As technology develops, data has become vital in sport – and this Italian woman’s passion for data has led her to work in the sports industry.
Giulia Zecchini made her breakthrough as an account manager at Nielsen Sport, a global leader in sports intelligence. Three years later, she joined Formula 1 as head of commercial economic intelligence. Today, she is responsible for business strategy for FACEIT, a leading independent competitive gaming platform, bringing brand sponsorships and partnerships to life.
Having studied in Italy, Spain and the UK, the Italian would never have imagined that she pursue a career in sport. “Growing up, I wanted to be a sports journalist,” she shares. “I never thought sport could be my career, just because I don’t think there’s enough education that there’s so much more to sport than what we see in the media.”
We caught up with Zecchini to find out what sparked his passion for data and how his upbringing paved the way for him to start working in the sports industry:
What do you do as Head of Business Strategy for FACEIT?
Prior to FACEIT, I was doing commercial business intelligence in Formula 1. It’s not too different from my current role as I’m still on the commercial teams, mainly focusing on sponsorship. So I examine the strategy behind our business initiatives through data by analyzing first, second and third party data.
On top of that, I work with third-party data providers and guide the business in determining what industry and brand they should be using. I also oversee how our platform can work with these brands to bring the partnership to life.
What sparked your interest in data and sports?
I come from a family that loved to play sports. My father played basketball professionally and my grandfather was a professional swimmer and sports journalist. So, I have always played sports; I played basketball professionally in Italy and semi-professionally in the UK.
As an undergraduate student, I studied sociology with many statistics modules. It ignited my passion for data and opened my eyes to how we can use data to uncover trends, stories and insights in human behavior analysis. Soon I realized that this was a universal concept that applies to various industries.
Although I never linked data to sports in college, my background helped shape much of my work, as I was able to develop a hypothesis about sports sponsorship and fan behaviors. Thanks to this, I was able to analyze whether an organization interacted effectively with its target audience.
Tell us a bit about your background as an international student.
I am originally from Italy and my family is Italian.
I went to a British school in Italy and decided to study at the University of Warwick, where I graduated in sociology.
I spent a year and a half in Madrid for my Erasmus in Spain, which was a great opportunity to live abroad and improve my Spanish. After graduation, I pursued a master’s degree in the UK at Imperial College London (ICL) to develop my business acumen.
Why did you decide to study for a Master of Science (MSc) Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management at ICL?
My end goal was to move and work in London, so I narrowed my search. Imperial College London’s business school is prestigious and has strong links to fields such as technology, science and medicine. I found it interesting to surround myself with people in fields that I did not know.
The business school also focused on entrepreneurship, innovation and management, which interested me because I wanted to learn more about startups, scale-ups, being an entrepreneur, working for small businesses and help them grow.
Since my time at ICL, I have acquired all the necessary skills to develop a strong commercial sensitivity and understand how companies work. It opened my eyes to what I should focus on when developing business strategies.
Tell us how you landed your role at Nielsen Sports, a company specializing in sponsor evaluation and data analysis.
After completing my Masters, I landed my first job at Nielsen. As part of their graduate program, I’ve worked on brands such as Mars and Coca-Cola. Through extensive training on the program, I managed to interview for an account manager position in the football division.
Data analysis and visualization are transferable skills from different industries. As a result, I moved on to working on ‘Rights Holder’ with some of Premier League football’s biggest clubs and supporting their sponsorship assessments and activations.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences with Nielsen Sports?
One of the projects I worked on towards the end of my time at Nielsen was helping the Manchester City women’s team find sponsors. In 2016-17, the commercialization of the sport was not as good. So we focused on helping secure local sponsors by using lots of data at Nielsen to analyze consumer behaviors.
We watched where people were going before and after the game. We also monitored where people traveled in and around the area to see which companies Nielsen could rely on to engage with the football club’s fan base.
Working with different Premier League clubs allowed me to see how different clubs approached sponsorship. I also had the chance to visit all these clubs across the UK and witness amazing football events such as the Carabao Cup Finals and Champions League matches.
Tell us about your time working in Formula 1.
So, I was recruited for my work in Formula 1 and my current role at FACEIT. I joined Formula 1 in 2018 after Liberty Media took over the sport. Much of my work revolved around initiatives that changed the customer landscape, even if they were more marketing initiatives than sales initiatives.
Due to my work, I have had the good fortune to travel to several races for research and work purposes. Like a business intelligence managerI’ve worked extensively with different company stakeholders, third-party search providers, and our fans directly.
What memorable project did you work on that helped shape the sport?
The agreement with Amazon Web Services (AWS) has significantly improved the experience of watching Formula 1. By working with the engineering teams, the AWS agreement has provided fans with additional information about how Formula 1 works. When I arrived I noticed that we needed to attract a lot of new fans to the sport – and marketing has done a great job of attracting new fans from different markets.
However, some of these fans were not your typical essence or culture leaders, so they may struggle to fully understand the engineering and racing side of Formula 1. Using AWS Insights, fans are more immersed in the action on the track thanks to data such as tire performance, passing chances and more.
Do you have any advice for students considering working in the sports industry?
I would recommend studying something that will give you transferable skills. Many tend to follow a specific path, like football management, because they want to work in football. However, you may find it beneficial to study something broader like statistics or business, as it will give you all the skills you can apply to various industries or businesses within an industry.