Special to Soccer Report Extra.
Matt Lorenzo has spent his entire working career covering football. He was the first presenter on Sky TV when it launched in 1993 and has anchored World Cup Finals and Champions League coverage as well as being involved in many aspects of the game in England.
Matt has hosted the Soccerex Business of Football Conference – the largest in the world – since its inception in 1996.
The biggest football conference in the world began in the early nineties when Duncan Revie, son of Leeds manager Don, accompanied his sister and his wife to a music industry convention in Manchester. He didn’t want to go and his mind began to wander soon after they arrived.
Revie wondered why nothing similar had ever been done for football. The idea was born and became reality a couple of years later, in 1996, at Wembley stadium. Revie is a Cambridge-educated lawyer who worked in the City before forming a hospitality company which eventually merged with Keith Prowse, one of the world’s biggest ticket agencies.
He called on his extensive contacts book to populate the first event. His dad’s old team played their part – Jack Charlton and Johnny Giles were there, they were joined by former England team-mates Gordon Banks and Geoff Hurst and a large selection of footballing glitterati. Joining them nearly a thousand delegates whose curiosity matched their aim to do business.
Back in the seventies, Don Revie and a sportswriter called Peter Lorenzo would holiday together during the close season. Their sons had known each other a while. It was time for the pair of them to put that friendship to some good use.
Matt Lorenzo was a host for the breakfast TV station GMTV at the time. It was fairly easy for Duncan to bag a live interview which would secure nationwide publicity for the inaugural Soccerex. Only Revie ducked the interview at the last minute to present Soccerex Chairman Tony Martin with his debut on national television.
Martin later described it as one of the most terrifying experiences of his life. Revie explained his absence, somewhat weakly, by protesting that he hadn’t realised breakfast television involved such an early start.
Martin, meanwhile, forgave his partner. A successful businessman, his support and that of Rita Revie, Duncan’s wife and the company COO, has kept the Soccerex idea alive through thick and thin. And the thin times were close to anorexic.
The events of September 11th meant Soccerex 2001, planned for Dubai, had to be cancelled. It was rescheduled for March the following year but the delay cost fortunes. Revie admits he flew to the Middle East in the Spring of 2002 without the money to pay his hotel bill, let alone finance the biggest B2B football conference on Earth. He found his backing in just three weeks, signing the final contract only hours before Soccerex 2002 began.
Soccerex survived that scrape with the bottom of the barrel. As it did the Gulf War – which made many think again about a trip to Dubai. Revie really started to see the wood for the trees when Gauteng Province agreed to host the event in the three years running up to the South African World Cup in 2010.
With the main conference secured, Revie looked to spread the word globally via a series of two day forums – back to Dubai, in Manchester, Singapore and with others planned for Sun City in South Africa and various venues in Australia.
After Wembley in 1996 it was clear to Martin and the Revies that Soccerex had fired a good shot at an undefended market. The event returned to Wembley the following year and then moved Paris – where UEFA President Michel Platini cut the ribbon – Los Angeles, Old Trafford and eventually to a six year residency in Dubai.
Revie found the Emirate a welcoming host thanks in no small measure to the esteem in which his father is held there. Revie Senior’s move to the Gulf attracted damning headlines at home but his contribution to the game in the Middle East made him a hero, and time has since cast a gentler and fairer light on the Leeds legend’s contribution to the game.
But what of Soccerex and its place in the football firmament? Revie remember the first conference as “a good exhibition” with around 1,000 delegates, but admits that there were “not too many paying for their entrance back then”.
“But from small acorns to great oaks and we now have established ourselves and are where I thought we’d be,” he says. “I didn’t think it would take 14 years mind you, I thought it would take seven!”
Soccerex describes itself as the Global Leader for the business of football. The company now hosts events on three continents a year (increasing to four from 2011), as well as other smaller networking events throughout the year. The premise is based on the value in members of the football industry getting together to meet fellow key players to hammer out deals in hours when travelling from contact to contact would take months.
Part of the event includes several floors of trade stands – if you are in the business of selling plastic turf, for example, there is only one place to meet your customers all at once and all in the same place.
“For a club with global ambitions like FC Barcelona, attendance at Soccerex is almost a must,” says Daniel Schloesser, CMO of FC Barcelona, “It creates a great platform to efficiently meet a large number of players in the market, be it agencies, sponsors, technology suppliers or other clubs and institutions. It is a birth place for new ideas and a place to forge relationships created previously, like the strategic relationship with the MLS.”
A programme of forums and panels takes place throughout the conference, overseen by Matt Lorenzo, now the company’s Head of Media, and, like ,any others who were there at the start, still a part of the family. Leading figures in the game discuss their ideas and then take questions from the floor. Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in world football, regularly opens proceedings.
And it was at Soccerex that Herr Blatter revealed plans to dock Manchester United points for every game Rio Ferdinand played whilst awaiting a hearing on a missed drugs test – a world exclusive. Blatter says “When football meets the economy and football meets media, it is Soccerex.”
Revie says Soccerex is “by a mile” the biggest convention of its kind, and is now expanding into other areas such as consultancy and recruitment as well as internet broadcasting. “In terms of a B2B conference it makes even general sports conferences look relatively small,” he says. “We’ve got five days out in Rio de Janeiro with 4-5,000 delegates. There’s nothing to compare to it.”
This year, Soccerex has erected a beach football stadium on Copacabana Beach for a celebrity tournament involving the likes of Ruud Gullitt, Zico, Leonardo, Ossie Ardiles, Phil Thompson and more than a few others. For the gala dinner, Sugar Loaf Mountain will double as a gigantic screen for a film depicting the heroes of Brazilian Football, narrated by Carlos Alberto Torres, who captained the legendary side which lifted the World Cup in 1970. Then he and the surviving members of his team will join the Soccerex family – footballing greats, VIPs and delegates for dinner atop the mountain and under the stars.
The whole of Rio will bear witness to the event, and the world of football will know all about it too. Soccerex has come a long way from an exhibition hall next to the old Wembley Stadium. As Revie says, “Of course it’s about business, but it’s about football first and always foremost. We never forget that.”
The Global Convention is set to open in Rio de Janeiro November 20 and runs until November 24. You can check out the Soccerex website.
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