In the latest of our ‘Sport Industry Insider Meets…’ series, we talk to the former Head of Global Sponsorship and Events for HSBC, Giles Morgan. During his 12 years with HSBC, Giles oversaw the dramatic expansion of the bank’s sports sponsorship portfolio – which includes the likes of the HSBC Sevens World Series and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The Englishman left his role at HSBC last November and is now acting as a consultant for companies looking to maximise the value of their sponsorships. A keen cricketer, golfer, and all-round sports fanatic, Giles reflects on the rich experiences – both personal and professional – that have punctuated his sporting life.

I once knocked up with Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon.
It was definitely one of those ‘pinch yourself’ moments. Bjorn Borg was one of the most important athletes as sport became more and more commercial. Obviously he won Wimbledon five times and countless other Grand Slam titles but it was more the man himself. He was blonde, good looking, and he wore his trademark headband, Donnay racket and FILA kit. He really was one of the pin-up boys of the world in the 1970s as I was growing up, so it was great to meet him when I was running the sponsorship for HSBC. One time he was working with us at Wimbledon and I ended up standing on a court knocking up with him. I remember thinking, ‘I’m playing tennis with Bjorn Borg on a grass court at Wimbledon – it doesn’t really get much better than this.’

My earliest sporting memory is Ian Botham hitting an ice cream van.
I was a member of Somerset County Cricket Club in the mid-seventies and used to go to the ground at Taunton with my father a lot – I think largely because he wanted to get away from his mother-in-law! It was when the careers of Ian Botham and Viv Richards were exploding which was amazing to watch as a young kid. They would fly balls over your head, breaking windows or, in one case, smashing an ice cream van. Those two were just creating something very special at that moment in the game. It was probably the precursor to T20 cricket and ODI cricket before that, throwing off the shackles. Watching two of the superstars of the game playing in a little ground in Somerset is something I’ll never forget.

Seeing sport through the eyes of kids is a joy.
Sport in my lifetime has meant many things, from the camaraderie of competition to business and working life.  Having children has brought a whole new dimension – my kids are 15 and 13 and having watched them embrace sport in the last 5-10 years has been wonderful. My daughter plays hockey and netball, and does athletics too; my son plays rugby, golf and cricket. Watching as a proud parent the joy they get from sport is very special. I do still play some sport myself, including cricket in the summer for an increasingly rotund bunch of individuals. We play for a nomadic cricket side that we founded 30 years ago and play all over the south of England each summer. We were once good and now the older we get, the better we were.

It can be difficult to keep cool when you come face to face with the world’s best.
But you have to remain professional. I’ve been lucky over my career to work and interact with some of the world’s greatest sports men and women. When you’re young it can be a little bit daunting but one of the most important things working in the sports industry is not to be overawed and not to treat sporting heroes as heroes but as professional equals. I’m sure when I retire and look back at some of the friendships I have with some of these top sportsmen and women and the people I’ve met, I think I might grant myself a moment of being open-mouthed at some of those encounters. It is a huge privilege but so far I’ve never allowed it to be anything other than a business relationship.

The UAE is an incredible sporting incubator.
And has been for the past three decades. I’m both excited and impressed by the journey the country has been on in terms of using sport as a vehicle both for tourism but also to put the UAE on the map. Events like the Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship have been a key part of the growth of golf globally – taking the sport beyond the traditional markets of Europe and the United States. It has a very important role in the development of sport and I’m very pleased and proud that two of the events that I was involved with for a long time – the Dubai Sevens and Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – have both been considered award winning and far bigger than just regional sports events – they are global events that have been seen on the international stage. Clearly with the climate, as well as the funding and commitment from within the UAE, it presents a fantastic theatre and backdrop for international sport. I would like to see even more world class events come to the UAE.

Dubai helped rugby sevens become an Olympic sport.
Seeing rugby sevens at the Rio 2016 Olympics may be the proudest moment of my career. We invested a lot of time and money into the HSBC Sevens Series and the two flagship events – in Dubai and Hong Kong – helped demonstrate the global appeal of the game, which ultimately led to the IOC making it an Olympic sport. Dubai has been an instrumental part in the growth of rugby sevens around the world. Of course, Olympic recognition may have happened anyway but I’m sure it would have taken longer had we not pushed the reach of the sport with HSBC.

When I joined HSBC in 2005, there wasn’t a focused sports sponsorship program.
They had experience in sponsorship over the years of course – in Formula One, and the HSBC World Matchplay at Wentworth. But I was able to bring some commercial rigour, some measurements and some real process around evaluation and objectives. We explored why HSBC should spend the money and exactly why sponsorship matters. Why sport was a means to an end in terms of helping with business objectives globally. I explained how sports sponsorship was commercially a valuable investment for the business.

It is wonderful to see that the portfolio continues to evolve. My last two major deals for HSBC were bringing them into cycling in the UK with British Cycling and the final one was being the global partner for the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and the HSBC World Tour – two very big sponsorships. Now HSBC has five Olympic sports – all of those sports resonate with customers in their main markets around the world. I think HSBC is known as one of the most powerful sponsors in the world. If I played a small role in that and whatever they do in the future then I can sit in my armchair and be very proud.

Every journey must come to an end.
Twelve years is an awfully long time and I needed to do other things. I dare say HSBC needed a fresh pair of eyes, too. Leaving the company was tough but it was the right thing to do. I’ve left behind some great friends and colleagues but I am excited about the future. Now I’m offering consulting services to people, whether rights holders, media agencies or brands and sponsors themselves – to help them figure out how to use sponsorship and how to measure it. It’s exactly what I did for HSBC. I have a fairly unique position. I’ve worked in so many different markets around the world in so many different sports. For those who want perspective, I’m able to give it.