JBD Sports has been promoting and organising televised sporting events for over 20 years now. The firm has overseen events hosted at such treasured venues as Wembley Arena, Alexandra Palace and the Royal Albert Hall.
We caught up with JBD’s Jeremy Harding about celebrities, sponsorship opportunities and what’s in the pipeline for JBD Sports in 2019.
InsiderSport: What, do you think, are the biggest benefits of recruiting celebrities to promote or attend your events?
Jeremy Harding: We always try to provide our clients with the highest calibre sports stars for all our events, whether that be in a small environment or a major arena. The response in terms of attracting a paying audience is always worth the financial outlay. In today’s tough entertainment market, one would be foolish to try and not deliver at least one household name. As a company primarily involved with staging senior darts players tournaments, we are always mindful of delivering the best we can with the budget we are working with.
InsiderSport: Can you let us know of some of the biggest ‘names’ you have signed up for your events?
Jeremy Harding: From 1995 through to 2003 we were heavily involved in professional boxing. In the summer of 2000, London heavyweight Audley Harrison went to the Sydney Olympics and won gold at Super Heavyweight. The clamour to sign Audley to a professional deal was immense. Around the same time we were staging shows on the old BBC show Grandstand.
Once Audley had signed his deal directly with the BBC it became easier to convince him to align himself with us. We met up at a couple of low-key places and chatted. Always accompanied by his manager Colin McMillan, we outlined what we thought would be workable. Thankfully he accepted our offer and we worked together for the best part of three years.
Logistically, it also worked in our favour -whilst he had had offers from both Don King and Bob Arum in America – I think he liked the fact that we were local to him. I also believe that Audley was uncomfortable about basing himself in America for long periods, athough ironically Audley now lives in Vegas with his wife and kids. Another factor in Harrison’s decision was seeing the way we had developed another London boxer Spencer Oliver’s career a few years earlier.
It’s a funny old world: 10 years earlier I helped out a young heavyweight called Steve Pembleton get fit so that he could have some amateur fights. One night we had arranged for Steve to go sparring at a gym in Harlesden with a heavyweight called Audley Harrison. Harrison sparred with Steve for about 4 rounds in this tiny ring in a tiny gym in North West London. Steve did well against Audley, who I guess at the time had had a handful of bouts. Now Audley, had probably never heard of me at that stage and definitely vice versa. He probably doesn’t remember the night in question but I do!. Whether Audley believed he was going to end up becoming Olympic Champion that night is debatable, but it just goes to show you never know what’s around the corner in your life.
Promoting the big fella from North West London was a mad few years but one I wouldn’t change for the world. So in answer to your question in terms of prestige, awareness and the way it placed us as a company on the map, Audley would undoubtedly be the biggest signing we have made to date, but like I said you never know what’s round the corner.
InsiderSport: Did their presence have the desired effect i.e. were you happy with the outcome and would it lead you to believe that a celebrity presence at an event is always beneficial?
Jeremy Harding: From a darts perspective, we have included Phil Taylor on a few of our most recent events and have found the expenditure to be worthwhile. As the most decorated player in the sport and recently retired from the PDC, there is still a clamour to see Phil play live not only in this country but throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Of course, this might only be for a limited period of time. In a fickle market where you can easily drop off the radar if not continuously in the public eye, a personalities marketability can diminish over time. But presently Phil’s name still means audience attendances are strong.
Conversely, in boxing, guaranteeing one top quality name does not always relate to strong ticket sales or PPV revenue. The boxing public are not fools and if they see a mismatch or a fight heavily loaded in one fighters favour, it will see promoters and boxers struggle to reach the financial figures they had optimistically predicted.
Can you give us some information about the various sponsorship opportunities at JBD Sports events?
Jeremy Harding: Sponsorship today is so important to sporting events and companies like ourselves. We have been fortunate to have had long standing sponsorship deals with two companies. Our annual celebrity Sports Stars Fishing Championship continues to grow. Formerly known as the PDC Fishing Championship, this year’s event will be broadcast over 2 evenings on ITV4 at peak time in the UK. This year’s championship will feature household sporting names including Barry Hearn, Steve Davis OBE, Mark Williams MBE, Eddie Hearn, David Seaman, George Groves and Phil Taylor.
Both companies are again sponsoring this years championship along with our title sponsors Target Darts. Our darts events of which there are around 16, are staged at all the major holiday resorts in the UK. In terms of sponsorship we can offer unprecedented access to the players at these events, along with hospitality opportunities, product placement and betting opportunities. As with any sponsorship package activation of an event or series of events is key. Sometimes on smaller events the activation can cost as much as the package, so If you can develop an understanding of what is required by your sponsorship partner the job becomes a whole lot easier.
What are the biggest changes you have noticed over the years with regards to sponsorship at events?
Jeremy Harding: Initially, when we started out there was basically nothing that we offered by way of sponsorship packages. The BBC were not keen on advertising or branding on any of their broadcasts. With the rise of satellite TV promoters became more adept at offering clients sponsorship opportunities, whether they were ring canvas advertising or VIP ticket packages. For us, from around 1997 when we became involved with Spencer Oliver’s career and were staging events at all the major arenas in London, was the time that we recognised the importance of up selling sponsorship packages. Hospitality with ringside tickets became the norm at shows at the bigger venues. Or a longer term package might involve ring canvas branding with hospitality tickets, programme advertising and ring announcements.
The first time that I had experience of an individual as opposed to an event being sponsored was Audley’s sponsorship package with Cantor Fitzgerald. After his amazing success in the Sydney Olympics and the profile the BBC coverage had offered him, Harrison was one of the most recognisable names in the UK. Cantor saw this and, even in a sport not normally associated with big budget sponsorship deals, were happy to sign a 10 fight deal. I learnt so much in this period about the importance of keeping your sponsors onboard.
Octagon, who handled the sponsorship package directly on Harrison’s behalf, were clever at assuring that Harrison and his team were never seen in anything other than Cantor clothing when he was in a professional capacity. Working closely with the client you represent and the sponsor is fundamental in getting the most out of a sponsorship package.
Moving forward to today’s market, with the conception of social media, the sponsorship package becomes limitless. The awareness it offers is unprecedented. One tweet, one short video and the product you are offering is promoted instantly to potentially millions of people.The high profile social media influencers in sport in the UK – Eddie Hearn springs to mind – can deliver their sponsors product precisely to the correct demographic that they require.
InsiderSport: What are the largest events on the horizon for JBD Sports in 2019?
Jeremy Harding: Each year the fishing event becomes a bigger and more complex event to stage. With 32 high profile sports personalities with jam packed competition diaries coming from all over the UK and Europe, as well as 8 team managers, sponsors guests, TV crews and general public. The responsibility to deliver a top quality day for broadcaster, competitor, sponsors and public is challenging. With two hours of prime time television to fill, the necessity to produce a show that is both interesting and competitive in a sport not normally associated with primetime is the issue. Obviously, it helps having such a diverse array of sports personalities involved and a fantastic production team at Matchroom Sport.
As mentioned in an earlier question, we have world champions from boxing, darts, snooker as well as current internationals from the Rugby Super League and the GB Netball Team who were team winners at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards last year. We also have Olympians, former professional footballer David Seaman and former world champion George Groves competing this year for the first time.
The Sports Stars Fishing Championship is staged to raise vital funding for charity and I think that each of our guests buys into this. The majority of the competitors have extremely busy schedules but give up their time for free. They are also highly competitive which also makes it fun. The will to win never leaves our fishermen.
We as a company try and deliver a unique day for them in terms of an experience that they may not have necessarily had before. So that irrespective of their fishing ability they walk away having enjoyed the championship. It also helps that we have a great venue in Gold Valley Lakes who are immensely helpful throughout all of the set up period.