Image credit:
Messe München GmbH
Image credit:
Messe München GmbH
Sports Business/09/29/2023

Unlocking Success: Key Factors for Success in the Sports Business

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What does it take to be successful in sports? What factors determine win or fail? And what do winners do differently from the average? We were there for you at Bits & Pretzels 2023 and share our key learnings for success with you.

Mischa Zverev, who has made the leap from athlete to investor, coaches Tobias Bosch and Faris Al-Sultan, who have helped some of the most famous athletes to victory, as well as the successful start-ups and ISPO Brandnew winners Maloja and Micro - they all know what it takes to get to the top in the sports business. At the ISPO Brandnew Convention at Bits & Pretzels 2023, they shared their insights and secrets of success with the visitors. And now we're sharing them with you here!

Here are their learnings:

1. Think like a winner

Whether athlete, founder or investor, everyone agreed: success starts in the mind and the right mindset decides who survives in the tough business and who does not. This also includes keeping going even after defeats - even when it hurts.

If you want to get to the top Ironman champion and coach Faris Al-Sultanyou have to make an extreme effort - and only a few people have the will to keep it up over the long term. His time as a competitive athlete has taught him that, despite the best preparation, things don't always go the way you expect them to - the most important business lesson of all for him.

"If it were easy, it wouldn't be that rewarding and that satisfying."

The impact of the right mindset was also demonstrated by Mental Coach Tobias Bosch at the "Think like a Champ" workshop - here the audience could directly see the influence our thoughts have on our physical abilities and that challenging tasks can be solved through the power of thought and a "reprogramming."

To do this, he used a physiological muscle test. The result: negative thoughts and self-doubt weaken us - also physically. Those who face defeats with curiosity rather than negativity get back up faster.

"Thoughts are pretty powerful."

2. Know who you are - and rather grow slowly

ISPO Brandnew Winner Maloja demonstrates what it means to have a strong identity and a unique selling proposition as a brand. For Maloja, the outdoors is pure joie de vivre - you can already tell that from their company headquarters. On a farm in Chiemgau, surrounded by forests and sheep and with the Kampenwand on the horizon, the outdoor brand conquered the sports business.

Every year, the clothing brand introduces a new collection, each inspired by the world, different cultures and people. Also typical for the brand is the combination of function and style, according to Founder Klaus Haas.

The brand's identity also includes its philosophy: an honest and respectful approach to people and nature is the be-all and end-all. And: "Whoever comes to us, comes for life" - this applies both to the loyal customers and a large number of retailers who have worked with Maloja from the beginning and have grown with it over the years.

These values also define Maloja's growth strategy: Slow and steady. Klaus Haas comments: In order to grow successfully, you must not lose focus on the values of the company and must first optimize internal processes and structures.

3. Trust is good, contracts are better

The successful in the mobility sector Micro is also a former ISPO Brandnew Winner.

"The ISPO Brandnew Award helped us a lot when my father founded the company in 1999. We had a booth at ISPO Munich and that made it extremely easy to introduce the product to the market." says Merlin Ouboter.

Micro has had to learn two lessons the hard way over the years:

  • first, that you have to expect that everything imaginable can go wrong.
  • second, that even with the most loyal partner, legal safeguards are needed.

Even the start of the company was bumpy. A prototype of the Microlino, a light electric vehicle, was to be presented at a trade show. Shortly beforehand, the worst case scenario occurred: during transport from China to Switzerland, the Microlino fell off the truck. Canceling the show was out of the question - the demolished car was finally presented with a "Shit happens" sign. And it was a great success!

When it was time to go into production, the joint venture partner backed out. Then new chaos: The new partner suddenly decided to launch the product alone under different branding. Later, Micro managed to bring back the innovation and go into production. The products are now sold in 80 countries - and contracts are signed with each new partner.

So if Micro has learned one thing, it's that paperwork - as annoying as it can be - can save some stress.

4. Not afraid of new beginnings

Success also means adapting - and if necessary, completely reinventing yourself. This is what, for example Tennis pro Mischa Zverev and became a blueprint for athletes who have to take a new path at the latest after the end of their active career. He has built up another mainstay as an entrepreneur and investor.

In 2020, when tournaments and coaching were put on hold by the corona pandemic, he got creative and founded his company Tiebreak Ventures to use and invest his assets smartly. Previously, he invested in real estate across Europe.

"I didn't wake up one day thinking tennis is boring. I woke up thinking I need money."

Why do (ex-)athletes make good investors in the sports business? Because they know the business inside out and also benefit from their experiences as athletes. Business and sports have a lot in common, says Zverev. For example, in sports you learn to keep a cool head even in tense situations and to deal with defeats constructively.

Mischa is a prime example of how it pays to start over completely in a different field and rebrand yourself.

"At some point, we all stop playing professional sports, but then we can work on becoming cool investors* for the next Unicorn."

5. See and be seen: Community is everything

You are only as good as your network - because the best product idea is useless if no one knows about it. Especially in the beginning, it pays to be present and make the right contacts, whether at networking and community events, industry events or competitions. You never know where you will meet the next business partner or investor. Moreover, presenting your product idea and getting feedback can be immensely helpful for further product development.

Maloja founder Klaus Haas, whose start-up received an additional success booster through ISPO, also knows how important community and visibility are:

"In 2005, we won the ISPO Brandnew Award in the sportswear category, and that was a great opportunity for us. It was an important boost for a young and new brand and we are very grateful for that."

At the "Healthy Future" pitch at the ISPO Brandnew Convention, eight start-ups now had the opportunity to pitch their ideas, receive valuable feedback from the jury of experts, and get their name out there.

These 4 start-ups showed how it's done:

EndoGene.Bio won the pitch. No wonder with this statement, "We are here to build a legacy in female health!" The start-up is developing a test that can quickly and non-invasively detect endometriosis, and is also using patient data to improve preventive medicine. Way to go!

Saving the day for those doctors can't help with sports-related pain. Exakt Health created a medically certified app that creates a customized rehab and prevention plan in seconds. The numbers speak for themselves: 92% of app users were helped.

"We are at the beginning of the greatest revolution of the food system since the beginning of agriculture," says Founder Jonathan Roberz. And MicroHarvest wants to lead the revolution - through a sustainable protein made from microorganisms. Perhaps the answer to factory farming?

The production of cocoa presents some sustainable and ethical issues. WNWN Food Labs has the alternative: a chocolate made entirely without cocoa. To make it, they use whole plant-based ingredients - no genetically modified organisms, no synthetic biology, no deforestation.

Next Stop: ISPO Munich 2023

There are even more business opportunities at ISPO Munich: From November 28 - 30, the who's who will meet again in Munich. The sports business festival is the ideal opportunity for networking and the meeting place for the shakers and makers of the sports industry.

Be there when we gain new perspectives together and shape the future!

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