“Hexagon Cup is a groundbreaking media product with a level of data and analytics that has not been seen before”
January 31, 2024
As the Hexagon Cup kicks off today, iSportConnect’s Taruka Srivastav spoke with Hexagon Cup Chairman Simon Freer who’s known for his acumen in sports start- ups and investments, to discuss Padel, and how this concept came about. The group of founders behind the Hexagon Cup, has worked together since the formation of Formula E, and the subsequent series’ additions. Simon was also previously Chief Commercial Officer at Liberty Global for more than a decade, where he led their strategic media investments.
Simon where did the idea of Hexagon Cup come from?
I’ve been investing in sports media and entertainment for 10 to 15 years now and 25 years in the wider technology media space. So I’ve been looking at a lot of these for a long time, most sports around the world. And we’ve monitored lots of niche sports over the years. The interesting thing about Padel is it’s moved on from being a geographically focused, amateur led sport in a small number of countries, particularly Southern Europe and Iberia. Over the last decade or so it’s really spread broadly around the world, particularly to the Middle East, to the Nordics to Mexico, tracts of South America, and increasingly other big geographies, including the UK, Germany and America. That is because Padel has some fundamental attractions to it at an amateur level, which makes it very playable, sociable and enjoyable. It’s relatively easily accessible and different levels can play and interact effectively unlike they can in other sports. It takes some of the best aspects of tennis and/or games like squash and combines them. And as a result of that, when you have a great point or a great shot goes past you, the point is over in a sport like tennis. However, in Padel it is not over. It’s gone past you, but it’ll come off the side of the back wall, you get to play again.
It’s almost like Padel has been taking the best features of tennis and squash and other racquet sports and putting it together in something that an amateur level people absolutely love. It’s been growing astronomically in a dozen major countries around the world.
Commercials of Padel
At the commercial level it’s increased to a couple of billion. That’s probably two or three fold increases over the last five years and I imagine it will increase on a similar trajectory going forward. And it’s getting to a tipping point now where the major international sponsors, major international media partners, major international locations are seeking out quality Padel as an entertainment proposition.
So it’s sort of at that tipping point where it becomes a genuine tier 2 to national, regional or international sports. And a lot of sports are interesting in certain geographies, but not that many managed to break through and become popular in multiple geographies at a scale. I think Padel has a unique opportunity to be up there and become a genuine Tier 2 alongside the likes of golf, tennis, rugby, cricket, etc. That’s the most exciting thing about Padel because of the fundamentals of it.
And it has caught the attention at an amateur level over the 10 or 15 years and grown from this historic basis into so many geographies. Now, with such scale and consistency and a professional ecosystem it almost is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy that it’ll become a Tier 2 sport, which only the top 10% of sports globally ever become. And obviously, there’s only ever one football but at the Tier 2 level, it’s commercially very significant if a sport gets into that bracket and stays there, and our belief is that Padel is doing that and will do that. But because it has come from relatively modest beginnings to substantial status now, maybe over a 10 year period, rather than some of those other sports that took 50 years to do it, the established ecosystems aren’t necessarily in place. The calendar isn’t already full. The league’s aren’t already there, The major tournaments aren’t already there. So there was a unique opportunity to pull together like real estate on the Padel chessboard, and put together really unique tournaments.
In our case, we wanted to sort of ride that wave of enthusiasm with Padel but add some innovation to it like we did with Formula E and Extreme E. In this case, the really exciting features we’re bringing are the teams. Hexagon Cup is a team based competition which is principally a solo pairs game and adds a team component to it much like the Laver Cup in tennis and the Ryder Cup in golf. This is about taking all that enthusiasm for the sport but putting a team structure around it, which means people can unify around those teams and introduce a sort of championship or ladder based structure to it.
Secondly, we’re taking the best 20 odd players in the world male and female, participating in equality and next generation talent, putting them into that team and giving them the highest prize money in Padel to date. We’re also giving a media distribution and reach that’s never been delivered before in Padel in any of the other exhibition or league events. I think we have significantly greater media distribution so we’ll have a much greater reach and chance for everyone to watch it.
Celebrity team owners
One particularly important feature we have brought is the ‘celebritisation’ of team ownership. We have the top players in the world and unless you’re a Padel participant or a Padel fan, you may not know that but we have partnered with some really great leading international sports men and women and entertainment stars around the world like Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal, Eve Longoria and others and they have been as excited by the prospects of Padel as we are and they have joined the Hexagon Cup stakeholder group and helping us propel this format to hopefully break the whole of Padel through to a whole new level – the best players, the biggest prize money, the best media distribution and a much bigger reach because of the use of celebrity association through team ownership, means we can break through that barrier of just traditional audiences. We think we’re going to put out a pretty groundbreaking media product with a level of data and analytics that has not been seen before as well as some of the social media programming and strategy we have around it.
When you put all those ingredients together, we think the prospect for this Padel cake, as an analogy, is pretty exciting and has never been done before. At a time when there’s this groundswell of enthusiasm at the amateur level and increasingly, the green shoots of key commercial partners, media sponsorship and venues are looking for a product like that there’s never been delivered before. So that’s what we’re trying to do with Hexagon. And that’s why we think it’s an exciting time because it’s come from a relatively less organised, amateur led, regionally focused game to an increasingly very international Europe, Middle East and Latin America and increasingly elsewhere with a lot of people looking forward to increasing the demand. When you go to a tennis club in many countries it’s now the Padel courts that are fully booked. I think there’s a stat in Spain, there are more active Padel players than tennis players at the moment. So the game really is in an exciting growth trajectory and what we’re trying to do is be innovative in the way we’re joining the dots and pulling together different stakeholders and different features to deliver a product that’s great for the talent, that’s great for the media partners, is great for the locations, and ultimately for the fans. And if we do a good job, it will be a little bit like trying to create one of the majors in tennis. So that’s what we’re trying to do with the Hexagon Cup.
How economically viable do you think padel is going to be in future?
I think Padel has a very strong prospect to be economically viable for all of the major stakeholders in the ecosystem, including first and foremost fans. But then, of course, talent, the stars, the players themselves, and media partners, sponsors and locations, for the very simple reason that there’s a huge interest in the sport. Yet the fundamentals of putting on a major international Padel events are much less logistically and financially challenging than putting on a motor race in the middle of a big city, or some other sporting event that is very capital intensive to build an event or a location. Madrid is just the first of what will be a series of Hexagon Cup supported events. A lot of infrastructure exists around the world for us to take the circus to. But it’s significantly logistically and financially more doable than many other sports. So as a result, there is a lower barrier to entry economically for players to do well, for spectators to enjoy the game, there are great value points for b2b partners and sponsors to be part of the movement at a level that looks attractive versus other opportunities in the wider sports and entertainment landscape. This is all the more doable. But fundamentally, all of the levers of the ecosystem are driven by one thing, which is this groundswell of amateur enthusiasm and love for the sport that is growing in an unabated fashion. It’s more socially easy to find people to play with and play a good game that everyone can enjoy.
What’s the interest level of brands in the Hexagon Cup?
What brands often want to associate with is the biggest, the best, the fastest, the top sports and that’s what we’re pulling together here. There’s a series of brands that have already been associated with Padel over the last five or 10 years in the early stages of commercialisation. What we’re seeing now is the bigger established brands, major distribution partners and locations that are already active in other major sports, golf, tennis, rugby, football, cricket, etc starting to lean in. And if we look at some of the partnerships we have started with Hexagon, I think that’s borne out in practice. It’s also borne out if I look at some of the areas around the world that are asking us to talk about bringing the Hexagon product in. But ultimately, the big media players don’t want to take a product on their platform, if they don’t think it’s going to get watched. Therefore I believe we have achieved the best and widest media distribution that’s ever been entertained for a Padel event, which is partly to do with the groundswell of enthusiasm and panel generally, but also the way we’ve positioned this product. But yes, I do believe the big international stakeholders, the likes of media partners, such as Warner Brothers, Discovery for eg. coming and saying, “We want to put the product out on all of our platforms” tells you that the world thinks Padel is moving up into the next stage.
Hexagon Cup is a competition with equality at its heart, and a future generation mindset. So each of the teams is made up with a male pair, a female pair and next generation pair and they all play for a point and each every point is equal. So much like in Extreme E, there’s a male and a female driver and they drive around the same course in the same car and have the same impact on the outcome. The same is true here in the Hexagon Cup. And that’s really important to us because it needs to be equality driven because Padel is still in the early days. Some other sports have historically propagated as sort of male lead in those sports because of the way they were developed but because Padel is at the early stage as long as it’s set up appropriately, where men and females get the same opportunity to participate and have an impact, there’s no reason for that to be the case here. And that’s really important to us at the Hexagon Cup team to help keep that.