Thursday, 3 December 2009

Play sport, make friends or vice versa

Discovered a great site in beta stage while perusing the Beyond Sport pages.
Sports Buddies brings together people from around the world to play whatever they choose, so they can make contact, meet, or create your own groups of mates.

Still in its early stages and it would benefit from having links to gmail or hotmail contact lists but looks good so far and worth a look

Monday, 30 November 2009

Nice plug from blog awards site

I've been featured as Blog of the Month on Football Jerseys in their Blog Awards section.

The site averages 200,000+ unique visitors per month and has featured more than 30,000 blogs from the world of football and sport in general.
Thanks for the mention guys

Thursday, 19 November 2009

NBA UK gets their act together and Cash gets a serve

Well it only took a month for me to write another post and it took that long for whoever runs the NBA UK fan page on face book to upload photos and video from the Take to the Courts days in October.
I made the cut twice for their highlight video though in a watching not playing capacity.

As usual my full-time job and travel has allowed little time for blogging (I do enough of that at work) and there hasn't been much to say about basketball of late.

On the tennis front, whoever is handling the Lawn Tennis Association's PR account must have been saving a good news story for when someone attacked Roger Draper, as Pat Cash did in the now-heavily read London Evening Standard (because it's free).

Former Wimbledon champion Cash hammered Draper's LTA and the state of Brit tennis, sending the LTA PR machine into overdrive and resulting in a full-page tribute to the state of young British tennis the following day. How convenient.

Draper even had his say in a boring and dry column that did nothing to really tackle any of Cash's good points, and he had a few.

Cash may be a loudmouth but he's lived in London for a while now and could contribute a lot to attracting yougsters to tennis, if anyone bothered taking his advice. It's true that UK sports pages so often seems restricted to talking about football, despite what the rest of the country is doing.

In Australia it is a similar story: women's netball and soccer (ok, football) had dismal coverage despite being the top two sports played by teenagers in the whole country. That is now changing as both sports get more money, professionalism and international standing. Tennis doesn't suffer too much from all three but results by Brits seem to be the biggest block in its improvement here

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Still hope yet for basketball's future in the UK

I get cynical about UK basketball often but the weekend was one of those great opportunities to see there are some very enthusiastic players from junior level to streetball warriors who are keen on the game, not just the image.

Though Clapham Common looked like it had been hit by a Powerade, ESPN and EA Sports bulk merchandising drop for two days, seeing the excitement of so many players at the appearance of their Chicago Bulls' heroes was worth the product placement. The NBA Cares program also donated a new court surface - bad timing for us as the weather turns worse but it should last for a few years at a good standard.

The main dunk competition was amazing to watch, some of the boys trying some ridiculous moves and hopefully reminding the sluggish crowd that Dwight Howard and LBJ also started out on street courts, so it's worth cheering for a no-name when they have decent skills.
Here's one example:

That was filmed on my phone but still shows the quality. Ok, most of those guys were from Europe but still, Londoners need all the inspiration they can get.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Homegrown hysteria

Not that you would know it where I'm living but back home in Melbourne, Australia, people are going understandably mental about the Geelong Cats making their third grand final in three years.
After last year's painful loss, the Cats should bounce back to take this one against the Saints. My girlfriend's hoping that's not the case so we'll no doubt be at odds this weekend.
Nothing much more to add right now, thanks for tuning in

Monday, 7 September 2009

Back in action

No time for blogging over the past month, away in Scotland for a family reunion and then the US for three weeks and also started a new job in online medical publishing at
I'll start back blogging now that I have some more time, a couple of things I wanted to mention.
I've complained before about the state of basketball in the UK and my trip to the States helped to revive my angst. In a country that created the sport you would expect it to be big, popular and host to the best players (not always the case: English cricket, save their recent Ashes win?) I took in an afternoon at Venice Beach in LA, home to one of the most well-known courts and though the playing standard was lower than I expected, still left impressed and with renewed faith in the game.
The Times today has a great article on Luol Deng and the British team's Eurobasket chances. I say great partly because it's so rare to see the game mentioned in UK press but then that's a key feature in the article's text.
Deng's comment that many Brits "still don’t know we even have a British basketball team" isn't surprising given the generally poor coverage and lack of interest by free or pay TV in screening games in normal (ie not 2-5am) programming.
It's excellent to see LOCOG spending big on basketball, hopefully they'll continue the promo push to get more kids into the sport. Though a top three finish is unlikely at the 2012 Olympics, taking a big scalpy down would be enough to hope for at this stage.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Am I getting repetitive? Good way to check

I stumbled (literally, not using my favourite time-wasting tool) on Wordle from another friend's blog and could see straight away how useful it can be: analysing the amount of times 'rage' or 'crusty jugglers' (sorry, Hot Fuzz joke) is used in a Daily Mail article or how often try-hard cool reporters talk about Tweeting on their blogs (I'm avoiding it). Sure, it works just like the tag tool but looks much better!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Beyond Sport Summit: closing session

I've never been to a conference where a speaker or interviewee walks in to a standing ovation but then I've never seen Archbishop Desmond Tutu interviewed live on stage before. His more than capable interviewer Michael Parkinson said it was a first for him as well and it was probably one of his easiest interviews ever - just ask a few simple questions and let one of the most well-known anti-apartheid campaigners talk for the next 40 minutes.
In keeping with the theme of the conference, social change through sport, Parkinson interviewed Archbishop Tutu on his relationship with sport and the way sport helped to 'demolish' apartheid in South Africa. One of the choice quotes: When South Africans travelled oversease during the worldwide anti-apartheid movement, 'sport brought home to the ordinary white person what it means to be a pariah'. Tutu said the movement would continue past his lifetime because of the followers who support it, not because of him.
Archbishop Tutu said hosting the World Cup was a win for the whole continent and would add more fire to the anti-racism movement by bring different cultures together through a shared of football.
Full coverage and clips from the days talk are on the Beyond Sport website.

Beyond Sport Summit: afternoon sessions

Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images

The media room computers became occupied for the rest of the afternoon with people checking their Facebook, so without my laptop handy (and still yet to work out blogging from my phone) had no way to upload the rest of the day's happenings.

Lewis Pugh injected some educational fun into proceedings with his description of swimming across the North Pole, claiming 'it's fucking freezing!'
His aim was to expose to world leaders the environmental damage being down at the Pole through a 1km swim, supported by a 29-strong crew. Following the swim, he called the British Prime Minister to inform him of the changes in ice thickness he had seen at the pole from one year earlier, which he suspected helped the announcement of the first UK Climate Change Minister a week later.
An amazing effort in -1.7 degree celcius water for a good cause and Lewis summed up by saying 'sport can carry a message to our leaders'.

Hon Tessa Jowell, Olympics Minister, said sport was a means for change around the world. She said 'dotting in with a few thousand pounds for a project that makes people feel good for a while is not on'. She claimed the Olympics could help improve economies, literacy levels and sporting participation around the world, points that Olympics host cities love to boost but none of which have been conclusively proven.
probably four years away from where a new tenant will move in to the new stadium.
Afterwards in a media interview, Ms Jowell told reporters the Olympic stadium would not become a white elephant but that London "doesn't need another football stadium" and that every Olympic venue would have "a concrete legacy." Having personally seen the concrete legacies of a few Barcelona venues - that is, they turned into unused piles of concrete - I hope London doesn't make the same mistakes.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Beyond Sport Summit: second session

Livestrong CEO Doug Ullman dealt with cancer as an aspiring soccer star and started a support and awareness program for athletes. Lance Armstrong spoke through a video message on the spread of Livestrong, 'takes a time like you guys to bring these issues to light'.'on behalf of the millions of cancer sufferers around the world, thank you for your passion'. Doug said it was a massive challenge to get media to talk about the cancer problem worldwide, not just Lance's achievement.

He mentioned Livestrong Global Cancer Summit in Dublin in August where they will discuss problems and solutions with the goal of committing 6 billion dollars globally.

Dame Kelly Holmes praised Sue Campbell and Youth Sport Trust for their work with school children.

The concept that businesses are not charities cropped up constantly from corporate partners and Gib Bulloch from Accenture said every partnership needed a solid business case to be successful.

Sir Keith Mills from London 2012 made good point that Olympic bid winners had to follow through on bid promises. Some of the international will involve 20 countries and develop sport in developing world. He said Olympic sponsors needed help to see the Olympis could do so much more for the world than just provide 3 to 4 weeks of action. Keith said he will get unis next year to do long-term benefit study on Olympics and claims this hasn't been done before. IOC representative Christophe Dubi said a report will be compiled with 170 indicators to show the benefits from the Games.

Beyond Sport conference: opening sessions

Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images

The early sessions at the Beyond Sport conference have provided some inspiring moments.
Compere Kevin Carroll discussed how hiw life "saved by a ball" and how he rose from a disadvantaged background to become head athletic trainer at NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the first session, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair described what sport does for us: excites, insipres, promotes tolerance andhelps many get out of a bad home environment. He also said he had learnt the power & limits of government to really develop and promote sport. Lord Puttnam received a round of applause for his points that educating girls creates systemic change and men are respomsible for a majority of the world's problems.
Former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo has journeyed regularly to African countries, including his childhood home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for the last 18 years to help children develop their social and sporting skills. He said basketball had made it possible for him to open a US$30m dollar hospital in the DRC and admonished FIFA and European football associations for often merely scouting talent in Africa when they could be doing good.
Multi-Olympic gold medallist, swimmer Ian Thorpe, gave a powerful address on his own journey beyond sport, starting a charity at age 18 to help poor and disadvantedg people. He used the speaking opportunity to highlight the major health and socioeconomic problems in Australian Aboriginal communities and said it was disappointing that his own opinion was more important to the media and general public, because of his sports achievements, than that of the experts.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Beyond Sport Summit

I'm heading along to day 3 of the Beyond Sport Summit for what should be some fascinating insights into how sporting greats, administrators and charity groups are using sport as a means for change across the globe.
The panellists and key speakers include international sporting names such as multi-Olympic medallists Michael Johnson and Ian Thorpe, business and charity heads such as Richard Branson (Virgin), Doug Ulman (Lance Armstrong Foundation) and Lord Puttnam (UNICEF UK) and Beyond Sport Ambassador and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It's always slightly unnerving to hear present and former athletes, who are on multi-million pound/dollar salaries and endorsement deals, talking about giving something back to the sport or their community but the names I recognise in this lineup have already made big contributions through their charities.
Live updates from the conference are on the website.

Monday, 6 July 2009

technorati listing


Friday, 3 July 2009

Big week at World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ)

I haven't had much time for blogging of late and had a very busy week, spending most days at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Westminster, London. The conference obviously focused mainly on science writing, the state of journalism in the online age and the future of this fairly new (under 100 years old) journalism field.
One of the gratifying points to note was that many of the journalists and PR people alike that I spoke to are no longer afraid of what the internet will do to their professions but are embracing it as a normal part of their working day. A lot of those people were past the point of sneering at 'citizen journalists' with no professional training, to the extent they are using these people on the street as credible information sources and contacting them via blogs, Twitter, Facebook and many other formats.
Krishna Bharat, Principle Scientist and Founder of Google News, gave an interesting explanation of how the Google News system works and the way rankings are dictated. While there are complaints to be made about the rankings Google gives certain news outlets when doing simple keyword searches, Krishna reminded everyone that his service is the main source for news searches worldwide.
Many bloggers have already written their views on the conference, some of my favourites so far include Ed Yong's piece on Not Exactly Rocket Science, a nice summary of the week from Jacob Aron and some good tweets from colleagues.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Who's at fault for poor grassroots participation?

A 2001 UK Census table showed men participated in, on average, 18 minutes of physical activity a day, women about five minutes less.
The standard figure given by first-world government sports ministers around the globe is usually 30 minutes per day. But if taking part in sport or physical activity ends for many after the under-12 football finals, where is the next generation of champions going to come from?

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, had a stab at the poor sports participation rates, which leads over time to poor international sports performance, in a 2008 article for the Telegraph:

“the fault is in ourselves, and if we want to do better at sport… we should now launch a merciless Kulturkampf against every feature of modern Britain that is inimical to our competitive success. We should summon up our courage and tell our ballooning children to put down their beastly PlayStations and go and play outside. We should encourage them to walk or cycle to school. We should stop the sale of school playing fields. We should finally abandon the ethic of "all must have prizes".’

The comments section was revealing of the varying levels of support for Boris’ Kulturkampf: some commenters attacked the Mayor for even deigning to write some “trivial nonsense” when there are subjects like knife crime, racism and the loss of English values bringing today’s society to its knees; others thought he was right on the money.

The important part is: someone needs to inspire the youth to see sport as something anyone can do - not just the elite - for enjoyment, friendship and a healthy lifestyle.

There’s a reality of the value of networking from sport that predates the social networking concept by at least a hundred years. Old boys from private schools know the value well – a high school championship-winning rugby player gains the support of influential people who help him gain a sought-after graduate placement or start a business. My own experience came without the privilege attached but was still vital – on moving to an outback Australian town to start my first job after university, my love of sport and passion for writing was enough to convince a sports editor to give me a reporter’s job.

Years of playing basketball and football and watching Australian Rules football, rugby league, swimming and various other sports for enjoyment had the unexpected side-effect of making writing about sport almost second-nature. Of course, there was more to being a successful sports writer than knowing sport – you have to understand the draft process, contract payments, boardroom and changeroom politics and the detailed rules and acronyms of 101 sporting codes.

And as a sports writer, it was always inspiring to meet sporting celebrities who still maintained contact with the grassroots of their sport and wanted to see more young people getting off the couch and onto the field, court or into the pool. Aboriginal tennis player Evonne Goolagong-Cawley was one who made the trip to a small town and focused more on helping out fellow Aborigines to see the value of the sport, rather than spending time on her own self-promotion.

English sportspeople need to be serious about helping out the next generation while they still have the profile to command respect. If the London mayor can hit the target with words and occasionally back it up with dollars and action, current sport stars should do even better.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Ball players hit the headlines- but for how long?

As a follow-up to the previous story about British basketball, it is heartening to see the mainstream media being seduced into writing basketball stories on the back of English players' participation in the 2009 NBA Live game and 4 Nations tournament in London this year.

Chicago Bulls star and injury-prone Luol Deng has garnered much of the media attention, though Brit-born Ben Gordon has had the benefit of serious game time in the NBA finals series to boost his profile.

Promoters for NBA Live and 4 Nations need to work out how to steal a sports page from the Sun, Mirror and Daily Mail on a regular basis in an effort to bring basketball into the public consciousness before these major events at the O2. While they are sure to be well-attended – ticket sales for the lower priced seats seem to pick up after each story – the longer-lasting benefits may be lost unless PR and marketing teams work on the ever present problem of grassroots participation.

As mentioned in a previous post, basketball courts around the country are lying dormant or solely used, with either permanent or improved goals at each end, for football. As a local example, I practice at an outdoor court in south London at least once a week and for the first time in six months, found basketball players using it over the weekend. The weather's obviously a factor but it appears people generally aren't learning a love for the game at an early age.

On a disappointing sidenote, the one publication to regularly feature a wide range of sports ended its print run last month.
Opinions are divided on whether Sport rightly earned its title as the UK’s best sport magazine, but in my short experience it featured top-notch writing, interesting picture stories and a determination not to fill its pages solely with football stars, WAGS or poor-performing cricketers.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Social media – underestimating its use in PR is an automatic “fail”

Recent research showed that people using social media to contact friends was more popular than email, a finding that is not surprising for those watching their friends’ 10 daily Facebook updates and more regular ‘tweets’.

People get excited when a politician such as Barack Obama or celebrity like Stephen Fry are shown using and expressing their enthusiasm for new technology.

Web nerds may enjoy it because it validates their many years of dedication to the internet and social networking, through older bulletin board, ICQ and other social media outlets.

PR people have been jumping for joy over it for many reasons, including the ability to track who is saying what about their clients, build fan pages to further expose those clients and tap into the general zeitgeist of popular culture.

Now that Twitter has been recognised for that potential – it offers unrivalled access compared to Facebook as anyone can quickly and easily read anyone else’s tweets and follow them – PR companies are assigning staff specifically to handle social media profiles on their clients.

It still strikes me as odd when I read about a scandal involving a film, reality TV or sporting celebrity’s misplaced comments, photos or videos on those social networking sites. Gossip magazines and websites must also be rubbing their hands with glee at this previously untapped source of dirt. So it’s a positive forum one hand for PROs and a potential minefield, filled with poorly-chosen words and drunken photos on the other.

An example recently from Australia was a storm of controversy over a group of football players who put a bizzare sex video, involving a rubber chicken and a frozen chicken, on Youtube. Two players were forced to pay fines of AU$5000 for their involvement. Pundits even suggested the incident could have caused the team to lose its next game, such was the fallout.

*Apologies for the use of “fail” in this headline – I’m not a fan of ‘fail’ as a noun but it does lend itself to showing new uses of the internet. Some say internet speak is killing the English language, others would argue its adding new terminology to an ever-evolving dialect. Both sides have merit.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Sponsorship dollars versus traditional advertising - are airlines getting it right?

The worldwide battle for a shrinking tourist market is testing even those airlines who have spent millions in advertising.
Virgin knows it can haul out Richard Branson for instant marketing impact but what are other airlines doing to get the edge over the competition?
While the obvious answer is TV, billboard and magazine advertising, UAE-based airline Emirates seems to have made considerable ground with little ad spend thanks to their sponsorship of a wide array of high-profile sports teams and events.
Having Arsenal FC players of the calibre of Arshavin, Fabregas and Adebayor wearing an Emirates-branded shirt on the pitch or the high street is among the best celebrity endorsements money can buy. It works on a conscious and subliminal level – fans begin to associate the brand with class, success and reliability.
Likewise, a perpetually struggling team or one dogged by controversy would find it hard to retain a big-spending sponsor – no company wants to be associated with failure or a negative profile. Emirates appears to have picked its sports and events carefully, laying down upwards of US$200 million on more than 50 clubs and sporting competitions.
Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum has said sponsorship is vital in the airline’s marketing strategy.
“We believe sponsorships are one of the best ways to connect with our passengers. They allow us to share and support their interests and to build a closer relationship with them,” he says on the airline’s sponsorship site.
Of course the UAE air carrier didn’t come up with the idea of sports sponsorship equalling increased passengers: Australian airline Qantas has followed this policy for many years and has run successful campaigns in the lead-up to several Olympics, trumpeting their financial support of Games athletes.
Qantas is also respected in this arena for sponsoring the rejuvenated Australian national soccer (football) competition, Australian Rules and the national tennis scene.
A newer player on the scene is Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, which is using a mixture of traditional advertising and sponsorship in the hope of bumping up passenger numbers in 2009 by 15 per cent to a total of seven million.
Etihad has put their name on Chelsea FC, Ferrari’s F1 team and also targeted the grassroots market with a junior rugby union festival in Abu Dhabi last year.
Australian airline Qantas has played on its sporting affiliations for many years, running successful campaigns prior to recent Olympic Games' trumpeting its support for gold medal hopefuls.
Having the company branding on a sports team could become as important as corporate social responsibilities or charitable donations. It will be telling how the level of sponsorship dollars rises or falls during the global financial crisis and whether airlines continue to see long-term benefits for supporting top-level teams.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Searching for the next Jordan

One of the most influential videos around in my early teenage years was Michael Jordan’s Playground.

The brilliant opening sequence featured some of the most amazing and sublime dunks and opponent-beating layups I’ve ever seen, which no All Star or NBA Jam slam dunk comp has ever managed to match for sheer finesse. The film was also a reminder that being cut from the high school team doesn’t need to end hopes of playing at an elite level.

I played at an undersized indoor court earlier this year at a school near Elephant and Castle and was struck immediately by a 20 foot poster featuring the famous Michael Jordan Wings photo. This shot was plastered on my wall and that of millions of other young fans, inspiring us to take either take up the sport, train harder for a higher grade team spot or score an elusive triple-double, depending on which level we were at.

Basketball flourished in Jordan’s era – hoops were nailed up on garage/shed walls across the world. Jordan’s sponsors could try to take credit for his massive worldwide exposure but the truth was the sheer ability and marketability of the player made him an easy sell in almost any market.

The point of this background is to ask, 19 years after Playground was released, where the sport now rates outside of its American homeland. Pre-credit crunch in Australia, provincial and capital city teams who filled 10,000 seat stadiums in the late 1980s were struggling to maintain a fan base and either downgrading their operations or shutting up shop entirely. Many UK teams in the national league seem to have suffered the same fate.

Basketball has still not grown into a mass participation sport in the UK like it is in France, Italy and Germany. The game ranked as the 18th most popular sport in England in Sport England’s Active People survey published in 2006.

Based simply on investment in outdoor facilities (and disregarding English weather for a moment), this shouldn’t have been the case.

Back in September 1996, the English Basketball Association created the Outdoor Basketball Initiative (OBI) with, as their old website states, “the aim of providing Basketball For All.”
“The then English Sports Council Lottery Sports Fund, Grant aid of £10 million has enabled 9,150 robust outdoor basketball Goals to be installed in 352 local authorities throughout England.”

I could be picking on word usage here but it shows an insight into the thinking of the bodies involved that they use the word “goals” here. Apt though, considering many of the outdoor courts I’ve seen in and around London so far have goals for football at each end and this seems to be their primary use.

In recent years, lottery funding bodies and sports councils have invested more than £315,000 to basketballscotland; contributed £19,950 to put up 21 hoops on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales; gave a Liverpool wheelchair basketball club £10,000 to purchase sports wheelchairs and equipment; and handed a Welsh club £20,000 to deliver a healthy living program to young people in primary schools.

The Welsh and Scottish sporting bodies seem to have matched funding with participation, where is the English association going wrong?

Sport England also offered to fund the sport to the tune of £1.7 million a year, on the condition England Basketball improved its administration, appointed a “high-calibre chairperson”, built sustainable grass roots participation and
developed world-class British teams.

Basing their challenges on the 2007 Mallin Basketball Review, Sport England said these changes were urgently needed to significantly drive up participation and improve performance on the world stage.

Former NBA star John Amaechi backed this latter view in an interview with late last year, slamming Great Britain's short-term approach to the 2012 Olympics.
The ex-Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz star, who helped take England to bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, said “right now our professional league is the worst in the world in terms of both the standard and professionalism”.

While Amaechi and NBA colleague Luol Deng, who finished eighth in the FIBA Europe Player of the Year Award for 2008, have good track records of promoting and developing the sport locally, England Basketball has to be hoping for a Michael Jordan figure to inspire the next generation of players and fans.