Hey! My name is Ivan Kraljević and I’m thrilled that you have come to visit my Sports Bite blog. I am a sports marketer with a background in FMCG marketing. Sports Bite blog contains my thoughts on various topics in sports business, sports marketing and sports finance.
I was born in Croatia but my family moved to Sydney, Australia, when I was four. Many of my earliest memories involve sports and I can say that sports have always been my biggest passion. Having grown up as part of the Croatian community in Sydney, my father regularly took my brother and I to watch Sydney Croatia (now Sydney United) play at Edensor Park. Our love of football in particular stemmed from this time, and we both played for our local clubs from the age of five.
Love of Sports
Our love of sports was not limited to football by any means though. I remember the wave of emotions as a six-year-old when my St George Dragons did well but lost two consecutive rugby league grand finals to the Brisbane Broncos in 1992 and 1993. We spent countless hours at the park and in the hallway of our apartment trying to perfect our Shane Warne leg spinner and the Waugh brothers’ batting during one of the best ages of Australian cricket. We learnt to play AFL (Aussie Rules) and tried to imitate Paul Kelly and Tony Lockett as they took the Sydney Swans to their first grand final in 50 years. I watched on with my school mates and was devastated as Jonny Wilkinson kicked a goal to snatch victory from our beloved Wallabies. The amazing part of all of these examples was that they were purely a part of the environment that we grew up in and my parents have never really understood nor shared our love for these sports.
With them, our love was focused on the more traditional European sports. We cheered as NBA Hall of Famer Dražen Petrović led a newly established and still war ravaged Croatia to the final of the Barcelona ’92 Olympics basketball tournament against the Dream Team (I was too young to understand it at the time but this was probably my first encounter with the complicated relationship between sport and politics). We followed on as Toni Kukoč won three consecutive NBA titles playing alongside the greatest basketballer ever, Michael Jordan, at the Chicago Bulls. We rejoiced as the Croatian handball team won Croatia’s first gold medal at an Olympic Games as an independent nation. The Australian Open was a yearly staple, and we loved watching Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanišević, which culminated in the famous Wimbledon final in 2001 – we were torn to say the least. Salt Lake City 2002 was particularly memorable as Stephen Bradbury won Australia’s first ever Winter Olympics medal the only way an Aussie could, with not one but three strokes of luck, and Janica Kostelić won Croatia’s first ever Winter Olympics medal and went on to dominate Alpine Skiing for the next 4 years.
There were many other amazing moments in many other sports. Undoubtedly though, the greatest moments were reserved for our favourite sport, football. Remembering Croatia take 3rd place at France ’98 and the John Aloisi penalty that qualified the Socceroos for their first FIFA World Cup in 32 years both still bring a tear to the eye. I have followed my countries passionately at the FIFA World Cups in Germany 2006 (and even made it on TV) and in Brazil 2014 as well as at the UEFA Euro 2016 in France. These are my favourite moments as football really brings together the world like very little else in life.
My love of sports was not limited to being a fan. As kids, we would regularly go to the park after school and play football with anyone that showed up, and if it rained, my friends would come over and we would play match after match of table tennis. At primary school, despite my height, I was a decent basketballer and our school team finished 3rd in the state. I also did ‘Little Athletics’ for a few years and I was regularly on my school long distance running teams. We played tennis often, but only socially, as we had a free court about a half hour walk from our home in Sydney. I also played cricket for a local team with school friends for a season.
In high school, I was a central defender on the school football team with which we lost only two matches in six years due primarily to hard work and teamwork considering other teams had more talented individuals than us. Aside from football, I played volleyball for two years, water polo (which I loved) for three years, we were state runner’s up at handball once and I represented the school at Cross Country running regularly, even placing 40th in the state one year.
As I’ve said before though, football is my biggest passion and I played club football for over 20 years. Starting from when I was five years old, I mostly played at local club level until around 15 years of age when I spent eight seasons playing at various State League levels. In my final season at this level, I was appointed Assistant Manager to the first grade team. After I started working however, I decided that it was better to play at an amateur level once again and I joined a team with my housemate and some other friends.
Studies and Professional Life
Following school I knew I wanted to do something along the lines of international business and so I enrolled into a combined Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing and Management) and Bachelor of Arts (German, French and Spanish) course at the University of Sydney. Coincidentally, it was during this period in 2005 that the Hyundai A-League was established following the government initiated Crawford Report which was very critical of the way football had been run in Australia prior to this. This is where I got my first inclinations of working in the sports industry, and more specifically sports marketing, as my friends and I regularly bought season memberships for Sydney FC games and continuously questioned the various elements of the way the league and the club were run from everything on the technical side to the business side of the game.
Unfortunately I never managed to land a job at Sydney FC or the FFA and given I graduated in 2009, the Global Financial Crisis was still wreaking havoc so jobs were difficult to come by and I was ecstatic to get my first professional opportunity at FMCG giant Johnson & Johnson. I spent three years working there first as an Analyst in the sales team and then I made the move to the marketing function as an Assistant Brand Manager and worked on global brands such as Johnson’s Baby, Neutrogena and Clean&Clear.
I enjoyed the job and loved marketing, but there was something always missing. It was during this time that I learnt about the FIFA Master – International Master in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport at the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). On top of the usual requirements for a master’s degree, they requested at least two years of professional experience, an international outlook and an active involvement/interest in sport. My mind was made up, I applied and I knew that if I didn’t get accepted, my biggest weakness was the lack of international experience despite my dual citizenship.
One way ticket to Europe
I set off for Croatia and quite soon discovered that I wasn’t accepted into the FIFA Master, so I continued on with plan B and set up a business in Croatia with my cousin where we took boat tours to the islands around Zadar. Unfortunately, the tourist season in Croatia is short, so following that my plan was to work in Germany or Switzerland to improve my German language skills, but in the meantime due to my native English-speaking skills, I took on an International Business Development Manager role at Mobendo in Zagreb in the ICT industry. After a few months of applying for jobs in Germany and Switzerland without much luck, I was offered a role at Kelloggs’ European head office in Dublin, Ireland as European Brand Manager on the Krave/Trésor cereal brand.
My time in Dublin was amazing, the role was a lot of fun given that it is a teen targeted brand and so there was a heavy digital marketing focus and we were allowed to be a little more edgy than traditional brands. It was here that I really developed my advanced strategic thinking, communications, digital marketing and project management skills. It also allowed me to pursue another favourite pastime of mine, travelling, as I visited different places around Europe on a regular basis. I was now really progressing my marketing career but I still had my eye on the goal of working in the sports industry, so I applied for the FIFA Master once again and this time I was accepted!
The FIFA Master
The FIFA Master is an International Master in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport and is one of the premier Sports Management postgraduate degrees in the world. It is run by the International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was created to promote management education within the sports world and regularly develops all-round managers who can cope with the increasingly complex world of sport. The course is run in partnership with three universities in three different countries. It begins with the Humanities of Sport module for three months at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. Continues with the Sports Management module and four months at one of Europe’s top management schools, SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy. Finally, the course ends with four months of Sports Law at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Each year, around 30 students are selected from a wide array of different nationalities (29 different nationalities in my class) and different professional backgrounds. It is this diversity that makes the program so rich and as it is interdisciplinary, it provides postgraduates with the opportunity to learn a broad range of subjects and develop their analytical skills to better cope with the fast-changing trends in the sport industry. Through the FIFA Master Alumni network, we have also come out of this with a strong network across the sports industry globally.
Read more about my FIFA Master year.
The Next Chapter
Following the FIFA Master I traveled for a little while and then lived between Zagreb and Lausanne, working as a freelance marketing and strategy consultant for various companies in and out of the sports industry. I did three month stint as the Marketing and Fan Engagement Manager at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Rugby League Club in Sydney where I managed the marketing team and was responsible for marketing, digital strategy, fan engagement as well as match day and event operations.
In July I started at UEFA as the Women’s Football Marketing Coordinator. In this role, I am responsible for driving the implementation of UEFA’s women’s football marketing strategy and the Together #WePlayStrong campaign. The objective is to make football the number one women’s sport across Europe. I am excited by this new challenge and hope to make a difference in the lives of girls across Europe.
I also want to make my mark on the sports industry and bring my wealth of experience from the corporate world to help sports organisations operate more efficiently and to generate the revenues required to keep developing the sport for all participants. In the meantime, I will share with you my thoughts on various aspects of sports business, sports marketing and sports finance that I think are interesting and relevant.
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