Earlier this week, Manchester City Football Club of the Barclays Premier League added iON Cameras to its powerful roster of marketing partners. A multiyear deal designates iON as Man City’s official global sports action camera partner.
As part of the deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed, iON will use its point-of-view cameras—including the Air Pro 3, Speed-Pro and The Game—and Shoot/Share Wi-Fi technology to aid Manchester City players in performance analysis and coaching platforms, enable fans and other soccer players to upload videos, provide fans with behind-the-scenes footage and support iON soccer clinics with educational tools.
Earlier this month, iON, with offices in London, Tokyo and U.S. headquarters in Somerset, N.J., signed a multiyear alliance to become the official and exclusive POV camera for FLW, the global tournament-fishing organization. iON is also an official partner with the U.S. Open of Surfing and Lucas Oil’s Team Lucas (which includes the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series, Late Model Dirt Series, Drag Boat Series and the American Sprint Car Series) and has alliances with the Dew Tour and the PGA Tour.
Manchester City ranked as the No. 9 most valuable soccer franchise in the world by Forbes last year, valued at more than $689 million. The club has a strong fan base worldwide, including more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 9.5 million Facebook “likes.”
Other Manchester City marketing partners include Nike, LG, EA Sports, Heineken and Thomas Cook.
Giovanni Tomaselli, founder and CEO of iON, whose experience includes designing cameras for the likes of Kodak, Casio and Nikon, speaks here regarding the alliance with Manchester City and the pros and challenges of bringing POV action cameras to sports franchises, athletes, fans and consumers.
iON Cameras has alliances with action-sports athletes and organizations, but is this the first soccer alliance and first alliance with a team rather than an individual athlete?
Yes. When you look at the sports-imaging category, there is a big player out there, GoPro. They’ve done a lot of great things; opened up a lot of doors. But they are more of a media company than an imaging company. And their focus is in the extreme-sports world. We participate in that space, but we see ourselves as having a major impact with mainstream sports. There is a huge market here. We recently signed on to work with the FLW and the PGA Tour. In January, we acquired PowerChalk, a Web-based sports analytic, coaching, teaching and scouting platform. So now we are going to combine their expertise with our cameras into more mainstream sports, including soccer.
How and why did the Manchester City partnership come about?
We have an office in the U.K., so we have strong ties with the sports community there. Soccer, or football as it’s known around the world, was where we wanted to have our first mainstream sports inroad because of its tremendous popularity around the world. Although based in the U.K. in the English Premier League, Manchester City has millions of followers worldwide and is making major inroads in the U.S. as partner owners, along with the New York Yankees, of New York City FC, which will start play in 2015 in Major League Soccer. So we see Man City as a perfect vehicle to not only have a perfect platform on the international soccer stage, but to also leverage its association in the U.S. with the New York City FC, which is part of our rights.
Why do you feel that you can speak to Manchester City’s global fan base?
We already have a global presence. We have offices around the world and distribution in more than 50 countries via third-party distributors. And the appeal of having one of the top ten [soccer] franchises on the planet is tremendous. This is not just a sponsorship deal. It is a partnership deal. We are going to be working with them to develop imaging within the game, to integrate imaging within the stadium, onto second screens, having sideline cameras, streaming the images and sound bites to people on the field and off the field, iON fan booths in BT City Square [Manchester City’s fan entertainment zone]. There are a lot of interesting things we plan to do with Manchester City. And they are a very influential club, so people will listen to them. They have a huge number of fans, which means a lot of potential customers.
The popularity of the EPL in the U.S. has grown in the past couple of years, especially with theNBC Sports Networknow airing its games on a weekly basis. How do you plan to take advantage of that?
We have a lot of plans in mind. We’ve already talked to the boys on Man City about working with them when they come to the U.S. this summer, after the FIFA World Cup. They will be part of the Guinness International Champions Cup [11-city U.S.] tour, along with Manchester United, Roma, Milan, Real Madrid, Internazionale, Olympiakos and Liverpool. Liverpool and Man City will have a match in Yankee Stadium [scheduled for July 30], so we will have access to the players. There will be autograph signings, activations with some of our retailers, other things of that nature. We also anticipate working with MLS and NBC, with whom we have strong ties.
How do you plan to best take advantage of your iON cameras in soccer with Manchester City?
This deal will allow us to help Manchester City coaches develop youth teams and players, which is part of iON’s core philosophy, and also showcase how sport and technology can work excellently together. We will work, as I mentioned, with PowerChalk, to work with coaches at all levels to make the techniques and skills of the game accessible to coaches, trainers and others who work with athletes.
Can you talk about iON’s alliances in baseball?
PowerChalk is the official coaching tool of Little League Baseball. They work with [MLB] teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds as a private platform for their coaching and scouting, and the Yankees are about to do the same. So we [would be] able to use the cache of Manchester City, which is a powerful sports franchise, and its players, who are aspirational and very influential, to compile a library of all the skills and moves of the game, and then share that library with others.
If you are now working with Manchester City and the New York Yankees, do you foresee expanding your relationship with MLS and MLB?
I’m not at liberty to talk about future alliances and what’s going on behind closed doors. But, yes, the potential is there. Let me put it this way: We are aggressively going after mainstream sports.
Do you have an exclusive deal in the EPL with Manchester City or could you sign on with Manchester United or Arsenal, for example?
We are not exclusive to Man City; we can engage other clubs if they are interested. But, obviously, we don’t see ourselves doing that. With Manchester City, with the Yankees, this is where we want to be to let people know what we are going. We are not restricted to Manchester City, but we are not looking to do this with other [EPL] clubs.
Manchester City has a group of top sponsors. Have you had the opportunity to sit with them to talk about joint marketing or ways to cross-promote your objectives?
We will, and I’m really looking forward to that. There are a lot of great things we can do with them. Whenever we do a partnership, franchise holders are big advocates of cross-promoting. [In December], when we did the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., Mountain Dew and Toyota were key partners.
Who are some of your athlete endorsers?
We recently signed Jeremy McGrath [retired seven-time AMA Supercross champion, now racing the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series], Kelly Clark [three-time Olympic medalist in snowboarding, including a bronze in Sochi], Manny Santiago [skateboarding], Nick Goepper [a bronze medal winner in slope-style free skiing in Sochi], Scotty Lago [snowboarding], Corey Bohan [BMX] and Reef McIntosh [surfing]. We definitely have a solid roster.
How do you see the union of iON and ChalkTalk translating from Manchester City to kids in youth soccer, for example?
Many parents don’t have the time to teach their kids the technical skills of a sport. If you are not teaching it on regular basis, many people are not aware of the true mechanical skills needed for soccer, baseball and other sports. But we can take our iON The Game camera, attach it to a batting cage, and then film the ball being pitched and the batter swinging. Or attach it to a soccer net when a player is taking a penalty kick. You can send that video to the coach and have them watch it with the player. One of the powerful things that ChalkTalk can do is telestrating. A coach or instructor can watch a video on-screen and put that on-screen alongside a video of a penalty kick from our library. Coaches or instructors can then telestrate what their player is doing, what they need to change, how they need to correct the position of their body. Now with Manchester City and soon New York City FC, having access to their players, coaches and all their knowledge, retailers will see this as a point of differentiation.
Given the pace in which technology changes, what are we looking at in the next generation of sports action cameras?
I’ve been designing cameras for more than 15 years. The process we follow is always two to three years out. So we already know basically what the technology can deliver in three years. The forward thinking is one of the things that we are really good at. It’s like The Jetsons. You think about the most futuristic thing that you want. Then you peel back the onion and figure out what can be developed and what at this point in time can’t, and at the right price point.
How would you describe your mission statement?
One of the key mandates in our mission statement is to be inclusive. The reality is that almost anything that you want to do in the world of imaging can be done—at a price. What we want to do is to get approved by the major leagues, but then be available to high schools, or to people running games in recreational centers. To make the technology available to everyone. We want this to become not just an essential tool for the teams but also for the fan. If we can tap into that in the right way and message it correctly, we will enjoy some solid growth.
What is your realistic Jetsons outlook for the category?
This category has changed dramatically in the past 12-15 months. There is a lot of development happening in the drawing room. So you can imagine what might be coming. Referee-cams. Cameras inside balls. Cameras on pylons. There is a lot of cool stuff coming.
This interview was reprinted with permission of NYSportsJournalism.com.
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