A QUESTION OF SPORT: When deals are struck on the golf course and football banter helps kick off a relationship with a client, the media person who hates sport is likely to end up sick as a parrot. Rob Gray investigates

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.

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

poster contractors.

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

means unusual.

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



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?

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content