Shaper: Tom Thirlwall

Show aired on 16th September 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Nina Simone with the big and bold Ain’t Got No, I Got Life. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers I’m Elliot Moss. Thank you very much for joining. Jazz Shapers is where you get to hear the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we put someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. I’m really pleased to say my Business Shaper today is Tom Thirlwall and Tom is the CEO of Copa90 and Copa90 is a football media business and they have been doing extraordinary things bringing the game right back to the heart of where it should be which is inside the hearts of fans and you are going to be hearing lots about how Tom has been building this phenomenal business online. In addition to hearing from Tom you’ll be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of that we’ve got some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Zara McFarlane, Jones Girls and this from Bobby Womack.

That was Bobby Womack with Across 110th Street. Tom Thirlwall as I said earlier is my Business Shaper and he is CEO of Copa90 and they are the people that are bringing football to well a whole generation of young fans I guess Tom but probably not just young, anybody. Is it anybody?

Tom Thirlwall
It is anybody I would have to say that the audience that we resonate most with is the audience that considers sort of traditional sports media as their parents media so generally our audience is under the age of thirty five and our kind of core audience is somewhere between sort of eighteen and twenty four so yeah anybody. We’ve done documentary series and various programmes that have certainly picked up on older audience and you know made my dad happy and older friends of mine or people of my own age but the absolute sort of driver of this is a younger audience that in many ways was feeling kind of left behind or forgotten about by traditional sports media.

Elliot Moss
I should have said hello and thank you for joining me of course which I’ve done now, hello and thank you for joining me.

Tom Thirlwall
Thank you, I feel very welcome.

Elliot Moss
Good, good. Copa90 just give me, explain apart from obviously its programmes that appear online which will appeal to a younger audience or a younger mind-set person.

Tom Thirlwall
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Tell me just a little bit about how it happened and what you’ve tried to build.

Tom Thirlwall
Sure.

Elliot Moss
And what it is in fact indeed in its essence.

Tom Thirlwall
Sure so the way it came about is that we as a business were approached in early 2012 and back then the business was called Big Balls Films and we were known as a sort of innovative commercial film maker. We were making kind of digital films if you like, campaigns for the likes of Nike and Adidas and Oakley and we were recognised for doing it and reaching audiences at scale on online platforms and so YouTube approached us and said we are looking to fund kind of professional film makers and creators to effectively to channelise you know their business i.e. make YouTube more of a destination for quality programming and shows and so they had an initiative which was called the Originals Initiative and we, alongside forty three other big sports producers around the world, not that we were a big sports producer, were invited to tender for the football channel and we were up against forty three of the great and good in sports broadcast and production and very pleasingly we won out and we won out because in broad terms everyone else was pitching the same idea which was we’ll take that money and we’ll get some cheap highlights and we’ll get some old pros in suits and we’ll do something that will look a little bit like Match of the Day or Gillette Soccer Saturday on Sky but it will be a bit cheaper because we haven’t got the money and we went in and said the audience that we know is on this platform and the audience that we know best actually is not watching traditional sports media. They are getting their highlights and even their live games from a whole variety of sources most of them illegal so actually the value and the power is to create original IP, an original series and the line that we used was we wanted to tell the stories outside of the ninety minutes that make the ninety minutes matter more and that was our way of launching Copa90 and justifying why we were not going to touch the game itself. What we were going to do is touch everything outside of the game. Tell stories of interest, emotional stories, big narrative stories, journalistic stories that were all aimed at capturing the imagination of a young sort of nineteen year old football fan wherever they were in the world.

Elliot Moss
And five years later just so you know twelve million fans around the world, eighty million views a month, ninety two people in your business, three offices across London, New York and Los Angeles, not bad. We’re going to be hearing lots more from Tom Thirlwall about how he’s built this business. Time for some more music in the meantime now this is Zara McFarlane with Peace Begins With.

That was new music from Zara McFarlane with Peace Begins With and nice too it was. Tom Thirlwall’s my Business Shaper and he is the CEO of Copa90 and you’ve just been hearing him talk about what Copa90 is and how he got $3,000,000 worth of funding which is not bad. Small versus big seems to be the mantra doesn’t it Tom. I think the world’s changed. You’re a digital business and you took a different approach and I think different must be good because as you said the big media owners have not exactly been very creative generally. Back then I imagine when you’re breaking the mould it’s not easy but you can kind of go we’re not going to do that. Five years later how have you ensured that you continue to be innovative, what is your driving force?

Tom Thirlwall
So we continue to be innovative through backing and believing in the young creative voices that we have coming into the business. In many ways we sort of flipped the traditional hierarchy of a business where a lot of media businesses in particular are very sort of top down management style, those sort of big decisions are made at the top about what editorial looks like and what we’re going to go after next and what have you and we sort of flipped that. We challenge our young producers and storytellers to go, go and make whatever they want and can and think is interesting story-wise and we’re sort of at the bottom to catch them where they fall to encourage them to climb kind of faster, do more, innovate more and it’s by putting that innovation into the hands of the creators and the producers in the business that keeps things fresh. Of course they’re working within the sort of remit of the tone and the mission and philosophy of Copa90 but we very rarely would we ever be in a situation whereby people at the top of the business would be you know looking at an edit or approving we just make far too much content apart from anything else. We’re making between fourteen hundred and five thousand pieces of video content on a monthly basis. You know during a tournament period there will be at least five thousand pieces of content going out.

Elliot Moss
And a simple question from a financial point of view what’s the model? How does it work? How do you make your money?

Tom Thirlwall
So we make our money by number one, brands coming to us and wanting to advertise around our content so in a straight advertiser kind of model. We have particularly good shops in the world of something called branded content where you’re making series or films or big pieces of film whereby the brand is kind of weaved into the storytelling. So those are the kind of principle to ad funded types of revenue stream. The third revenue stream which has been relatively new to us in the last twelve months which is as the world of sports media is now evolving and new platforms are arriving there are brands and platforms out there or even broadcasters out there that want to commission us, Copa90 to make films and series that would sit on their platform so you know conversations that are alive at the moment with everyone from Netflix to Amazon to ESPN last summer to ITV across the Euros last year with the rise in the US all of these types of business are craving quality content and engagement with young audiences which fortunately if there is anything we do right and well it’s those two things.

Elliot Moss
You’re having quite a lot of fun aren’t you?

Tom Thirlwall
Listen I am and I’d like to think everyone in the business is. We are a business that is centred around a passion and that passion is football and the love of the game and the way that we look at football is it’s the world’s universal language. Whether you’re getting into a cab or walking into a radio studio like we were earlier today it’s the first commonality, it’s the first conversation that you have when you spot a badge or a flag from a team that you recognise it immediately breaks the ice and so yeah we love what we do and I’d like to think across you know the team that if we’re not enjoying it then we’re doing something wrong because we’re never going to have a better chance professionally to love what we’re doing than doing what we’re doing right now.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper today that’s Tom Thirlwall, he is the CEO of Copa90. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss and every Saturday I talk to someone shaping the world of business, someone who’s gone up and founded a business, invested in it and is doing something interesting. If you’d like to listen to any of the two hundred and fifty plus that I’ve interviewed in the last few years then go into iTunes put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’. Tom Thirlwall is my Business Shaper today and he is the CEO of Copa90 and Copa90 is a platform, it makes programmes, it lives and breathes football and it talks to a younger audience who are saying you know what, what I get on television, mainstream television is not right for me. I want to feel like you’ve got some passion and I want to feel a little bit more entertained and engaged and I guess that is what you’ve been trying to do for the last few years Tom. Now you talked about people being happy in the business and I guess you would be you know as you said football is a great leveller, people love it, it is a passion, it would be hard for you not to enjoy yourself if you’re a football fan. But there’s a serious side to it, there’s investment along the way from really big players you’ve acquired a business recently. How do you marry the light frivolity and fun of the creative world with the serious side about investments and boot strapping and getting to the point where you literally see over the edge of the cliff and that cliff might be about two days away? How have you managed to kind of combine those two feelings?

Tom Thirlwall
Sometimes in all honesty with difficulty. You know there was, there have been occasions where you are sailing very close to the wind and you’re hoping to close an investment round in time and you’re hoping to keep the doors open and the lights on and you sort of as we were in our old office I used to come to the top of the stairs, get ready to walk into a room full of thirty or forty people, take a deep breath and sort of cross the threshold because…

Elliot Moss
It’s a bit like starting a match isn’t it or something you’re walking across…

Tom Thirlwall
That’s right, yeah.

Elliot Moss
…you’ve just got to get your game face on.

Tom Thirlwall
Exactly that. Exactly that and you know that there’s an expectation that individuals in a company have a right to expect which is you know that the business is going to keep going and people will get pay rises and go on holiday and you know all of this kind of stuff so you feel an enormous responsibility as the business grows to kind of protect the nearest and dearest within a business which is all of the team and so yeah there definitely have been those times where you take a deep breath and you know you’re relying on your kind of instincts in terms of how you relate to people and manage people and lead people as well as you know selling your backside off when you’re next in front of that investor to try and get things over the line.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Tom Thirlwall my Business Shaper today. Time for some more music this is the Jones Girls with Nights Over Egypt.

That was the Jones Girls and Nights Over Egypt. Tom Thirlwall is my Business Shaper we’ve been talking about Copa90, his business about people helping him in terms of advice and the responsibility I think you put it quite nicely you step over the line, you look at the people in front of you and they need things from you.

Tom Thirlwall
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
As you look to lead this business now obviously there are moments in the football world which are there for you to exploit whether it’s the World Cup or the European championships or whatever it might be. How do you continue to feel energised by the opportunities versus what’s the word, overwhelmed because I imagine that it is a bit relentless. I mean football to me and I’m a fan and I think we’ve both found out we’re both Arsenal fans and we can never beat Stoke. This will change one day but not in our lifetimes but how do you ensure that it doesn’t just feel relentless because football is on all the time. How do you ensure that that creativity is there?

Tom Thirlwall
Well first of all football is relentless we’re in a what’s a so called non-tournament year this year and we’ve never been busier so football is also the gift that keeps giving so there is always stories, there’s always new things that need to be told and said in the world of football. So I guess we stay enthusiastic because we know the runway that we have and the road to run that we have in the world of football to I guess flip forty years of sports media and broadcasting which has broadly looked exactly the same, two guys in suits, one guy talking to them, all of them spitting out the same sort of platitude in a hermetically sealed box over a field somewhere in the world and we know we’ve just got so much to do to overturn that so with the fact that it’s the gift that keeps giving and the fact that we know we’re in gear one of ten there is so much for us to run at that we don’t lose that excitement, we don’t lose that enthusiasm.

Elliot Moss
Do you think that your background and you’ve done lots of things Tom in the world of media whether its media agencies or youth specialist businesses or advertising agencies or whatever else. Do you think all of those things have helped you see what was wrong? I mean what did they give you beyond seeing how conventionally to do things with big companies what else do you think gave you, prepared you properly for the thing that you’re doing now which is running a big global business.

Tom Thirlwall
I think that there was a lot that the agency world taught me that was wrong that I wanted to correct. When you’re working in an advertising agency I always felt that we gave away our ideas for free but charged for our time and what’s exciting about the world that we’re in and Copa90 lives in is about creating intellectual property, it’s about creating stories and getting stories out there that connect with people. So I definitely found myself and still find myself so happy to be in a world whereby you’re creating value and capturing that value rather than as I say just sort of charging for time which is what disillusioned me I suppose at the tail end of my kind of career in advertising. On the positive side of things I think the years that I spent working in ad agencies and media agencies the nurturing of relationships and clients pulling you know different departments together, getting people to work as a team all of those kind of things as well as I think the world of advertising sometimes it gets a disservice on this but you get to work with all sorts of different people in that world, in the world of media and we have all sorts of different backgrounds of people that work at Copa90 as well. We have literally the United Nations of people across the two offices so you know there’s people there that speak several more languages than I do and given I speak one language that’s pretty impressive and so I think that that’s what the world of advertising and media did do which is learning to work with people, different types of people and learning the nurture relationships because that’s kind of everything.

Elliot Moss
A final chat coming up with Tom plus we’ll be playing one of the classics from Hugh Masekela that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was the one and only Hugh Masekela with the brilliant Grazing In The Grass. Tom Thirlwall is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes until the final whistle blows, sorry about that. CEO of Copa90 and Copa90 is basically a platform that houses millions of bits of content, you talk about thousands that you’ve made in the last month for the world of football, gets you inside the world of football and makes sure that you’re kind of doing it for the fans, you’re there for the fans, it’s a new way and a better way of you would argue of presenting that world to fans. Tom, we’ve talked a lot about the things that you’re enjoying at the moment and I think you articulated very well the benefits of working at the world of advertising, diversity of talent, bringing teams together. As you look forward now and recently Martin Sawyer was talking about the world of digital disruption and the impact that is having on the way that brands behave. What do you see you’re going to need to do as a business to ensure that brands have the opportunity to reach the audiences they want to? What will happen over the next few years or are you already doing what you need to do?

Tom Thirlwall
We are doing what we need to do but we can never take our eye off the ball, we can never be complacent. In very simple terms we have to continue to be making the best possible football content that’s available on any platform and engaging our audience, serving them more of what they want and less of what they don’t like and they tell us so it’s a pretty, it’s a pretty two way relationship that we have with our audience because what is undeniable in this new media age is quality of content, quality of connection with your audience has no replacement, it has no peer. We are out of the era of advertising whereby you have a captured audience on a Saturday night that you know whatever they’re watching on ITV that will be interrupted and you can’t really get away from it unless you’re making a cup of tea that brand message so there was in many ways that era was all around a sort of one way you know this is our brand and this is our advert that you are going to sit through and watch and we are just not in that era anymore. Not only is there a massive proliferation of channels and platforms and screens but there’s also massive competition just from individuals nowadays so we’re not racing against just the big established sports media business we’re also racing against anyone with a camera phone that has an opinion about football or anything. We are surrounded by entertainers, professional, casual, amateur so that’s what keeps us honest and focused about making the very best football content available and reaching our audience on the platforms that they want to be reached on.

Elliot Moss
Listen thank you so much for joining me. Good luck in your endeavour to continue to bring in these ridiculously big audiences, I’m jealous. Millions and millions of people watching your words which is fantastic. Just before I let you go though, before you zip off, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Tom Thirlwall
My song choice today is dedicated to my grandfather Jack Thirlwall who was a renowned jazz trombonist. This piece of music was written by Callum Au who is a very up and coming, hugely talented trombonist himself. The track is called Gentleman Jack.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you and your grandfather.

That was Gentleman Jack from Callum Au the song choice of my Business Shaper today Tom Thirlwall for his grandfather the great Jack Thirlwall. Tom has sought to revolutionise the way that football content is delivered, he has fundamentally understood the value of the intellectual property that he is creating and critically he has understood that quality is what’s going to make it work versus anything else, really good stuff. Do join me again same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another addition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us coming up next it’s the one and only Nigel Williams.

Tom Thirlwall
CEO of Copa90

Tom was born in London in 1973. He attended Reigate Grammar School in Surrey and went on to Leeds University before working as a Planner at Mediaedge, an advertising media planning agency. In 1997, Tom co-founded Fishtank, a youth marketing specialist firm and in 2005 became Client Service Director at Leo Burnett, a media and advertising agency. In 2007 he became Managing Director at Mworks London, a marketing and communications agency and in 2010 co-founded WE R Interactive, a social entertainment company which was acquired by Inspired Gaming in 2015.

In 2010, Tom bought a 25% stake in COPA90’s parent company Bigballs Media. COPA90 was launched in 2012 as a YouTube channel.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Tom’s grandfather was Jack Thirlwall, a renowned Jazz Trombonist, who had a track, ‘Gentleman Jack’, written and dedicated to him by Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Callum Au in 2013.

The absolute sort of driver of this is a younger audience that in many ways was feeling left behind or forgotten about by traditional sports media.

We wanted to tell the stories outside of the ninety minutes that make the ninety minutes matter more. That was our way of launching Copa90 and justifying why we were not going to touch the game itself.

We’re making between fourteen hundred and five thousand pieces of video content on a monthly basis. During a tournament period there will be at least five thousand pieces of content going out.

The way we look at football is, it’s the world’s universal language. Whether you’re getting into a cab or walking into a radio station…it’s the first commonality, it’s the first conversation you have when you spot a badge or a flag from a team that you recognise.

We love what we do and I’d like to think across the team that if we’re not enjoying it then we’re doing something wrong

There’s an expectation that the business is going to keep going and people will get pay rises and go on holiday and so you feel an enormous responsibility as the business grows to protect the nearest and dearest within a business – which is all of the team.

…you take a deep breath and you’re relying on your instincts in terms of how you relate to people and manage people and lead people as well as, you know, selling your backside off when you’re next in front of that investor to try and get things over the line.

I definitely still find myself so happy to be in a world whereby you’re creating value and capturing that value rather than just charging for time, which is what disillusioned me.

What is undeniable in this new media age is quality of content, quality of connection with your audience has no replacement, it has no peer.