In Edition #252 of Industry Insider, we had a conversation with Hash Piperdy about his career in sport so far. Having worked at the likes of Kick It Out, Twitter and IMG, Hash provides valuable insight into working at a variety of different organisations…
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m Hash Piperdy. I’m currently a Consultant at IMG, but for six years before that, I was at Twitter as a content curator and joined them from Kick It Out, where I was a Media and Communications Officer for 18 months when I first moved to London.
I’ve had a winding route into the role I’m in now, including studying something completely different at university. Despite not using my Economics degree on a day-to-day basis now, it helped me in other ways, offering a creative outlet via things like student radio.
What do you do in your current role?
I am a Consultant within IMG’s digital team, helping sports rightsholders & properties with their media strategies across digital platforms and providing guidance on why, how and what they should do.
I work across a range of clients in my current role, including UEFA Champions League football teams and leading names in Formula 1 and the NFL. The 14-year-old me would never have believed that the teams I grew up playing on video games are the ones I work with now.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
There isn’t really an average week. It all depends on the project that we are working on, some are short-term where others are season long. This ranges from researching ideas that an F1 team can use on their channels and pitching them directly to the client. Normally those pitches start with “Now, this is going to sound weird but hear me out…”
We look after Red Bull Racing’s Discord server, so I’ll check in with the community managers as the bridge between them and the team to flag any issues or activations that we might have.
On another day I might be providing a European football team with an assessment of how their digital work compares to elsewhere, or acting as a trusted voice for teams that are looking for a partner for an exciting digital expansion. Or a top-level motor-racing series needing some assessment of their digital properties.
In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve worked with some amazing clients and the thing that links them all is how switched on to the digital landscape they are.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
Sport was an obsession as a kid, but I never thought it would be a career. I studied Economics at university and thought I’d end up drifting towards something in that industry, because I always enjoyed articulating what I learned. Being able to simply explain a complex concept is just as important as the numbers behind it.
Economics was fascinating and frustrating, but when I joined the university’s student radio station in my third year, I loved having a creative outlet. A friend got us press passes to Swansea City and the Ospreys and from there, I was able to try sports commentary and audio editing, interviewing players and coaches. This was a real buzz – I could barely sleep after floodlit Friday night games – and realised that this was something that could be a career with a lot of luck and hard work.
I stayed in South Wales after graduating and helped cover Welsh Premier League teams before joining an agency in Cardiff. After a few years, I moved to London to take a job at Kick It Out, allowing me to work in football and more importantly, do some good.
Later, I saw Twitter was starting a Curation team and jumped at the opportunity to feed my obsession with that social platform. I spent six years at Twitter, working with some incredibly talented people and gaining international experience, but my passion has always been sport and at that time sports coverage online was beginning to change, becoming more and more automated.
I’d been aware of Seven League (now IMG) for years and kept up with Lewis Wiltshire who had moved there from Twitter years ago. I wanted to be back in sport full-time when a Consultant position came up and joined Seven League in the middle of their transition to become part of IMG. Seeing what can be achieved when a smaller, specialist company is acquired by someone with the scale and reach of IMG has been a real eye-opener.
To answer the initial question, it’s been a long journey of opportunities and moving out of my comfort zone a little, but a passion for sport always drove me.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
I spend as much as I can learning about the clients I’m working for. Most people know the history of who they’re working for, and when a Consultant comes in and tells them “have you tried doing it this way?”, the easiest way to lose credibility is not knowing that yes, they have tried this and there’s a good reason we don’t do it like that anymore.
A phrase that’s used a lot around IMG is to “remove friction”. If there are barriers stopping your message getting delivered, remove them as much as possible. One of those examples is getting to know your client as much as possible, both as people and as an organisation.
Working with clients is about trust. For clients, that comes from building genuine, personal relationships with them, rather than something transactional.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
While I was at Kick it Out, I learned that some stakeholders in football are entrenched in their views and it’s difficult to change their minds. It’s not always overt, but it made me realise that the issues Kick It Out are campaigning for are far more deep-seated than something that shows itself on matchdays and then disappears.
The lack of diversity and inclusion is a much wider societal issue, but football has a massive opportunity and platform to improve that for everyone. Changing those opinions is a long-term project that’s making progress but cannot be solved quickly.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
I’m very excited about the quality of people coming through the industry at the first or second job level. Some of the Researchers and Assistant Account Managers we’ve got at IMG are outstanding. Those at the start of their careers now are a lot more well-informed, they’re better prepared and they’re far better at knowing their worth than I ever was.
It’s the people that make this industry and I am a cynical middle-aged man, but whether it’s the people I line manage or IMG’s digital team as a whole, I am genuinely excited about how they will progress in this industry.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
I strongly believe change is slowly starting to happen in the sports industry on equality, diversity and inclusion, but across the board there is still a long way to go. In my career, I’ve been in lots of interviews, meetings, boards, etc. where I am the only non-white person in the room. This doesn’t happen too much anymore, but it still both surprises and doesn’t surprise me when it happens. There are still very few women at the top levels of our industry. Sports is a great industry to work in if you fit a certain profile, but it is up to everyone to ensure that that changes to be more reflective of wider society.
The other thing about sport as a business is that we’re bad at giving people their flowers until after they’ve left or retired. Too often, sport focuses on the match, they celebrate the result and then it’s on to the next one. That mentality sometimes leaks into digital teams and agencies where they get a win and move on to the next one without having the time to think about what they’ve learned or celebrating the people who made it possible. We need to be better as an industry at celebrating the people who make things happen when it happens, rather than when they end their careers or move on to a new job.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Does playing sport count? In August ‘23, I helped cover the AIG Women’s Open and was in awe at these athletes at the tournament. It also gave me an idea to swing a golf club for the first time since I was a lot younger.
So now, whether it’s pitch-and-putt or the driving range, playing golf means I don’t look at my phone for a few hours and walking around a course gives me a reason not to doomscroll. I’ve only played 18 holes once, and went around the course in a casual 131, so there is definitely room for improvement.
Cooking is something I also enjoy – you should definitely ask for my chili recipe – and video games have been part of my life since I was a child. Football Manager and the newest Forza Motorsport are currently taking up a lot of my time, but again, playing these means I’m not looking mindlessly at my phone as much.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Don’t fit in. Don’t even try. Being you is enough. I’ve always tried to be myself at work and would much rather try to add something to a company’s culture than fit into it.
Organisations are at their best when they’re alive with personality and you’re valued both as an employee and as a person. Hiding who you are doesn’t match with that. No matter what level you are or whichever firm you’re at, you can add to who they are as an organisation.
The best organisations are those that embrace this rather than try and make you be the same as everyone else.
How to connect with Hash Piperdy…