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SMB to Big Business: Interview with Steven Black, founder and owner of Masters Football

SMB to Big Business: Interview with Steven Black, founder and owner of Masters Football

SMB to Big Business


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min read

Steven Black, from London, is the head of Masters Football which he established in 1998. Steven kindly agreed to talk to us about the company, its aims, the challenges it has faced and how it has succeeded in providing a product that is globally popular.


What is Masters Football and where did the idea come from?

It is a six-a-side football tournament featuring former top players from the Premiership. The idea came about after I had worked for some years in sports business advertising, with companies such as Nike and sports events. I got involved in owning an ice hockey team and that opened my eyes to indoor sports. I saw that although it was a relatively small sport, it had a hardcore following.


How did you put this idea together into a successful product?

The combination of sports advertising and sport gave me an idea for indoor football. I saw that the greatest potential was in working with former football legends, and did my homework and created the indoor six-a-side game. I met with Sky Sports, the Football Association and the footballers’ union to get it off the ground. The more I thought about it, the title “Masters Football” just seemed the ideal name.


Credit: PR

What was it that pushed you to become a business owner?

I was an employee for advertising firms, but I always wanted to create my own company. I wanted to do my own thing, and it has given me a lot of freedom.


How did your previous work experience help you, and what skills are needed?

You need to have discipline, and this is something I learned from the advertising and media world. That work also enabled me to create a fantastic network of business contacts and learn how to deal with big stars. When you are exposed to some of the biggest stars in sports, that gives you great confidence.


At what point did you decide you wanted to grow into a big company, or was it something that just developed over time?

It really developed as we went along. Masters Football matches are big events where 150 people can be working on them. We are looking into the possibility of staging other related activities, such as “An evening with…”

These events are popular with sports fans who love to hear footballers’ anecdotes, as well as their views on current topics in the sport.


What was your original mission as an SMB?

The original mission was to create a niche in live entertainment. Not everybody realises that the football players of the past have a lot to offer and are vastly underused. They are much more in the public’s faces nowadays. For example, you have Gary Lineker, Dion Dublin and Kris Kamara, who are involved in other areas of entertainment – they have so much to offer. In addition, Masters Football has really helped increase their general appeal long after their football days have finished.


What is the audience for Masters Football?

There is a broad age range of viewers and attendees of Masters Football matches. Although the players are now in their 40s and 50s, it is not just people of that age and older who are keen on the events. We see that teenagers also love the format, so there is a great appeal to a younger audience as well.


What are your main channels of marketing, and which social channels are you on?

I am a big believer in social media, which has become enormously important and has changed the way Masters Football does its marketing. Previously, we had to rely on local radio and newspapers. Today, players tweet and some of them have big followings, so that helps tell a huge number of people that they take part in Masters Football. We use all of the social media platforms to create awareness. And we see the success of this, because we receive emails all the time asking us when the next event will be held.


What is it that makes your company unique?

I would again stress that it is very much a niche business, and has succeeded in becoming the leading football legends brand. We have held 300—350 events. Some other firms have come into this same space, but they do other events as well, so they are not really direct competitors. Since we started, a number of big clubs have started organising their own events.

But the big clubs only look at the money, not what’s best for the supporters. That’s the climate you operate in, and it can be tricky when you come up against the big clubs and companies. That’s our biggest challenge – avoiding clashes with big companies.

Credit: PR


Do you have competitors in your line of business?

There aren’t any firms directly competing with us. We look after many players, because at this stage of their careers, most of them don’t need agents. Some sports firms might do an evening with a player, but not really directly what we do.


How do you recruit employees who will be a good fit?

They need to be personable and and have really good people skills. They also have to know how to deal with ex-footballers. 100% of people that we work with have huge egos. Ex-footballers are like that and you have to understand how to cope with them. Most people are in awe of them because they are famous, but you must be able to deal with them as normal people. In fact, they respect you for that. You need to ensure that you get the right people for each position. For example, I have worked with the same floor manager for 5 years. Loyalty counts for a lot.


How much of your day do you spend on your business?

I couldn't really quantify it because my work is my passion.


Please tell us something about the market that your company serves.

It’s difficult to tie down because Masters Football appeals to both young and old. People of all ages enjoy it. It’s been on TV all around the world. I can honestly say that it's been in every corner of the world. I met someone from Hawaii and he said he had seen it on TV which just goes to show its global exposure.

Did you secure funding for your business to expand from an SMB to a big company or did you only use available capital?

We secured funding for that.


What are your typical responsibilities as a business owner?    

In the last 2—3 years, they have not been typical due to COVID-19.It's also difficult to answer because we are aiming to go into a new phase and hoping for new opportunities.


What do you like most about your business?    

I really love that it's a passion rather than a job.


What do you like and dislike about business in general?      

I like the passion and environment because I follow football. What I dislike is the fact that the big corporations are faceless. Big clubs have lost their connection with the community and supporters.


Can you talk to us about how you scaled from small and grew? 

You need a lot of awareness about the business you are in, and business in general. When you have been there for a number of years, it’s easier.

In a post-COVID situation, I hope that the conditions will improve so that people will feel confident about going to live events again. We need to learn to live with COVID, and if the strains carry on for a few years, we need to learn to deal with that.


Are you a risk-taker or do you believe in a steadier approach to expansion?  

I have been told (by my financial advisor) that I am not a risk-taker!


What is the one thing that your company does uniquely well that puts you ahead of your competitors?    

We have developed a real understanding with most of the players we work with and get the most out of them. We understand how the players’ minds work, and deliver the right ones for each particular event.


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