Category: From Our CEO

From Our CEO: All Of Us Are Fans At Heart

I was born and raised in Liverpool and have been a massive fan of Liverpool FC since before I can remember. I grew up in the city when Liverpool and Everton were the two best teams in the country – if not Europe – and I remember not bothering to go to the open-top bus parades if we had ‘only’ won the league. Things aren’t quite the same nowadays.

Last Tuesday I was back in the city for the first leg of our UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against FC Porto. Quite unlike my unfortunately rare childhood visits to the ground, I was there last week as a guest of UEFA.

Icons have been an official UEFA’s licensed partner for memorabilia for seven years now and it’s the most successful licence we have. With our unrivalled roster of European superstars, we created an official UEFA Champions League range which is sold all around the world. Most recently we had a large order from MasterCard, who are using our signed memorabilia to promote their sponsorship of the tournament in Singapore and Thailand.

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Our licensing manager, Ben, is also a big Liverpool fan. So, he and I take full advantage whenever we are invited to watch the Reds by our friends at UEFA. I was at last season’s quarter-final as Liverpool beat Manchester City and I was there for our epic UEFA Europa League semi-final triumph over Villarreal in 2016. I’ve seen some pretty huge Jurgen Klopp-inspired victories over these past few years!

Point is, here at Icons we are all huge football fans at heart. I grew up very rarely being able to get into Anfield and now I have been lucky enough to go three years in a row. We wanted the UEFA Champions League licence because we love the competition and we thought we could bring something unique to the party. The same goes with our official FIFA licence, which we’ve had for nine years now.

We love our teams, our stars and the iconic nights under the lights. It’s what football is all about and it’s exactly why we do what we do: always aiming to bring other fans closer to their heroes.


See the full range of Official UEFA Champions League signed memorabilia by clicking here.

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From Our CEO: Adding To An Iconic List of Ballon d’Or Winners

What do George Weah, Jean-Pierre Papin, Andriy Shevchenko, Matthias Sammer and Hristo Stoichkov have in common? Of course, it’s pretty well-known that they are all past Ballon d’Or winners. But the few names on this short list share something else, too. These are the only five names from the past three decades who’ve won the Ballon d’Or but aren’t Icons… yet.

Every other former winner of football’s most coveted individual prize has undertaken a signing session for Icons, from Marco Van Basten to Ronaldo Nazario, Zinedine Zidane to Lionel Messi. And so, when mercurial midfielder Luka Modric won this year’s accolade, it was only a matter of time before he joined our roster. Well, it was 58 days, to be exact.

In fact, our recent signing with Luka also kept alive another impressive streak of ours: we can now say that we have worked with the winners of the award from each of the past fourteen seasons.

Luka was delighted to join the list and even allowed our signing team to hold the actual Ballon d’Or award that he has at home on his mantelpiece in Madrid. ‘Signed By The World’s Best’ indeed!

So, how do we get to these players? Well, to be frank, it’s a combination of judgement and luck. We first worked with Messi, for example, when he was just 17-years-old. The year was 2006 and we had been tipped off about this new sensation in Barcelona by our man on the ground in Spain. I could write for days with similar stories. We met Cristiano Ronaldo as he arrived in Manchester. Kaka had been an Icon for a number of years before he won a Ballon d’Or. We even saw a 19-year-old Neymar Jr playing in Sao Paolo – that was 2013 and we were sat next to Kaka’s father. It was Ronaldo Nazario who had let us know that this guy might be a future Ballon d’Or winner. Neymar Jr hasn’t won it yet, of course, but we’re playing the long-game.

We like to think we can spot talent and it was great to see our first Icon of the Future, Callum Hudson-Odoi, who signed for Icons back in May 2018, selling more items during our January Sale than many of the biggest names in the sport. It shows we might be on to something with the Chelsea starlet. Maybe he too will have something shiny on his mantelpiece in a decade’s time…

I always say that as a kid I collected football stickers but nowadays I collect footballers. So come on, George, Jean-Pierre, Andriy, Matthias and Hristo – it’s time to get in touch and join the world’s most truly iconic club.


See the full range of all-new Luka Modric signed memorabilia by clicking here.

See our unrivalled collection of memorabilia signed by nominees and winners of the Ballon d’Or by clicking here.

Follow Icons on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for all our latest blog posts, special offers and competitions.



From Our CEO: Experience The World’s Best with Icons XP

One of the pivotal moments of my life happened in Barcelona. It was 2001 and I was drinking cheap cava in a hillside terrace bar overlooking the city. Dusk fell and the cityscape turned sparkly. I had a job I hated for a dotcom startup in London and I was on a football tour in the Catalan capital.

“Why don’t I just quit my job and come and live here? It’s got sun, sand and sexy football – what more could you want?” I asked.

Five months later I’d left everything behind to move to Barcelona to play, watch and teach people how to talk about football. Some of my friends were incredulous. They said: “You’re just going out there for the experience. Why would you do that?”

Fast forward to 2018. I’m reading an article written by the founder of Airbnb, Brian Chesky. He’s talks about how his company have been able to create a trust platform, unlocking the spaces left vacant in people’s spare rooms and empty houses. Their next step, he explains is to create 100 million entrepreneurs, unlocking the potential not of spaces but of people. “We’re creating Airbnb experiences where people all over the world offer their talents, skills and knowledge to others to buy as they travel. Hidden city tours, salsa classes, art history lessons, Airbnb can use its trust platform to put consumers together with suppliers,” Chesky says.

Now, what that got to do with memorabilia?

Well, firstly, if we can bring memorabilia together with memories, we are tapping into what Generation XP want more than anything: stories to tell. At Icons, we have access to the world’s biggest superstar footballers and we can get to the world’s greatest sporting events. Hey, it’s why I do what I do.

So, this month we’re launching Icons XP with the tagline ‘Experience The World’s Best’. As with lots of these ideas, we start in Barcelona. Icons now have a private corporate box at Camp Nou. If you love Leo Messi, you can now buy Experience Memorabilia package from Icons.com and be our guests at his next game to see him play in the flesh. We were in the box for the Joan Gamper Trophy earlier in the year and the little magician we love so much scored right in front of us. Imagine watching El Clasico or a UEFA Champions League semi-final and seeing Leo, Luis Suarez or Philippe Coutinho doing something truly iconic? Maybe we can even get them to pop into the box after the match to say hello… we’re working on it.

Now wouldn’t that would be an iconic experience?

While it starts with Barcelona it most certainly does not end there. Icons are co-promoting a speaker tour that brings Manchester United legend Eric Cantona to London, Manchester and Ireland throughout October. Icons founder Edward Freedman worked with Eric at United and, in fact, Cantona was the first player he got to sign shirts, making him the very first on a long and ever expanding list of Icons. For Eric’s tour, Icons XP is offering VIP and VVIP tickets that allows fans to come backstage to meet Eric himself. When we did this two years ago a grown man fainted upon meeting Le God. That’s what it means to our customers.

Memories plus memorabilia. That has a nice ring to it, I think.

If we can bring fans closer to their heroes through events, tickets, boxes or meets and greets, we will. Our roster comprises the biggest names in sport and we have a reputation for running the best competitions and giveaways for money-can’t-buy prizes. If The FC Barcelona Experience and Eric Cantona Live work, we’ll expand, offering more and more experiences to our customers. Maybe we can even put together those experiences in cities around the world with Airbnb’s local experts. A Diego Maradona tour around Boca in Buenos Aires, for example. Maybe a Steven Gerrard framed memento from a trip to Anfield or a native New Yorker talking you through the iconic nights of Madison Square Gardens.

Icons XP is a new way to get closer to your heroes. And we couldn’t be more excited to bring it to you. See you in Barcelona soon.


  • FC Barcelona Experience Memorabilia packages are available for matches throughout FC Barcelona’s 2018/19 campaign, including the world-famous El Clasico derby plus crucial La Liga clashes, thrilling Copa Del Rey ties and, of course, those epic UEFA Champions League nights. Contact [email protected] for prices, match availability and further information.
  • Eric Cantona kicks off his UK speaker tour on October 24th with a show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. VIP and VVIP tickets are available for all dates. Click here for more information.


From Our CEO: Introducing… Icons b-locked

Last night, I sat down with my wife and talked her through my day over dinner. I had just spent it briefing our team about a brand new project of ours called Icons b-locked.

Icons b-locked is a new service that will forever change the way signed memorabilia is authenticated. It uses state-of-the-art blockchain technology to make the creation, validation and selling of signed items 100% verifiable in a quick, simple and easy way.

I had wanted to explain this to our team in depth, giving them an idea of the vision and the technology behind the project. I wanted to make the talk accessible and understandable while explaining how this brand new blockchain solution is going to help us fight the good fight against the frauds who sell faked ‘memorabilia’ to an unsuspecting public. Now, I was repeating that talk for my wife.

But as I did so, I found myself getting annoyed as I spoke of so-called ‘competitors’ ripping off our images, stealing our copy and even using robots to fake signatures. After a few minutes, my wife said: “This is all very negative. I thought you do what you do because you believe in heroes?”

My wife has worked in communications in the charity sector for years and she says that in the past a popular fundraising technique was to showcase problems and issues that tug at the heart strings. But donations started to dry up as compassion fatigue set in with a desensitised public. And it’s because of this fatigue that charities and NGOs now focus on hopes, dreams and aspirations. Icons should follow suit, my wife suggested.

Take the latest Barnardo’s campaign, for example. It doesn’t show miserable kids being taken into care. Its focus is not to plead with the viewer to bring an end to an awful situation. Quite the opposite. It shows a young ballet dancer practicing over and over again in a dingy flat with the strap-line ‘Believe in me’. It says: this could be a great thing.

Hearing this, I realised I needed to refocus my message for Icons b-locked. At Icons, we do what we do because we believe in heroes. We love what we do. We get to meet the world’s best-known sportspeople. Through our products, we get to deliver joy and happiness to people around the world who are just like us. People who just want to get closer to their favourite icons.

We chose ‘Be authentic’ as our project strap-line because, not only do we feel it reflects our products and how we do business, but also because it reflects us as people. We turn up on time, we pay our bills and we do what we say we will. Believe me, that is far more unusual in the sports industry than you may think.

Which brings us to blockchain. Our use of blockchain technology is the latest application of our core belief that authenticity should be at the heart of everything we do. It’s why we decided to build the tech behind Icons b-locked to make this project a reality. We have faith in this new and exciting tool for truth and we leapt into its relative unknown because we believe in its possibilities. We believe in transparency; we believe in truth. And Icons b-locked is the next big step on our journey towards proving that beyond doubt.

“That sounds much better,” my wife said. “I buy into that.”


For more information on the Icons b-locked project, visit b-locked.icons.com and join us on Telegram.



From Our CEO: Authenticity Is Everything

The dictionary definition of authenticity is “not false or copied; genuine, real” and I spend every minute of every day worrying about it.

Why? Because I run the world’s leading signed football memorabilia company, Icons Shop Limited, and we constantly need to reassure our customers that our items are genuine. If Icons sold one fake signature we would pretty much go bankrupt overnight with our reputation in tatters. Living on that knife-edge does focus the mind somewhat.

At Icons, we go to extraordinary lengths to provide evidence of our authenticity. We have long-standing relationships with some of the greats of world football, including contracts with Leo Messi and Diego Maradona. We are the official memorabilia licensee of the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League. We provide a Certificate of Authenticity with all our products, along with photographic proof, holograms and videos of private signing sessions with the top stars.

Yet every day we’re asked if our products are really signed by the players. It seems all the facts on our website are often not enough. People regularly call and email us to express their concerns – they want to be reassured that they can trust us and from our side it becomes about engaging with them on an emotional level.

One of the things today’s digital marketers do is create ongoing dialogue between brands and their audiences. Traditional advertising shouts a consistent message with a megaphone while a smart brand strikes up a two-way conversation. Consumers want to know more about the products, causes and companies to which they choose to give their money. They’re looking for an emotional connection and digital marketing can bring this to life.

It’s also made me think about authenticity on a personal level. My wife is the communications director of a social enterprise called Leaders’ Quest, which works with leaders from all walks of life who want to use their unique influence to create positive change in the world. They talk to their communities about the importance of authenticity and how real leadership shines through when someone is genuine and true to themselves.

Most people are quick to spot self-interest and false charm – you only have to look to Lance Armstrong on how not to do it. The most successful leaders I know are genuine, honest and great at empathy.

Authenticity isn’t about being good and worthy, it’s about being who you are, warts and all. Personal authenticity is only achieved when people are honest with themselves. Brené Brown, in her TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability, describes how showing vulnerability allows people to connect with others on a human level. As brands develop their willingness to have open conversations, they will find ways to connect more deeply with their audience.

 

This blog was first published by Zone Digital on their Digital Distractions email newsletter in 2014.