Sophie Goldschmidt has served as the Rugby Football Union’s Chief Commercial Officer and a member of the RFU Board since July 2010. As the RFU’s Chief Commercial Officer, Goldschmidt is responsible for all the union’s commercial programs in addition to marketing, digital and resourcing. Her success in growing commercial development during her four years with the National Basketball Association makes Goldschmidt the ideal candidate for leading the RFU through a similar period.
Read Goldschmidt’s full bio at the end of the LifeChat.
On building relationships and enabling innovation
- If you network and build relationships, plus work really hard and show commitment, the opportunities will hopefully come.
- Have a can-do attitude and have a solution-oriented approach.
- A positive is to have experienced different cultures having travelled all over the world for several organizations in a variety of roles.
- I like to work in different parts of the business and I think it lends itself to innovation because you learn how to bring different parts of the business together, cross-pollinate new ideas and learn from others.
LifeChat with Sophie Goldschmidt:
What was your pathway into the sport industry?
I grew up playing a lot of tennis and got a tennis scholarship to Baylor University in the U.S. When I graduated I decided to stay to do my masters in sports management and business.
While I was doing my masters I had to find an internship for the summer and I was fortunate to get one at Adidas, in Portland, Oregon. While I was there, a job opened up in tennis sports marketing, which was my perfect role at the time! It was very lucky timing and I decided to take the job. I didn’t finish my masters as I had one semester left at Baylor, but timing is everything, and I decided I could always go back and finish my masters, which I haven’t yet done!
I worked at Adidas for four years, starting off as a sports marketing support manager and then, I oversaw tennis sports marketing and women’s soccer in the U.S. and internationally.
You left Adidas to work for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and then for the National Basketball Association (NBA). How did you transition from the commercial side to the league and association side?
While I was working at Adidas I met a lot of people from the industry and dealt with the WTA quite a lot. They approached me about a role they had in sponsorship & marketing and after four years at Adidas it seemed like a great opportunity. So I took it, moved to Florida and it was great. I learned a lot during my time at the WTA, I spent my last year and a half with them in London as the VP of Sponsorship and Marketing because we signed a large deal with Sony Ericsson who were based in London, and it was also a good excuse for me to come back home. While I was with the WTA my role broadened to also help manage relationships with the top players.
While I was at the WTA, I met people at the NBA and they were looking to do more internationally. They hired me to do business development and marketing for the NBA in Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). Initially I moved to New York to learn about the organization for six months, then I moved back to the new EMEA headquarters in London, and became the managing director for the NBA in EMEA, which I did for almost five years.
Coming from the tennis world, how did you convince people that these skills could transfer to the basketball and rugby world? Each sport is a different culture and moving between sports like that is challenging – what allowed you to transition so easily?
I am not sure that my role is that unique to be honest. I think the hardest thing is getting into the sports business initially, I was really lucky getting my first break — I happened to know someone who knew someone who needed an intern. Once you’re in, if you get along with people (which I think is key in most areas of life if you want to be successful), then different opportunities will sometimes come up. If you network and build relationships, plus work really hard and show commitment, the opportunities will hopefully come.
I was probably a bit of a novelty because I was from the UK but living in the States, and likewise, having worked for so long in the U.S. but now working back in the UK, this has given me a different perspective. And I think a positive is to have experienced different cultures having travelled all over the world for business and worked for several organizations in a variety of roles.
What’s your approach in tough situations?
I try to have a can-do attitude and have a very solution-oriented approach. I don’t like to hear “no” in response to any answer before every option has been properly explored.
So tell us about a time you heard the word “no” and you decided you weren’t going to take no for an answer.
It happens most days in some form. A “no” that we have turned around at the RFU was when I started in the role. The organization was going through a challenging time on and off the field, we had our five biggest sponsorships up for renewal at the end of the season and the media exposure was not positive.
Our largest sponsor, O2, who had been a great partner and activator for fifteen plus years, was not keen to renew. But we were not going to take no for an answer. I thought that getting them to say yes and getting a brand like this to stay behind us would be such a positive sign externally at a difficult time. So we invited the CEO and his key executives to a dinner to tell them about how we intended to change things and that collectively things would be different in the future. We also invited other members of the RFU Board and the players association to show we were now united and meant it, this type of gathering hadn’t happened before. We ended up renewing and expanding the partnership for four years. That was a big turn around and it was a key moment for us that led to a period of positive momentum and we were able to sign some other important partnerships in the following months.
You have been able to go into these existing organizations and innovate. Whether it’s the Sony Ericsson deal with the WTA, the London games with the NBA, or now as the first CCO and female board member with the RFU, you are constantly going into uncharted territories and building something new. What’s that like?
It’s funny – I’ve never looked at it like that. The roles sort of demand us to be innovative and create new business opportunities. They have all been pretty unique. When I was with the WTA, Larry Scott had just started and we were looking for a title sponsor, it was an exciting time for women’s tennis with new opportunities and that’s how Sony Ericsson came about. We looked to develop new assets that met their brand objectives and introduced some ideas that hadn’t been done before such as the Hawkeye line call challenge system.
When I joined the NBA we had a lot of European players playing in the league. The NBA was financially successful, plus we had, had a lot of success in China so the NBA was willing to try and expand elsewhere including EMEA that I was responsible for. We didn’t take a one size fits all approach, we developed strategies for each key market that would be locally relevant and hence effective.
With the RFU – we have a home rugby world cup coming up in 2015. It’s our opportunity to take the sport to the next level. We want to achieve a lot in a short period of time and have a unique opportunity to do so at all levels of the game. We want to become a more innovative and progressive organization, while not losing the tradition and important values of rugby that makes us different. It’s a balancing act, but through expanding and fully integrating our key partnerships we think we can achieve a lot.
But what enables you to drive and foster so much innovation?
I’m definitely someone who likes variety and to take on new projects. I also like to work in different parts of the business and I think this kind of lends itself to innovation because you learn how to bring different parts of the business together, cross-pollinate new ideas and learn from others. I think it is important to try not to be afraid of failing as you sometimes have to take (calculated) chances to push the boundaries.
I think that as part of my personality I’m always looking for what is next to drive the business and team forward.
I have worked for an incredible group of people. I’ve had several very different bosses that have all had unique approaches and been very smart. They have all been successful in their own right. They have been great role models and mentors, as well as the teams I’ve had around me. I have to say I think I’ve been fortunate with the experiences I’ve had during my career and have tried to grasp the opportunities and keep looking ahead.
Full Biography of Sophie Goldschmidt:
Sophie Goldschmidt has been the Rugby Football Union’s Chief Commercial Officer and a member of the RFU Board since July 2010, joining from the National Basketball Association (NBA) where she was Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa Operations.
The Chief Commercial Officer role at the RFU gives Sophie responsibility for all the union’s commercial programmes in addition to marketing, digital and resourcing. This includes Sponsorship, Business Development, Media Rights, Ticketing, Stadium events, Retail & Licensing, Marketing and Digital, plus all the joint venture operations such as Twickenham Experience Limited (TEL), Marriott Hotel, Virgin Active and England Rugby Travel.
In over four years at the NBA, she spearheaded impressive growth across media distribution, sponsorship, licensing and events in addition to overseeing seven regional offices. She helped lead the NBA’s international efforts with a strong media and grassroots strategy, which included bringing the NBA’s first ever regular season games to Europe. Prior to her time at the NBA, she was the Women’s Professional Tennis Association (WTA) Vice President of Marketing and Sponsorship, developing and overseeing key commercial programmes, including the Sony Ericsson title sponsorship and various partner and marketing platforms including the WTA Tour. Sophie began her career at Adidas where she was the Tennis and Women’s Soccer Sports Marketing Manager in the USA.
The LifeChat Series in Sport was created in partnership with Beyond Sport. More information at www.beyondsport.org.