A friend of mine recently returned from a business trip to Israel. On this trip, he met an interesting Israeli businessman. The man’s name is Yoav Bruck and he is an Israeli swimmer who competed in three Olympic Games. Mr Bruck is also CEO of a sports tourism agency. Always looking for the opportunity to interview interesting people for this blog, I asked my friend to arrange a telephone interview with Mr Bruck. To my surprise, he was more than happy to oblige.
When I spoke with Mr Bruck on the phone, it was just a couple days after the end of the Maccabiah Games of which he was the Sports Chairman. For those of you unfamiliar with the Maccabiah Games (as I was until I started researching for this interview), they are similar in style to the Olympic Games only all participants are either Israeli citizens or Jews.
Yoav Bruck can speak about sporting events with undisputed authority. We’re impressed with people like Bruck who combine passion, innovation, and positive-thinking to make their mark on their industry. I hope you find reading this interview as interesting as I found writing it.
Robin Cook: What was it like serving as the Sports Chairman for the 19th Maccabiah Games?
Yoav Bruck: Overall, the Games were very successful, and on a small budget compared to parallel events around the world. Maccabiah is the third largest sporting event in terms of participants behind the Olympics and the World University Games, and their budgets are much much bigger.
We’re talking about nine thousand athletes. Thirty to forty thousand visitors came to Israel to enjoy the Games, and that helped tremendously with the economy. I think it was the most significant event in Israel this year – period. I’m very proud to have taken part in it.
In a Chairman position, it’s your experience and connections that are being utilized to help the organizing professionals who work full time. We had an excellent group people. The goal was to get the games running smoothly and to include high level sports. The swimming, the cycling, the rugby, the basketball and football were at a pretty high level. We were also successful in bringing in top tier athletes like American swimmers Andrea Murez and Garrett Weber-Gale.
RC: I am sure you are asked this a lot but I have to ask anyway. What values from your training as an athlete do you apply in your daily life?
YB: Being an athlete on a high level teaches you hard work, commitment, and discipline. You need to know how to plan things ahead of time. You learn how to deal with disappointment and, less importantly, success. By doing – not by talking – you learn that nothing ever comes easy, and it doesn’t matter how talented the particular athlete. If they reach a high level of success it means they’re working hard. You learn you have to sacrifice and be very dedicated. I see this in business. There’s always someone very near to “closing in” on the “champion.” He’s putting in 110% so your 99% isn’t enough.
RC: Why did you start a sports tourism company?
YB: It was toward the end of my career in 1999 and I was training for what I knew was my last Olympics. I approached a parent of a fellow swimmer who I thought could help me get sponsors. Instead, his reaction was that he could kick-start me on a new idea to build a career after swimming. He introduced me to Israel’s largest travel service provider.
We came up with the idea to give sports federations and athletes better service traveling to sporting events. Over the years it evolved to include more fan-based services.
RC: What important market opportunities do you see on the horizon for sports tourism?
YB: Right now we’re focused on the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia and the soccer World Cup in Brazil as well as the Euro-league that just started this week. But we focus our thinking more and more on the clients who have been loyal and travelled with us repeatedly for the past 15 or so years. What new experiences are they open to trying?
Importantly, the gap between the cost of packages to top events and what fans can afford is growing quickly. There might be a lot of criticism about the price of tickets and packages, but in reality sporting event organizers – Rio, Sochi, or football teams – have to spend enormous amounts of money to build infrastructure and pay increasingly high salaries.
So what we’ve done is make normal sporting events – for instance, English, Spanish, and German soccer league games – more affordable. We buy the tickets, airfare, and book the hotel. We have the product on the shelf.
But if you want to go to the League Championship or World Cup final, those events have become very expensive. This is where the business is going. We’re trying to meet both ends: we want to be competitive with the low end and to service the high end.
Every year we have to reinvent ourselves and come up with new, better products. In the last couple of years we started flying clients with team Barcelona on their private jet to their away games. Ten years ago if you said that, people would have thought you were crazy. So we’re always coming up with new things that no one has ever done before.
RC: From an outsider’s perspective we often associate that creative out-of-the-box thinking with Israel’s start-up culture…
YB: Yes, we have to be creative. But you can look at it both ways. Our clients are Israeli so they expect us to be creative. They expect us to think out of the box. For example, for the London Olympics we served both the Israeli and European markets since we had a license with Cyprus. European clients tend to see a package on the shelf and buy it without asking for changes. They can be much easier to deal with. So, yeah, dealing with Israelis, you need think out of the box.
RC: Can you elaborate on the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia?
YB: For people who grew up with the mentality of winter sports, and this applies to a lot of Russian Israelis – it’s a no-brainer. They just say we want to be there and this is what we want to watch. For people without this mentality, who don’t know where Sochi is and don’t relate to winter sports, it’s a difficult sell. But every single person who we had to convince to come with us to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver returned totally thrilled.