|Paul Blanchard- CEO, Surrey Sports Park|
|Profile of the week|
Monday, 13 February 2012 13:05
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.