31 05 2010

The author at McLaren's Technology Centre in Woking with Lewis Hamilton's F1 World Title winning car


The June issue of F1 Racing magazine reports that if Formula 1 was a country it would be the world’s fourth largest economy, behind the USA, Japan and China and leaving the UK 7th (using IMF 2009 data). The Formula One economy was worth a staggering $3.787 Trillion in 2009.  

But doesn’t all that wealth suggest that in place of meriting Government support, motor sport has the means to look after itself?  

Only if we believe the IOC should build its own Olympic Stadia and FIFA should build its own World Cup arenas.  

Formula One is a global sport which, in terms of value measurement for sponsors, pulls in $4.8 Billion in TV exposure annually. This strength also good news for the UK economy with two-thirds of F1 teams choosing to base themselves in the UK which in turn creates jobs not just in those eight teams but in the technology and engineering companies which support them. This also means a significant percentage of the wealth generated by (for example) sponsorship is benefiting the UK economy.  

Formula One is, of course, only a small part of motor sport. The important figure is the value to the British economy of all motor sport not just F1. In 2009 that was estimated to be worth £4 Billion ($5.8 Billion) to our economy and in 2010 it is estimated that it will exceed £5 Billion ($7.25 Billion).  

For many, Britain is seen as the pinnacle in motor sport technology, in engineering excellence, in performance delivery and in much, much more. And yet, Government continues to fund under achieving sports which bring little to the national economy or even to our national self worth.  

During 2009 while hundreds of millions were being promised to the 2012 Olympics and further millions were being given to sports of varying national benefit, the Government could not find one single pound to keep the British Grand Prix alive.  

Fortunately, after the debacle of Donington’s failed bid and subsequent administration, Silverstone secured a long term deal to host the British Grand Prix which, on its own generates in excess of £6 million annually to the local economy and twice that for the national economy.  

Having secured the British Grand Prix’ future and its annual benefit to the UK’s economy, Silverstone now has to cover its own rebuilding and development programme while less than 100 miles away hundreds of millions are spent on a one time only event. A few miles in the other direction, Donington Park has just secured a new leaseholder who will be required to dig deep in their own pocket in order to bring the historic circuit back to a useable condition before any racing can resume. At grass roots level, a few quid from the Government would certainly not go amiss in helping bring the facilities at some circuits up to modern, acceptable standards as well as training marshals and the next generation of technological geniuses for whom Mercedes, Renault and other overseas owned F1 teams choose to make the UK their home.  

British Motor Sport has found a way and will continue to find a way without Government support. But we came very close to losing the British Grand Prix for the sake of a relatively small Government investment. One can only guess at how much of a sport that bases itself here might have moved overseas had the Grand Prix been lost with the resulting damage to our already fragile economy.  

The Government backs other sports, many of which consistently fail to hit targets and continue to underperform. UK Athletics has done so to the tune of £200 Million over the last ten years. British Motor Sport is at the very top of the world order; the Government should support it in staying there by investing in it in the same way it invests in other, far less worthy sports.  

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010


30 05 2010

An excerpt from a story you won’t have read in the papers over the last few days:

“I’d like to apologise for claiming benefits to which I wasn’t entitled, of course I’ll pay them back but cheating the system out of a couple of thousand was okay really. You see, I wanted to keep my private life private so instead of telling the benefits office I was living with my partner I pretended I was renting a room off him/her.”

Imagine the outcry, not least from politicians, if the above really had happened and if no prosecution was forthcoming.

But what is the difference between a benefit cheat who has a handy excuse for knowingly taking more (public) money than they were due and a politician who knowingly cheats their expenses out of more (public) money than they were due?

Not a lot except maybe we have the right to demand a higher moral code from those in elected office and therefore might also expect at least as harsh punishment when they fall foul of the rules.

Which brings me nicely to the David Laws issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do have some sympathy for Mr Laws predicament. However my sympathy lies not with the fact that he is gay, instead it lies with the fact that he is so out of touch with the British public that felt we could care less that he is.

As politicians and more than a few journalists have queued up to offer sympathy and say what a fine man David Laws is let us not lose sight of the fact that in reality he is no different from the benefits cheat those same politicians and journalists would (rightly) slam.

The desire to keep your private life private is no defence. An excuse, albeit a poor one, yes. But a defence? No.

Mr Laws should count himself very lucky he has been allowed to resign and to repay the money he stole from the public purse. A less privileged individual doing the same thing could well have also ended up with a criminal record.

© Jim Cowan 2010.


28 05 2010

I beg your pardon?

No, you heard right; I’d like to talk bollox for a worthy cause!

The worthy cause is Everyman, the male cancer charity who we’re hoping to raise significant amounts of cash, as well as awareness for, over the coming years with a new series of events.

The events are called Legends Talking Bollox!

The way we see it, if you’re going to get people to sit up and pay attention it’s best done with a smile on your face.  So that’s what we’re going to do.

Legends Talking Bollox! is going to be an irreverent, entertaining series of events raising funds for and awareness of the fight against testicular cancer with a legend from the world of sport at each event. We’ll be auctioning sporting memorabilia too.

We’ll be talking bollox at sportsmen’s dinners, pubs, sports clubs and night clubs so there’ll be an appropriate night out for everyone so joining in and supporting the cause will be easy to do.

The focus will be on entertainment as we seek to raise awareness around the sensitive area (pun intended) of checking for and discussing testicular cancer. We’ve even coined a phrase;

“it’s okay to talk bollox, your life may depend on it!”

Want to get involved beyond simply buying tickets and joining us for a great night out?

We’re currently seeking partners for sponsorship and venue hosting so why not get in touch;

Sponsorship packages range from in kind support through to title sponsorship.

For venues, as long as you’re in the UK and don’t mind a good time in support of a great cause, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re not in the UK, drop us a line anyway. We’d like to talk bollocks everywhere!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010 or or


Didn’t think so! It’s actually the only word in the entire English language which the Court has declared not offensive; and that’s not Bollox!

‘INITIATIVE-ITIS’ – A Welcome End?

26 05 2010

Initiative what?

Initiative-itis. No, I haven’t made a word up, that was Hugh Robertson the new Sports Minister.

Mr Robertson was interviewed in last Friday’s Telegraph, the following is an excerpt;

Robertson sees the legacy of 2012 as his top priority. “The lack of a tangible mass-participation sports legacy from 2012 is the single biggest sports policy challenge facing the government,” he says.

His solution will be an end to what he calls ‘initiative-itis’, “dropping little pots of money here and there without any coherence”, and a shake-up of the way public money is delivered in sport. He is developing a five-point plan for his policy and details will follow, but the gist is clear.

To anyone who has an inkling of what genuine sports development planning looks like, this should be welcome news, that is despite the fact Mr Robertson appears to underestimate how widespread ‘initiative-itis’ has become over the last decade or so. The fact is, in British sport it is at epidemic, if not pandemic levels.

It isn’t only little pots of money being dropped without coherence that have undermined long term sports development planning in the UK, it is also the way many in sport try to create solutions, plug gaps and achieve targets by simply creating more and more unlinked or poorly linked initiatives. The 21st century has seen literally thousands of them.

It has reached the point where for many working in sports development has been replaced with working in sports initiative creation and delivery. Indeed, for many who were not working in sport a decade ago ‘initiative-itis’ has been their only experience of working in the industry. Many of them have progressed to management roles honestly believing the current way is the only way meaning Mr Robertson’s five point plan to rid us of the pandemic will need to address a considerable re-education process.

How bad is the problem? If we take the Olympic Games’ shop window sport, athletics, as an example we have not seen a national strategy for the development of the sport since UK Athletics was born out of the failed British Athletic Federation in the late ‘90s. In the same period we have seen initiative after initiative launched with little (apparent) thought given to even horizontal, let alone vertical integration of these programmes.

That is not to be critical of athletics’ national governing body (NGB) for many other sports have delivered so called development programmes via a series of ad hoc, sounds good this week initiatives.

Some will say that these governing bodies have had proper development strategies, UK Sport and the home country sports councils will have demanded it in return for funding.

You would hope so but that hasn’t been the case. What the DCMS’s various sports delivery bodies have demanded were what they called ‘One Stop Plans’ and ‘Whole Sport Plans’ which were used to evidence how the NGBs would achieve Government targets through various initiatives in their sports. That is not the same thing as a strategy for the development of said sport. It is far too narrow in definition. Indeed in some sports consultation with the grass roots, where it exists at all, has become an irrelevance as the raison d’être of many has become solely the delivery of Government agenda.

In order to look at how things can be improved, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of something called ‘The Sports Development Continuum’ which is the name given to the four basic stages of sports development planning; Foundation, Participation, Performance, Excellence.

Note that the four stages are not isolated silos to be treated as separate from the other three. They are a continuum; an unbroken, fluid line runs through the four. And yet the NGBs are all answerable for funding to quasi-quangos established in such a way as to deliberately create a stepped approached in place of a smooth, staged continuum. And then, even within those silos further silos have been created.

In England, UK Sport has been responsible for ‘elite sport’, Sport England for ‘grass roots sport’ and the Youth Sport Trust for school sport. Mr Robertson could save money and do sports development planning a huge favour by simply replacing these bodies with a single UK wide organisation for the development of sport and for distributing the funding thereof.

Logically, many NGBs have mirrored parts of this fractured structure and established UK bodies and home country bodies along the same lines. Initiatives have flourished where sound, continuum based planning has withered.

But there will be those who advise Mr Robertson that his aim of “a tangible mass-participation sports legacy” cannot be delivered via the sports development continuum model. They would argue that the sports development continuum model assumes a progression along the continuum which for most is simply not possible, that it focuses on the development needs of a talented elite few.

They are, quite simply, wrong. They misunderstand the application of the sports development continuum to planning. The continuum does not take individuals in at Foundation and seek to channel them through all the way to Excellence at its end, although it should offer that as both opportunity and aspiration to all.

What the continuum offers is a way into sport at every stage for everyone. It offers the opportunity to progress to those who want to at every stage. It offers the chance to stay and enjoy at each stage. It offers the chance to return to a previous stage to all on its path. And, being a continuum there are no clear dividing lines between the four stages, they blur, blend into one large process of sports development focused on the wants and needs of each individual.

Yes, within the continuum there could be any number of ‘initiatives’ but they will be designed to provide ways in and ways to progress on as well as ways to happily participate at each individuals’ current level.

Doing this properly demands a high level of strategic planning. Consider this list;

Participants (those actively taking part); Facilities; Coaches; Officials (referees and umpires); Clubs; Schools; Higher & Further Education; Local Authorities; Communities; Equity; Events & Competition; Education & Training; Staff (paid and unpaid); Funding, Sponsorship & Commercial; Communications; Player Support Services (eg medical, educational, equipment, etc); Recruitment & Retention; And the list goes on and each of the areas stated can be further sub-divided.

Then consider planning that lot into a continuum based strategy to develop sport. It is not good enough to simply plan initiates for (eg) schools without considering the quality and availability of coaching, the links to the community and to local clubs or even the availability of clubs locally. What of competition provision or of the desire to pursue a sport enjoyed once the school child has experienced it? All of these elements and more need considering and properly planning.

And that planning cannot take place in isolation. There is little point in having a strategy for (eg) the development of coaching if it pays no heed to where, how many and of what quality coaches are both needed and wanted (not always the same). Then what of school plans which might create future demand? Then what of….. you get the picture.

A horizontally integrated strategy will cover everything needed to develop coaching but not necessarily to develop the coaching that is needed. To do that requires vertical integration of planning; that is planning that considers the implications of everything on everything! Go back to our list of areas requiring attention and consider planning in a vertically integrated way to cover the impact of each item listed on every other item listed. You soon begin to see why simply designing initiatives in the hope they will be successful is a system doomed to fail.

Consider the school in the East Midlands that offered its students a programme that included one sport that had no club or infrastructure within 30 miles. It’s like offering a taste of the Promised Land and then saying “sorry, you can’t have any more.” Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

Or consider the local authority in Yorkshire which offered a summer full of initiatives for youngsters without discussing any of them with local clubs. Those clubs were then unready and ill prepared for the young people wanting to join turning a positive first experience into potentially a negative second one or even no second experience at all. Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

Then consider the club in Lancashire which ran such a successful recruitment campaign that it was swamped with young people wanting to join. Unfortunately they had forgotten that recruiting more youngsters would also require recruiting and training more coaches! Is this how we encourage people to take up AND stay in sport?

 These are examples of where a decade or more of initiative led sports ‘planning’ has led us. We need to get back to strategy led; sports development continuum based planning if the resources of time, personnel and money are not going to continue to be wasted.

And vertically integrating planning would not just be better for the properly planned development of sport, it would also be beneficial to the nation’s purse as money is specifically, strategically targeted rather than thrown at piecemeal initiatives apparently randomly spawned by silo led horizontal thinking.

Mr Robertson’s desire to end ‘initiative-itis’ should be applauded but doing so will require a huge shift in culture for those directing and managing sport in the UK and will demand significant restructuring. It is to be hoped his plans will be supported and not resisted.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010.


25 05 2010

The UK Sports Network (UKSN) is still a very young organisation (less than six months) but founder Daniel McLaren is already achieving great things with nearly 1000 members and ground breaking events in London, Preston, Ipswich and Reading suggesting the group is necessary, in demand and here to stay.

Now McLaren is bringing UKSN to Nottingham for a half day summit on social media and its uses and applications in the world of sport. Sports people and clubs are waking up to the doors which clever use of social media can open and the benefits of attending this UKSN summit will be enormous.

Such is the breadth of the business of sport that professionals from many walks of life will be attendance, the thread that unites them all being sport.

Each speaker alone is worth the price of admission (£75.00); such is the wealth of experience which will be shared. With one speaker yet to be confirmed, the others are:

Ben Thompson –  Media & Communications Manager at Macesport

Ben has played rugby for Nottingham Rugby and Exeter Chiefs in National Division One and joined Macesport as Media and Communications Manager.  He has helped successfully develop the online presence of Robbie Savage, Stan Collymore, Kate Dennison and many other Macesport clients.  His case study will be thinking behind bringing Derby County FC midfielder Robbie Savage onto Twitter and the challenges/successes that has brought.

Ed Hartigan –  Founder of Spearfish Labs

Ed is founder of Spearfish labs who help organisations use the latest emerging and social technologies to communicate better, internally and with their customers. Ed will be looking beyond the technology at why sport should embrace digital communications and how they should listen and develop a strategy before deciding on the technology to use.

Andy Barber – National Communications Officer at England Athletics

England Athletics are very active in Social Media and will be giving us an insight into why they embraced the various new media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  A fascinating journey from first making the decision to work in the field, what challenges/fears they have faced, how they have overcome them and what work they still have left to do.

The Social Media & Sport Summit takes place at the Meadow Lane home of Notts County FC on Thursday 1st July.

For more details see the UK Sports Network here or book your place here.

WE RECOMMEND ….. Mustard Merchandise

22 05 2010

Here at Cowan Global we believe that when people exceed expectations, when companies go the extra mile, it should be recognised. But how?

Well, we’re going to run an occasional feature in this blog under the title ‘We Recommend’ featuring those who we feel have done a great job. Such a good job infact, that we recommend them to you!

Our first ‘We Recommend’ is Mustard Merchandise of Leicester.

What have Mustard done to deserve this accolade? They’ve saved our bacon and a few quid for charity along the way.

When we needed new polo shirts for the volunteers who help us to run the Scalextric Challenge in support of Help for Heroes we approached a number of companies for quotes receiving one exceptional one which we decided to pursue. Unfortunately they dragged their heels, upped the price and then told us they would not be able to deliver by our deadline.

Beth then volunteered the guys at Mustard as a team who may be our life savers. She contacted them and they agreed to pull all the stops out and produce the polo shirts for us, matching the exceptional price previously quoted by the company which let us down. They also made sure that our original deadline was met and did a brilliant, quality job into the bargain.

Our Scalextric Challenge volunteers will now be suitably kitted out thanks to the guys at Mustard. Why not check them out and see what they can do for you?

Contact Damien Davinson at Mustard.

Tel: 0116 261 6895

Mob: 07921 501388



   Beth models the new Polo shirt which arrived in the nick of time thanks to Mustard.


21 05 2010

Read Part One here.

Yesterday I discussed the company Mission Statement, today I take off from where I left off with a closer look at The Vision.

One of the world’s leading strategists, Jacques Horovitz, phrases it superbly:

The vision is what enables us to define the future, to work towards a specific objective.

The vision should be specific where the mission statement need not be. The vision looks forward into the future, the mission is what we are about now but might also limit the vision if we allow it to constrain us too much.

Your vision is your dream for your company, not a wishy-washy dream but a dream based on sound research which will provide an inspirational signpost to great things to come. Vitally and often overlooked, the vision should also provide the focus, the drive behind your strategy. It takes your dreams and makes them tangible while, importantly also giving them a deadline. If the strategy is the ‘how’ then the vision is the ‘what’.

Your vision is your dream with a deadline which will then provide focus for developing and delivering your company strategy to that deadline. It should be challenging but not impossible. It should be inspirational not only to you but to the staff who will be managing and delivering the strategy on the company’s behalf.

In the 1980s GE came up with the vision; “become number one or number two in every market we serve and revolutionise this company to have the strengths of a big company combined with the leanness and agility of a small company.

But by when? I can just imagine hearing the child’s voice from the back seat as they make their journey, “are we there yet?” as the company works towards an undefined deadline.

And what of; “number one or number two”? Does that sound as wishy-washy to you as it does to me? Doesn’t that allow a little space for settling for second best if first hasn’t happened? Does it sound like a dream to you? Does it inspire you?

Let’s transfer this vision to that of a talented athlete whose dream is to, one day, compete in the Olympic Games. Without defining which Olympic Games (the deadline) there will always be tomorrow thus removing any urgency or need to create impetus. And then one day the athlete will wake up and time and age has caught up with him and the Olympic Games becomes a dream unfulfilled.

That same athlete might have targeted a specific Olympic Games but then gone wishy-washy on us by targeting becoming number one or number two in the world. It sounds great but when seeking a driver for high performance it is too unspecific. Athletes improve every generation; seemingly impossible feats become historical achievements. Think four minute mile and you get the picture; once it would make you number one now it would make you number, erm….. you get the picture?

The athlete needs to work out a target performance that is likely to produce a gold medal performance and work to that. Becoming number one is non-specific; running sub 3.45 (which only three men in history have done) for the mile by 2016 is.

Ah,” I hear you say, “but running that time will not guarantee the gold. The athlete cannot control what other athletes are doing.” And you’d be right. But neither can we control our business competitors all we can do is aim for the likely requirement to be where we dream of being. Saying “being number one or number two” without time frame is vague. Saying “I will run under 3.45 for the mile by 2016” is both specific and measurable, not to mention far more motivational and easy for the athlete and the team around the athlete to picture and plan to (i.e. the strategy).

I admit, it is harder to get the vision right than it is to simply have a good sounding vision which no one will question. And you are not alone in thinking that. Here are some visions from large multi-national corporations which fell into the trap described above.

In 1987 Microsoft’s stated vision was “a PC on every desk.

Wow! No lack of ambition there. But by when? How many PCs does that mean? 23 years on, are we there yet?

In the 1970s Honda’s stated vision was “we will destroy Yamaha.

30+ years on; are we there yet?

The ‘vision thing’ as George Bush senior so ably reminded us can be a challenge to get right and confusing to understand but when it is done right it can be inspirational, motivational and an unbeatable driver in successful strategic planning.

The vision has been described as ‘a dream with a deadline,’ in fact that’s what I called it above. In reality it is slightly more than that. It is a dream, made specific, with a deadline.

What does a great vision look like?

This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.

That was President John F Kennedy (a president who did get the vision thing) addressing Congress on 25th May 1961. A nation was inspired and, come 1970 and the new decade, no one was asking; “are we there yet?

Now, go and dream!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010