"Nothing substitutes the joy and satisfaction one feels creating something new and watching it live in an arena or on TV"
Name: Ivan Khodabakhsh
Company: World Series of Boxing
Position: Chief Executive Officer
University/ degree: MA Sport Science / Business Administration / Law
Current home town: Lausanne
Q. Who/what inspired you to make the move to Boxing?
A. The idea to create from scratch an entire global professional league and reinvent a traditional sport such as boxing, was just too intriguing to resist. I have worked most of my career in international sport organisations: the prospect of creating a full-profit commercial company was very exciting for me.
Q. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
A. Developing and establishing the World Series of Boxing and to succeed in selling over US$ 40 million of franchise licenses within 18 months in challenging economic times has been definitely the highlight of my career. Also experiencing a global weekly competition taking place, from Bangkok to Mexico City, over 15 time zones with hundreds of athletes competing is of great pride to all of us.
Q. What does your typical day at World Series of Boxing involve?
A. As for any start up company, there are no typical days: a third of my time I am travelling around the world to cities as far as Beijing to Los Angeles, selling new Franchise licenses, WSB’s central commercial rights and keeping in touch with our current partners. Back in the office I manage a team of 15 enthusiastic professionals dedicated to the organisation. I have been very lucky to have recruited such an excellent team in a very short time.
Q. What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
A. For any startup company the challenges are enormous: especially considering that World Series of Boxing is the first truly global sport league and we started in 2009 in the worst economic time. We have also entered the professional boxing markets which so has suffered from poor governance. Our aim of establishing a clean, transparent and credible competition has been met with some trepidation.
From a personal point of view the biggest challenge has been to find a balance between personal/family life and leading the WSB operation with long working hours (we work along 15 time zones) and extensive travel.
Q. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
A. Nothing substitutes the joy and satisfaction one feels creating something new and watching it live in an arena or on TV. It has been very rewarding working with excellent people and knowing that fans enjoy what one has created. Everybody in our organisation feels pride having created a league which provides elite athletes financial benefits and stability which has been lacking for so long in boxing.
Q. What tips would you give to students wanting to break into the sports industry?
A. You cannot wait until you finish your studies. You need firsthand experience as an intern or working on project basis. You need to learn the basics on real projects, which will help you understand also what you learn in university. It is a very competitive market. Everybody loves sport and wants to work for sport, but it is a business as any other.
Q. What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen candidates making?
A. Overestimation of one's own capabilities: loving sport, practicing sport or having a university degree does not qualify you automatically for the job: hard work and dedication is key to success.
Q. How has elite sport changed since you first entered the industry?
A. It is a much tougher business. Many people working in sport used to be former athletes, which did not make them necessarily good professionals. Now, the best and most talented professionals work in sports. The great days of easy sponsorship deals are also over. You need to provide a high quality sporting product and you will still have a hard time selling it. It is a very crowded market.
Q. Favourite sports to participate in:
A. Basketball, skiing, windsurfing (haven’t had much time for any of them recently)
Q. Favourite sports to watch:
A. Basketball, boxing (of course), I love watching all sports at big events (Olympic Games)
Q. What in your opinion has been the sporting highlight of the past 12 months?
A. Watching the WSB Finals in London; Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA title
Q. What will be the sporting highlight of the next 12 months?
A. WSB boxers (first professional boxers) competing at the Olympic Games winning medals for their country and for the WSB League. Of course, also the entire London Olympic Games
Q. Non-sport hobbies:
A. Time with my wife & kids
Q. Where did you go for your last holiday?
A. Holidays?! Few days in Italy
Q. What piece of technology would you be lost without?
A. My iPhone