GETTING TO KNOW: Lee-Roy Newton

28 Jul 2020

The former South African sprinter and World Championship relay gold medallist set up the Newton Sports Agency in Durban in 2011, because he wanted to "not only represent athletes at the highest level, but also establish a truly comprehensive African agency."

Q: Who was your first client and what did you start with, in terms of staff and resources?
A: 
I started out in a small room in my home with no staff and less than R1000 in my bank account. But I knew what I wanted to build and why I wanted to build it, and this helped keep me focused during those tough start-up days. One of my first clients was Chad le Clos. His coach at the time, Graham Hill, told me he had a young, exciting swimmer  - well, he was certainly that and much more! And his dad Bert was added value during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Q: What was your biggest challenge in making the transition from athlete to business owner?
A: 
I think the biggest challenge was getting other people to see me as a businessman, not just an ex-athlete.

Q: Fast-forward 10 years and what did your agency look like at the start of 2020, in terms of client base, staff, and resources?
A: 
We now have over 180 athletes across seven countries, 15 support staff, a European base for clients in Germany, and our head office in Durban.

Q: Does the Newton Sports Agency have a particular strength or speciality, or sport that it is particularly strong in?
A: 
The agency success started within the Olympic sports, with a strong focus on track and field. We are also registered within cricket and rugby.

Q: Not many agencies have a sports psychologist on their books. What does Dr Kirsten van Heerden bring to the Newton Sports Agency offering that, perhaps, other agencies aren’t able to offer?
A: 
We pride ourselves on having a holistic approach to athlete management, and mental health and wellbeing is a large component of this. Sometimes we can forget that athletes are people first and having a sports psychologist as part of the team ensures we look after the person, not just so they can thrive in the sports world, but so they can be a success in life as well.

Q: As a Durban-based agency, are you happy being seen as such, or do you believe brands, sponsors and rights-holders need to broaden their view and look outside Jo’burg and Cape Town, when looking for an agency?
A: 
I prefer to think of ourselves as an Africa-based agency and like to measure ourselves again global standards. I think having this mindset has enabled us to work with companies from both South Africa and abroad on both local and global campaigns.

Q: What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business?
A: 
Everyone in the sports industry has been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another and it has been a stressful time. However, as a business it has allowed us to take time to reflect on our work and where we can get better. So in many ways, the past few months have been really good and some exciting opportunities have come from it which may not have been available before.

Q: Once sport in general is back up and running, do you anticipate change, in terms of how it is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
A: 
I think even before COVID-19 there were some changes happening in sport, as there should be. We need to evolve and keep up with new technologies and ways of providing a greater value to the consumers and rights-holders. But ultimately, whatever changes happen, I think fundamentally sport will remain the same as it has always been: providing entertainment, giving hope, and providing opportunities for people to better themselves and their communities. And that is why we are involved in sport in the first place!

Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international - do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
A: 
I think the ATP/WTA tours get it right more often than not, but also individual players such as Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are a great example of building a brand beyond just tennis. Formula 1 has recently released a great documentary with great content that shares insight into drivers and teams, and in turn is gaining new followers.

Q: Where would you like to see Newton Sports Agency in 10 years’ time?
A: 
The aim has always been to contribute to the growth and development not only of athletes, but the sport and entertainment industry itself, in South Africa, Africa and globally. I see us continuing to do this though various collaborations with likeminded shareholders in the market.

Sport categories: 
Athletics