Oliver Weingarten has achieved what most young men have only dreamed of. Aged 35, he has forged a successful career in international sports, having held high-ranking positions in the Premier league and Formula One.
He has been paid big bucks to banter with top racing drivers from Lewis Hamilton to Jenson Button. He has led backroom negotiations over foreign player transfers for premiership clubs (although he won’t say which). He has travelled the world, attended exclusive sporting events and called it “work”.
So why did sports consultant Weingarten decide to go solo, with the launch of his own firm, at the peak of his career?
“It became like a travelling circus,” explains Weingarten, a father-of-two, who resigned from his post as Formula One’s secretary-general in April.
“From my perspective, the experience was quite lonely at times. There are 1,000 odd people travelling around the world as a collective, on the same planes, staying at the same hotels and at the same circuit all weekend, then we do the same thing again — round and round, 20 races a year. It was like ground-hog day.
“No sooner was my son born, that a week later i was back on a plane to Japan.
Anybody who does a lot of travel knows that it’s not glamorous.”
Being one of the few Jews in Formula One was also challenging for Weingarten, who keeps a kosher home and describes himself as “traditional”.
“There was a real lack of knowledge about Judaism,” he says. “It was quite early on in my tenure and I couldn’t go to a race because it fell on one of the High Holy Days.
“The people I worked with just couldn’t comprehend why someone who had just taken on this new job couldn’t go to a race. I found myself having to educate some of the team officials on the basics of Judaism.”
But his time at Formula One had some lighter moments too. “I remember saying goodbye to Hamilton at the end of his season with the Mclaren team just over a year ago,” Weingarten recalls.
“I said to him, ‘don’t think I’m stalking you when i see you in Mercedes next season — it’s my job!’.
“I asked him if he knew what my job was and he said ‘of course’. But still to this day, I don’t know if he really did.”
He is keen to highlight, what he considers, missed opportunities in Formula One. “It’s a fantastic sport but it should be much, much bigger than it is. It doesn’t do any marketing and Bernie Ecclestone has publicly said he doesn’t believe in social media.
“He has run the sport successfully and you have to admire what he’s done, but he’s done it very much his way.”
Weingarten’s journey into Formula One, after the Premier league, was unconventional. A lawyer, he completed his training at Olswang before spotting a legal executive position at the Premier league in a magazine advert. He jumped at the chance.
“When word got around that I was being interviewed at the Premier League, partners who had never spoken to me before suddenly wanted to introduce
Weingarten says he was interviewed for the job by the only other Jew working in the Premier League at the time — former FA boss Simon Johnson, who has now turned his attention to communal games as chief executive of the
Jewish Leadership Council.
Weingarten’s first major assignment for the world’s wealthiest football league was to focus on the lucrative area of intellectual and broadcasting rights, which were coming under threat from video-sharing websites like YouTube. “To sustain revenues we needed to show rights-holders that we were protecting them,” he says.
“We successfully sued YouTube in a class action suit in the US and became the go-to people for sports rights protection around the world. In my line of work television doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s about broadcasting — watching the match on your tablet, mobile or PC. The Premier league became renowned as a leader in this field.”
Perhaps his most impressive achievement at the league was to bring together 40 governing bodies to join his sports-rights coalition, enabling them to collectively lobby for the protection of intellectual property. But after seven years at the league, the ambitious Scotsman, who grew up in Glasgow, was ready for the fast-paced world of Formula One.
However, on reflection, Weingarten has come to view the multi-billion pound racing world as a “piranha’s pool”.
This summer, he set up his own consultancy firm — OW advisory. Three months on, and he claims to have already had talks with 50 per cent of the football clubs in the Premier league, having built on his contacts and experience.
His firm, he says, covers monetising digital content to facilitating foreign player transfers. Looking towards the future, Weingarten, a Glasgow rangers fan, is excited by the possibilities of social media and new digital strategies that will continue to provide a better and more interactive experience for sports fans.