Archive for the Sport Category

A weekend of sport that was an antidote to celebrity culture!

Posted in Sport with tags , , , on July 23, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

What an extraordinary weekend of sport.  Frankly I don’t care what happens over the next few weeks I’ve got what I want – a British winner of the Tour De France and Ernie Els winning the Open!

I don’t know a lot about cycling (I leave that to my father-in-law) but I have read Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s not about the Bike” so I have a little understanding of how obsessive these individuals can be.  Wiggins is, apparently, cut from the same cloth as Armstrong, either living a pretty boring life in the small village of Ecclestone in Lancashire or a ‘monk-like’ existence at a training camp in Majorca in pursuit of his goals.

There is no entourage here.  No hangers-on, no long tail of ‘friends’ or newspaper headlines at the front rather than the back of the paper, just single-minded dedication.  Even the French have taken him to their hearts, calling him “Le Gentleman Wiggins” after he deliberately slowed the pace to allow his rival, Cadel Evans, the Australian winner of last year’s Tour, to repair his bike and catch up with the rest after saboteurs threw tacks at the summit of the final climb of stage 14.

It is much the same with Els.  Six years ago his world and his golf game collapsed when he found out that his son had autism.  Slowly and painstakingly he has dragged himself back (at the same time as raising millions through his ‘Els for Autism’ campaign).

Yesterday with nine holes to go, as everybody else went backwards, Els went forwards.  Four birdies on the fiendishly difficult back nine to come back in 32 and snatch the trophy from Adam Scott.  Yes, Scott collapsed like Devon Loch, but Els applied enough pressure for the cracks to appear in Scott’s game.

His victory speech yesterday was not about him or how he was feeling.  It was all about the loser, Scott, and the role Nelson Mandela has played in using sport to unite his country, South Africa.

One of my favourite phrases is “good things happen to good people”.  Yesterday in Paris and on a golf course in Lancashire, good things happened!

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Only a fool would invest in Manchester United!

Posted in business, Sport with tags , , , on July 12, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The problem with blogging about football is that it is very hard to objective.  Tribal loyalties (in my case towards Liverpool FC) inevitably colour ones opinions.

However, I am willing to go on record with the following statement.  I feel sorry for Manchester United supporters!  There, I’ve said it, it’s out and I must say I feel better.

What you may ask has led me to reach this point?  In short, the antics of the Glazer family, who own the club and are busy making plans to incorporate it, not in Manchester or even the UK, but in the Cayman Islands and float it on the New York Stock Exchange.

On the surface this may seem like an attractive proposition for both investors and supporters with regular Champions League football and Premier League TV revenues offering floods of cash.

However, investors and supporters need to be cautious.  Firstly, the Glazers only plan to float a new B class of shares which hold no voting rights.  Secondly, the club will pay no dividend to shareholders.

Got that?  The Glazers want your money to pay off Manchester United’s £453 million debt mountain, but you will have no say in how the club is run and you won’t get any income from it.

It gets better, or worse if you are a United fan.  It would appear, according to Tuesday’s Guardian, that the Glazers want you to make your investment decision on the basis of the club’s accounts to 30th June 2011 when the team reached the lucrative Champions League Final.  Unfortunately, another financial year has passed since then, a year in which Manchester United won nowt!  Needless to say the accounts to 30th June 2012 have not been made public.

So, in short, the Glazers are saying, “Give us your money to help us pay off the debts we loaded onto the club in the first place, but you will have no votes, no income and no way of knowing if you are paying over the odds for the privilege.”

Of course this isn’t the first time that the Glazers have come up with such a hare-brained scheme.  A few years ago a flotation in Singapore was the preferred option until that crashed and burned.  This scheme deserves the same fate!

A triumph for social media (in Glasgow!)

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

For those who didn’t get around to reading the Guardian’s excellent article on Saturday about the phenomenal job done by the blog ‘rangerstaxcase.com’, I would urge you to make time to give it a read.

Even if you are not a football supporter, there is much to ponder on from the perspective of the performance of traditional media sources and in terms of the impact of social media.

It is a story with multiple themes; alienation of the traditional football fan; a perceived failure on the part of traditional media and the use of social media as a catalyst for the sharing of vital information amongst stakeholders.

For those who don’t have the time let me summarise the story for you here. An anonymous football supporter, ironically not a Rangers supporter, got wind of the tax trouble that Glasgow Rangers was in, but could find no mention of it amongst traditional media outlets.

Instead, traditional media fed its readers, namely the club’s supporters, the usual stories including the building of a super casino and transfer gossip, including, apparently, a ‘link’ to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. The result was that many Rangers supporters had little clue that their club owed £70 million to HMRC until last week when it went bust.

In frustration, our anonymous hero set up a blog, ‘rangerstaxcase.com’, and started digging deeper. The blog has ‘broken’ a whole host of stories in relation to the case and now has a daily traffic of over 100,000 views with reader comments coming in at a rate of about 1,500 per day. Bear in mind that these people are not discussing football, they are discussing accounting conventions and insolvency law!

How did this happen? Our hero blames an unholy triangle of trade in which traditional media sources have got too close to the club and felt unable to cover the story for risk of losing their ‘access’.

For the record, I am fully aware of the role that PR has probably played in all of this. PR people at Rangers, let’s assume they were in the know, have been feeding these stories to traditional media outlets, in the guise of ‘doing their job’.

So what can we learn from all of this? Media owners from Rupert Murdoch down have blamed the internet for their woes, but this case begs the question whether certain sections of traditional media are giving readers the information they need and perhaps explains why so many are turning to alternative sources of information.

It must also be remembered that not all traditional media is scared of questioning itself. After all, I read this story in The Guardian. Kudos to them for running it!

Capello: the media pack has got what it wanted!

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , on February 9, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The Capo has gone. His critics in the media have got what they’ve wanted all along. I woke up this morning to Dan Roan on the BBC telling me that his tenure as England manager will be judged a failure. Arch critic Henry Winter in the Telegraph can barely contain his excitement.

Various reasons are put forward for what, in the eyes of many in the football media pack, should be a moment of national rejoicing. His grasp of English wasn’t good enough (presumably to give them better quotes); he was always on holiday!

Facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good story. Only this week Sir Alex Ferguson came out and said he would never allow such interference in the dressing room as the FA has perpetrated in the last week. The fact that Capello’s win percentage is better than any other England manager, including Sir Alf Ramsey, is glossed over. Presumably too inconvenient to merit valuable column inches.

His resignation caps a fabulous afternoon and early evening for ‘the pack’. Yesterday, Harry Redknapp (“our ‘Arry”) was cleared of tax evasion charges leaving him free to take charge of “the biggest job in football”. The fact that he is a self-confessed semi-illiterate who has never sent an email is irrelevant. He played at West Ham with the Heroes of ’66, Bobby, Geoff and Martin, don’t you know?

Unfortunately, ‘the pack’ is even worse at picking the next England manager than the FA. Only 18 months ago Liverpool fans were being told that we were lucky to have Roy Hodgson and that we would have to hand him back to the nation when the England job next became vacant. Multiple internet statto nerds pointed out Hodgson’s shocking away game record at every club he’s ever managed but their cries went unheard until the Kop, with its team only just outside the relegation zone, started ironically chanting “Hodgson for England.”

My advice to Harry Redknapp is don’t go near the job with a barge pole. The ‘pack’ is fickle and it will turn on you when things go badly, and things will go badly. As I sat in front of the TV last night marvelling at another England football crisis I recalled the words of one of Don Revie’s assistants at Leeds United when Revie was considering taking the England job in the mid-1970s. “They [the England players] are not as good and not as dedicated as what you have here.”

There are multiple problems with English football from the way it is administered through to individual players. Unfortunately, the events of yesterday allow us to gloss over the problems once more.

What Liverpool should have done!

Posted in PR, Sport with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Two things have concerned me about the Luis Suarez / Patrice Evra racial abuse case which has been all over the sports pages.

The first can be dealt with quickly. Liverpool’s responses have been abysmal. Both statements released by the club, one in the immediate aftermath of the verdict and the other yesterday following the decision not to appeal, have been knee-jerk, ill-thought through and bad tempered.

Either senior management at the club have no faith in their PR people and are drafting statements themselves or PR people at the club are not being listened to. My suspicion is that the club needs a communication function with the gravitas to stand up to some very big personalities and move communication beyond keeping the Liverpool Echo happy. Best advice in both cases would have been for short, carefully-worded statements, not the haranguing diatribes that were released.

I vividly remember being involved in a hostile bid situation about 10 years ago. Our client hurriedly called his team of advisers together in order to draft a response to another initiative by the activist shareholder. The CEO, totally fed up by this point, started dictating a stinging response for issue to the London Stock Exchange, egged on by his lawyers and stockbrokers. My colleague and I, increasingly uncomfortable with all of this (we were mentally writing the next day’s headlines) managed to drag out the drafting until 6.30pm by which time it was too late to issue the response that day. By the next morning, calmer heads had prevailed and a three line statement was issued.

This is what should have happened. In an ideal world, PR people, particularly those in-house, should be acting as the company’s policemen, anticipating events and pouring oil on stormy waters. It is one very good reason why PR should never come wholly under the control of marketing, but that’s another blog!

My second issue involves procedure. Everyone in this case admits it has been horrendously difficult, involving language barriers, cultural issues, race and tribal loyalties. For the Football Association to throw a Queens Counsel into this mix, in the form of Paul Goulding QC, whose every instinct is to prosecute by any means within the law, was like adding petrol onto a fire.

What this case needed was dispute resolution, in the form of arbitration and conciliation, to move two parties with entrenched positions to some sort of agreement about what happened and crucially what was, and was not meant, during the exchanges, which were in pigeon Spanish, between the two players.

The FA may well be patting itself on the back this morning, but nobody, least of all my football club, comes out of this episode well.

Internet statto nerds get journalism’s old guard in their sights

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It’s not easy when those you admire prove to have feet of clay. Barely ten days after lauding him on this very blog as being a ‘must read’ in the Independent, James Lawton crystallised the problem that many old guard journalists populating our national newspapers are facing.

Writing in Saturday’s Indy, Lawton used selective statistics to demonstrate how Kenny Dalglish’s reign as Liverpool manager is actually little better than that of his predecessor Roy Hodgson. In particular Hodgson’s points per game percentage of 1.25 compared to Dalglish’s 1.79.

Unfortunately for James, the internet is an unforgiving place. Nowadays, there is an army of statto nerd football supporters out there who are able to tell you the exact pass completion percentage of an individual player in the final third of the pitch during consecutive February’s and illustrate it in the form of a venn diagram. More importantly, in the digital age, comment boxes below articles give this army of nerds an opportunity to voice their opinion.

And so it came to pass. Within a few hours of the piece being posted Lawton was skewered on his own stats by football supporters of multiple allegiances, not just Red. Here are a few of the most choice (and repeatable) comments:

“You make a point of Dalglish’s average points haul being 1.79 over 29 games, when your beloved “English Arry” at Spurs is worse at 1.76 and Wenger’s is 1.66”

“The difference between 1.25 points per game and 1.8 is relegation and Champions League form”

“How can you use numbers which undermine your point to make a point?”

I suspect Mr Lawton won’t have lost much sleep over the reaction to his article, but he should. It may well have been a crude attempt at generating link bait but credibility is hard won and easily lost. He must realise that the days of being able to slop together a thousand words of ill-thought out comment five minutes before deadline are over. There is an army of statto nerds out there who have done their research even if he hasn’t.

Anyway, Mr Lawton can take what little solace there is from the fact that the Tomkins Times, run by the doyen of statto nerds, Paul Tomkins, has nominated him “Media Muppet of the Month”!

TV football rights spat exposes bigger issues for the Premier League

Posted in business, Sport with tags , , , , on October 13, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Liverpool Football Club, my team, have been hammered in the last 24 hours for suggesting that it deserves a bigger slice of the rights for foreign TV coverage of the Premier League. Words like greed, anti-competitive and disgraceful have been freely bandied around by an unholy alliance including the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel and Dave Whelan of Wigan Athletic.

My own view is that this row is a negotiating ploy and a shot across the bows of UEFA and the Premier League to properly implement the Financial Fair Play rules which Manchester City seem intent on driving a coach and horses through. The Liverpool position appears to be, “implement the rules and allow us to be competitive or we’ll raise revenue any way we can, in order to be competitive.”

However, the danger is that this spat obscures bigger issues which ultimately the Premier League is going to have to grapple with, like it or not. Taking off my football hat and putting on my marketing hat for a moment, it has been clear for some time that there is a vast untapped audience for Premier League football, an audience which is currently locked out of the Sky Sports monopoly.

Who are these people? I refer to them as the ‘occasional fan’ who wants to, half a dozen times a year, watch his or her team but does not want, or cannot afford, to shell out for a Sky Sports subscription which includes films, news and all sorts of stuff they neither have the time or the inclination to watch. Those locked out include pensioners, students and those like me who just don’t have the time because of family commitments to sit down every week and watch football on TV.

“Get yourself off to the match then and watch it live” I hear you cry. Only I can’t because Liverpool matches are all sold out in advance and the season ticket waiting list was closed when it reached fifteen years!

But, there is a ready-made solution. In American baseball, the rules allow that once a match is sold out it can be streamed live for fans who couldn’t get in to watch. Most clubs now have their own TV stations or broadband streams which do everything except show live matches. Only we can’t have that here because of the Premier League deal with Sky Sports which gives exclusivity for all matches in the UK.

We currently therefore have the absurd situation in which an individual in Hong Kong, Singapore or India can watch a Premier League match live from Anfield, but someone living half a mile from the ground on Breck Road cannot. The revenue potential from this ‘occasional fan’ grouping is enormous and I’m just talking about UK viewers, I haven’t even got into streaming matches across Asia!

The newspaper industry spent the best part of a decade denying that the web would have any impact on its business strategy. It was wrong. My guess is that, at some stage, the Sky Sports deal will be pulled apart by the same pressures and antagonisms. Don’t believe me? How many football fans out there have used Iraq Goals or some other illegal streaming to watch their team I wonder?

The dam is breaking. I look forward to the day when I can pop upstairs, turn the computer on and pay a tenner to my club to watch a home match without tying myself down to a year’s Sky subscription. Bring it on!