Rio Ferdinand: From centre back to centre stage

Speaking at the inaugural Millennial 20/20 Summit, the former Manchester United and England footballer passes on some entrepreneurial advice

A former England captain and one of the most decorated British footballers of all time, Rio Ferdinand is busy proving there’s more to life than just football.

Launching his own digital print and fashion brand #5 in 2009, Ferdinand has more recently embarked on a successful TV career as a pundit with BT Sport – something he is taking in his stride. “What would I be doing anyway? I’d only be around my friend’s house or in the pub talking about football!”

Scouted from a young age, Ferdinand admits sport wasn’t the only thing on his mind. The son of a tailor, he expressed an early interest in fashion and even ballet. “I was always interested in exploring new things, I never wanted to be boxed or pigeon-holed into one area,” he remarks.

Named as England’s captain for the 2010 World Cup, Ferdinand was struck down by injury in training and subsequently missed the entire tournament. However, it was from this setback, that his social media journey began.

Wanting to retain some involvement in his role as the skipper, Ferdinand turned to Twitter. “I went to Morocco with my family and felt that, as captain, I still needed some form of involvement.” Tweeting about England’s form as well as his own personal life, Ferdinand (like any good entrepreneur) started to see the opportunities that social media could bring to him. “I saw it in America and the number of sport stars that were using it there.”

While Ferdinand says he was always thinking about “creating avenues for when I retire”, he admits he’s still learning. Having also attended the Web Summit for the past two years he considers himself to be in a lucky place. “I’m on a learning curve and I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by experts in the tech space.”

Joined onstage at the Millennial 20/20 Summit by broadcaster Nicki Shields, Startups was present to find out what advice the Champions League winner could offer aspiring entrepreneurs…

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Know your product and consumer

Rio Ferdinand and Startups’s Shane Donnelly

Discussing essential advice for any start-up, Ferdinand urged the importance of knowing your brand or product inside out – particularly when dealing with advertisers. Essential for any digital print service, being able to negotiate and attract investment is helped greatly if you’re able to identity your key strengths and accentuate the positives during negotiations.

In #5’s case, Ferdinand recognises the huge draw the video section has, particularly Players Lounge. Featuring exclusive interviews and footage of some of the world’s best footballers, Ferdinand feels this is what his consumers want. “The video part of the magazine is the best part for me. It brings people in and makes it real life.”

Indeed, Ferdinand has used this to his advantage since becoming a regular pundit on BT Sport. “In the first roundtable discussion (with BT), it was about me being able to share content and get exclusive content the day or two before it actually went live. BT have a reach, but I’m aware I have a huge reach as well.”

Be responsible on social media

From his early days on Twitter, Ferdinand found social media a useful tool for counteracting negative images some newspapers had created of him, and used the site to push through the real him. “I kept seeing portrayals of myself that I didn’t agree with, the only way to combat that was through social media.”

However, despite his often outspoken nature online, Ferdinand urges caution and responsibility to any sport star that wants to embark on a social media career and warned of the pitfalls of “one tweet too many”.

“As an athlete, you have a social responsibility for the next generation. People hang on your every word, so you have a responsibility. There’s still a long way to go in terms of showing the next generation of athletes how to use social media efficiently”.

Don’t get too emotionally involved

While any entrepreneur would be proud of his success, Ferdinand admits that if you “get too emotionally involved in your product, it can become a problem”. With #5, ideas and content that Ferdinand placed among his favourites had to be dropped because they simply weren’t engaging enough. It was a tough blow to take, but Ferdinand says you have to take a step back and be honest. “Be opened minded and don’t get too hitched on one area.”

When it comes to deciding what content to feature “the data is key” for Ferdinand. “You get ideas for what works and you keep these going.”

Keep your priorities in order

A constant winner throughout his trophy laden career, Ferdinand says he made sure to solely concentrate on football and purposely did not explore other business interests until he was preforming at a consistently high standard. He advises young athletes to do the same and remember to keep their priorities in check.

“Younger athletes want to start a clothing range or go on social media and be really active but they don’t have their core business, which is sport, in order.” It’s a lesson that can just as well be applied to all start-ups, where side-lines can so often side-track.


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  1. He was a great player, but I doubt he is as good as an entrepreneur. As far as I know, his #5 brand wasn’t a successful venture. Besides, what entrepreneurial advice can someone who’s counting on his fame to make money, give a normal guy who has nothing to start with?