Kyle de Klerk, Director: Sports Commercial & Business at The Walt Disney Company Africa is the local commercial face of ESPN and has travelled an interesting road, having started his career with Reed Exhibitions in 2005, before his first foray into the sports space with Chelsea FC in 2007.
Q: Prior to joining The Walt Disney Company in 2019, you spent nearly seven years with Chelsea Football Club between 2007 and 2013. What was what it like working in English football and what did you learn?
A: It was an incredible experience. During that period I witnessed the club win the English Premier League, saw two Champions League finals, a Europa League victory, and several domestic cups. Off the pitch, the commercial learnings and guidance of senior execs was invaluable for my development in the sports industry. Some of the standout lessons include the value associated with a successful/winning/progressive brand and how that can translate to exponential commercial growth both in local and global markets. Other key learnings include how to harness fans’ passion for business opportunities, how a matchday football experience can be as good as a dinner at a Michelin star-rated restaurant, and how important clubs are to the local community and uplifting those around them. Plus, I met my wife there, so it was a valuable experience!
Q: Beyond the obvious of getting viewers to watch its product, what does ESPN want to achieve in the South African and broader African markets?
A: ESPN offers our viewers in Africa a slightly different experience to what they might be accustomed to. The content on the channel is very US-centric and adds a new, exciting offering to the existing traditional codes of rugby, cricket, soccer etc that are on viewers’ screens. We certainly hope to generate interest in and support for sports such as ice hockey, baseball, American football and basketball, as well as our compelling documentaries and sports news programming. We are also passionate about playing a role in showcasing and developing sports on the continent, be it through the airing of the inaugural Basketball Africa League, the West African Football Union Cup, or local boxing, and we certainly believe we have an exciting platform with which to be part of Africa’s great sports storytelling.
Q: As Director: Sports Commercial & Business: The Walt Disney Company Africa, what do you regard as your primary focus and areas of responsibility?
A: Connecting ESPN’s robust programming, unique brand promise and diverse offering to new viewing audiences across the continent in a way that is locally relevant and engaging continues to be a main driver of our team’s activity. In addition, we continue to seek out global rights to new and exciting leagues, both US and non-US, to complement our live sports broadcasts. For example, viewers can catch the NRL from Australia, the Dutch Eredivisie and Turkish Super Lig exclusively on ESPN. And finally, as alluded to, we continue to identify local properties that have an opportunity for global appeal.
Q: Are you currently working from home or the office, and how have you adapted to the change in work routine?
A: I am currently working from home, but have started to visit the office on a weekly basis. I think the change in work routine certainly was a challenge to begin with and, personally, I have missed the opportunity to sit and discuss ideas with colleagues and experience that excitement when a positive business outcome is secured, in person.
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Q: What does your daily routine look like? Early mornings or late nights?
A: These days and like most parents, the day starts in a panic to ensure the children are dressed, fed, packed and on time for school. This is followed by a gym session or a run to clear my mind before the start of the work day – something I am really enjoying as, pre-Covid, my routine was very different and included quite a bit of time at airports travelling. I do value the time in the evening, once things have settled down, to get through any pressing work matters or relax and watch some TV (ESPN obviously!)
Q: How do you cope with stress and how do you unwind?
A: On a personal level, I believe that a healthy and active lifestyle is key in helping combat the stresses associated with work and everyday general life. When feeling consumed or under pressure, there is nothing better than being able to clear your mind with a run, a round of golf, a cycle, a gym session, meditation, yoga etc. When I am able to, I feel most at ease when leaving Jo’burg for the bushveld or a fishing trip – and, after living abroad for several years, places like our beaches, winelands, bush etc are something I am incredibly appreciative of having, right on our doorstep.
Q: What do you view as the biggest impact of Covid-19 on the way sport is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
A: It goes without saying that the pandemic has impacted all number of industries, not to mention the sports industry, immensely. The cancellation of games/seasons, the impact on ticketing, eventing, merchandising etc all have had a knock-on impact on commercial operations. This has required a major overhaul of strategy and business priorities across the board, and a call to be innovative and adaptive to change – and we have seen some really great innovations, such as the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World, for example. Leading on from this, and as a major personal takeaway, is rethinking the way we connect to the fans and viewers in new and different ways. Like many forms of content, sport is now, more than ever, consumed beyond the field and matchday, and fans are hungry to continue the journey with their favourite teams across social and digital platforms, seeking engagement with new and exciting content and platforms. With the fans and viewers now taking centre stage, the opportunity to meet them where they are cannot be overstated.