Just One Question: Philipp Grothe

Philipp Grothe, Just One Question

Editor’s Note: The Media C-Suite discusses the future of the industry with senior media execs, creatives, entrepreneurs and professional investors around the world.  The dialogue always seems to converge on how things have changed, where the industry is heading and what is being done to adapt.  The perspectives are diverse, the topics are numerous and the experience behind those who have found success in this industry is invaluable. 

Universities offer degree programmes. Storied producers and directors offer Master Classes. The amount of information available on how to achieve in our industry can be over-whelming.

So, we thought it would be useful to seek out a select few experienced industry professionals who have achieved success in Media & Entertainment and then boil it all down to just one question:  How would you do it today?

We are pleased to present our third JOQ of this series with a legendary pioneer of media rights for sport. His work has been instrumental in the development of professional Football into the largest, and most lucrative, spectator sport on Earth, paving the way for all others … 

Philipp Grothe

Profile in Brief:

Rumour is that Philipp Grothe is completely insane. But one man’s “insanity” is another’s genius. Helping to build European Football (a.k.a., Soccer) into a multi-billion dollar global business might take a bit of both. Having fun while brokering some of the biggest, most difficult Club acquisitions in history along the way reinforces that assessment. Choosing to shift his focus from global spectator sport to global sport spectators might just confirm the diagnosis. Philipp Grothe is crazy, like a fox. Few others have lived the rise of global sports as he has. So, when he chooses to speak of it, we choose to listen.


Philipp Grothe was studying law at the University of Hamburg in Germany when the “Berlin Wall” fell in 1989. Leisure time across Europe at the end of the Cold War was spent on side-hustles and on sport. Graduating with a law degree in 1993, Grothe was well armed for a career requiring the love of both. The rise of private television channels across Europe offered the opportunity.

Grothe joined UFA Sports, a Bertelsmann subsidiary, in 1994 with a mandate to package the media rights of Football clubs and market them to all the new private television channels across Germany and the rest of Europe. He and handful of others pioneered the trading of media rights, the broadcasting of European club competitions and the marketing of Football federations. Going global, he and his colleagues would earn upwards of a million airmiles a year building Football into the televised spectator sport to beat all others.

In 2000, Grothe joined the London office of International Management Group, the largest sports management agency in the world, as Managing Director of the Football division. Working with legendary sports agent Mark McCormack (founder of IMG), Grothe focused on English Football before starting his own agency in 2003, the Kentaro Group.

From 2003 to 2014, Kentaro Group grew to represent the world’s leading athletes, from Football players to boxers. Representing National Football federations such as Argentina, Brazil and Sweden, Kentaro managed broadcast rights for major competitions, including the FA Cup. Grothe’s firm included Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on its client list and managed more than 500 of Europe’s top Football players. Under Grothe, Kentaro pioneered the packaging of clubs and National teams as brands, building the “friendly” circuit between National teams playing in third countries, including the first with England and Argentina in Switzerland in 2005 and the Brazil World Tour’s 120 matches.

Grothe worked with some of the world’s largest private investment groups to professionalise Football, helping to broker the acquisition of Manchester City in 2007 as well as several other clubs from the Premier League and the Bundesliga. Meanwhile Kentaro managed the media rights to over 250 televised matches in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

In 2015, he joined SEM Global, a premiere sports and entertainment marketing company in London with a focus on managing the brands and rights of individual players and taking on the growing convergence between sport and entertainment content. From Football, to Golf and Rugby, Grothe pushed strategy and structures to integrate fans into the infrastructure of commercial sport as more than just live action events.

In 2017, Grothe moved back to Germany and established the Akani Group. His focus today is on the monetisation of fan communities that continue to grow around both sports organisations and individual athletes.  Akani now advises media rights holders and celebrities across multiple sports franchises, including Football (of course).

The Big Question:

If you were to start from scratch right now, what is the one thing you would do differently in building a new career in today’s Media & Entertainment industry?

Philipp Grothe:

I started to work in the sports rights industry straight after university in 1994.  This was a special time for media. The iron curtain had just fallen and private TV channels were beginning to broadcast all over Europe.

There was an incredible demand for guaranteed prime time killer content, such as football matches. UFA was one of the big trading agencies, and we were in a privileged position. There was no internet and the mobile phone had just been invented, so markets were not very transparent.

We never had any trouble selling our product, the TV channels were dependent on our product like addicts. Our unique skills as young and wild sales guys consisted of squeezing every last dollar out of the rights to broadcast football matches and creating long term strategic partnerships with the TV channels. Football on television meant money. It was a commodity. The sport was not part of the equation, not really.

All that money meant that the management of football, as a commodity, became big business.  We had little to no understanding about the millions of fans and supporters of football in Europe and around the world. This careless attitude was one that we shared with most of the club owners and the officials, who were running the governing bodies in football at the time.

What we had to learn, over time, was that where the money came from mattered. The fans. The audience. They are the true customers. I was always impressed how English football clubs managed to create very strong relationships to their fans and their communities. This development had to be learned by the clubs and federations in the rest of Europe over the years. However, I still think there is some room for a better relationship with the fans and a clearer communication with their communities.

Today the world is very different. The paying fans have choices. They are organised. They are very well connected and engaged as communities. From my perspective, who the “client” is has changed. It is no longer the TV channels and broadcasters. Today, the client is the fan; the audience. In times of unlimited audio-visual content offerings there is one simple rule: the audience is always right and the basis of everything.

Sport is now a multi-billion dollar business and run by very professional organisations and individuals. More importantly, the customers, and especially the younger generation, are smart, demanding and very selective in their consumer behaviour. Both sides are still learning how to work together.

That is where the opportunity is now.

If I had to start at the beginning today, the one thing I would do differently is focus immediately on the fans. I think this is something many are still getting wrong. If you understand the fans, the ultimate customer, then you can give them what they want. If you don’t, you can’t. 

So my advice to anyone starting in our business today is short and simple: Listen to the fans.

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