Important v ready; The banking crisis comparison; KPMG's correlation; Purpose creep; Why v How; Personal Bests; The NY Yankees cap unpicked

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The important - urgent thing

Everyone’s insanely busy, but has the last year changed how we define what’s important? And are we ready for what lies ahead?

These were some of the themes of this week’s podcast, the first in a series we’re doing with Portas, the global strategy consultancy dedicated to sport and physical activity.

Our guests were Robert Sullivan, CEO of The Football Foundation, Chris Brindley MBE, chair of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 and Charlie Cowen, partner at Portas.

Click the image to go direct to the pod.

Deeper than you might think: The Bank Crash 2008 v Covid Crisis 2020

It’s too soon to tell the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

We’ve lived in its shadow for the last decade and a half, and will continue to do so, across many domains, from politics and economic policy through to society’s relationship with and trust in the financial sector, corporations and government.

A popular reading of 2008 was how quickly it revealed the fragility of our financial and government institutions.

So, has Covid done the same for sport?

Put another way, how deep is the wound of the last year, and how long will the scarring take to heal?

Chris Brindley MBE is a good person to answer this question, having previously led the launch of Metro Bank, the first high street bank to be granted a license in the UK for 170 years.

Chris Brindley: After the financial crisis the regulators came in and really changed how banks could operate, and stress tested the system. And in the aftermath you saw a lot of organisations being consumed. Big names that have been on the high street for years, Bradford and Bingley or Northern Rock - were targeted, and there were mergers between big companies, like Halifax and Lloyds.

So you look at that and see that the market has now decided it needs to reshape the offering and as a result of that you start to see the emergence of new players. I was privileged to work for Metro Bank, the first high street bank to be granted a license in 170 years. And funny enough if you actually look at the number of banking licenses granted over the last 10 years, its hundreds, it’s almost the Roger Bannister effect - once he broke the four-minute mile, other people came along and realised it could be done and started to it too. Sport has to really think about its future shape.

And then, a bit later, the kicker.

Sports at a commercial, professional level is broadly 150 years old. It has no right to expect it will continue…anybody who thinks that the world is going to progress in a tidy linear fashion is misguided.

The How is the difficult bit

We often expect too much of sport when it comes to fixing the world’s problems.

We do this for myriad reasons; many laudable, others more cynical.

The brand purpose trend raises the stakes further, encouraging a generation of CEOs to over promise what sport can realistically deliver in the area of social policy.

Part of the reason is a sort of ‘purpose creep’, which happens when leaders get too broad with their definition of ‘The Why’.

By comparison, ‘The How’ is really hard, often boring, and takes a really long time, far longer than the average tenure of a CEO, who’ll be gone to inspire some other organisation with keynotes and Linkedin catchphrases.

So, I’m far more impressed by people and organisations who do it well.

The Football Foundation is good at The How.

Robert Sullivan is CEO of The Football Foundation, which takes money from The FA, Premier League and DCMS, and uses it to build football facilities.

I asked him about the why v how question. He had a really good answer:

[00:49:13] Robert Sullivan: It’s a fascinating question, and I often think about how we’re trying to communicate our purpose, because there's definitely one level where The Football Foundation can say: ‘Well, we have a very tight remit, which is to build new and improve existing facilities, that is the core function of what we do, and we aren't going to take responsibility for anything over and above that pitch being delivered, those floodlights going up, that clubhouse improved’.

But of course, we want to talk about is the benefits that come from those facilities and the social, physical and mental wellbeing impact on people of having great places to play.

So, I think it's that delicate balance of inspiring people and generating aspiration of what a great facility can do for a community, whilst at the same time not being accountable for improving the physical and mental across the nation or the social integration of a whole community.

Attribution error

KPMG’s graph suggests a causal link between money and social media followings.


An alternative view is that big, rich football clubs have big social media followings because they’re more famous than smaller, less successful teams.

But big social media followings don’t make big clubs big. They are the result of success not a cause of it.

Personal Best

Sportsbiz people list their favourite things

This week it was Emma Mason, Vice President of the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry and Council Member World Badminton Federation.

I think it might be my favourite so far, just for its rambling, thinking aloud approach to answering the questions. Exhibit A, here’s Emma’s answer to the dinner guest question:

Best dinner companions (min 4, max 6):

Tough! I’ll go for: Serena Williams – a living legend in so many ways. It would be a privilege to be in the same room. Alex Ferguson – his book on leadership was insightful and inspirational in so many ways. I think I would try to recruit him as a leadership coach. Elon Musk – I listened to a two-hour podcast with him on SpaceX recently and I realised how narrow my view of life on earth is. I have so many questions. ​ The Queen – I missed out on meeting her twice. Once because I was injured and once because the event was for over 18s. I’m not sure she’d be the most vocal dinner companion but at least it checks it off my list. Dimitri from Paris – I only discovered this DJ in the last few years but love his remixes and every good dinner party needs some music! Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon – There’s been so much change in the UK and UK politics in the last few years and, with plenty still to come, I’d love to hear the inside stories. Maybe I should just invite Laura Kuenssberg instead?

Go here to read Emma’s full Personal Best Q&A.

There are no bad ideas in sports PR

Charlton front man Carl Leaburn got a 21 inch telly for his MOTM performance against Fulham in the Rumbelows Cup, straight from the sponsor’s shop on Woolwich high street.

Then he had to wheel it home himself - jump to 30 secs on the vid.

Sportsbiz Objects

No. 12 The New York Yankees cap

It’s hard to get a read on the NY Yankees cap, as a white British bloke of an uncertain age.

There’s the obvious sporting and tribal allegiance in there; Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and here’s to you Joe DiMaggio; its about success, or a particular version of it, both sporting and corporate, and it’s achieved a broader cultural resonance courtesy of Spike Lee and Jay Z. And of course, the city plays a central role: the cap logo was originally designed by Tiffany’s, on a medal to commemorate the death of an NYPD policeman.

Then there’s the other reasons for wearing it, summed up by this Reddit contributor: “Many people want to be associated with a proven winner, with a popular brand, possibly even with a famous foreign sports team if they believe it makes them seem hip. Lots of new baseball fans jump onto the NYY bandwagon, for all the reasons named above, not realizing that it's the Evil Empire, akin to Darth Vader and the Dark Side”.

My favourite story though is this one: When Ben Affleck closed down the shoot of Gone Girl because the Director David Fincher wanted Affleck’s character to wear the Yankees cap. Affleck is from Boston and refused. Shit met fan.

“I mean it did not come to blows but we had to shut down production for four days as we negotiated with Patrick Whitesell [Affleck’s agent] over what would be the best thing for the movie. What Patrick thought would be the best way to meet the requirements of the production and something that his client could live with, which I thought was entirely unprofessional.”

There’s more than a fair chance that this story is just a wind up between Affleck and Fincher. But who cares, really?

Further reading:

Patrick Whitesell now has other things on his mind.

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