Sports media rights expert Phil Lines joined Lagardere Unlimited as head of media for Europe and Africa in February. He made his name as director of international media at the English Premier League where he doubled international broadcast revenues twice, from under UK£200 million when he joined in 2002, to some UK£1.4 billion when he left in 2010. A spell at US agency CAA Sports followed, during which he significantly increased the value of both the WTA’s and the NHL’s international broadcast packages.
At Lagardere Unlimited, Lines will work directly under group chief operating officer Alain Lemarchand, and will aim to optimise the media giant’s sports business. He has a mandate to return Sportfive, in particular, to its previous position of dominance in the industry, and is targeting the acquisition of new, centralised Uefa soccer packages and international Premier League rights this year.
"Lagardere Unlimited has the ambition and has the power to realise the potential of what I want to do"
Why did you opt to take on your new role at Lagardere Unlimited?
I have strong memories of Sportfive when they were very powerful. And I also have good memories of the business that IEC developed. I’d always wondered a little bit why they weren’t still absolutely as powerful as they were. [Since Peter Kenyon and a raft of CAA Sports executives left in October], a lot of people talked to me and I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do, and frankly this was a very exciting challenge. I wanted to work for a company that did have the power to change things; I wanted a company that had the ambition, and certainly Lagardere Unlimited has the ambition and has the power to realise the potential of what I want to do. So in the end it was quite an easy decision. There was a lot to be done – a tremendous amount to be done- but it was an area that I understood well and I knew much of what we needed to do.
Which deal have you particularly enjoyed doing?
Let me start by giving you the ones that failed. I’ve never cracked Russia. It’s a nation that likes football but I’ve never got anything like what I should have done. Last time round selling the Premier League rights we got more from Malta than we did from Russia. Russia is always an issue.
Ones I’m pleased with: you’d have to say the Middle East. I really like Nasser [Al-Khelaifi, director of Al Jazeera Sports] and I really like what he’s created with Al Jazeera. Everyone has always said they would land the Premier League rights and twice someone else has come along and paid more money. Those things don’t happen by accident, so I’m pleased with those.
There were some very exciting times when I was at the Premier League; when we were doing the online auctions for Asia I remember Richard [Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League] turning round to me at one point and saying this was the most exciting day of his professional life. When you consider the Sky deals he did, that’s pretty amazing. One of them went on for about eight hours, round after round, and it was a mathematician’s day because you had to work out what happens if you added up the aggregate of these countries against this regional bid, and it ended up with a media group actually bidding against itself to get the aggregate of individual market bids above the regional number. It was all quite complicated.
Can you point to an international market for soccer media rights that is rapidly growing?
I think in our business you can’t really afford to not concentrate on all the markets. Is South America important? Yes. Is it growing? Yes. Do they like football? Absolutely. We need to be anywhere where that’s important.
The market that’s really booming of course is the US. The US domestic media market is fantastic – like nowhere else. Unfortunately football is still the fifth product in sport. But you can’t ignore that market. There are no markets that you can afford to ignore. If you look at the companies within Lagardere Unlimited, we have the power to be a very strong company globally. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t.
How would you describe your leadership and negotiating styles?
"I think a lot of what I’ve been able to achieve in the last decade or so is because I like to think that I respect people and they respect me"
In terms of leadership style, I’d like to think of myself as inclusive, and having common sense, and I like to be able to trust the people around me. I’m one of those people who tends to trust the people who work for me until they prove that that’s a mistake. I like to give people lots of responsibility. I work very hard and I expect them to work very hard. I need them to be motivated so I need to be motivating.
In terms of my negotiating, number one: know your market. It’s the same old rule for everything. Secondly, put yourself in others’ positions. I like to think that I’ve been on the other side of the fence; I’ve been on a governing body’s side so I know what they look for and know what they like and don’t like. And respect people. Negotiate with respect. I think a lot of what I’ve been able to achieve in the last decade or so is because I like to think that I respect people and they respect me. You play hard and you play fair. The same rules as you’d like to see on the football field really.
What trends can we expect to see in the sports media industry this year?
I think some of these have already started, but I think media groups will increasingly take more of a 360 degree approach in terms of having multiple outlets.
I think some governing bodies will go back to working quite closely with agencies and I believe that you will start to see more governing bodies looking at B2C rather than B2B. I think you’ll see more governing bodies looking to create their own media, starting up their own media arms, their own channel, in the way that the Eredivisie has done. And within that I think you’ll see those channels start to bid for rights outside their own ones. So I think the Eredivisie will bid for Premier League rights.
The full, comprehensive interview with Phil Lines, in which he explains his decision to leave CAA Sports for Lagardere and sets out his vision for his new role, will be published in the May edition of SportsPro magazine. To subscribe, click here.