Dave on how a background in financial services got him his first big break in football and the transition from Team Sky to Team INEOS....
Following the hugely successful transition from Team Sky to Team INEOS, we spoke to Dave Callan about his role in this move and why having limited experience in the field doesn’t have to exclude you from a career in sport.
It has been 10 years since the formation of one of the most successful cycling teams in the sport’s history. Six Tour de France titles, two Vuelta a Españas and a Giro D’Italia to boot, Team Sky soon became the dominant force in cycling, but after a decade of success the team is riding under the flag of a new owner - as Team INEOS.
Overseeing this transition was Dave Callan, who was tasked with maintaining the team’s commercial success, brand management and sponsorship opportunities under Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS. This process is not an easy one – and Dave recognised the challenge they faced. It takes dedication and commitment across the board for a team of industry professionals to deliver a smooth and successful transition; not just for the team of cyclists, but the commercial partnerships that support the continued development and success on the roads.
For Dave, the transition was always about ensuring the team continued to operate with a performance-first philosophy. “My role from a partnership standpoint is to make sure that our partnerships are optimised in a way that is delivering both for the partner and to enhance the performance of the team,” he explained. “We also look at the commercial value of the partnership portfolios as well, so effectively it’s negotiating the rights package for our partners, making sure we’re activating the deals and looking for new opportunities to grow value across the portfolio.
“The new relationship we’ve got with INEOS is a big area of the team that needs stakeholder management at the moment so making sure that we’re delivering to the highest standards and providing value across INEOS’ business in many different ways is a major priority.”
“It did come as somewhat of a surprise because we were planning for the future with Sky, so the transition brought about quite a few challenges.”
The move in ownership happened quickly, moving from Sky to INEOS in a six-month period. “It did come as somewhat of a surprise because we were planning for a future with Sky, so the transition brought about quite a few challenges.”
There had been a range of global Tour successes and performance boosts for the team, but the wider impact that the partnerships created for the sport were noticeable. We asked Dave for his thoughts on why the transition happened when it did – and his answer was clear. “Sky saw an opportunity to review its assets and strategic investment, and their viewpoint was that they have delivered everything they had set out to do in terms of elite success, national participation and inspiration.
“As a team we had delivered unprecedented success and helped grow cycling participation in the UK by millions of people, so I think they were unsure of where to go next and that created a natural end to the relationship.”
One thing about his tenure in the sport stands out: his initial lack of cycling knowledge, or sporting experience overall, has had no bearing on his success. Callan’s first, and before joining Team Sky his only, job in sports businesses was at one of the world’s most famous and revered sports clubs, Manchester United. Taking up the role of Relationship Manager, and then Relationship Director in a new environment was no mean feat, but one that Dave took to by drawing on past experiences.
“The reason why I moved from what an advertising and marketing role in financial services into sport was not necessarily just because of my passion for sport. United were just launching their partnership with Aon, and they were very early to realise that bringing people in from other industries to support their commercial endeavours made complete business sense.”
“The club were looking for people with experience in financial services to come in to help onboard Aon as a partner before establishing a portfolio of financial services partners on an international basis. The skills I brought to the club were not just beneficial from a marketing and advertising standpoint, but from an industry standpoint as well.”
“I think the sports industry as a whole is always looking for talent in specific areas as opposed to someone who has a huge passion for their individual sport.”
The impressive success of the work of the team at INEOS comes down to the passion that the team has developed for cycling and the wider sporting arena. “As an industry, everybody who works in sport is privileged to work in an area that people can get passionate about,” Dave comments. “As a result, we have to treat the industry with respect and not get carried away.”
Dave’s previous work in finance and marketing places him in what is becoming a more common and well-considered route in the sporting world. By developing skills in other sectors before repurposing them in the increasingly commercialised world of sport, you become a more attractive candidate and give yourself the opportunity to hit the ground running once your foot is in the door.
“The sports industry as a whole is always looking for talent in specific areas as opposed to someone who has a huge passion for and individual sport with little else to go on,” he says.
“The sports industry as a whole is always looking for talent in specific areas as opposed to someone who has a huge passion for and individual sport with little else to go on,”
“I think it’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing, but I think anybody that is looking to get into sport should be aware of the fact that having a background in an area of expertise is going to bring more value to the industry, and therefore you’re more likely to develop your career in a sporting context.
“For those who want to work in the world of sport, it is important to realise that the industry is increasingly looking for outsiders to bring knowledge in. Not having worked in sport isn’t a barrier to entry anymore.
“I can see that the industry is really growing from people coming into sport from other areas, whether it’s financial services, telecommunications, subscription-based media companies, marketing companies. Bringing in those transferable skills allows sporting bodies to better connect with their partners, and that’s beneficial for everyone involved.”
I thought recruitment agencies were all the same but The Executives In Sport Group proved me wrong. They are warm, professional and genuine. They really cared about my needs and what I was looking for. I’m over the moon with my new role.