Nick Harford - Director of Partnerships International, StubHub Share PDF Print E-mail
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NickHarford_StubHubNick Harford joined eBay Inc company StubHub in July 2012 as Director of Partnerships, International where he is responsible for defining and implementing StubHub’s international partnership and business development strategy.

He works on current partnerships including Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Premiership Rugby, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and AEG. Formerly, Nick was Head of Partnerships (UKI) at Electronic Arts, where he was primarily responsible for the commercial partnership programme behind the market-leading FIFA videogame series.

Whilst at EA, Nick negotiated a number of activation-focused Club agreements including Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as establishing an analysis-focused partnership with Sky Sports. Prior to EA, Nick was Head of Partnerships at Arsenal, where he negotiated and activated a number of agreements including O2, Samsung, Citroen, EA SPORTS, Thomson Sport, Ebel and had responsibility for the Arsenal Mobile business.

By Ismail Uddin

You have been at a number of major organisations in the past including IMG, Arsenal, Electronic Arts and now StubHub. What have been the major differences and similarities between those roles and your current position?

There’s common ground in all of them but the StubHub role encompasses elements of all the positions. On the one hand it’s a combination of selling and buying and then planning and managing and looking at a strategy around business development and partnerships.

Being new to the UK  and the market we are in you need to inform people, you need to position it and you need to increase the awareness so you can argue that part is selling insight; who are we, what do we do and how do we do it? Are we good partners to have? On the other side you are looking at what rights, particularly on a sports side, you looking for? How can you collaborate with a rights holder or a sports organisation or talent where you could be a fit with their business? Particularly when you look at Arsenal and EA you can see a good split of that. At IMG they were early days of the digital side so the first official site for the bigger football teams. It does pull on all three of them actually which is pretty useful but what it does give you is more breadth because I have been so football oriented for such a long time. It’s nice now to look at other sports and the entertainment business.

How did you come into the position at StubHub? What attracted you to the job?

I was called about the role about two years ago and I didn’t know StubHub as a business. I was well aware of eBay, Paypal and other organisations within that group, so there was a long period of fact finding and understanding people within that business. It was a bit of a leap from a well-known business with a football product at EA. I had a long enough window to understand the key stakeholders on who does what and their track record in the US, enough to give me confidence to do the role which was offered to me.

Has your experience and contacts in the football industry helped you in acquiring partnerships with teams?

It’s a combination of things. One is familiarity with rights and their value of what can work with different business categories. For example what we had with EA would be very different to what you would have for someone like StubHub. There’s still common ground but I think having worked along a number of different business categories across Arsenal selling and managing helped me from an EA point of view and my transition to StubHub. It also means you can also be a bit pragmatic on when you can deliver and where it may not make sense. It helps you articulate what works best for our business and look at it from a rights holder perspective as well. I’m fortunate having worked around a little bit from the agency, brand, rights holder and now StubHub side definitely gives you a good grounding to piece things together.

StubHub deals in online secondary ticket sales. Which sport market has proved to be the most successful?

The US has a real heritage in baseball and for StubHub it was the first large scale league deal in this category in 2007 and that was renewed a year and a bit ago. That’s probably the largest scale and it drove the integration model we have across a few different businesses. Essentially if you have a ticket with a bar code on it, you can upload it to StubHub, if it sells the barcode is cancelled and a new ticket is generated so it means it’s more of a close loop system and more instant. In the US that would be the most dominant one aside from the obvious major events that happen once a year.

It’s different in the UK. Football is a regulated sport unlike some other European territories so if you want to facilitate the resale you have to have a partnership with a club or league. There will also be the obvious annual events which will create big spikes in terms of interest levels and demand for them. In this country we have become more music oriented because football is so regulated. I think if it wasn’t regulated there would be more breadth of resale activity going on.

Which territories have proved to be lucrative for StubHub other than the US?

Canada is a growing business for us. A real success story. It spills over from how we operate in the US so it does lend itself well for us to do good things there. We have our plans for further expansion beyond the UK, so within Europe and that's what we are working on right now.

You have a number of partnerships with sports teams and organisations with deals in Rugby, Tennis and Football. What is your strategy when it comes to sports partnerships and selecting them?

It would be nice if we could choose  but it is two sided which works a lot better that way. Firstly you're trying to better understand their business. On the one hand it's what do we do and how do we do it and how can we find a fit? If it was on a football team scenario it's different from other brand deals because you want to get closer to the operational side so it's not just working with the business development or commercial guy. You want to look at how they work from a stadium management and ticketing point of view or the level of demand they have or who they work with for primary sales and do they have many no shows for season ticket holders. There's a lot of different considerations and as part of that exercise it translates into a fit and it could mean us being a distribution channel to sell tickets through us alongside a retail platform for season ticket holders or whatever the sport may be. That could be one route

In the Spurs scenario we are just the resale platform, we don't do anything else for the club but in every other instance we are another route to market. eBay is a good comparison on how it has evolved from an auction based business to now a high percentage of its sales is B2C selling including brands, retailers and small medium sized businesses selling direct . eBay is nothing it's just a platform and we are the same. We don't own a single ticket we are relying on supply and that supply may come from a season ticket holder or it may come from the box office from an event or rights holder selling through us so there are lots of different dialogues like that going on.

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