A Bournemouth University graduate has set up the world Freestyle Football Federation, with plans to develop healthy active lifestyles for young people through the sport.
Dan Wood, who graduated from Leisure Marketing in 2004, always wanted to own his own business and freestyle football was the perfect fit.
It all started when Dan bumped into an old school friend, “I have always wanted my own business but was never really sure what that would be – I just knew it would be sport in some context. When I was working at Reebok I bumped into an old friend of 20+ years from school. He was working as a skills coach at Leeds United at the time – we went to market with a concept he’d developed, which was accelerated learning for children on the street through football. It was basically street level skills coaching with music; dance and football all fused together, called BallFusion”
Dan’s step into the footballing world soon developed and the chance came about to work with freestyle footballers; street artists who perform juggling skills using a football.
Dan continued, “I’d met all of these freestyle footballers through the work we had been doing. These guys were amazing. They were training for 7 hours a day just to get a video together to post to YouTube to share with their friends. They were amazing talents and amazing role models because they were self-taught, but no one gave them any structure or support, they were just doing it for the love of it – they were making these videos to just get their next gig, in the hope that someone would hire them for the next TV commercial or whatever it may be.”
“I had all these ideas and philosophies from what we were doing before but I also knew that there was a real niche in building a federation [for these freestylers]. I knew someone from FIFA [football federation] from Adidas so I was talking to them a little bit about it too. It was a simple idea ‘what if there was a socially responsible federation out there who could look after a growing new sport within the football industry’.”
From there, the idea of the Freestyle Football Federation was born – and the Federation has grown fast, “In 2011 we registered in the UK as a non-profit association, a Federation, and we are now at 93 country members”
The journey from idea to reality has been an interesting one, and Dan has had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people along the way, “Going back to the very start in 2006, I’m a [Tottenham Hotspur] Spurs fan and [former Spurs player] Edgar Davids was one of the first people to get involved so I was happy about that – he’d been doing it for years anyway in Holland. Working with him on a few projects at the beginning was a great start. Then Brian Laudrup in Denmark, Lucas Radebe in South Africa, and Lionel Messi as a part of our work with the FIFA Street computer game – we were involved in Spain with him. Ronaldo has done countless TV commercials in Portugal and Spain that we’ve assisted and helped to choreograph.”
The Federation got a big endorsement from professional footballer Ronaldinho too, “Most recently, and most humbling actually, was when we were invited over to Mexico to meet Ronaldinho (pictured) who is now our global ambassador. He volunteered to be so because he loves the sport so much and that’s what he does as a part of his warm up so it was a very authentic match for us.”
Dan’s vision remains clear and there are big plans for the future, “We want to be FIFA in the street one day. We want to be as big and powerful as that without the politics!”
“One of the biggest things we are going to make is the world tour – it is going to be the biggest flagship event for us. It will be a series of events, not just one static world championship. This year we were in Beijing, London and Johannesburg and we’re going to grow it to six locations next year. By 2016 we will then be running a World Tour with 10 events per year. This is our TV platform and our strongest sponsorship platform. The Formula 1 for the football industry is what we are trying to proposition it as.”
Dan’s vision has taken him around the world but he still credits a lot of his success to the start he had at Bournemouth University, “What the course gave me, and what Adidas picked up straight away, and the reason they invited me over for the internship, was based on the diversity on offer – there was no other course from any other university they had seen that gave that breadth of international marketing experience as well as local business intelligence and strategy and everything else; event management too.
“The people were amazing too, BU has an amazing social life and I made amazing friends who have stayed with me for life, people who I have actually come back to see now and will continue to in the future. I’m actually working with them on a couple of projects too – Bournemouth University students get everywhere! So I’ve met them in the most remote places when travelling round the world, and it’s really helped because it’s an icebreaker within conversations and you develop a rapport much quicker.”