By Kerry Needs   |  
November 13th, 2020

The Art of Risk in Sport and Entertainment: A Conversation with Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Craig Tiley is no stranger to risk. Joining Tennis Australia as CEO, Craig Tiley had a bold vision for the future of the sport – and one that was unique in his industry. He envisaged transforming a sports event into a world-leading entertainment event with sport at its core. It would appeal to a broader audience, but would also be the first of its kind.

Craig went all in, and the risk paid off. Today, the CEO of Tennis Australia and Director of the annual Australian Open is credited with transforming the Open into Australia’s largest and most successful international sporting event, watched by over one billion people worldwide. 

In his six years at the helm, Tennis Australia’s revenues have more than doubled. This accelerated growth was achieved by diversifying opportunities, transforming digital and taking some big risks which have all led to big rewards. This is testament to Craig Tiley’s extraordinary approach to leadership.

So how can businesses follow Craig’s approach to risk? He shares his inspiration and advice:

#1 Create a compelling vision and set big goals

If you want to stand out from your competition and thrive, start with  an exciting vision. Craig demonstrated incredible foresight planning for the Australian Open. In his mind, he dreamed of a different kind of sporting event – one that was more entertainment based, like something that Disney may have created.

He set to work and sold in his vision . The transformation of Tennis Australia from being a tennis federation into a mid-size ASX-listed business, which is not only a tennis business but also an entertainment business, is in full progress. He brought production and broadcasting rights under internal control, and extended the scope of the event to include  entertainment partnerships focused on live music, kid-friendly activations, and five-star food. 

Craig’s exciting vision became a tangible goal – by breaking it down into components. During COVID-19, it can seem as though the old ways of doing business are no longer feasible. 

What vision could grow in its place? How could you do things differently? Follow Craig’s success by remembering to dream big, create a compelling vision with goals.

#2 Redefine risk-taking  

When it feels like the ground is constantly shifting under your feet, it’s important to redefine what taking risks actually means. 

As Craig learned, waiting until the last moment is not the best course of action in a global pandemic. By adopting an agile mindset, he worked with his team on robust scenario planning to successfully organize the Australian Open in 2021. It’s a wise move in a high risk situation, as the pandemic carries so many uncertainties that could derail plans at any moment.

Craig believes that redefining risk taking in the context of COVID-19 calls for flexibility:

“These extraordinary times dictate a need for agility and extensive planning that explores a very wide range of options”- Craig Tiley, Essentially Sports

Leaders can emulate this type of mindset by adopting a courageous approach to change. Rather than putting plans on ice or pausing operations, it’s possible to creatively brainstorm ways that business can be undertaken, iterating in the face of potential risks and threats.

No matter what industry you’re in, we can all dig deep and learn how to thrive:

“The next challenge requires another level of creative thinking. COVID-19 may be a disruptor but provides an opportunity to accelerate growth. Risk-taking is redefined with more variables to consider. There is now, more than ever, a need to communicate a clear path to success and build confidence in an exciting future.”

Craig Tiley

#3 Adopt new technology and digitize with the times 

To evolve, you have to adapt with the technology available. Craig Tiley decided to do just that when he digitized the entire ticketing process for Tennis Australia. The entire end to end process, from booking tickets to accessing the venue was digitized, which provided more opportunities for personalization and data tracking.

By staying on top of the latest technology,  he creates ease within the consumer journey and paves the way to success. He explains his approach to digitizing a tennis game: 

“We need to match today’s technology and behaviours so you can use your mobile phone to book a court, communicate with your partner, pay direct, show up and have the gate open for you.” – Craig Tiley, Business Chief Asia 

Can businesses take inspiration from his lessons learned in sport? Craig believes so. By adopting new technology, leaders are more easily able to pivot in testing times, finding new ways to conduct operations and stay relevant to their audience.

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