Franck Guignery was appointed Vice President & Managing Director, EMEA, of IMG last December after playing a key role in the 2018 World Cup as FIFA’s Head of Sales. Guignery first moved to the UAE in 2007 to work for Dubai Sports City and his career has been on an upward curve since. Here, the Frenchman discusses the impact of sport on his personal and professional life with Sport Industry Insider.

Roger Milla’s dancing captured hearts and minds in Africa.
I was born and raised in Ivory Coast and one of my earlier sporting memories is of being glued to the 1990 World Cup on TV because Cameroon made it all the way to the quarter-finals. Roger Milla was their striker, this guy with lots of charisma. Every time he scored he danced with the corner flag. He helped put African football on the map – it was the first time the continent had this type of success. Milla really put the spotlight on Africa in a positive way.

Football was king but basketball came second.
At that time in Africa, there were two sports that were strong. Obviously everybody loved football but basketball really became more popular in the 1990s. It was a golden age and Michael Jordan’s name was on everyone’s lips. He was an amazing player. He was doing movies, he was a role model. Now I think more of what he has achieved from a sports business perspective. Just wow.

France’s Mr Sports Marketing was my mentor.
In my second year of business school I was applying for internships in the sport industry. I sent CVs to Adidas and all these big companies but no one responded. Groupe Jean-Claude Darmon were the only ones who showed an interest. Mr Darmon is the man who invented sport business in France, the equivalent of Mark McCormack in France. I had the chance to become his assistant and I learned so many things. I learned hard work, humility, integrity. When you work for a guy who owns his company, who is at the top of the food chain with no shareholders, it’s a humbling experience. He came from nothing and built this hugely successful company.

Jean-Claude Darmon: France’s Mr Sports Marketing.

Dubai Sports City was my first taste of the region.
It was a different Dubai back in 2007 and it was exciting to be part of it. The entire world wanted to do business in Dubai and working on Dubai Sports City was a great experience. I met with Chicago Bulls and many other huge sports franchises who wanted to come and work with us. I learned about cricket too! As a Frenchman I obviously didn’t know anything about cricket. This was a beautiful experience.

For me, IMG is the pinnacle, the Goldman Sachs of sport.
I first came to IMG in 2010 when Greg Sproule hired me for a one-year consultancy role, focused on commercialisng Yas Marina. When I was working in France, the perception I had of IMG was that it was what you had to aim for, a place for the best in the industry. The founder Mark McCormack basically invented sports business and I idolised the guy. Back then I had two goals, work for IMG and work for FIFA. Happily as I sit here now I’ve done both!

Obviously I’m biased but I do really love IMG. I have worked for many agencies around the world but IMG has that special quality – there is no other agency that can offer such a variety of properties in its portfolio. It always manages to successfully reinvent itself too, for example IMG is now a rights holder as well as an agency. It’s exciting and entrepreneurial. Moving forward, I want to quadruple the size of IMG in two years. You need to have ambitious goals.

I have big shoes to fill at IMG.
Greg Sproule gave me my first shot at IMG and I’m super thankful to him. Greg is the one who allowed me the opportunity to stand to the IMG, no one else. It was him. I feel very comfortable stepping into his old role because I did not take it from him. He left the company, then I fought with other candidates to get the position. Now here I am. Honestly, I’m extremely faithful to all the guys that hired me and all my ex-bosses. For me, they will always be my boss. I’ll always have respect for them.

WME/IMG – Sports Marketing Reel from Gary Gimelfarb on Vimeo.

The Middle East can be a challenging place to work.
Unfortunately, the political instability that you have in the region can make life very difficult. One day everything is okay one day and the following day there is a great deal of tension – such as what we saw in September in Saudi Arabia. It’s a very challenging environment but at the same time, it’s also a very exciting environment because it is always open to change and new things. We see so many mega-events coming to the region – the F1 in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, the Rugby Sevens in Dubai, the World Cup in Qatar. This is a great landscape to be a part of.

Saudi Arabia was a sporting sleeping giant.
This year we managed and put together the first ever European Tour event in The Kingdom on behalf of the Saudi Golf Federation and it was a great success. And we have just organised the first Color Run in the country’s Eastern Province, too. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest markets in the MENA region and we cannot ignore it but of course, we have to be careful how we move forward in Saudi Arabia.

Sports fans in this region are so lucky.
I don’t think people always realise that access to sporting events and to great athletes is better than most places in the world. We have the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship which is unquestionably the best golf event in the region. The delivery, it’s beautiful. It’s an honour to work on this event. We also operate the Mubadala World Tennis Championship and this gives fans the chance to get amazingly close to players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It would be great to see a full ATP tennis event in Abu Dhabi; they have explored the possibility and I definitely think it is still something of interest. But bringing an ATP event does not happen overnight. You need a suitable date on the ATP calendar, the right arena. Still, for sure this could happen one day. 

I’ve watched France win the World Cup… twice!
The final last year in Moscow was something incredible. I lost my voice and I could not talk for two weeks after that. Amazingly I was at the World Cup 20 years before too when I was working for Groupe Jean-Claude Darmon. He was managing the rights of the French national team in 1998 and I met with all the players; I still have the football signed by the squad. Strangely I didn’t go to any World Cups between 1998 and 2018 but there I was again in the stadium, in the final, and France won again. Perhaps I am a good luck charm!

Working for FIFA was a bit of a rollercoaster.
The FIFA World Cup is an amazing competition. Yes it is football but it reaches people who are not big football fans too. My mother might not really care about football but she cares about her country. This is what I love about sport, whether it is the World Cup or the Olympic Games. It should be an easy sell but I joined FIFA right after the scandals, so selling the World Cup in Europe was actually quite difficult. When I arrived we literally still had the FBI guys walking around in the office. I do think it was very smart to bring fresh people in because they don’t carry the stigma of the old management. The role was challenging in many ways – it is a big responsibility to sell the FIFA World Cup – but I evolved a lot in my time with FIFA and it helped prepare me for my role with IMG now.