This sporting life

As I set off on my usual healthy trek across the moors today, I was trying to take my mind off the dire debt situation facing the West.  BOHICA, as an ex-colleague of mine used to say. The politicians can’t blame the bankers this time; oh, no, they’ve done it all themselves creating one giant Ponzi scheme after another, all over the West.  We even have National Insurance– the biggest con trick yet. OK, no doom and gloom today, let’s have a few sporting anecdotes.  From me?  The man who never follows sport?  Ah, well, I haven’t been successful in business without knowing how to please the customers.  This was particularly true when I was involved in consumer goods and had very large budgets to spend.  In achieving brand building, awareness and image, I have found sports sponsorship to be highly effective and have met many famous stars.  It didn’t usually lead me to build lasting business or personal relationships, though as I never usually found sporting ‘personalities’ to have one!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons

Take one very famous English cricketer, known, loved and revered throughout the land.  Some years back we had engaged the services of the England cricket team for an appearance at an exhibition. Our sporting legend (let’s call him Hero) bounded onto our stand and was soon deep in conversation with a colleague and I on matters commercial.  Shortly, a very nice lady with an eager little lad in tow came up and humbly introduced herself to Hero, impressed upon him the adulation she and her lad had for him asking very politely for an autograph.  Hero turned and contemptuously and graphically told them how to depart his presence.  No sooner than Hero had uttered these soothing pleasantries than a press photographer hove into view; he then underwent what can only be described as a transformation.  Switching on a beatific smile, he grabbed our still horrified lady and her little lad in each hand, stepped in front of the photographer, hugged them to him and beamed at the camera.  Shots taken, photographer exiting the scene, Hero literally shoved his two admirers away.  Nice guy.

A sporting chance

However, one genuinely warm and wonderful character was the Formula One driver Alan Jones with whom we managed a personal sponsorship deal in 1979 for the prime position on his helmet (for a 3 year period).  The following year, driving a Williams, Alan struck gold for us, finishing 13 points ahead of Nelson Piquet to win the F1 Drivers Championship.  We had asked Alan to appear at an event in Harrogate to meet some of our dealers.  Now at the time Alan lived in Ealing, West London and the event was in Harrogate.  When Alan arrived, I greeted him and asked if he had had a good trip.  “Yeah, pretty good drive”, he said in his wonderful Aussie accent “Two hours 15 minutes, door to door”.  You can check the maths but I made that an average of 95.5 mph over 215 miles.  For the petrolheads amongst you, Alan was driving the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9, which was a popular choice for F1 drivers that year.

Image courtesy C1 Owners club

We pulled off a major publicity coup that same year by signing up probably the most historically famous British motor racing star of all time to return to the sport, driving one of the two cars we were sponsoring in a well known motorsport series.  Even before he had turned a wheel in a race we made a humongous return on our investment by having a press launch with our legend (we’ll call him Gearknob).  We  gave each of the press and TV stations footage and stills of him driving the cars.  It made every news programme at peak time that night, every daily newspaper the next day plus every motoring magazine – result!  However, when the season started a few weeks later, things went rapidly downhill as Gearknob firmly staked his claim to the last position every race.  He complained that the car wasn’t on form, it was down on power or under steered chronically.  It was the same at testing sessions.  Our team manager (a famous ex-works Porsche driver) would take the car straight out and get very close to a lap record.  Gearknob was a legend but this was a disaster.  A mystery; until I happened to start looking at discarded footage from the cameras we had mounted inside his car for the publicity film.  A typical downshift gear change was taking Gearknob around 4 or 5 seconds!  When our number 1 driver made a downshift, you could miss the whole thing in the blink of an eye.  Either he had slowed dramatically or motor racing was a lot more leisurely in Gearknob’s day!

Image courtesy of Target Vacations

Finally, I planned a lavish overseas conference a year or so later and engaged the services of the events division of one of the major global advertising agencies.  As luck had it the account director assigned to my project was an extremely competent (and very attractive) young lady.  Well after some long planning sessions, a few lunches and the odd dinner we became firm friends.  Not that friendly, mind!  You see, having become chums, Account Director poured out her heart to me, one evening working late on the final details.  It seemed she had a chronic issue in her life – let’s just say it was a very bad and recurring case of a certain debilitating (and contagious) medical problem that, er, cramped her style.  So, the relationship stayed simply professional.  Meanwhile, we had engaged the services of a very well known personality whose TV talk show was massive at the time.  I never really took to Talkshow as he only ever seemed to want to talk about sport and I found him a bore.  However, on the weekend in question, the dealers loved him, lapping up every one of the sporting anecdotes he had to offer.  Great success.  Late into the night, the last satisfied customers evicted from the bar, I started to make a move towards my bed.  Rounding the corner from the lift, I heard giggling and saw Talkshow, clutching a bottle of champagne in one hand and Account Director in the other, slipping into her room.  You know, whenever I see Talkshow on the TV even now, I can’t help wondering……

Never a dull moment in sport!

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