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#GettingToKnow Gav Rowe and the beautiful, powerful and explosive world of the modern football fan

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For many people, the idea of living and breathing football and being paid to do so is something of a pipedream. For Gav Rowe, however, the Chief Creative Officer at COPA90, it’s been a pretty exceptional reality for some time now.

COPA90 is a fan-first football media company, uniquely positioned at the intersection of fan engagement and data that reaches more than 70 million fans around the world monthly. Offering a full-service solution, including industry-leading research, production, content, experiences and distribution, they work with brands who believe that football has the power to transcend culture, society and identity like nothing else.

As CCO, Gav is a man who is tasked with negotiating the parameters of working with global brands and using football to tell compelling stories that lead to greater fan engagement. To discuss the art of good storytelling and how to carefully protect the nuance of telling a story rather than creating overt brand campaigns, we got to know Gav this week. And so should you.

Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

Everyday is interesting. My work life means existing in between insight and originality. 

The things we do, stories we tell and the perspectives we are comfortable enough to share, are the window to COPA90s personality and I’m proud to be a part of that. As a creative at COPA90 we’re tasked with crafting work that's worth peoples attention. We don’t have a traditional marketing mentality, we prefer to create with an entertainment mindset: enlighten, entertain and empower, respect people’s attention and bring them into the story.

Creativity here is our oxygen – it is important in all aspects of our world, from how we understand and collaborate with people, to making sense of company challenges, and coming up with memorable solutions which will build our brand or those of our partners. I buzz off creative energy and I feel blessed to exist in a collective of brilliant and creative souls. My partners are inventive innovators with brilliant vision.

The core creative team housed at HQ are brimming with insight and imagination, the entire COPA90 crew, irrespective of department, are here to create (sorry adi) and then there’s the 4000+ brilliant creators we have in our network, a modular network of creative excellence built across the world to deliver best in class, locally relevant creative ideas and execution, these people are a complete inspiration. 

So no single day is the same and every day is pure madness. 

We could be launching new shows on TikTok, coming up with new IP for ourselves or our partners, launching campaigns, commissioning creators, helping brands navigate the world of sports sponsorship, Web3 or creating experiences football fans want, by orbiting around our centre of gravity, our muse, the Modern Football Fan. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

The hardest thing about building COPA90 and my own career, has been being brave enough to go all in on football. 

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I started my own professional creative life as a director after putting down paint brushes and picking up cameras and I was ok at it. I made dramas, adverts and music videos and found myself in a decent place but, at the same time, the world was changing, with social media platforms popping up, new ways to build audiences and different ways to communicate with people.

I was attracted to this new creative democracy. It was a world before the word content even existed in the way that it’s commonly used now and it certainly wasn’t an easy choice to step out of what felt safe to step into what felt like a new world.

What my directing parts did do for me was to give me a solid foundation in the craft of making things and the power of storytelling, which I hope is evident in everything that COPA90 does.

Here we don’t just come up with ideas, we make them ourselves.

We are a studio that creates and produces stuff. We just do it slightly differently.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

It’s certainly not been a journey free of turbulence, sometimes it feels like we live in a time where creativity has fallen out of fashion as we make sense of so-called digital channels, data, tech and artificial intelligence but, the reality is we live in the most creative of times and it’s certainly is worth being part of that. 

Winning and losing is commonplace in this profession, setbacks are the things you need to develop your thick skin for, which is essential for you to be confident enough to share ideas and collaborate with people.

Winning the YouTube original pitch to launch COPA90 and, in some respects, launch football on the platform, was obviously massive for us as it went on to define the next 10 years.

Winning the trust of our brilliant partners that we are lucky enough to work with and nurturing those relationships has also been a wonderful experience.

We’re fortunate enough to have partners who share our values and ideologies, our collective goal is to create work that people actually want to search for, to queue up for, to pay for. Work that they’d tell their friends about, that changes their perspectives or drives them to action.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from?

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Everyone who knows me knows that I can rarely go a week without referencing the work of photographer, creator and activist JR and the spirit of the Kourtrajmé, a collective of French artists, makers and creators who embodied the can-do attitude generation of the here and now a long time ago. There’s something very exciting about collectives of creatives looking to show new perspectives and do original things. 

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? 

It’s mad to think back to being a teenager, without phones, social media or the internet. In retrospect it was such a special time and those of us that lived on both sides have had a unique experience.

Everything was about forging physical connections, exhibiting physical work and having the time to be really present in whatever you found yourself doing. Granted there were mad faux pas, that’s part of growing up but, there was so much more anonymity back then and inventing and reinventing yourself was far more simple and so much more private.

If I had to pick one thing that I would have changed, it might have been being more open to football as a sport, my brother was and still is a huge fan but I was more of a passion point nomad, preferring to dip into things and experience as much of life as I could without going so deep.

The past ten years have shown me how beautiful, powerful and explosive this game can be.

Quite simply, whatever story you are looking for, you can find it in football and that really is quite special. 

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t the Chief Creative bod at COPA90, I’d be making ‘things’ with my friends, simple. That’s the only thing I know how to do and it would be the only thing that could get me out of bed. From kids books to films, Web3 projects or products and I’d love to pick up those paint brushes again at some point…. 

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

Creativity will always get to where it needs to go and do what it needs to do. It moves like water around the world as an unstoppable force. Football, being the stream of creativity we currently swim in, does need help to change though.

It needs to understand its power and use that energy as a force for good. I believe in a better, more inclusive football future and hope technology, creativity and community will all play an important role in it reaching its full potential as being the world's game and the great connector. 

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

This is an easy question to answer, make things everyday. Back yourself, your ideas and originality. Each and every little bit of work you do needs to give something valuable to someone in exchange for their time. 

Make them laugh. Make them cry. Challenge their perspectives. Load them with information that nourishes them or provide something of substance that resonates with their values.

Creative excellence at COPA90 demands this. 

What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

Create a safe place for creativity to flourish. Bring as many different perspectives into your team that you can afford. Foster a unique creative community that shares your values, spirit and attitude to supercharge your output and ambition. Become a platform for originality, not a director of ideas. 

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

Creative models are more broken than ever. I personally see us as having a chance to support creativity, fill the void and help us better ourselves. The simple marker of this for me is having a team of people around me that are proud to wear the COPA90 badge. 

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