Case study: Dynamic pair enjoy sporting chance

Q&A with Tom Cowgill, left, and Ian Lancaster, co-founders of  Rewards4

Guys, why did you decide to launch Rewards4?

We had set up a successful player management and events business, Sports Masters International, in 2003.  Given the seasonal nature of the events business, we decided to investigate other areas, specifically membership schemes and the ways in which organisations within sport dealt with loyalty and rewards for their fans. Seeing a gap in the market for connecting fans’ shopping behaviour to their sporting passion in order to create a deeper sense of engagement saw the launch of Rewards4 in 2008.

Tell us more about the business

Rewards4 is a fast-growing British technology company which has created an award-winning fan engagement and rewards platform that connects sports clubs and organisations with their fans. Through its bespoke technology, clubs can offer their fans a way to earn points from their everyday spending, which can then be used to watch and support the sport or club they love.

The company operates a range of dedicated programmes including Rewards4Racing, Rewards4Golf, Rewards4Cricket and Rewards4Rugby, with almost two million sports-loving members now signed up. The success of the platform was recognised when the Rewards4Racing programme won the silver award for Best Fan Engagement programme in the 2017 Sports Business Awards.

What do you hope to achieve?

We want to see our programmes become part of sports fans’ overall experience in supporting their team or participating in their sport.  We also want to become the ‘go to’ operator when a sport or club is looking at ways to engage with their fans and help them save money supporting the sport/club that they love.

What businesses were you involved in before you launched Rewards4 and how did that help you set up the new business?

TC: With a background in amateur golf, I went straight into corporate law after graduating.  After spending time working in London and then Sydney, I returned to the UK where I decided to concentrate on entrepreneurial projects, setting up a player management and events business, Sports Masters International, in 2003. Two years later I met Ian, a former Saracens Under-21s player who was looking for a new challenge, and he joined Sports Masters International in January 2006.  As mentioned, after deciding to explore other areas of business within the sporting world, in particular, membership schemes, we conducted some research which delivered to us a lightbulb moment – and so Rewards4 was born.

IL: I have always had a passion for sport and, having failed to make it as a top rugby pIayer, I began working at Saracens Rugby Club at an amazing time as the sport had just turned professional and Saracens were (and still are) very innovative in the way they looked at marketing and engaging with fans. After seven years I went to work at Sporting Class for a year creating and selling packages to the 2005 Ashes series. However, with my sights set on a new challenge, I joined Tom at Sports Masters International in January 2006.

As Tom said, our lightbulb moment came in 2007 when, through our research, we came across Sports Loyalty Card (SLC), a simple loyalty scheme operated for a few football clubs whereby fans could earn loyalty points when shopping every day, redeeming them through the website for physical products, such as a club shirt or scarf.  Rewards4 was launched soon after that.

In business terms, what were the challenges of setting up Rewards4? What failures have you faced in business, and how did you get past these?

IL: Any business owner will tell you that they face challenges on a daily basis.  We are no different but given that what we do is fairly unique, there was no ‘template’ when we launched Rewards4.  While this presents a fantastic opportunity, it also comes with its own challenges.  We break new ground all the time and have a lot of new business opportunities presented to us, so our biggest challenge is in keeping focused on growing our existing businesses and exploiting the opportunities that will add value and enhance our offering.

TC: Thankfully, we have not faced a ‘business failure’ as such, but we have certainly experienced difficult times, particularly in the early stages of the business. One of the particular challenges we faced was in not recognising quickly enough that changes needed to be made to the way in which we marketed the programmes to our membership base and that we didn’t have the necessary skillset in our marketing team to make those changes.

What makes Rewards4 different from other brands in this sector?

BOTH: We feel that we have a unique proposition to offer sports clubs and their fans.  Through our bespoke platform, we offer: 1) clubs the opportunity to interact, engage with and reward their fans; 2)   fans the opportunity to make supporting their club cheaper through their everyday spending and betting; and 3) retailers, bookmakers and sport specific partners to become ever more targeted in the way they incentivise consumers to transact with them.

In, say, five years, what would constitute success? Where would you like to be?

BOTH: Success for us would be to have 50 sports clubs in the UK signed up to our various programmes with 500,000 sports fans actively collecting points through our platform to spend on their favourite sport/club. During that time, our plan is to double our turnover and have set up at least one programme in an overseas territory.

What’s been your proudest moment to date with Rewards4?

BOTH: There have been several proud moments along our journey to date such as attracting over one million members to our Racing programme, winning the Sport Business Award for fan engagement and getting the business to a place where clubs/sports are coming to us for solutions rather than us having to chase them. However, we feel that we are only just into our journey and we are hoping for plenty more proud moments to come.

If an aspiring business person came to you and asked for advice about setting up on their own, what would you say?

TC: You have two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions.  When planning your business, be mindful of the ‘four by two’ rule ie. things will generally take four times as long as you’d planned and cost twice as much or vice-versa.

IL: The best piece of advice we were told as we were starting out was enjoy the journey; running your own business is never easy but the whole experience and journey is amazing. If you can find someone to do it with then it helps when you go through the tough times and creates some great memories when you enjoy the good moments!

If you had to sum up your approach to business in three words, what would they be?

TC: Dedication, perseverance, enjoyment.

IL: Focus, Patience, Responsibility

In your business or personal life, who is your icon and why? And how has this contributed towards your life?

TC: I’ve always admired Mark McCormack and what he did to transform professional sport.  I read his book “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School” when I was in the 6th form at school and it inspired me to one day set up my own business.

IL: My daughter helps me to keep everything in perspective which is important so you don’t get carried away or too down depending on the day you have had. I also take a lot of inspiration from the way that the All Blacks have created a culture where even the greatest player on the planet is not too big to do the small things that need to be done.