They think it’s all over ... it is now! You’ve messed up big time
and your career is going down the tubes faster than sprinter Michael
Johnson can take a bend in his straight-back style. Why? Because when
someone asked you about your handicap you took it as an insult and got
shirty with them. Because you think Anfield is that new girl in IT.
Because the only image that springs to mind when you hear the word
Harlequins is a Picasso painting. Because of a million things related to
the fact you are an ignoramus when it comes to sport.
One characteristic of the media business is that most people who work in
it are interested in sport - some of them to the point of obsession.
It’s a subject that comes up even more regularly than British tennis
It is a part of the language of media negotiations. So if you want more
than a sporting chance in the business, you should be able to talk
sport. And, in particular, about football.
’It’s no longer a male thing; all our staff are sports mad,’ says Ellen
Brush, publishing director at customer magazine publisher Axon. ’I’m not
interested in football but I follow what’s going on in the broadest
sense so I can have a conversation about it. Football is part of the
national psyche and not to have a view on it is stupid. It’s like
missing the latest big programme on TV - if you don’t have an opinion on
it, you’re considered a bit strange.’
Handbag.com head of business development Fiona McMahon, on the other
hand, doesn’t need to feign an interest in the beautiful game.
’Everybody should know about football. Particularly football in Northern
Ireland. Anybody who wants to get anywhere with me should know about
Some, however, are more omnivorous in their sports consumption. Simon
Cheesman, VNU sales manager, corporate sales, admits to being an
armchair fan par excellence. ’I don’t have four sports channels on my TV
for nothing,’ says Cheesman. ’I’ve even found myself watching curling at
2am. Mind you, if you need something to send you to sleep quickly,
that’s the sport to do it.’
But it is not just that so many people in the media world enjoy sport in
their leisure time. It permeates the working experience. Outdoor buyer
Blade, for example, has run a Fantasy Football League for five
And those taking part are not only Blade staff but key contacts at the
It is, says Blade joint managing director Malcolm Thomas, a great way of
building relationships and camaraderie. The competition, which has three
divisions, is also taken fairly seriously, with participants desperate
to avoid relegation. Or indeed the ultimate humiliation of finishing
last - the forfeit for which is to wear drag on a company night out.
Sport and socialising in media go together like Pinsent and
Real Media marketing and operations director David McMurtrie says: ’For
men, sport is the most important knowledge to have in media, barring
being able to down ten pints in an evening. But preferably the two
should be combined.’
McMurtrie says he was sounded out about his current job during last
year’s British Open golf championships at Carnoustie. This is by no
It can sometimes feel as though the UK’s sporting events are a media
Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon, the Stella Artois tennis, Six Nations rugby,
Premiership football, the British Grand Prix ... the opportunities for
sporting jollies are almost endless. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only
thing to do in the face of such temptation is to yield to it.
’You see people at sporting events whom you would not meet otherwise. It
helps a hell of a lot in making contacts,’ says McMurtrie.
The wonderful thing about sporting events is that even if the action is
of poor quality - or even non-existent - people can still come away
happy. Van Wagner joint managing director Kevin Shute says: ’We took 16
clients to Wimbledon one year and it pissed it down all day. We didn’t
see a single ball. Everyone just got rat-arsed on champagne, which was
just as good.’
Cheesman says it always makes sense to find out which sports clients are
interested in and then tailor a day to please them. He adds that unlike
marketing directors, more junior members of staff might not be able to
take off a whole day and this should be borne in mind when formulating a
jolly. A day at the races, he suggests, is a safe option for the
minority that has little interest in sport. ’That always seems to go
down well with people who couldn’t give two hoots about sport for the
rest of the year.’
At their most extravagant, jollies can extend to overseas trips to big
international sporting occasions or participatory activities like
Due to the cost, these are generally used as a way of cementing
relationships with loyal clients rather than for new business.
Says Cheesman: ’It’s a way of ring-fencing business that is already
there. You are less inclined to cancel business with somebody who’s just
taken you on a skiing trip to the Alps than with somebody who
Sporting jollies that involve group participation are popular in that
they offer a real chance to foster team spirit and strengthen
Western International managing director Mike Tunnicliffe, who is a keen
sailor, takes clients out on a yacht every year during Cowes Week.
Although there is a professional captain on board, Tunnicliffe describes
the experience as a ’fantastic bonding thing’ because everyone has to
get stuck in crewing the vessel.
But while the sea spray is beloved by some, there is no doubting which
sport is king of the participatory jollies: golf. No one can be sure
exactly how much business gets done out on the links or over a bevvy at
the 19th hole - but it is a lot.
Does this mean those who don’t or won’t play the game are in danger of
losing out? Maybe, thinks Shute. He adds: ’I don’t play golf. I’ve never
got into it. I think it is possibly a disadvantage because it is so
prevalent as a means of spending time with people.’ And getting them to
spend money with you.
Golf - being fairly sedate - poses little threat of injury. However,
Thomas warns that participatory jollies can often lead to injuries. He
has cracked his ribs taking part in a motorcycle scrambling event and
has witnessed others being hurt in activities as apparently harmless as
softball and tennis. Judiciously, Thomas has recently turned down an
invitation from JC Decaux to take part in a parachute jump.
Sport, it seems, may leave you injured or even lead you into
cross-dressing for a night. But it does appear to be a major constituent
of the industry’s lifeblood. There are people who’ve made it to the top
of the media pile without caring two figs about sport. And there will be
others that do the same. But given the amount of interest there is in
sport and what a good ice-breaker it is at the start of most business
relationships, it takes a brave person or a fool to ignore it
Complimenting or teasing a contact on the performance of their football
team is a great way of building relationships. Even if you prefer Don
Giovanni to the Dons, EastEnders to Twickenham and getting your hair cut
to watching a square cut, sport is where it’s at. So don’t get caught
out - unless you’re playing in a corporate cricket match, that is. Then
hit the bar with the other players and put some deal foundations in
PLAYING THE GAME
Ten phrases to convince others you know your Arsenal from your elbow
1 Grandstand ain’t what it used to be.
2 Yeah, it’s a great stadium all right but personally I don’t think you
can beat the Toronto Skydome.
3 Tiger Woods certainly knows what to do with a mashie niblick. And his
driving power off the tee is awesome.
4 UEFA really needs to clarify the offside rule. The bit about not
interfering with play is a real dog’s dinner.
5 Steve Redgrave is not Vanessa Redgrave’s brother.
6 Bull running in Pamplona? Pah! That’s for wimps. If you really want an
extreme sport, you’ve got to try nude skidoo racing in Lapland.
7 In my view, John Inverdale is so soporific he makes Bob Wilson look
like John McEnroe on speed. If only there were more like Motty.
8 Do you think they should switch to a fifth set tie-break at
9 I’m going to be quids in for sure once this nice little filly I’ve
heard about romps home in the 2.30 at Haydock.
10 It’s not as good a try as the one Gareth Edwards scored for the
Barbarians against the All Blacks. What sublime team handling and
running from deep. Watching replays of that takes your breath away.
And things you definitely shouldn’t say ...
1 Muhammad Ali in his prime? Punched like a fairy, he did.
2 Did you see the international show-jumping last night? Wasn’t it
graceful and exciting.
3 Sir Alex Ferguson? Who’s he? (Although this is perfectly acceptable in
a sarcastic tone when taunting a Manchester United supporter).
4 OK smart-arse. If you think you’re knowledgeable about sport, name the
first five players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of
Fame. (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus
Wagner in 1936 - not that anyone in the UK is remotely interested).
5 Springboks? Is that something you get covermounted on a home interest
6 The Williams sisters? Are they the ones in All Saints?
7 Shane Warne’s flipper? Does the poor man have a deformity of the
8 Forget about your Cantonas and Ginolas. For real midfield artistry you
can’t beat David Batty and Carlton Palmer.
9 Bradford City are a dead cert for the Double.
10 Big Jonah Lomu? Isn’t he the editor of Media Business?