Growing the smaller global game

Five-a-side football has grown significantly since launching in the 1980s. Powerleague’s commercial director Nigel Hargreaves explains the business's plans for international expansion including a tilt at America.

The Five-a-side football market has grown significantly since launching in the 1980s. In a Q&A, Powerleague’s commercial director Nigel Hargreaves explains how the legacy of London 2012’s Games will affect the business and reveals plans for international expansion including a tilt at America.

Hargreaves joined Powerleague in March this year from the Small Sided Football Federation, which he founded in September 2009. Prior to that the sporting entrepreneur spent eight years at the Football Association as head of strategic development.

When was the league started?

Powerleague established the commercial five-a-side industry in 1983. The story is that there was a frustrated footballer who tried to book sports halls for five-a-side football, but couldn’t get availability.

I found exactly the same in those days: trying to find a sports hall to play in, I couldn’t. In Paisley, Scotland, there was an old tennis centre. The idea was formed to convert the tennis courts, which were seldom used, into adult five-a-side football pitches. From that point, there are now around 30,000 teams playing football every week across the UK.

How does the business work?

We’re about providing opportunities for people to play; predominantly football, although we do offer some other sports on the pitches, including tag rugby.

We’re just looking at a couple of trials with the English hockey board and the lawn tennis association. We offer a number of services: you can join a Powerleague League, to play in a league structure every week.

We run leagues for under 23s, and we run junior leagues. You can hire a pitch with a group of mates – it’s very informal.

We also do a number of other areas within the business, mainly around using the assets of the building itself so we run kids’ parties and coaching, and we also hire the function rooms.

It’s quite a simple business. It’s reliant on people playing sport on the pitches in line with government policy to get one million people more active as part of the 2012 legacy. Across the whole industry, there are 1.8 million people playing five-a-side football every month.

Is it a unique concept?

We think it was probably the first five-a-side football centre in the world. It’s always difficult to make such claims because you’re never quite sure what’s going on in a global scenario.

We weren’t anywhere of anybody who started before us in the business. Certainly, there aren’t any other countries globally that have such a developed market as ourselves.

Part of our innovation and growth is looking at other markets within Europe and further afield – there’s nothing wrong with global domination.

We’ve just secured a site in Dublin and we are actively looking at sites within both France and Spain. Other territories were keen to explore include the Pacific rim, Australasia and potentially America. We do have aspirations to take five-a-side football to the world.

Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Of course, we’re a consumer facing industry. Yes, we are affected by consumer spending patterns and we’re working very hard this year to make sure that our services, our pricing, the whole Powerleague experience, enables us to continue to grow our like for like business, which is what we’re doing.

How does the business model operate?

Most of our income is generated by people hiring the pitches, either in a league structure or on a social booking basis. We are developing our youth offer in terms of junior leagues, junior coaching and kids’ parties. Probably the smallest part of our revenue is around the function rooms.

See also: Foresight invests in football firm

Todd Cardy

Adelbert Swaniawski

Todd was Editor of GrowthBusiness.co.uk between 2010 and 2011 as well as being responsible for publishing our digital and printed magazines focusing on private equity and venture capital. Connect with...

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