IMG and rugby alumni Nicholas, Chesworth and Hayes at helm of new agency
By Simon Ward
River Media Partners, an independent UK-based sports media agency, has launched today led by Ben Nicholas and Nick Chesworth, former senior executives at IMG, and Dominic Hayes, latterly the commercial director of English rugby union’s top-tier Premiership Rugby.
Initial clients include England’s Rugby Football Union and Rugby Europe, for secondary level and women's competitions, and a variety of sports media, production and data companies.
River Media points out that its three principals have combined experience in the sports and media industry of over 75 years, and that it plans to “work with federations, rights owners, media platforms, investors and brands to create and distribute sports content opportunities on a global basis.”
In addition to directors Nicholas, Chesworth and Hayes, the agency’s leadership includes prominent media and sports figures in Malcolm Wall, the former chief executive of Virgin Media Content, as chairman, and Mark Nicholas, the former cricketer and now familiar commentator, and Aiden Cooney, the sports technology entrepreneur, as non-executive directors, with the latter to provide strategic support through his digital agency InCrowd Sport.
Under its deal with the RFU, River Media will be managing the media rights to the men's second-tier Greene King Championship and Women’s Premier15s, while the partnership with Rugby Europe entails support for the development of the continental governing body’s club and international competition structure.
However, its first venture is actually in tennis, with the creation and operation of the UK Pro Series, taking place at St George’s Hill in Weybridge in southern England over a six-week period in July and August. It will offer $500,000 in prize money and competition opportunities for top British players with the major international tours yet to resume after the suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
River Media has worked with the UK’s Lawn Tennis Association on the development of the series, and brought in Jamie Delgado, the coach of British star Andy Murray to handle player liaison.
The agency's other founding clients are listed as BT Sport Films, FitMg, Premier Sports, Raceix, SportsMedia Ventures, Stats Perform, 26West Sport and 3Rock Production.
Nicholas and Chesworth bring considerable experience in sports and media from long stints at IMG. Nicholas was senior vice-president digital media and Chesworth a senior-vice president, working on multiple Rugby World Cups, at IMG Media.
Hayes left Premiership Rugby in the 2019-20 season having spent eight years overseeing the league's commercial business, prior to which he was senior vice-president and managing director, international at World Wrestling Entertainment.
Explaining River Media’s rationale, Wall said: “The sports market is in flux and traditional agency models are under review. We will be working with client and partner agendas front of mind as they seek to drive exposure, relevance and commercial return in the evolving market. Having worked across all areas of the commercial sports model, from traditional media rights deals to complex corporate funding propositions, the agency is ideally placed to enable clients to navigate the sector.”
Chesworth added: “While the global pandemic has underlined the value of live sport to the consumer and to media platforms, it has also highlighted the fragility of sports finance. The disruption of schedules and formats have meant that innovation, agility and streamlined costs have become incredibly important. These are the cornerstones of our proposition.”