A DONEGAL man is one of the top sports agents in the world, managing some of the greatest stars in athletics including eight-times Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
Ricky Simms (47) from Milford is the CEO and owner of PACE Sports Management. The eldest in a family of 10, he lives in Monaco with his wife Marion Steininger and their seven-year-old daughter Mia.
It’s a role that sees Ricky travel the globe making sure that his clients receive the best possible commercial deals, both on and off the track.
It’s a far cry from his days attending Portlean National School and, later, the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School in Raphoe as a boarder. He would then make his way to Ulster University in Jordanstown to study for a degree in sport and leisure studies.
“I was always into sport and would have played football and hockey for the school. I was one of those people who would have been good at most sports but excelled in none,” he explained.
Guided by one of his teachers, Michael McGranaghan, and Finn Valley AC founder Patsy McGonagle he would concentrate on athletics in his teens, going on to win medals at national level.
After completing his studies, Ricky taught in Raphoe for two years before taking up a position at the National Training Centre in Limerick.
It was there that he got to know Irish athlete Sonia O’Sullivan. Her agent was Kim McDonald, who lived in London, and he was one of the top sports agents in the world. Ricky went over to work for him at the start of 2000.
The following November Kim sadly passed away and Ricky, along with Marion and associate Duncan Gaskell, took over the company, naming it PACE Sports Management.
Ricky has earned many accolades over the past twenty years, including being listed in Sports Business International’s top 20 most influential sports agents in the world, though he acknowledges much of the recognition is down to the unique talent of Bolt.
“Those first few years were very tough. We had a huge group of athletes and it took us a bit of time to earn respect within the industry,” he recalled.
Ricky has known Usain Bolt since he was fifteen. The Jamaican went on to become the fastest man ever, a multiple Olympic and World Champion, and one of the most instantly recognisable people on the planet.
While the charismatic runner broke many records on the track, Simms has shone in the background, providing endless business and sporting opportunities for his client.
Indeed, while Bolt no longer runs competitively he remains the company’s most marketable client.
“The way athletes earn money is from sportswear partnerships as well as competing on the circuit. We negotiate their fees to take part while they also earn prize money on the circuit,” he explained.
“Ninety per cent of our work is getting them into competitions and raising their profile and when they reach a certain level we’re able to seek four or five sponsors.
“Usain Bolt is now one of the most famous sportspeople in the world. He’s up there with Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and Roger Federer and we’re competing with them for business. When a company is looking to promote their product, Usian is in the same bracket. It’s about knowing his worth,” he added.
Ricky and Usain travel the world together. It is a business relationship, but it is a great friendship as well.
“He is like family but, make no mistake about it, it’s my job to make him money and that remains my focus.
“He is one of forty clients we have on our books. We look after the logistics to make things as smooth as possible so they can focus all their energy on what they have to do,” he said.
“Usain is still our biggest client. He works with so many companies and we’re working on a few new projects together at the moment. He’s been extremely successful and he’s a huge ambassador for whatever companies he’s linked with,” he added.
Other clients include four times Olympic champion Mo Farah, Olympic and World champion Dina Asher-Smith and Kenya’s queen of the track Vivian Cheruiyot.
Top-class international athletes remain the core business for PACE Sports Management but Ricky and his team are always on the look-out for new business ventures.
“Football would be an obvious route to go down but we can afford to be selective and sit back and wait for the right opportunity to come along. We’re also involved in other sports and numerous different projects outside sport.
“Looking ahead, we’ll continue to concentrate on our core business but will also look at other opportunities like talent management, events and start-up businesses which we have invested in,” he said.
Ricky gets home to Donegal two to three times a year.
“My daughter loves it there. We’ve a big family and she enjoys playing with all her cousins as well as the animals on the farm,” he said.
He keeps a close eye on the Donegal GAA team as well as the fortunes of Finn Harps and believes that there may be ‘potential’ in companies abroad getting involved in the League of Ireland.
A passionate Liverpool supporter, he was a guest of Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish and his wife Marina at last week’s 6-0 victory over Leeds United.
“I’m lucky to have met some very famous people through work but to be with Kenny and his wife in the director’s box at Anfield last week is right up there. It was surreal.
“I love meeting and getting to know people. Some of the most famous people are the nicest people in the world and some are dipsticks. I suppose it’s the same in all walks of life,” he laughed.
“I can be a nice guy and I enjoy the craic with my clients but I still have to do my job. If you’re not making your client money they’ll soon let you know. You’ve got to keep grinding away and working hard.
“When I did my Leaving Cert the careers guidance teachers didn’t know that you could make a living doing what I’m doing. While it’s hard work it’s also great to be doing something that you have a real passion for. Making money is a bonus,” he said.
The World Championships in Oregon, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the European Athletic Championships in Munich are the three major events on the athletics calendar together with the big city marathons in 2022.
Rickey also works closely with World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon and Seb Coe who is President of World Athletics in Monaco.
“We’re looking at what the sport can offer into the future. It’s an exciting time,” he said.
A keen footballer, he’s also involved with Soccer Aid, an annual charity event that has raised over £38 million in aid of UNICEF UK.
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