Paul Holmes provides his assessment of the 2020 World Tens Series
This year saw the historic launch of the inaugural World Tens Series with tournaments taking place in Bermuda across October and November with seven competing teams.
Paul Holmes, who was recently appointed CEO of the World Tens, shares his thoughts and those of the founding partners James Walker, Jon Phelps and Mark Broadley on how the World Tens Series came about, the challenges, the success stories and signing off 2020 suitably before proceeding with the plans for 2021.
The World Tens Series journey started for us back in April 2019, we were scheduled to launch the series with five events in five different locations for 2020, predominantly in the North American market. Those locations had all been secured, and then the world got hit by COVID-19. This meant we had to get creative and reorganize. We still felt that 2020 was a massive opportunity because some of the problems that had plagued players in the past had been magnified due to the pandemic.
A big part of our thinking when creating the World Tens was about providing opportunities for players from tier two nations that did not have high international playing opportunities and exposure. For players from tier one countries, there is such a plethora of talent that sometimes there is a lot of players that can get overlooked, so creating opportunities for these guys as well was paramount.
It became acutely apparent that delivering what we set out to achieve was going to come with challenges. We had COVID-19 to start with which impacted several workstreams. This included having two of our main investors pull out within seven days of our start date. We also had two companies that were looking at World Tens Series sponsorship rescind their interest as budgets were placed on hold. When Jon Phelps landed in Bermuda, we found out that half of the hotel rooms arranged for players were no longer available, so we had to find alternative options with players preparing to fly in. We were sitting there a week after being on the island without the necessary investors, without the hotel rooms, during COVID-19 with pretty much everyone gunshot. We then had a team from South America pull out due to COVID-19, a member of the SX10 playing squad test positive for COVID-19 and a category one hurricane delay the start date by 24 hours.
All this was happening, and not once did it deter James (Walker), Jon (Phelps), Mark (Broadley) or I from delivering what we set out to do. We always knew it was going to be difficult, but we knew we could make it work, we knew we could give the players an unbelievable experience, we knew that we could produce a fantastic product. Jon Phelps has a history of producing phenomenal products along with Kevin Vandoorne and the two of them did a fantastic job on that front.
On a more positive note, we were delighted to have Sky Sports in the UK and Ireland and ESPN across five regions cover the Series, this allowed us to showcase the World Tens to a global audience and the viewership reinforced the fact that the Tens was enjoyed and accepted around the world, especially by the Gen Z and Millennial audiences and this provides us with something to build on. I would also like to recognise the support of the Bermudians on the ground that worked so hard alongside us to deliver the events. We would also like to thank Samurai for their kit partnerships of five of the franchises and Bacardi and Barritt’s Ginger Beer for their support of the inaugural Series. The virtual logo placement on the production side allowed us to fully immerse these brands within the broadcast and added real value to their partnership.
We have since had people who I would say were ‘doubters’ coming out of the woodwork wanting to stamp their name and their place in 2021. All these conversations have come from what happened in Bermuda and that is very exciting. We have got the attention of some of the biggest players in the sports industry in the US and the data we have gathered from the inaugural series has impressed a lot of people that have seen it.
Highlights of the series
The highlights were first and foremost seeing the players, the coaches, medical staff, the production crew and broadcast talent that came out to Bermuda really excel. It was just awesome in the year that 2020 was to see this vision become a reality and be brought to life through these crucial individuals. They all delivered in their respective roles, added a huge amount of value to the World Tens and were the key elements to a successful series launch event.
It was amazing seeing players from all over the world competing together, the SX10 team was a great example of this with players from South Africa, Kenya, Wales, Ireland, USA, all playing alongside each other. That was always a vision, to see players from all over the world, who had maybe competed against each other in the past, playing together.
The other highlight was seeing young American guys who had come through our Combine System, which we had ran through 2020 in partnership with Tiger Rugby and IMG, representing the seven teams. The culmination of their commitment to chasing a dream, after all the hard work they had put in, was fantastic to see.
Taking everything into account, the real highlight was exceeding our own expectations in terms of producing a great product on the ground.
Heading into 2021 will see us double the amount of Combines as we host events on both the East and West Coast of the US, allowing us to create more opportunities. The plan is to take the Combines to our priority markets and for 2021 that will very much be dictated by where the world is with regards to COVID-19. We have two guys that have come onboard full time through Tiger Rugby and they will be heavily involved in the running of the Combines. We will continue working with IMG and we are looking to expand some partnerships on the ground and do some more exciting things next year.
The 2020 Combines alumni will be involved in sharing their experiences with the next batch of players and inspiring those that harbour the same ambitions. There is going to be a lot of opportunities on hand for these guys and it goes back to one of our key values – making sure the players are all well looked after on all fronts and that we can create openings beyond the game as well.
Wrapping Up 2020
Before we focus on building out 2021 and beyond, we are focussing on wrapping up 2020 100% correctly. And that the player first approach remains focused on making sure all the players are looked after.
You don’t know what you don’t know until you do it, so we have learnt a lot of crucial lessons along the way. We want players, coaching staff, officials, medical staff, broadcast talent, production crew and partners to be excited about staying involved on this World Tens journey. What we have is because of all the individuals who came and took a chance on us in Bermuda and we don’t have anything without them, so a huge thank you to everyone that was involved.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the teams, players, staff and fans of the World Tens Series a very happy and healthy 2021. There are big plans for next year and we look forward to sharing these with you in due course.
Paul Holmes – CEO World Tens Series