|Paul Blanchard - CEO, Commonwealth Games England|
|Profile of the week|
Monday, 23 November 2015 12:40
By Christian Radnedge
Paul has 25 years’ experience in the sports industry. He has worked in Cricket at The Oval, in Premier League and Scottish Football and also the NFL in Europe.
Recently he was CEO at Harlequins Rugby League and prior to joining Commonwealth Games England was CEO at The Surrey Sports Park, an elite athlete training and event venue based at The University of Surrey.
He has also served on the Advisory Board of British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) and was Chair of The County Sports Partnership, Active Surrey.
Paul joined CGE in August 2015 as Chief Executive.
You took on the role of Commonwealth Games England ceo in June – how have you found it so far?
It’s the classic first 90 days. So far it’s been very good. I was dropped straight into the Commonwealth Youth Games, so literally within two weeks of starting we were out to Samoa for the Commonwealth Youth Games which was a very fascinating experience.
It was a fantastic experience for the young athletes, culturally it couldn’t be more different to what they’re used to in England. It’s such a long way to go.
The guys are great, we had a successful Games we won 44 medals which was second highest behind the Australians who had a big team there. For them it’s a three hour hop on a flight - for us its two days travelling. So the youngsters really embraced the whole experience, they acclimatised well, they trained well while they were there.
They put up a decent display. You’re talking about athletes of the future, there was also the rugby sevens team, squash, weightlifting, archery. So an interesting eclectic mix of sports as well.
That was straight into that after two weeks and we’re almost back down to reality now and tackling the main jobs that we’ve got in hand.
How did it come to point where you were approached by Commonwealth Games England?
I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. The majority of my back ground was traditional team sports. I was at Harlequins rugby league as chief executive there. I’ve come the traditional marketing route, so I was commercial director at the Oval for four years, commercial director down at Southampton for four years, commercial director at Scottish Premier League for four years.
So effectively football, rugby league, cricket - your classic team sports.
But I moved in 2010 from Harlequins to Surrey Sports Park which is an elite training venue that had just been built and opened by the University of Surrey. So that was a change because you’re coming out of team sports and into a more infrastructure background. It’s a pretty impressive facility, they spent £36 million on it so state of the art training facility that’s owned by the university.
So down to there, you’ve got hosts student sports community use, Harlequins Rugby Union used it as their training base, the RFU rugby women used it down there, over a couple of years we built up a couple of school sport franchises - professional netball, professional basketball professional badminton.
It was also a big training base pre-London 2012, there were 16 teams in there. Not full teams, it tended to be a swimming team, a basketball team and a badminton team so we had a quite a lot of swimmers in there.
So I’ve been very much involved with multi-sport elite background, very specifically for the last four years so that was really the stepping stone into this role. Obviously it is different because you don’t have the infrastructure, it’s very much about the relationships we have with the sports because the sports are responsible for the athletes and effectively we take control at Games time.
So we don’t have direct influence on how a cyclist would train or how a swimmer would train and what is their talent programme - that is very much their body. Our relationship is one of partnership because we need to work with these sports to get these people on a pathway to Gold Coast as it will be in 2018.
Part of your remit is to drive up commercial aspects, what have you found from your assessment so far and what is the perception of Team England from a commercial point of view?
It’s interesting, the perception is that most brands will say ‘OK the Games is in 2018, talk to me nearer the time’. There is a perception that the focus is on that. Which is completely understandable and to a degree there’s a strong element of that and we will drive a significant amount of commercial revenue in the last 12 months when the focus is at its height.
What we’ve got to do is change perceptions and say no, actually the fact is we don’t just disappear for three and a half years and pop up six months before a Games to prepare.
We’re here working with sports, we’re here developing coaching programmes, we’re here looking at how we can promote Team England and the Commonwealth ideals so there’s a number of ideas where actually talking about we are relevant here, if your brand is associated with us there is value in three years out, two years out, one year out and there’s a lot of activity that can be done within that and then it obviously builds to a crescendo at Games time.
It’s not straightforward - it’s a less obvious sell than Premier League football for instance, where everybody knows and there is that regular feed but equally it’s an environment that is quite special and different which does present opportunities your core team sports and team environments can’t actually do because you are looking at a team that represents England.
You’re a team that represents 17 sports, you’re a team that is without doubt the most inclusive integrated sport. We like to talk about Team England being the best representation of modern England in terms of you look at the athletes we will take, for instance at Glasgow the age range was 13-79.
There was pretty much a 50/50 split of male to female. Unlike the Olympics and Paralympics, the para programme is integrated with the Commonwealth Games. So our able bodied athletes compete alongside our disabled athletes. And given that you’re taking say 500 athletes from 70 different sports, you can pretty much get the map out and look at every county and every town and there’ll be an athlete there or an athlete there.
So I think that’s very exciting and I think that’s a proposition that we are very fortunate to have, it does set us aside from a lot of other sports properties. It’s a pretty congested marketplace. So we feel that presents us with a unique opportunity.
But equally we understand that we lack some of the power and profile of Premier League football or the Rugby World Cup or whatever else. So we’ve got to focus where we think we’ve got a point of difference and where we think we can deliver some exciting stuff for brands and not try and sell ourselves alongside some of those other sports because our proposition is weaker than theirs in that area.