EXTREME Sports Company and The Circuit of Wales are to develop a £425 million sports, entertainment and leisure development.
EXTREME is a global pioneer in the field of extreme and action sports. The Circuit of Wales development is the most significant UK capital investment program in motorsport and extreme sport infrastructure in the last 50 years. It will be situated at Blaenau, Gwent, to the north of Ebbw Vale in Wales.
Blooloop spoke to Alastair Gosling, the founder, chairman and CEO of EXTREME about the collaboration and the future direction of his company.
From Solo Start-up to Global Pioneer
EXTREME began as a small start-up in 1995. “I founded EXTREME when I was 24,” says Gosling. “It arose from my passion for the sports, and started as a television and sports management business.” In 1998 Gosling and his team had the idea of launching a TV channel. They put a business plan together, then spent 18 months seeking funds to make it happen.
“A lot of people said no,” says Gosling. “Then we got lucky. We managed to partner with UPC and Liberty Media Corporation, the big media company who own Formula One. We launched the channel in May 1999 from Holland as a start point. I spent the next 15 years launching it in 60 countries, into about 50 million homes.”
The partnerships with UPC and Liberty Media stand testament to the compelling nature of EXTREME’s proposition at that point. “It was amazing,” says Gosling. “MTV had been launched in the 80s, and there was this market. The industry had grown and sports had gained massively in popularity. It was the right moment, the right time, the right place, and away we went.”
From Television to Branding – Reading the Zeitgeist
Gosling retained his flair for tapping into the zeitgeist. Five or six years ago, he recognised that, as far as the global youth market was concerned, the advent of digital had sounded TV’s death-knell.
“I had a conversation with our partners in which I said: ‘Look, I’d like to buy the brand, and sell you our stake in the TV channel business.’ So that’s what we did. We sold out of the TV channel side of things, and focused in on the brand side.”
This involved raising investment from, among others, Kleinwort Benson and SG Hambros (at the time, two separate organisations).
“We really started to invest in the brand,” says Gosling. “Currently we sponsor about a hundred athletes. We are involved in around 80 events a year.”
He points out that having the TV channel still running, with the brand on it, is helpful. Social media is also key. “Last year, in our biggest month on the social platforms, we reached 734 million people, and delivered about 267 million video views in a month, which was pretty interesting.”
EXTREME comprises four divisions. Gosling explains its structure. “We are still a small business,” he says. “But we have four parts of the business.”
The first part is a sports marketing agency, covering sports and leisure. This markets other brands besides EXTREME, such as Stanley Black & Decker. Secondly there is a brand licensing and franchising business.
The third strand is a content creation and events business. “It creates content from little videos through to the three $50 to $100 million movies we currently have in development,” says Gosling. “This is in partnership with a guy called Robert Laycock. He is Ian Fleming’s great-nephew and he looks after the intellectual property for the Fleming family, which is cool.”
Finally, there is the sports and leisure property development business. Which is where The Circuit of Wales comes in.
The Circuit of Wales – More Entertainment, More Sports and More Leisure
“We have a mix with the development in Wales,” says Gosling. “We have a licence agreement for the use of the brand, and we are supporting The Circuit of Wales in the design development on the property side. Then we are supporting them again on the marketing front once the venture is up and running.”
The lead developer is the Heads of The Valleys Development Company, headed up by Martin Whitaker. “We are coming in as a partner to add to the mix,” says Gosling. The aim is to open up the destination to a wider demographic. “That means more entertainment, more sports, and more leisure,” he explains. “Rather than it just being motor sports and technology focused. Ultimately that makes the whole proposition wider and more interesting.”
“Our involvement consists of bringing the brand, bringing our athletes, bringing our events. We are looking at a collection of different sports leisure and entertainment facilities that will work best in that community and that environment.”
The development, sited above Ebbw Vale, lies in one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK. It is estimated that the world-leading 336 hectare development will attract 750,000 visitors a year, many of them from beyond the traditional motorsport world. The activity side of the project will comprise leisure, indoor and outdoor action, and adventure sports. It will also feature state-of-the-art innovation zones, food and beverage offerings, retail outlets and themed accommodation. Not forgetting its role as a world-class motorsport facility.
It is, without doubt, a sizeable regeneration project. The Circuit of Wales will create around 3,000 jobs in its construction period. In addition, it is expected to create 6,000 full-time jobs in the long-term. It’s forecasted to inject an annual £50 million into the Welsh economy.
Gosling has previously described the EXTREME brand value as “unapologetic, irreverent and anti-establishment”. He feels this fits in well with the extreme sports and motor sports demographic. “The Circuit of Wales is ultimately all about motor racing and technology. There is some zoning going on, but we definitely feel that the motor sports crowd fits with the demographic that we attract. To a degree there is a similar mentality and similar thought process. It’s a pretty good fit.”
If the numbers work well, Gosling is hoping to build a hotel in Phase Two of the project.
EXTREME Expanding Nationally and Internationally
The Circuit of Wales project is the first of many destination attractions for EXTREME. “Nationally we have got a whole collection of different sites and different projects we are working on,” he says. “We have a very large-scale sports and leisure project that is happening in Grimsby. We are not using the EXTREME brand there: it is a mainstream focus sports leisure development.”
Internationally, there are three projects in development. “We haven’t announced yet, so I’m under wraps,” says Gosling. “But I can say that the countries we are working on are Poland, Japan and Canada.”
The Effect of Brexit on a Burgeoning Brand?
The result of the referendum on June 23rd of last year had an effect even on as robust and burgeoning a brand as EXTREME. “It definitely slowed us down a little,” says Gosling. “It made things a bit more difficult over the last quarter of last year.” However he says the brand is in good shape overall.
“I’m not too worried about it. The uncertainty and the overall global turmoil that we are dealing with are obviously not helpful. However it’s not stopping us. It just makes us more determined to drive on through it, ultimately.”
Continued and Sustained Growth Across all Sectors
For the future, plans include continued and sustained growth. “We are continuing to grow the brand across the athletes, the events, the social media, and the media side,” says Gosling, pointing out that they have grown considerably. “Two years ago we were at probably 30 sponsored athletes; now we have a hundred.”
His plan is to continue to grow the brand on a core basis, and to invest in the brand on that basis. “We are looking at continued growth across each of the four divisions.”
More clients have been added on the sports marketing front. “Previously Black & Decker were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with us a year,” says Gosling. “Now they are spending many millions, which is helpful. We are doing more and more with them on a partnership basis.”
“On the licensing and franchising front, we have a number of consumer products out there in the market,” he continues. “Shortly we will be announcing an electronics partnership, where we are launching some very cool electronics products. We have just agreed and signed a deal whereby we will be doing a rollout of gyms across India.”
“In short,” he concludes, “It’s all good.”
Images: Extreme and The Circuit of Wales