In three short years, two Canberra mates have taken their solution for managing sporting sponsorship contracts across much of the globe to help create the world’s biggest sports technology company.
After launching in 2015, their Canberra-based sponsorship activation platform SponServe has been acquired by United States sports management company, KORE Software, a global leader in sponsorship and season ticket sales management.
SponServe solved how to manage tedious, time-consuming monitoring of sponsorship programs and then took its solution swiftly abroad.
It all began in late 2010 when then sponsorship manager for the Brumbies, Mark Thompson, was telling his friend Daniel Oyston how tiresome it was plotting and monitoring the Super rugby team’s sponsorship program. Daniel, who was running marketing consultancy Content Gasshopper, urged him to do some research. That started the ball rolling.
Mr Thompson says following the acquisition, all SponServe shareholders have exited. He will remain with a new title as head of international business, running KORE across the world except for America, and broaden his previous role to include KORE’s software business. His two offices will be in Canberra and London.
In the lead-up to launching SponServe, Mr Thompson travelled to the US, UK and throughout Australia which revealed just how difficult tracking sponsorship programs was with the only available method being a spreadsheet. He and Mr Oyston saw a thumping-great global market if they could create the right technology.
Their work led to approaching a contact of Daniel’s, and just the developer they needed in Tim Canham who came on board to help with a prototype solution which they tested with Touch Football Australia, the Canberra Raiders and Netball ACT. Their first sale came in July 2015.
SponServe’s plug-in solutions help commercial teams to better monitor, manage and maximise the value of partnerships for the likes of Williams F1, Scarlets Pro14 Rugby, AS Roma, 7 Premier League teams, the NRL, Cricket Australia and the Brisbane Broncos among many others.
SponServe’s acquisition will swell KORE Software’s already-impressive international footprint.
“Three years was a short runway, but we had a written target of building a business, dominate Australia and the UK markets, then selling within three years,” Mr Thompson says. “We achieved all those targets. We are now part of the biggest sports technology company in the world,” he says.
“We knew about KORE three years ago, they didn’t do what we did, we saw a gap in the market. As their CEO put it to me, over time we started building at opposite ends of the tunnel, and when we started reaching each other’s lights, that was the right time to have the conversation,” Mr Thompson says.
KORE sold a majority shareholding, and Mr Thompson saw a press release about the sale and warned his shareholders the new owners would be coming to take them on in their territory. Less than 24 hours later the people who bought KORE rang him.
Mr Thompson admits there were times early when the job of starting an international organisation looked so enormous he wanted to walk away.
“We were lucky, we had a lot of really good positive clients, the staff we were able to attract were very loyal, the positives outweighed the negatives,” he says.
“ When you see big changes in international sporting teams coming off the back of an idea we had in Canberra, it kind of motivates you to keep on pushing,” he says.
Mr Thompson says Canberra has an edge in that everyone in the business community supports one another. The ACT Government helped, with funding support for three trips to the UK which culminated in deals with Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
Canberra’s lifestyle also helped. A former Sydney resident until 2009, Mr Thompson says he saw his children twice as much as he would have, fighting Sydney’s traffic.
“When you have the lifestyle and your family around you more, you kind of believe you can keep cracking on and change your life for the better.”
Today, more than $13.8 billion (US$10 billion )in sponsorship assets flow through KORE’s platform every year. The acquisition will see SponServe become a KORE Software product in a move billed as one of the most important in sponsorship administration, delivery, and reporting.
In a statement, KORE Software chief executive Todd Cusolle said: “We’re delighted to welcome SponServe to the team and are extremely excited to see it as part of the KORE suite of products, expanding our offer globally.
“KORE’s fundamental aim to help businesses sell smarter, act faster and engage deeper are perfectly complemented by Sponserve’s approach. Ultimately, it is a business which allows brands and rights holders to spend less time reporting and monitoring their partnerships, and more time building relationships with one another. The fit for us is perfect and we look forward to showcasing our new enhanced offer to customers.”