Paul Blanchard- CEO, Surrey Sports Park Share PDF Print E-mail
Profile of the week
Paul Blanchard is the CEO of Surrey Sports Park. He has more than 20 years’ sports marketing experience with Ladbrokes, the NFL, Scottish Premier League, Southampton Football Club, The Oval and Super League.  Prior to joining Surrey Sports Park in 2011, he was Chief Executive of Harlequins Rugby League.
His career highlights include involvement in the 1996 World Bowl with The Scottish Claymore, 2003 FA Cup Final with Southampton Football Club and 2005 Ashes Victory at The Oval.
You have had a very distinguished career in sport. How would you compare working across a number of sports to working exclusively in football, cricket, rugby league or American football?
It’s quite different. I was in Rugby League prior to coming to Surrey Sports Park.  When you’re working in one sport, you get completely and utterly engrossed in that sport and your whole world particularly during the season revolves around that particular sport. It can be great because you’re in this sort of maelstrom of that sport, but you do find yourself becoming quite boring because that’s the only thing you ever talk about. Whereas at Surrey Sports Park, on any given day, I’ll talk about rugby, football, netball, lacrosse, swimming, synchronised swimming, squash and the list goes on. It’s much more varied. However, you don’t get the true focus, and actually nothing beats a Saturday or a Sunday match day in professional sport. That is the pinnacle of the week and although we get that with netball through Surrey Storm and basketball through Guildford Heat, who are both based at the park, it’s not quite the same intensity as being at Southampton with thousands in the stadium. You do miss that aspect of it, but it is so much more interesting because you’re working across a range of sports.
You have vast experience north of the border. How does sports administration differ down south?
There isn’t a huge amount of difference. I mean there tends to be more resources down south, where things tend to be bigger. I worked for the Scottish Premier League- effectively trying to mirror what the English Premier League had done five or six years previously when it set up. What the SPL lacked was the real financial clout that the English Premier League had, so the size of the deals were much bigger down south. Also you’ve seen from the original broadcast deals when the Premier League was set up through to the deals now; they’ve gone up exponentially each time, whereas the Scottish market has basically plateaued. You’ve got two enormous sports brands and not much else, whereas the English Premier League is probably the biggest league in the world.
What makes Surrey Sports Park unique?
I think the range of sports that we facilitate and the level to which we facilitate. We’re fortunate because we’re only eighteen months old, therefore we’ve got basically the newest of everything. So, facilities-wise we’re very strong. But, I think possibly our uniqueness comes from the fact that even though we’re fundamentally built for students, we’ve got a very commercial outlook and we’ve got a very partnership driven outlook. What we’re able to do is balance pretty much anybody from the local community to disability groups to sport conferences, right up to the England rugby team and pretty much any stuff in between.
What has been your highlight of the past twelve months?
The Women’s Rugby World Cup last year, which was phenomenal. We’ve had a very successful netball season as we own the Surrey Storm franchise. We lost in the Grand Final last year, but we had a thousand people into the arena and the game was completely sold out way in advance. We have had a number of interesting Olympic camps that will probably be the highlight of the next three months. We’re working very closely with Fulham and its Foundation on a number of community initiatives to get as many young people involved in sport, which is great. Obviously, Harlequins winning the Amlin Cup last year was brilliant because of the great atmosphere around the Park. It’s a very interesting carousel of people coming through.
How have you become a venue of choice for National and International events and elite teams and athletes?
We’ve done a lot of work in partnership with the council and with other venues. We’ve done a lot of work directly in contacting the federations and the athletic bodies. Because we’ve hosted a lot of domestic activities, those domestic federations have talked to their international colleagues and said “this is a good facility and the guys look after you”. But, the PR work that Generate and the team has done has been very important as well, because they’ve allowed us to significantly raise our profile nationally and internationally. They’ve got us into publications and broadcast media that we were struggling to get into ourselves.
How many 2012 Olympic teams are you hosting?
It’s nine at the moment; GB, USA, Singapore, Nigeria, Spain, Estonia, Malta, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda. We’re talking to a number of Paralympic teams at the moment too. So, it looks Nigeria Paralympic, Sweden Paralympic and Croatian Paralympic.
Your facilities cater for a host of disability sports and I was interested to read of your Paralympic Potential Day. How important is promotion of this form of sport?
We’re probably as a good a facility around to host a Paralympic sport. Obviously, because it’s a brand-new facility designed very much with Paralympic athletes and Paralympic students in mind, all the facilities and support facilities are here. So, that day that we hosted was effectively a GB trial and was very popular. The feedback that we had from the organisers was very strong.
How do you find a balance between elite sport and local community involvement?
We do spin some plates and to a large degree we spin them very successfully. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it. We have got quite an extensive array of facilities and we’re able to manage that accordingly. So, if Harlequins are in then clearly we wouldn’t put the community in the same facilities. We do run extensive planning meetings on a weekly and daily basis so it’s really about affective planning – who’s in? What can we accommodate? Where can we accommodate them? Which groups can we take in?
With the park situated close to the Olympic Village in East London, Heathrow, Gatwick and Central London, how critical is your location in securing contracts?
It’s very important. The USA triathlon is probably the best example. It’s absolutely fantastic for them. The way it works is that they’ll fly into Heathrow, base themselves here, fly for the Berlin triathlon, come back and then, the following week, fly off to wherever it happens to be. It’s a very easy one-stop move.
I love your ‘Year of Sport’ idea which focuses on legacy, health and well-being. Surrey is going to gain a lot from London 2012, but what are your plans beyond the Games?
We want to firmly establish ourselves as the premier training base in the UK, preferably in Europe. The Olympics really is a major springboard for this, but there is a huge amount of elite domestic competition and across Europe in any given year. We want to maintain the relationships that we have built with nations and we want to host them whenever it’s appropriate. We’ve obviously got our eyes on other events as well - 2013 Rugby League World Cup, 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2015 Rugby Union World Cup. The other thing we’re looking at as well, similar to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, is can we host events? Clearly we can’t host the Champions League final or Heineken Cup final, but there are a number of events in sports that we can host.
‘Year of Sport’ capitalises on what’s going on and then there’s a legacy aspect as well. Effectively, we’re looking to engage as many people as possible and in many different sports. The obvious focus is Olympic sports so we run a number of taster days and exhibitions. A number of groups would be invited in, particularly school children to capitalise on that. That’ll be a partnership with groups like Active Surrey and local councils, because, frankly, it will be criminal if we have this huge surge of interest that is not harvested.
In terms of health and well-being, we’ve got a sports medicine facility, which has proved to be an interesting recruitment tool for Olympic teams to test there athletes. I think the medical and health agenda sits very comfortably with the sports agenda. We’ll get kids to try some sport, but there is a message that says you should eat sensibly and look after yourself.
You have a number of sponsors including Lucozade, Holiday inn and Penningtons. How do you secure these sponsors?
Again, it’s through hard work. We’re slightly unusual because those sponsors would tend to look at teams or federations rather than venues, but I think we’ve got quite a strong case, a good story to tell and a decent track record in a relatively short space of time.
Are you introducing extra security measures as a precaution in the run-up to the Games?
We’ve run a couple of exercises and took in conversation with the police and security services at university, so there will be some measures. We’re not viewed as a very high-risk target, but clearly it’s in the world’s media attention, therefore we have to be vigilant and will be taking some extra precautions.
Do you anticipate making more from merchandising this summer?
I hope so. We’ve brought in some of the official London 2012 merchandise and that’s proven to be pretty popular. I think that really will pick up, but we’re looking to sell our own products. It’s not a big part of our business at the moment, but it’s definitely an area that has got potential for expansion.
How far is your reach in the local community?
It depends how you define the local community. We’ve got students and have over 3,000 public members of the health and fitness facility. Also, we do a lot with schools within a 50 mile radius. 30,000 school children in organised groups came through the facility last year and I always find it interesting when you find a party of kids in the pool at one end and the GB synchronised swimming team down the other. Outside of that, clearly athlete teams and competitors will fly from all around the world. But, the bread and butter stuff is probably within that hour drive time, which is reasonable.Paul Blanchard 2

 

Paul Blanchard 2

Paul Blanchard is the CEO of Surrey Sports Park.

He has more than 20 years’ sports marketing experience with Ladbrokes, the NFL, Scottish Premier League, Southampton Football Club, The Oval and Super League.  Prior to joining Surrey Sports Park in 2011, he was Chief Executive of Harlequins Rugby League.

His career highlights include involvement in the 1996 World Bowl with The Scottish Claymore, 2003 FA Cup Final with Southampton Football Club and 2005 Ashes Victory at The Oval.

By Edward Rangsi

 

How would you compare working across a number of sports to working exclusively in football, cricket, rugby league or American football?

It’s quite different. I was in Rugby League prior to coming to Surrey Sports Park.  When you’re working in one sport, you get completely and utterly engrossed in that sport and your whole world particularly during the season revolves around that particular sport. It can be great because you’re in this sort of maelstrom of that sport, but you do find yourself becoming quite boring because that’s the only thing you ever talk about. Whereas at Surrey Sports Park, on any given day, I’ll talk about rugby, football, netball, lacrosse, swimming, synchronised swimming, squash and the list goes on. It’s much more varied. However, you don’t get the true focus, and actually nothing beats a Saturday or a Sunday match day in professional sport. That is the pinnacle of the week and although we get that with netball through Surrey Storm and basketball through Guildford Heat, who are both based at the park, it’s not quite the same intensity as being at Southampton with thousands in the stadium. You do miss that aspect of it, but it is so much more interesting because you’re working across a range of sports. 


You have vast experience north of the border. How does sports administration differ down south?

There isn’t a huge amount of difference. I mean there tends to be more resources down south, where things tend to be bigger. I worked for the Scottish Premier League- effectively trying to mirror what the English Premier League had done five or six years previously when it set up. What the SPL lacked was the real financial clout that the English Premier League had, so the size of the deals were much bigger down south. Also you’ve seen from the original broadcast deals when the Premier League was set up through to the deals now; they’ve gone up exponentially each time, whereas the Scottish market has basically plateaued. You’ve got two enormous sports brands and not much else, whereas the English Premier League is probably the biggest league in the world. 


What makes Surrey Sports Park unique?

I think the range of sports that we facilitate and the level to which we facilitate. We’re fortunate because we’re only eighteen months old, therefore we’ve got basically the newest of everything. So, facilities-wise we’re very strong. But, I think possibly our uniqueness comes from the fact that even though we’re fundamentally built for students, we’ve got a very commercial outlook and we’ve got a very partnership driven outlook. What we’re able to do is balance pretty much anybody from the local community to disability groups to sport conferences, right up to the England rugby team and pretty much any stuff in between. 


What has been your highlight of the past twelve months?

The Women’s Rugby World Cup last year, which was phenomenal. We’ve had a very successful netball season as we own the Surrey Storm franchise. We lost in the Grand Final last year, but we had a thousand people into the arena and the game was completely sold out way in advance. We have had a number of interesting Olympic camps that will probably be the highlight of the next three months. We’re working very closely with Fulham and its Foundation on a number of community initiatives to get as many young people involved in sport, which is great. Obviously, Harlequins winning the Amlin Cup last year was brilliant because of the great atmosphere around the Park. It’s a very interesting carousel of people coming through. 


How have you become a venue of choice for National and International events and elite teams and athletes?

We’ve done a lot of work in partnership with the council and with other venues. We’ve done a lot of work directly in contacting the federations and the athletic bodies. Because we’ve hosted a lot of domestic activities, those domestic federations have talked to their international colleagues and said “this is a good facility and the guys look after you”. But, the PR work that Generate and the team has done has been very important as well, because they’ve allowed us to significantly raise our profile nationally and internationally. They’ve got us into publications and broadcast media that we were struggling to get into ourselves. 


How many 2012 Olympic teams are you hosting?

It’s nine at the moment; GB, USA, Singapore, Nigeria, Spain, Estonia, Malta, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda. We’re talking to a number of Paralympic teams at the moment too. So, it looks Nigeria Paralympic, Sweden Paralympic and Croatian Paralympic. 


Your facilities cater for a host of disability sports and I was interested to read of your Paralympic Potential Day. How important is promotion of this form of sport?

We’re probably as a good a facility around to host a Paralympic sport. Obviously, because it’s a brand-new facility designed very much with Paralympic athletes and Paralympic students in mind, all the facilities and support facilities are here. So, that day that we hosted was effectively a GB trial and was very popular. The feedback that we had from the organisers was very strong.

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