In Edition #235 of Industry Insider, we sat down with the Founder of WeAreNinety, Charlie Weir! He has worked for some huge sporting organisations such as EA Sports, The FA and Chelsea…
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hi, I’m Charlie Weir and I’m the founder at WeAreNinety, a newly formed sports marketing collective (micro agency) specialising in commercial, marketing activation, athletes, talent and creative for brands in sport, bringing them closer to the global sports audience.
I founded WeAreNinety in July 2022, having previously worked for EA SPORTS for just under five years, leading football partnership marketing and activation across Northern Europe. Before EA I worked for The Football Association in a marketing capacity, delivering marketing for FA Competitions, including The Emirates FA Cup, Women’s FA Cup and The People’s Cup. Earlier in my career I held roles at Chelsea Football Club, IMG and McCann.
Originally from South Manchester, I moved to London in 2013 after finishing my degree in Sports Marketing at Sheffield Hallam, finding it challenging to land a job in sport, I embarked on a Sports Marketing Masters at Birkbeck University of London, before securing my first full time job with IMG at Wembley Stadium, from there everything started to fall into place.
Outside of work, sport, family and our little Bocker (Beagle x Cocker Spaniel) keep me busy. During the ‘golden years’ of my sporting career you would have found me playing over 350 non league football matches for a staggering 17 different clubs! Now I’ve hung up the semi-pro boots, it’s golf and Crossfit, although the two don’t overly compliment each other!
What do you do in your current role?
Good question… currently, as WeAreNinety establishes itself in the market, a bit of everything really, business management, new business, talent management, marketing, pitching, networking… even finance!
My time at EA, The FA & Chelsea has afforded me the opportunity to build a large and trusted network across rights holders, brands, athletes, agents, creators and influencers, I’m now using these relationships and equity held from my previous roles to drive the four focus areas for WeAreNinety – commercial, activation, talent & creative.
At current, I’m enjoying moving everything forward simultaneously, spinning plates, before we look to establish leads for each business area. No day is the same, it’s exciting!
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
This is why I love sport and our industry. I know it’s a cliche but because every week is so varied, often centered around key sporting events and activation – it really doesn’t often feel like work!
Life building a start-up ‘micro agency’ in sport reflects the industry, and then some! It’s currently very new, exciting and with that, unpredictable. I’ve set the business up to be agile & lean – small teams made up of specialists and other outfits who know their stuff inside out. I’ve found smaller teams make it much easier to focus on quality across the board – meaning we can reach new and unexplored places, faster.
To summarise though, currently my working week varies significantly. From completing our first annual statement and tax return the other week – a first for me, to connecting with rights holders and brands, networking, new business, to managing our talent, attending appearances and shoots. This week I’ve had six new business meetings, responded to two briefs, one pitch presentation, managed two talent appearances and will attend a EA SPORTS x SoccerAid appearance this Friday…. All whilst trying to book flights to Istanbul for the UCL Final! (I’m a City fan).
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
As so many before me, that age old cliche, I wanted to be a professional footballer, but never quite made it. It was my earliest dream and if I’m being honest with myself, I still to this day sit and watch professional players and think I could do a job – who couldn’t score five goals a season playing in Manchester City’s front line, am I right?
A youth career playing for Macclesfield Town and Altrincham FC led me to the non-league pyramid and after joining Leek Town on a decent wage, who at that time were in the National Conference, I quickly learned how fickle football can be. I didn’t score for six games and before I knew it I got sent out on loan, and never made it back to the heights of the conference league, that said, I did manage a few hundreds games across the Northern Premier League and Counties Leagues – so we’ll take that.
It was when I was an Altrincham as a youth, that I made the decision to put full focus into my studies and learning. If I wasn’t going to be a pro, I was sure as dammit going to work in football. I’d say I was laser focussed on working in sports and football business from about 17 years old. Everything I’ve done since then was part of a master plan I hatched in 2007.
I knew education and learning would open doors in sport, so I headed to Sheffield Hallam University in 2009, after a year spent building squash courts for ex Man City legend Ian Brightwell, but that’s a story for another time. At Hallam I studied Sports Business Management and with the help of mentor & tutor Mike Kent, Owner of Kitlocker, managed to squeeze a first class honors. Again being honest, I spent the first two years at University mainly playing football, probably four games a week, and going to the gym, that said, in the final year I did step it up.
Landing a first kick started further ambition – leaving home, Manchester, and trying to make something of myself in the ‘big city’, London. Even with my first from SHU I couldn’t get a job in sport for love nor money, so I headed to the big smoke without a job. I used my savings from building squash courts to cover my first six months rent and fund my masters at Birkbeck University of London. The next two years were a slog. Birkbeck is an evening University and I attended evening lectures and seminars every Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 6pm – 9pm for two years, whilst holding down a full time job for IMG at Wembley stadium – you’ll hear me mention working hard and earning your stripes, these were my ‘stripe earning years’. I emerged from Birkbeck and a pile of textbooks in 2015 with a masters in Sports Marketing and at this point was working as Digital Marketing Executive for Chelsea Football Club.
The rest is well, history. I’ve worked with and learnt from some of the best in the industry and feel extremely privileged to have met and worked with some of sport and football’s biggest stars.
Now I’m in the process of building WeAreNinety using all the knowledge and relationships I’ve acquired along the way…
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Right now, it’s three fold, is that allowed? – ethos, growth and purpose.
For as long as I remember my work ethos was always getting things done, properly. I pride myself in the detail, working hard and always delivering. If a job is worth doing…then it’s worth doing well.
Lately, when thinking about growing WeAreNinety I’m focusing on ways to change the agency narrative… Why can’t the ‘little teams’ take on the big briefs? The rise of the micro agency or ‘collective’ is now. Smaller operations can build bespoke teams based on clients’ needs and wants, and importantly keep the budget lean. We have a black-book of specialists, suppliers and skilled contractors primed to ready-up and deliver results.
And most importantly, its purpose and cause work – doing something for the greater good. WeAre about to announce a partnership with Our Future Health – the UK’s largest ever health research programme, helping them to raise awareness and recruit volunteers through sports partnerships, leveraging the large and, diverse audience that sport has – we need the industry’s help to engage the nation.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I left Chelsea Football Club in September 2015 to join Synergy, a Sports Sponsorship agency and really, really struggled – ironic I know, now that I’m the founder of my own business in a very similar space.
I seem to recall as an impressionable youngster I was going through my ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Suits’ phase and thought I could reign supreme in the sport ad agency world… The dream unfortunately only lasted a mere six months before I was clambering to back rights holder side with The FA – for some much-needed leadership and stability.
I hadn’t at that stage in my career carved out a niche and found myself in a digital role that wasn’t best suited to my skill set, which in turn led to me feeling that I was under performing, having a detrimental effect on my health and wellbeing. It was all valued learning though, and now I have the experience and network in place am relishing being back on this side.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
A much-needed focus on driving positive change in society and the world we live in, whether corporate social responsibility, equality, diversity, inclusion, and more. Using sport to change lives excites me, we have such a powerful tool and platform in our hands – in my opinion there’s no greater platform that can drive change, for the greater good. It’s both exciting and much welcomed to see rights holders and brands using their platforms and audience this way.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
Remuneration in the sport industry is notoriously poor, we need to move past the days of offering and taking lower wages for the “privilege” of working in sports.
There’s an expectation that because it’s a passion for most, it’s exciting, it’s fun, that it should be seen as a privilege to work in sport – now I know it’s not rocket science, but my experience has allowed me to work with, and for, some of the hardest working, talented and determined people out there and i can guarantee their equivalents in others industries are paid 20-30% more… let’s recognise experience, talent, performance, culture and work ethic accordingly.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Being honest, I found the balance really challenging at EA SPORTS. I was looking after a lot of major league and club partners, managing two direct reports and a wider agency team.
The work at EA came thick and fast, due to the live service nature of FUT, meaning we were activating rights on a weekly basis, all year long, it never really stopped. Launch was just the beginning, ultimately, we had a product launch every month of the year whether it was Black Friday, FUTMas, Team of The Season, Rulebreakers, Ones to Watch… the campaigns go on.
The volume of work paired with a continuous drive to further my development, build a high performing team & progress my own career at EA, led to burnout. It led me to leaving a job I loved in pursuit of taking more control of my own destiny…
You’re probably thinking surely building a start-up isn’t advised for work life balance, right? From the frying pan into the fire… well not entirely. So far… I’ve found that when I need to put the hours in, I can, but also when I need to slow down, I have control of that too. Currently it’s working well, and as we look at a few key hires, I’m excited about nurturing talent and ensuring we have a well-balanced work life culture.
Now to answer the question…sport, my family and our dog. I’m a strong believer that there’s nothing better for both mental and physical health than sport – I’ve always been a sportsperson, but I would say I sometimes lose sight of that when I’m really busy with work. Since leaving EA and starting WeAreNinety I’ve made a conscious effort to exercise 5 times a week – without fail. The endorphins alone from a good workout or a cycle are enough to kickstart a productive working day.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Enjoy it, if you get the chance to work in sport – work hard & enjoy it!
I’ve always said, what we do isn’t rocket science…we aren’t brain surgeons or astrophysicists, it’s sport & marketing. The Sports industry is tight knit & super competitive, because generally speaking, the sum of its parts are sports enthusiasts, competitive sports people with an innate will to win and drive to succeed.
Hard work. Passion. Enthusiasm and being ‘good people’ will serve you right. Grasp opportunities with both hands and earn your stripes.
How to connect with Charlie Weir and WeAreNinety…