England Athletics Paris 2024 sportsbiz

“We are looking for a main sponsor to support athletics in England” – Chris Jones, CEO, England Athletics

May 2, 2024

iSportConnect’s Taruka Srivastav spoke with England Athletics CEO Chris Jones to know more about the strategy and working of the organisation.

Tell us more about your role at England Athletics.

I’ve been the CEO of England Athletics for 12 years now and have been with the organization for 18 years. Prior to that, I worked for the English Sports Council now known as Sport England for five years and then in local government.  It is a great experience to work for an organization like England Athletics that is rich in diversity, a very inclusive sport, enjoyed by 1000s of participants that make up the membership of England Athletics. We’re a national governing body of around 1400 member clubs, another 400 affiliated member organisations. We’ve got around 173,000 registered athletes from as young as the age of five or six, up to the late 80s. We have a really broad participation base in terms of age and we are an Olympic and Paralympic sport, so we are really inclusive in terms of participation. 

We are an ethnically diverse sports, particularly in track and field. And we’re very proud of that, and very proud of our partnerships and associations with national sporting organizations such as Sporting Equals, Women in Sport, Activity Alliance in the equality and diversity space. Equality and diversity is hugely important to us as an organization. We also have a mass participation adult running program called ‘Run Together’, which has over 200,000 participants taking part in leader led organized runs in over 3000 running groups across the country. And that’s in addition to our club membership. 

We also insure and license around 3500 off track road races and events each year, including some of the big events, such as the Great Run Series, Manchester Marathon and others. We are very proud of the role that we play within our sport. We have around 21,000 coaches, around 4000 licensed technical officials, and countless of the volunteers that make our sport work. Partnership working is fundamentally important to us as an organization, in terms of being the national governing body. So working with and through other organizations is vitally important. We are around about a 9 million pound turnover business and we are a not for profit and we also have a charitable foundation as well called the –  Personal Best Foundation that is focused on removing barriers and addressing inequalities. 

Paris Olympics is two and a half months away, so what are your opinions on that? What are you looking forward to in terms of England performance?

So the Olympics and Paralympics obviously provide national governing bodies that have participation remit with the opportunity to inspire the current and the next generation to achieve the feats of those that are operating at the highest levels. The English athletes will be representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland not just in athletics, but in cycling, swimming, hockey and the various other sports. They are there as role models to obviously deliver performance and they work extremely hard to reach those levels of performance, but also to inspire the next generation. So from an England Athletics perspective where our remit is very much about growing the sport, keeping people in the sport and giving them a good experience, and then identifying talent, to then progress up to Commonwealth Games, and hopefully the Olympic and Paralympic Games level, the inspiration of the Olympics and Paralympics is really important to help us drive some of our participation goals and drive some of our participation programs, particularly in clubs across the country, volunteer led clubs in schools, which is very important to get youngsters running, jumping, throwing at an early age, because it’s not only an athletic, and a sporting skill, but it’s a life skill as well, to keep people fit and energized.

And thirdly, in communities outside of clubs and schools, making sure there are opportunities for young people to enjoy sports. It’s not just about young people, of course, because athletics is a late development sport, you can keep getting better into your 20s, into your 30s and onwards in specific events. It’s about inspiration, harnessing all that is good and pure and inspirational about the Olympic and Paralympic movement to inspire a nation. And we’ve seen that happen, obviously, with London 2012, the Olympics and Paralympics, the World Athletics Championships in 2017, in the IPC Championships, and also, of course, numerous Commonwealth Games that have been hosted in the UK. 

We all remember the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. England Athletics selected and managed the athletic team that took part in Birmingham 2022. We delivered a record medal haul for Team England in Birmingham and one of the things that we’re doing as an organization at this moment in time is working with Commonwealth Games England to help and advise where the next host nation would be for the Commonwealth Games in 2026, which is the same year as the European Outdoor track and field championships that take place in Birmingham. From a major event perspective, harnessing the energy, the kind of inspiration of the games to inspire the current and next generation is fundamentally important.

I would like you to shed light on more of the commercial aspects, in terms of the marketing and branding strategy.

England Athletics is live and active across all the mainstream social channels and we have an always on approach to obviously, information that we’re giving out to the sport and our partners and stakeholders, that’s fundamentally important to make sure that we are visible and present and current in those regards. We’ve obviously invested quite a lot of money and time and focus over the last few years in investing in a digital strategy to give us a modern and updated digital footprint, investing in our systems and programs to make sure that we are current and relevant to our audiences, our existing and future audiences. We employ a team of people working in that space, both in our marketing and communications and campaigns function, but also in our digital team as well. And they work collaboratively in that regard. 

We sometimes work through agencies as well, where we need specific skills and specific expertise to coordinate campaigns for us, certainly, where you’ve got new programs or new brands that we’re looking to take to market to get more people involved in our sports. And that’s really important for us, as well. Sponsorship wise, we are actively looking for partners, at this moment in time to work with us to deliver the strategic priorities that we’ve set out in the plan. The sponsorship market is quite challenging at this moment in time for our sport. Our priority is making sure that we’re telling the transformative stories of athletics and running through those individuals where our sport has impacted positively on their lives. We believe that our sport not only delivers sporting outcomes, but also mental and physical benefits to communities across the nation. It’s accessible, it’s inclusive, it’s diverse, and the storytelling of England Athletics is fundamentally important and should be at the forefront of our commercial pitch work. So we’re active in the sponsorship market, we’re looking for headline partners to support athletics and running in England, to help us drive forward our strategy and to help us engage more people. We’re very fortunate that we have some very supportive partners, supporting us with provision of kits for athletes for international teams, and also suppliers of energy drinks and eyewear, and other kind of services, travel partners, etc. But we are looking for a headline sponsor, a major sponsor or sponsor. 

What’s the government support like?

We’re very lucky and very grateful for the support we have received from Sport England, which is our government funding partner. We receive around 40% of our annual income from the central government. We are very conscious of the fact that we shouldn’t be too overly reliant on government funds and we need to have an income portfolio that is spread across several income buckets. So that even if one of those is compromised, for eg. during the pandemic where our membership income was compromised, then you need a more robust way of keeping the organization going so you can deliver your priority. Government funding makes up annually, about 40% of our income, membership from athletes and clubs and member bodies makes up around another 40% and then the other 20% comes from a mixture of commercial sponsorship, event licensing; we license competitions, event entry fees from athletes, and education costs income from training coaches, training officials, training volunteers and qualifications. We would like to arguably bring more money in through sponsorship moving forward to reduce the reliance on membership and the reliance on commercial spot on government funding. 

Who are some of your commercial partners?

We have Kukri as our kit sponsor and we’ve enjoyed a long positive relationship with them. They have also traditionally been the kit sponsor of Commonwealth Games England so there’s some synergy there. And they provide kit for our international teams as well. We have SportsShoes.com as our footwear partner, and they provide discounts to our affiliated and registered members, which are very gratefully received, and that’s been a partnership which has been in place for two or three years now. Science in Sport are our performance nutrition and hydration partner. We’ve also got partnerships with Macmillan Cancer Support, Marathon Tours and Travel, KT Tape, Polytan, Midstream, Playdeck and Funetics which is a kid’s program that’s fronted by Katarina Johnson Thompson, and Usain Bolt.  Goodr and Shokz are our eyewear and headphone partners respectively. We enjoy a strategic relationship with TCS London Marathon.

England Athletics Paris 2024 sportsbiz