10?’s with NFL’s Sameer Pabari
Sameer, thanks so much for agreeing to do this. We're delighted to have you answering 10 Questions. Here we go...
You’ve had an incredible career at some of the world’s greatest sports properties. Can you tell us how it all began?
Like so many people who work in sport, I ended up getting my first job in the sector by chance. I studied Economics at university and started my career working in strategy consulting. I loved the intellectual challenge, but after a few years really wanted to be part of a team running a business rather than simply being an adviser. It was while I was working at OC&C Strategy Consultants that I met and worked with Andy Anson who went on to become the commercial director at Manchester United. When he offered me the opportunity to join one of the biggest football clubs in the world it was too good an offer to turn down and the rest is history.
We met many years ago, whilst you were at Manchester United. What was it like to work at what some would say as the world’s biggest football club?
It was a tremendous privilege to work for an institution with such a storied history, truly global reach, and some fantastic personalities both on and off the pitch. My office was at Old Trafford and I loved the energy of games days, powered by the unlimited passion of the fans. Sir Alex was managing the team and had created a culture of excellence and innovation that spread throughout the whole organisation which continuously tried to improve all aspects of the club and never settled for the status quo.
Do you think you have to be a fan of sport to work in sport?
I do. I don’t think you necessarily need to be a die-hard fan of the team or sport that you may work in as you’re likely to work for several organisations in your career. However, undoubtedly I think you need an appreciation of sport to truly create an affinity with fans, to understand what the sport means to them and local communities and to be able to harness the power of sport to deliver positive change.
Later in your career, you worked at Discovery. Can you tell us what you did there?
I looked after strategy and business development for Eurosport, working primarily on growing Eurosport’s digital business. This was a mixed bag of responsibilities that included forming a joint venture with a tech company to power the Eurosport Player (a streaming service for sports fans), running the digital editorial teams, developing the social strategy for the Olympics, and ultimately consolidating Eurosport’s position in cycling through the acquisition of the Global Cycling Network. I learned a huge amount during my four years at Discovery at a time when the disruption of the traditional pay-TV industry was well underway. As a team, this forced us to be both creative and agile as we worked to secure the long-term future of the business in the face of rapidly changing consumer behaviour.
And now you are Managing Director of International Media at NFL. How does this compare with some of your earlier challenges?
I love working at the NFL. As possibly the most commercially sophisticated rightsholder it has always been an organisation and a management team that I have greatly respected. Hence I leapt at the chance to run the league’s international media business. Over the course of my career, I’ve always worked at the intersection of sports, media and technology. What’s unique about my role at the NFL is the opportunity to build a challenger sport in markets outside the US. Clearly being the number one sport in the world’s largest market provides invaluable resource and expertise, and it’s our job as the international team to leverage this foundation to build a broader fan base finding the right balance between fan growth and commercial development. It’s a truly global role and I enjoy the experience of working with different partners from Shanghai to São Paolo.
What are you working on right now?
Figuring out the next stage of our direct-to-consumer strategy. How to deliver a truly innovative digital experience to fans that brings them closer to the sport and each other.
What has been your toughest day at the office?
There have been plenty of them! Not sure I can pick one. However, I would say one of the toughest periods was managing the team responsible for Eurosport’s digital output during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It was Discovery’s first Olympics and I was parachuted into the role relatively last minute hence I had to organise the team and finalise our editorial plans with little time to spare. Over 16 days we produced thousands of pieces of content in over ten languages across multiple platforms. It was a real grind, long hours, and absolutely freezing. But at the same time an absolute career highlight. The camaraderie was absolutely fantastic, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my team and what we achieved.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into sports as a profession?
I would say try to be as specific as possible as to which part of the industry sports you’d like to work in. Within sport, you could pursue multiple careers, for example in media or sponsorship or social marketing or event management. The nature of the work in each area varies greatly and requires very different skill sets. Personally, I love the challenge of creating strategy to succeed in the face of market disruption and the cut and thrust of negotiations (no doubt the argumentative side of my personality coming to the fore). Hence working on media deals suits me to a tee. Try to figure out what you enjoy and where you can excel then map this onto the sports industry to figure out where you’d have the most impact. It’s not always easy so don’t be shy in reaching out to people already in the industry who can provide an insider’s view of what their role really entails.
When you’re not working, what keeps you busy?
I love keeping fit and typically workout a few times a week. Pre-lockdown I had a regular Saturday morning spin class which I never missed. Who knows when and how classes might start up again so I think it might be time to splurge on that Peloton bike.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a young kid, I dreamt of being a fireman. I loved the big red engines. But later, fuelled by my passion for film, TV, and other forms of entertainment and culture I knew I wanted to work in the media industry in some form.
Design by Mark Williams
Photos courtesy of Sameer Pabari