The Bugg Report has been able to track down Ed Cunningham, Director of Western Australia based sporting goods specialist, Burley Sekem. We understand his company is now approaching 100 years in the sporting business. This is significant, not just for the sports business, but to remain relevant for this length of time in any industry is an achievement worth noting. Ed’s business is focused primarily on two key areas; manufacturing of the Burley football and the Sekem sports apparel range. These categories are largely complimentary to each other and have stood the test of time.
Ed, can we begin by asking you about your time in the sports industry and your history with the Burley Sekem Company?
At risk of sounding somewhat ancient, 2016 marks my 30th year in the sports and leisure industry! It started in the UK in 1986 and after moving to Perth in 1990, I joined Burley Sekem and in 1996 took part in a management buyout and became a Director.
Since then, I have been very involved in the management of some of our key relationships covering licensors, suppliers and customers. We are fortunate to have many long-term partnerships in place and I am also supported by many loyal and long-term employees with a wealth of experience. The business has three areas of operation: Burley – footballs and indoor cricket balls, Sekem – apparel and our licensed business, which is our biggest area of operation.
A recent LIMA global study identified that the sports licensing category has the potential for significant growth. How do you rate the current and future opportunities available to engage the market with innovative products in this field?
I think there is, undoubtedly, potential for growth in the sports licensing category as a whole. With respect to our particular area, we have had success in recent years in growing our licensed accessories across all the major sports in Australia & New Zealand. Therefore, at this particular point in time, our objective is to consolidate our position before our next growth chapter.
Innovation in licensing is always important, whether it be in product design or use of technology to increase supply and distribution efficiency. This focus on innovation is likely to intensify with the rapid increase in online activity, social media and changes to traditional supply channels.
Outside of the traditional Australian sports, do you see opportunity in this market to develop a meaningful platform for the more significant global sporting brands such as Soccer, NBA, NFL and others?
Yes, the improved access for consumers to watch just about any sport worldwide has undoubtedly increased demand for the major global team brands in Australasia. In fact, we have represented many top EPL and European clubs over the last decade including Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona to name a few. Maybe Leicester next! There is an ever increasing interest in NBA and NFL in Australia so we are constantly reviewing opportunities from overseas.
How have you seen and coped with the changing face of the marketplace in terms of the growth of social media and technology gains?
It would be fair to say that we have adopted a cautious approach to social media as there have been examples of companies mishandling this new dynamic. The main effect is that things are changing much faster and the consumer has access to far more information than they did previously. It has made it easier for new players to market themselves to a wide audience quickly. As a licensee, many of our customers are very active on our behalf on social media, and therefore as a wholesaler with many customers we have continued to allocate most of our resources to our customers and licensors.
Technology has helped improve efficiency enormously in many facets of our business; drastically reducing the order processing time, passing information to our customers quickly and, of course, a big reduction in the use of paper.
As our local market is relatively small and competitive, have you considered selling and marketing your products internationally?
The market for our two main licenses, AFL and NRL, is largely domestic and therefore overseas sales potential is limited. Our Sekem teamwear apparel has good offshore potential with the depreciation of the Australian dollar in recent years.
I notice with interest that your brand portfolio is quite diverse spanning AFL, Rugby, Soccer, Netball and Tennis; does this work in your favour when pitching for new business?
Undoubtedly it does. Whether talking to licensors, overseas brands looking for distribution or retailers, our portfolio of properties in AFL, NRL, State of Origin, Wallabies, Super Rugby NZ, Socceroos, A-League and Australian Open Tennis sends a strong message of professionalism and credibility. We are able to offer distribution to over 1000 accounts from our Melbourne warehouse and can easily “bolt-on” additional properties.
Ed, we see the emergence of a number of Women’s teams particularly in AFL and now in the BBL. Do you have any plans to develop product ranges targeted particularly at the female sporting person and associated fan base?
We have been aware of the increasing female participation rates for a number of years. In fact, through our West Australian Football League (WAFL) sponsorship, we have been producing specially designed ladies football apparel and footballs for several years. We recently signed an agreement with the West Australian Women’s Football League.
In the licensed arena, it has become more of a focus in our range planning as it is a growth area. Females make up a large portion of the supporter base within our domestic sporting competitions and they have a need and want for more fashion focused garments.
I believe that the Burley football is still the dominant ball for both the WAFL and the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). What other leagues do you work with and what expansion plans do you foster?
Correct. Burley footballs are used exclusively in both the WAFL and the SANFL and these two states have received the majority of our football related marketing resources. We also have an AFL license for footballs which enables us to supply club supporter balls for all teams nationally.
In recent times, both Victoria University and Adelaide University conducted thorough scientific tests on Burley footballs compared to our opposition. In both cases it was concluded that Burley footballs meet the AFL’s specifications for use.
Burley has been the foundation brand for your organisation for many years. What was the thought process behind the purchase of Sekem and what has adding this additional brand brought to your Company?
Burley was established in 1907 and Sekem started in 1923 so there is plenty of history here. The two companies were joined in 1983 by the former owner, Kevin McIntyre. In many ways it’s a natural fit as it enables the company to offer a “one stop shop” for any football club or retailer. It has definitely strengthened the company and has brought many synergies.
Do you have any aspirations to develop your business beyond your current core sport categories?
The answer to this question is yes, albeit cautiously. There is no reason why our model could not work very well across other categories and at any given time we are evaluating opportunities in various sectors, such as entertainment.
Do you have any “blue-sky-insights” into the evolution of the industry and how do you see Burley Sekem fitting into this equation?
I think in the Australian marketplace there are many very well established businesses that are adjusting to the rapidly changing environment, where barriers to entry have been lowered. In this climate, it is vital to be alert and nimble!
I see Burley fitting in as a specialist Company offering a reliable, no nonsense, professional distribution model that values its culture and relationships highly. Hopefully for another 100 years!
Ed, we appreciate your time and insights into your organisation and the sporting business.