46-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 17, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 46, July 17 - Steve Dainton’s Journey to Becoming the ITTF’s Director of Marketing 

 “It has always been my passion and driving force to bring more resources to our sport.”

Steve DaintonToday Steve Dainton, the ITTF’s Director of Marketing, speaks to the Countdown about his passion: commercializing, popularizing and growing table tennis. 

What was your introduction to table tennis?

My father was one of the top players and the president of the club in the town I grew up in, a medium-sized Australian town named Albury on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. At first when I was a young boy I wanted to beat everyone in my family on the garage table. What happened was that I eventually joined the club, later became club champion, then club head coach, and even had a small stint as Club President. It’s basically all due to my Father, who by the way at 66-years-old, is still an active and top player in that same club today. 

What is your background in marketing?

I studied it at the University. And, to be frank, it has always been my passion and driving force to bring more resources to our sport.  The more resources we generate, the more we can help develop and grow our sport. If the economy is strong, just like a country, the more you can do to support the people within it. 

As an adult, you have made a career in our sport: first at Table Tennis Australia, then with the Oceania Table Tennis Federation and finally with the ITTF.  Can you tell us about that pathway?

How to make this concise …

As an Australian, I never expected to make a career out of table tennis, no matter how much I would have dreamed of it. The opportunities for table tennis in Australia are just too limited, but somehow I managed to find a way.

My first table tennis job was with Table Tennis Australia in 1999. Through my coaching in Albury I had produced several State and National Junior Champions, but it was still a major surprise when I was selected as a Scholarship Coach in Table Tennis Australia for the Australian Institute of Sport where there were young future coaches from numerous sports. Glenn Tepper was on the panel of those who had chosen me. It was quite an exciting time with the Olympics in Sydney fast approaching.

During my time as a Scholarship Coach, Glenn was in charge of the ITTF’s Development Program.  He began with setting up the Oceania Development Pogram, then the scope of his work expanded to being the worldwide Manager. At that point, he needed someone to take over the Oceania Development activities.  He asked me in 2001, but I personally felt I needed to finish my University degree (which I already had put on hold to take the Scholarship), so I politely declined.

Since I was not 100% sure how far my table tennis passion would take me in the future, I felt it was important to finish my degree in Marketing and International Studies (including studying Chinese language and half a year exchange in Beijing) in Adelaide, Australia.

The day I finished my studies, while I was still in Beijing, I received an email from Glenn asking me if I would be interested to be the Oceania Table Tennis Development Officer now that I had completed my studies. Although I had some other job offers at the time, as a young guy it would have been crazy to refuse – a chance to learn more about the world while continuing my passion for table tennis. I stayed in the position for close to 3 years until an article appeared on the ITTF Website (http://ittf.com/stories/Stories_detail.asp?ID=5959&Category=&General_Catigory=General&)

For me this looked like the perfect opportunity. An office in China (I had learnt Chinese), the World Championships in Shanghai just around the corner and a chance to further my career in table tennis, all in the country most famous for table tennis and one which fascinated me. It was Glenn who would be my help again, but in a different way. It had been suggested to him that he take charge of the office because his wife was originally from Shanghai. Luckily for me, he and his wife were not looking to move to China. So I jumped at the chance. I emailed the ITTF President, and told him that I was his guy for the Shanghai Office. Fortunately, he and then ITTF Executive Director Mr. Jordi Serra agreed, and after a fair bit of screening, the rest is history so they say. 

As you’ve already mentioned, you are fluent in Mandarin Chinese.  There must be an interesting story behind that.

During my time as a Scholarship Coach, I had my first chance to travel outside Australia.  It was then that I realized how isolated we were as a country.  I was even surprised that everyone didn’t speak English. I spent some time in Sweden where people spoke English along with various other languages, and some time in China where I could see the young people trying their best to learn English. It dawned on me that I shouldn’t expect everyone to be able to speak my language, and that if I want to understand the world a little better then it would be good to learn another language. It was natural for me to choose Chinese.  Why? My first trip to China made me fascinated with the country.  I could see the country becoming a powerhouse in the future.  Plus, they were also the “kings” of the sport I loved.  So, it made sense to learn Mandarin Chinese. 

Speaking of China, I remember in 2006, I was in Shanghai with an American delegation celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy.  President Sharara suggested that we drop in at the ITTF office to pay you a visit.  Back then, it was kind of like a “one-man shop.”  Now you have relocated the ITTF Marketing Program to Singapore.  What size staff do you have there and how does the office function?

We started small in China by helping with the World Championships in Shanghai as an intermediary between the key ITTF staff and the Local Organizing Committee, and in general to support the title sponsor, Volkswagen. After that we kept working with Volkswagen.  We were looking at ways we could support TMS to grow its Chinese portfolio and help them with any events in the region. A relationship was formed with several regional TV networks and eventually some Chinese brands sponsoring table tennis events.

In 2011, after 6 years in China -- 3 in Shanghai and 3 in Beijing -- we decided to move the office to Singapore. It was also just before this time that I was promoted to ITTF Marketing Director. With the move to Singapore, it gave us a chance to reorganize ourselves and, in more recent years, we have brought Media and Marketing closer together, slowly but surely integrating Media into our team. The Equipment Manager and Coordinator also operate out of Singapore, so we are currently a team of nine.

Basically we are a young team, passionate to see how we can further commercialize, popularize and grow table tennis. 

Many people do not clearly understand the differences and similarities between TMS and ITTF Marketing.  Could you clarify how the two “entities” function in tandem?

Yes, it’s quite simple. Like all companies, the Marketing Department is there to ensure that the products are as good as they can be, given internal and external factors, for the sales team to sell. TMS is therefore the sales team. More specifically the ITTF Marketing Department is responsible for:

  • Branding ITTF activities;
  • Working with the various departments to see how the events can be improved from a commercial point of view, i.e., Product Development;
  • Analyzing the performance of our events – especially within the media to see how we perform and therefore to see how we can improve;
  • Working with our various “non profit” programs to see how we can bring them more finances – i.e., Dream Building (CSR);
  • Assisting our members to help them further understand the marketing potential of their activities – especially currently focused on our Continental Marketing Agreements; and
  • Managing the relationship with TMS.

And TMS is responsible for:

  • Selling the commercial rights on behalf of the ITTF, as follows:
    • TV rights
    • Sponsorship
    • Digital Rights – Streaming, Data, Website, etc.

So basically it’s the ITTF Marketing Department’s job to ensure that the products we sell to our Marketing Agency, TMS, are as easily “sellable” as possible. This is the same way it would function in any large corporation.

Why it may seem more connected than the above is because there are so many synergies in what ITTF Marketing and what TMS does, that more often than not we are helping each other achieve the goals of each organization. Anders Thunstrom, Managing Director of TMS has always guided me with excellent and experienced advice. We have also helped in our work to bring some partners to TMS, especially in Asia (which is ultimately to the ITTF’s benefit). So the relationship between us is really a win-win situation. 

Thank you very much, Steve.  Tomorrow let’s continue our visit and further address the ITTF’s marketing strategies.