E136: Nick Bitel
Hello and welcome to another episode of unofficial partner. The sports business podcast. I'm richard gearless today. We're talking to nick patel. One of the most influential people in pretty spores chair of sport england or member of uk sport and chief executive of the london marathon. The timing of this podcast coincide with the launch of sport england's new ten year strategy cool uniting the movement and the conversation covers a bit of ground from the image and reality of sports governing bodies their relationship with innovation and change and the lessons learned from the covid pandemic which is hit grassroots sport and activity so very hard so given all that. It's appropriate that this podcast is sponsored by our mates at joy mo joy mo is a live streaming platform made for grassroots sport allowing clubs to engage with fans from around the world and generate income with pay per view ticket sales you can start live streaming and an easy and cost effective way using joy mo at all the equipment you need is a smartphone or tablet and a tripod. And you're ready to go sign up today by visiting joy mo dot tv and as ever if you like the podcast you'd really like the weekly unofficial partner newsletter which covers sports business themes we talk about in more debt you can sign up to that via unofficial dot com where you can also delve into the back catalogue of conversations with people from every corner sport standby then for nick patel so nick patel thanks coming up right. Loria think no no. No i just wondered is that was always the plan. Is that something that you were born to do. Started lor at university and always thought. That's where i was likely to end up as a lawyer. What happens on didn't just end up there but that was the plan initially. Well you're going to be the great barrister. studying core. Putting murderers in jail was at the initial aspiration spender at a time. Where the cousin of mine who's now. Qc's criminal qc. And i spent some time with him. Going around the courts. I hated the idea of being a barrister having seen him in action. Maybe he wasn't the greatest role model. I don't think david will be listening to this. But he he never read his papers until the morning. Any it just wasn't for me. And that's what i'm afraid sent me down route to becoming a solicitor and my father was always buys. That helped was sports. Laura thing then we had nick coward on the podcast. He was a fellow lawyer than he was making the point that actually the the sports law create an exist that point absolutely not no such thing as sports lauren. Those days arguable. Whether there's offs sprinkled sports law now. I just went into general practice. I was lucky enough to recognize that. There was no-one specializing in acting for sports. People sports events and we had a couple of clients in the sports world. And i thought well this might be an interesting area to concentrate on so i spent a few years just going after clients who was interested in acting foreign. Loves lucky enough to start acting for a lot of our snow plows that then morphed into acting for people like a lotta mouth and from nineteen eighty four wimbledon nine thousand nine hundred ninety radikal eighty nine. It was fairly early on in my career that we went down that route but it wasn't obsolete not plan going in also. Would you have been doing for arsenal at that point. Yeah i listen. We acted it for people. Like george graham. And frank mclintock bob mcnab and people of that nature. That was just general work. They were sports people. There wasn't really much then about negotiating player contracts because there was just one really standard plaque on. You didn't really nick. Negotiator acting for events though was much more Funding those days. Let's talk about the london marathon. Then it's an incredible things become an incredible thing What do you feel on race day. It's a mixture of fear. Pride an awful feeling in your stomach that something's desperately about to go wrong but there is nothing quite like standing on that. Finish line watching. It's not watching the elite. You love them in. People elliott show. Y'all immensely brilliant athletes. But it's not quite the same as standing there watching whoever it is you know. I'm a my wife. When she ran the look of joy and tears and pain in her face as she crossed that line that moment in their life where they've achieved an amazing goal and they've done it in front of an enormous crowd that on the same day very often as their sporting heroes. the paula radcliffe mo fires of this world. And you just don't get that in any other type of sport. That's what so unique. And that's what i love. What do you think is the enduring legacy of the marathon on on sort of pretty sport landscape. I think it's changed. Britain and its attitude to running when chris brasher and john veasley founded the london marathon. A nine hundred ninety one was the first year and they found it. I and something like six percent of the runs the first year women. Most of the others were stick. Thin white men a number one question that they would be asked is. What's your personal best. And what's happened through under matha and is changed the nature of running its democratized at anyone and everyone can run but the number one question you now get if you're running the london. Marathon is which charity. You're running for so that latian. Our relationship with running as a form of exercise has completely changed. And i think that's entirely down to london marathon. You draw a line between the marathon and park right now. I don't i think part run has by the way which is a fantastic initiative. It was financially supported by london marathon. It's very days. I think that grew out of the running boom and actually benefited from those people who are trying to find a running community very often because running can be a fairly lonely existence and this idea of merging running a community hub community event. That's what pulled in jet did so brilliant. That was his concept and bring it together. I think they complement each other. Fantastically i think of new york and london. What's it like that that circuit the sort of business commercial side of of the global market americans. I mean every city. Every major city in the world and i have a lot of minuses have marathons and the history of marathons are but they weren't formed by federations. They weren't formed by cities. They were usually some maverick some local or bowl. He decided to stall the marathon. It's only in recent years there has been moved to commercialize them. You've got people like iron man before them. Competitor group aso in france. Trying to now make it a corporate business but the roots of and i think the reason it was so successful is that it wasn't run by the usual blazer brigade it was run by by runners for usually people who've had slightly off the wall approaches. And that still that still features client heavily. These are these are community running communities very often who are not only part of the people who've put it on but they're the volunteers. Without whom none of these events concede know we got six and a half thousand volts his and the vast majority of those will come from the running community so it's very different beasts to almost any other major sports event is out there and a very clever use of celebrities. I always saw a member going on. The sort of legendary press trip to la manga and thinking is going to be really. Boring is actually extraordinary. Affair and i was conducted a lift frank bruno and paula reckless. And if i was ever going to write a sitcom that would be the opening scene. But was that accidental. Use a celebrity or was it always part the strategy. No it was. It was entirely accidental. As will fancy dress. The first person he really did fancy dress was a swiss ueta dressed as a waiter. He had a silver tray on which he balanced the bottle. A glass bottle of water. And i think one gloss and he ran the whole way round and it garnered amazing. He of celebrity garnered amazing views and reaction and that that really was a spot for fancy dress and in the same way it was never planned for celebrity was a couple of people. You may remember the infamous. Roy hudd and emu he was one of the early was not talking major motion stars. It's not like today when you get hollywood stars running them but it. It did spark a thought in the minds of ourselves. Which was this idea that the marathon should be able to have a story every page of a newspaper. it shouldn't just be for the back page. you would. If gordon ramsay was running and you know he was an early adopter. Then that's great because we get something on the pages on the food and drink pages if you had had mark carney. The then governor. The bank of england running from the finance pages go. There shouldn't be a page where you couldn't get into and it was the realization that you can do that through great human interest stories and celebrities. It is a mixture of both interesting. Also the role of the bbc in start. You started seeing over the over the years. Yeah very much so and if you look at our coverage. The bbc still bbc sport. Who responsible for it but very often. It's not just the sports voices that are commentating on. You might have a blue piece presenter during the mini marathon. You might have someone else. The radzi doing kids races. Now so you'll have various voices. And i think if you look what they did last year the way that they covered an elite event and a socially distanced. Virtual event was brilliant. They weave those stories throughout the coverage and that is just an extension of what they have tried to do. I think over the is up will often be on the one show and it won't be the only athlete that they're taking it. It's as i said earlier. The whole success of the marathon is not just about the elite athletes. Okay so let's take that and jumped your other job. Which is chair of sport. England for eight years coming to the end of your tenure in april. And i wondering what you've learned about incentives but in terms of getting people moving which is obviously fundamental spor england's row a lot of government money a lotta marketing money's going into the idea that we are inspired to take action by looking at the sort of superheroes on the track and on the football field hockey pitch. I'm losing faith in the argument. What do you think what what what have you learned about. Incentives in the way the way in which They work one of the things. I did when i came to sporting lind was a hope. Anyway really boost its insight function and we discovered. I think it's something. I always instinctively knew but i think we proved it but when it comes to inspiring someone into activity. It's very unlikely to be the superstar. That's going to do that if you're a talented than absolutely you know if your on that talent paul way if you're a really great on eleven year old tennis player than seeing andy murray win. Wimbledon will absolutely do it. But what we've seen we can. We've proven it through. Statistics statistical analysis. Is it actually andy. Murray one have a lasting effect on. People bringing their rackets to their local parks. That's not how it works. You'll much much more likely to be inspired by your parents by your peers or your teachers and that inside i think has led us to sporting radically change our approach so that will now dominating our funding through governing bodies because there are other ways to reach people governing bodies de some people might think over these anti governing bodies. It's not true. I think they're very good within their limits and we. I think what we've done is helped them understand their limits and think about how else you can inspire people to get. Active citing is probably the greatest example. Where i think british cycling has was a hundred and fifty thousand members. Something like that this three point. Two million people that regularly cycle so they. They can't really claim to be able to govern the whole of cycling other out people the substrate cycling. Uk is all sorts of people in that mix who people will rely on but ultimately it's have your parents taught you to cycle. What are the roads like. The safe is likely somewhere to store your bike. And that wraparound thoughts of how you encourage people how you keep people acts if that's what i hope that we've been doing sporting and until covid nineteen we've been doing it very successfully. The number of people active in this country had been going up the only country to increase activity levels after holding an olympic games. Would you think of the limits of government policy in this area. There are quite a few actually first of all the the. If you're going to get people act if you have to do that. Started at school and school. Sport is in the hands of the education department is not enhanced. The department of culture media and sport tracey crouch was first approached about being sports minister. She said to them promise to give me school sport. And unfortunately he didn't and so the result is that you in education terms you down. The pecking order. I think being active. And i think the evidence is there is an integral of actually whether or not you're going to be around people and also educational attainment but the actual results are sport and physical recreation get squeezed out in the curriculum. It's not measured as success. You know it doesn't offset inspect. Don't go in and say is this a great school because it's producing really rounded people who are healthy and you know their bmi index is coming down all sort of measure the only measuring exams by large simplification. So that's a limitation of government policy. If you really wants to address physical activity and the lack of people doing that. That's the first thing the second limitation is that we have a devolved system so whilst yeah the government has a central role to play sports facilities is down to local authorities as you squeeze more and more local authority budgets and sport is not a statutory service. They don't have to provide support. But i'd have to have sports facilities. I only have to have parks. If you can't afford to pay feel old age homes. Then something's going to give so again. That's that seems to me. A bit of a failure of national policy whether it's down government or local government. that's a real issue. So you've had eight years chairing sports over that time. Have you changed your mind on anything. Yeah i have I have. I think though what i've come to realize which paps i didn't recognize initially is what those barriers were. The people taking part in exercise we did some groundbreaking work which led to a campaign called the skill can which i hope you in your listeners will will recall and that cannot research showed that a major reason. The young women goals export is. There was a fear of being judged. You came off a sports cole or arana need. Didn't look great and people look down on you slightly scams It wasn't sometimes society. Thinking isn't feminine Some ethnic minorities thinking that being scantily dressed is an issue so that fear of being judged walls a major factor that that sort of learning something that i. It wasn't natural to me. I came to us throughout my tenure. And i i hope allowed us to act upon it which has made a major difference. You know we've we've had closed that gap between men and women exercising no entirely. But we've cut it down drastically the my the one thing that we haven't done yet is address the gap when it comes to socio economic reasons if you are in socio economic groups one into the most wealthy they get seventeen. Percents likely to be active. Your thirty seven percent likely to be an active if you're in the bottom socio economic groups and fully understanding that and how to address it. That's the we've done a little work on. But heck of lot more stills do you mentioned governing bodies there and they are sort of easy to to knock people criticize them quite a bit. Is there a model for a sports governing body that you carry around sort of utopians advi ideal that you measure them against. I'm certain models of how a governing body should act as a model governance and things of that nature but in terms of what they do it will very completely because this notion of a governing body itself. Perhaps these a bit of a challenge. You're going to have a spotlight or be league. Where virtually everyone who plays. Rugby league is within the the nfl family. Because it's all organized as all leagues compare that to football where the vast majority of football is played. Actually by people in league's manager there in local five aside leagues or they just pick up games or people kicking the ball about in the park or whatever it might be and then you get say to someone like cycling and running where the governing bodies have very little influence actually over the totality of what goes on somebody like part robert scott one oval by ever wanted one off maybe nearly two million them. I think it is in this country. England got one hundred forty thousand nine hundred sixty thousand members so which one has more influence. You'd think so. There's no particular model. The the limitation on governing bodies is that they all member organizations generally the they exist to serve them member interest. Now that may be fantastic. But what it means is they. Don't actually know very much about. The people aren't their customers. That don't seem to own judaism. Got the heads around the people who could do their sports. But don't and that's that trying to get them into that realization that they need to do that. Naw every governing body is going to do it an arm. i remember scientists. One of my early meetings offer became chair with the chair. The chair push wrestling. Who said he had a brilliant plan for the future wrestling in britain he was going to go aggressively off the people who did judo. Convert them into restless now. It didn't add one iota. So the health of the nation all ghibli wrestling have a shorter shelf. Life and people who do does doesn't actually it would detract from it. But he's whole the whole mindset necessarily just having him no mindset of governing bodies were not. I want to get more people active. I want to get it was. I want to get people doing my sport and the one thing that we've tried to get them into this idea. I don't care whether you've got under thousand eight. Hundred thousand people doing spoil. I care about whether your contributing to being britain being more active nation. Yeah that's interesting. We had as i mentioned nick howard on last week chair of uk athletics and he questions the role of verticals or categorizing sport in verticals. Is that so you would agree with him about it. Sorts the lawyers answer but it depends because he's a lawyer as well. I'm if he is running. Rugby league is always going to be fairly vertical. Because it's very difficult to see how outside coming comes into it but in most cases it's definitely going to be through partnerships. And you come that if you're trying to be swimming you don't own the swimming pools you don't teach swing in schools. You can only do it. Three partnerships from working in conjunction throat with a wide variety of stakeholders so vertical. They're calm do you think that the allocation of money or the attribution of credit i guess for sporting activity two governing bodies is right. It feels like sometimes. It's quite a clunky process. And that you know again using pot ramsey's arm poise. You said there is a running is happening. But but how much of it can be attributed to actual governing bodies and but they do need to be able to take credit for into need to attach themselves to the activity. I think we could've wife from this thought that we can buy us out of in activity. It's exporting has got a great budget you know. We got three hundred million pounds to spend a year through mixture of exchequer lottery. That's less than five pounds. A person per year the change behavior for a nation with that is just not possible. So the what you have to do. Is you have to have the right facilities in the right places. Change the behavior of those who are offering sport. that's a much better intervention. The necessarily saying. I'm gonna it's gonna cost me a hundred pounds to train up someone to be a good rugby league. They're being player. If i can just use this. As as an example we spent on the public domain stuff we spent ten million pounds own. This skill can that changed mindset changed behavior of millions of people. It's a much better intervention. The may trying to put on thousands and thousands of gym sessions again one of the researchers that we did and i'm not a great fan of focus groups but we did some work with a thousand young people who weren't particularly active and we are one of the questions we ask them walls. What were do associate with sport. So richard ask you that question. What word do you associate one word use associate with. Sport poetry tina. I'm kidding fun okay. We had siamese different answers. Know they rain from sweats and losing and winning mudder members one of them but not one of those thousand kids said fun. Now elicits fun. Why are you going to do it when you leave school. Very few people go and do algebra off the leaves go just for the fun of it so that leads to an inside the what we gonna do is change. The way that sport is taught in schools so again is the enabling investment that i think becomes so important of course there's investment in the not symbols we train coaches. We need to have swimming pools. We need to have tennis courts. Bunch changing attitudes is much wider a more complex issue as a question here. i guess about gold medals. We spend a lot of money in terms of government money trying to get gold medals and i wonder about the inspiration effect or the inspirational effective of winning. Those goldman's is we should just leave to dictators and aspiring democracies. Were all on now. And i don't think we should be. I've been a board member of uk spot on and off for fourteen years. So you'll expect me. I'm sure to say that's winning. Medals has got a really important role. Plays just not that role of playing by and large of maybe inspiring the mass. It will inspire the next generation of great athletes and occasionally it will change behavior so nicaraguans gave permission was needed but it gave the idea credence. Women could be boxes and it was a similar moment. She changed the nature of women's boxing in this country. But there are other reasons that we do it Having role having those moments in time dale good for the soul of the nation britain came together to celebrate sixty six medals and in two thousand twelve increasing that number at rio that they that does something which very few things can do certainly is. There's nothing in culture. The cut through to the nation gives them that moment in the same way. I'm west hand fan. And a much. As though i would love to think that west embracing west brom last night's one would inspire the nation and give a briton. A boost his quite the same as mo farah winning two gold medals. My favorite david moyes equal appear in the same sentence when it comes to inspiration something. I mentioned a couple of times on the man is to teach one of the one of the features of when we ever had money. This is in the public sector quite often. The temptation was to spend money on buildings. Jin's computer block signs blocks rather than human beings teachers training which is messier and harder to to show progress because it takes longer. How do you decide how to allocate the money when you do have it. We need folks come you them singularly sports facilities we have invested a lot of money in their local authorities have that they're an absolute necessity. You can't teach someone swimmer without swimming. Pool the difficulty is the over the last eight years. The amount of public investment in facilities is actually gone down and that's largely because of local authorities spending local authorities eight years ago. We're spending one point. Five billion a year on sport and recreation. And i think that is now somewhere well pre covid. It was about eight hundred million so it's gone down fifty percent that long term. It's not sustainable. Because so much of our facility stock is quite old but we also need to have a slightly different approach One of the things. I don't think we've done particularly well at everyone's try but we haven't done uptight. Well is sharing a sports school facilities. They're all they're all spoil schools. Who still don't shed if syllogies with local people. We need to open those up. People generally don't travel that far to take part in their sport and recreation. It needs to be on their doorsteps and creating the school is the center of your hub. This really interesting. Golden bradford at the moment around a project code schools. I think going to see if that works if it if it doesn't really hope it does that great local authority. I could be a muddle which we roll out for the rest of the country okay. Sorta innovation question really. And i wonder first of all if we pet is innovation a bit sort of over sell its impact in underplay the the cost associated with it but broader than that for the story to work we have to characterize governing bodies so sleepy bureaucracies up against the so thrilling decisive market lead private sector that was going to transform everything just wondering i guess. The question is what. The role of the governing body is in innovations however that's defined digital transformation or or the data from data future. What what what. What is their role. The caught to recognize the value and embrace it. I'm afraid far too often. I filed in that regard for many many is paul from moose entirely looked down upon by the athletics governing board is. There's a famous story told about power league in five aside football when they went to see the faa and said look let's work together and the f. I said not too many years said you're five foot. Well that's not the game. It's eleven aside on grass. Not only did not cooperate with them but they actually change the rules said if the referee officiated a five aside private games they couldn't officiate in the eleven assault game. So it's i think the risk is that we fest shot fetish allies tradition. The tradition has a fantastic role. Of course you know. We're looking at recent. Just at the moment challenges for the america's cup the world's oldest sports trophy and that's fantastic now but the boats are recognizable. So you can celebrate your history and have innovation at the same time and this unafraid too. Many sports of only celebrated their history. And think it's frozen in a moment of time never change and that's that's sometimes because they aren't good at recognizing the need to change that's where private sector has come enforced. Reassessment not always brutally successfully of course but a lot of the substantial ambitious changes have come about because of the intervention the private sector we had done david bedford on the podcast. And i asked him this question. I ask it reasonably regularly. which is the park. Ground question could pop ron or and innovation like that have emerged from within a governing body or does it have to come from the outside. Is there something culturally stopping it from happening within a governing body i. I'm trying to think on the spur whether i can think of in recent times a really groundbreaking initiative that started in governing bodies. And i'd i'd struggle this government but it's certainly made improvements that are low end of the level badminton. Gb program could no strings badminton which was a good idea. But the scale of the ideas of one day cricket. You know the packer circus back along. Well i remember that. Tony greg or park on all five aside football that touch rugby you know. A lot of that has not come out of of governing bodies because they felt challenged by them rav embracing change in terms of technology. Yeah they're very often argued. I'm in acts of wimbledon at many many years. I think they'd been brilliant at embracing change. Things hawkeye wondering about on a more practical level as well that sport england are releasing their strategic plan for the next ten years. And i'm wondering about the relationship with external finance and where that plays in the in that period of time because oversee. We're we're in a moment. Where lots of sportsmen sports governing bodies lots of external sort of providers of cash private equity or to all sorts of venture capital. What do you think about that in terms of where that plays what role that plays in the evolution of grassroots sport risk involved in it they clearly is part of the job but the very substantial risk one of the problems if you look at say rugby union the number of teams being put out on the field has drastically fallen clubs putting l. eight different men's teams on a saturday that those days are long in many many cases and partially the reason is that they've wanted to concentrate their money and efforts on the senior team in order to chase the big box in. That's what professionalism brought about so there are risks of that nature the private sector bream money in on the other hand. I think can have incredible benefits. I'd love to see greater investments pension funds for instance into sports centers. A private public partnership to put on sports centres could absolutely transform the nature of our sporting infrastructure. There's a return will run spouses as a one up in warrington. Nuremberg going to where it's got a library. It's gonna police station. Went to sheffield graves where it's health center and Five aside facilities. They're all models there. And i think that's where i would love to see more private investment but at the moment the private investment seems to be going into ownership of leagues. I'm not entirely sure that might benefit the private investors and it may benefit the agents and the owners. But i'm not entirely sure of yet. Seen evidence that in much benefit for the public. So there's a code question. Obviously we can't get beyond have this conversation not have the covid question. How bad is it. What's the picture that you're seeing for sport and activity up and down the country. It's bad and it's going to take a really long time to recover. It's bad and one of the things we've shown is it's decimated the number of children meeting the required guidelines on the amount sport they are doing that is going to store up long term health issues for this country. We're seeing the differences between the haves and the have nots growing in terms of sporting activity. It's exasperated inequalities black or asian. Your far more likely to be an active as a result of covid than if you were watching middle class. I think the longer term structural issues. The ones that really coles may a grave concern. We've already seen quite a lot. Sports facilities being shuttered and. I'm i put one hundred million pounds towards local authorities. Sports facilities vo us very welcome. But it's nowhere near what's needed and we've got sports looking enviously. Thank the support that was given to culture culture got one point five billion and sport hundred millions of services three hundred million into the winter survival plan incredibly welcoming and not belittling. Who's a lot of money. Might a real difference. But we're going to need much more than that to get out of this and get out of this quickly. Is that a lobbying issue. We just go to bed route into government. I'm not sure necessarily lobbing it may be because sport has been quite if you turn on your tv. You will see football taking place. You will see rugby. You will see boxing and snooka. So maybe the urgency in the minds of decision makers isn't maybe there the absolutely not proven decimation to people's health through not being able to exercise as much that's hidden to some extent and maybe that has meant the. We haven't had that urgency of government policy. I've got to say this in defense of the government. Even in the strictest lockdown you've been able to exercise there are plenty of countries around spain. Italy where you weren't allowed to you weren't allowed to go out your front door. The actually i certainly weren't allowed to go up for ronald cycle so happy really positive recognitions of the values people but we need to do more painted already obviously realistic but pretty grim picture of what's going on around the country in relation to sport at the moment you in the covid period. Is there any good news anything that we can cling to. That will point to how we get out of this mess. The good the good news is that because running and cycling of being allowed. Those have had i post. Some people have got understood the delights of that and walking. Oh although it says sporting above the door we're not very likely to go and get a seventy five or five year old going and doing their first run. You've got to get the moving moving start with the movement. So i think we have. We've really have as a nation appreciated Moving for the first time for a long time. I think that that has been. That's that's part of the positive and we all creatures of habit so maybe those people who have discovered running and cycling and walking maybe will continue that someone just earlier. this morning. who was reporting. I did see this. Actually walking's become core. You know it's become really social thing to do. Well if walking and running can become cool. How amazing is that. You're to be tricky to joe wicks. Well listen thanks very much for your time really enjoyed. That is something to replace your sport england job. Now you've in april when you leave you. Can you can go home away now. I guess i don't know may want to listen. This is a great idea for me. I don't know. I'm i've really enjoyed much on foreign despondent kobe. Despite all of the headaches. I think i've got. I've had a great chief executive in jenny. Prosser great chief executive now tim hollingsworth. I'm sorry that i won't be there to be partners with them. In the future setup brilliantly to succeed. I'd love to think that i've got another job in may which i could helps overnight move forward the way that will hopefully add helped sporting linda. Well we've got a lot less. Oh i'm sure we'll find you something some some someone needs something doing and we'll get a campaign going. Thanks a lot nick. Thanks for your time cheers.