Infront joins winter sports dots again in replacing EBU as ISU rights partner
By Simon Ward
Infront, the international sports marketing agency, can once more claim relationships with all the winter Olympic sports federations after signing a four-year deal to handle media rights on behalf of the International Skating Union.
Under the agreement announced today, Infront will be responsible for distributing rights to the ISU’s major events across speed skating, short track speed skating, figure skating and synchronized skating in all territories except Canada, China, Japan, Korea and USA from 2019-20 to 2022-23.
These include World and European Championships and World Cup and Grand Prix competitions in these disciplines.
The new deal brings to an end the long partnership between the ISU and the European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of mainly public-service broadcasters, which dates back 50 years.
The last contract signed in 2014 included rights outside Europe for the first time, with the exception of the five aforementioned major markets, through to the end of the 2018-19 winter sports season.
The Infront package amounts to more than 120 events over the four seasons, including coverage on traditional linear television channels and on digital outlets.
To ensure the widest possible exposure, Infront has pledged to adopt a media rights sales approach including various carve-outs that will enable the ISU to exploit selected rights through its own platforms.
Infront, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, was previously responsible for the sale of sponsorship and hospitality rights to the ISU World and European Championships and World Cup speed skating events through its acquisition in 2015 of Referee Sportsmarketing, the Dutch sports marketing firm that had a contract with the federation through to the end of the 2017-18 season.
That deal gave Infront a commercial presence in all seven winter Olympic sports for the first time, but proved to be short-lived as the partnership was not renewed last year when the ISU signed a new four-year deal with House of Sports, another Netherlands-based agency, covering marketing and sponsorship .
Welcoming the new deal, Bruno Marty, Infront’s senior vice-president of winter sports, said: “Our experience working with the Olympic winter sports federations is unique and we are delighted to significantly expand our relationship with the ISU, now with the aim to further the media exposure of the federation's properties. Our network and expertise and our comprehensive approach in marketing a range of content across multiple distribution platforms were deciding factors. Our dedication to ensure maximum exposure for skating is a clear indication of our commitment to this partnership."
ISU president Jan Dijkema added: “Skating has a global appeal and providing the exciting moments across all disciplines to new and existing fans is one of our core aims. Bringing in Infront as a partner that matches the ISU's passion for the sport underlines our determination to propel our events to new heights including an increasing focus on digital channels for the younger audience. I look forward to working with Infront as we continue to expand the sport to new markets."
Winter sports have been a staple of the Infront offering, and this was reinforced by the recent appointment of Ingolfur Hannesson, formerly of the EBU, as an exclusive strategic adviser. Within that consultancy role, he is focused primarily on future acquisitions and the exploitation of winter sports media rights.
Hannesson retired from the EBU mid-way through last year, having headed up the body's winter sports and indoor sports rights portfolio.
His hire followed Infront's appointment of Julien Ternisien as director of its restructured summer sports business unit. Ternisien had been the EBU’s head of sports rights for summer sports.