is simple – I want to wake up in the morning and love what I do, so it never feels like work. I am focused on the process and combine knowledge, time and network along with grit and creative thinking to continually learn and improve – this is a mindset I learned as a high performance athlete, a mindset I see every day with the athletes I am privileged to work with and one I try to apply in every aspect of my working and home life. If you do what you love and turn work into play, then the rewards will come both intrinsically and extrinsically!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

I have had an unusual path to now a love of sport & a business background and an opportunity to be an elite competitor and to work with so many elite competitors and exceptional people in both – so for me – Each experience come with a lesson – the key is collect perspective!

One of my favourite mantras which I use frequently is from Oliver Wendell Holmes

to reach the port, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against the wind, but we must never drift or lie at anchor”

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

For me, it’s never about winning awards or shouting from the rooftops when we achieve a significant milestone – highlights are ongoing – setting my goals and achieving them. Externally, seeing the athletes achieve success is the most rewarding part – whether a world champion or a grand slam winner, it’s about the people not the medals.

What’s next for your company?

Goal 1 – survive Covid – restructure, re shape and be ready for the new world, whatever that may look like!

Goal 2 – continue to learn and grow.

We have aa number of really interesting concepts in development around a wide range of areas from sponsorship to athlete transition, from content ownership and creation to strategic sports acquisitions – without this time away from doing, this may not have happened. So, I would say we will have a more strategic vision of what’s next by the summers end!

What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2020/21?

Had this been March 2020, I would have written a very different answer! Growth will be slow now for 2020 and the focus has shifted to 2021 and beyond as in the above trends piece, its somewhat unknown today, but the opportunities exist now more so than ever.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Acknowledging the Covid blip, we hope to continue to grow both organically and strategically and will strive to be the best we can be and at what we do and the rest will take care of itself!