Unfortunately justice, fair play and integrity have been the big losers during and following the recent France Ireland match in which the latter was robbed from participating in the World Cup in South Africa after Thierry Henry’s controversial handball. Undoubtedly the call for electronic (video) aids will re-vive again and surely pressure on the almighty and isolated FIFA to implement such devices will once more increase. It is to hope that this injustice will indeed turn into a catalyst for change, sadly at the expense of the Irish.

It had to happen sooner or later…..qualification for the Worldcup at stake and a wrong and unfair decision in extra time, as a result of which the cheating party turns out to be the winner. However, we have to realize that unfair decisions happen all the time. Each and every weekend there are wrong decisions made by referees, who are just human. As a consequence each time there are teams treated unfairly. Clearly in the France Ireland game things have been magnified as it was such an all-important game. There have been precedents; who does not remember the hand of “God Maradona”, but this was in an era in which electronic aids were not an issue yet.

France Ireland proves electronic aids should be implemented rather sooner than later. Let’s examine the reasons why….
1. Modern football has changed: football nowadays has become much quicker and more physical. It has become increasingly difficult for referees to notice everything
2. Football has become big business: football has become ever more important in our society. At top level huge amounts of money are at stake and world cup participation even stimulates the local economy. An unfair decision can literally costs loads of money.
3. Fairness of the game: football players are nowadays often role models for kids. Integrity, fairplay and justice hence should be important values of the game and the players participating in it. Inconsistency with these values is not the message you want to send to young adults. If cheating is rewarded, these values are meaningless.

Hence it is time that FIFA is wakening up. So far it has shown it is disconnected with the real world. FIFA claims that a decision made by a referee cannot be overturned again after a match. But what about players making a serious foul during a match unnoticed by the referee? If registered on camera, they often will get suspended anyway. So FIFA seems to be inconsistent to some extent. Why not introducing electronic aids during a game? Trainers, managers, football players, referees, icons and clubs, all have been arguing for this, but Blatter and friends remain sham deaf so far. Let us briefly stand still by the core values of FIFA:
Authenticity. Football must remain a simple, beautiful game played by, enjoyed by and touching the lives of all people far and wide. Indeed football is touching the lives of many, if it wants to come across as authentic it should at least be played according to the rules. This pleads for electronic aids, at least at the porfessional level (which is acting as billboard)
Unity. It is FIFA´s responsibility to foster unity within the football world and to use football to promote solidarity, regardless of gender, ethnic background, faith or culture. Unity and solidarity are far from being realised with decisions such as the one in the France Ireland match.
Performance. FIFA must strive to deliver football of the highest quality and as the best possible experience, be it as a player, as a spectacle, or as a major cultural and social enabler throughout the world. Again this value speaks against the recent controversy. This barely can be seen as high quality and being a social enabler in the world.
Integrity. FIFA believes that, just as the game itself, it must be a model of fair play, tolerance, sportsmanship and transparency. No comments needed on this one I believe.

In any case it is about time that the dinosaurusses of FIFA leave their ivory tower mentality behind and starts talking with its stakeholders. Rugby, tennis and several other sports are proving electronic aids are functioning properly and improve fairness. It is to hope that the France Ireland match is a catalyst for implementing these aids, sadly too late for the Irish.See poll

See article in Telegraaf

The Netherlands has the intention to bid for the 2028 Olympics. One of the most difficult issues related to acquiring the Olympic Games will be the support of the population of The Netherlands. The International Olympic Committee regards widespread support as a very important element in awarding the games to one of the bidding cities. A recent poll showed that around 50% of the Dutch population would support a bid. So in this perspective a lot has to be done, particularly as the Dutch always appear to be very critical as soon as large expenditures are in play. Simultaneously often cynicism is shown whether The Netherlands will be able to organize such a big high profile event. Finally, as 1992 has blatantly shown, minorities can play a very big role in steering the public opinion. Hence it will be very important to have a targeted PR/communication campaign aimed at gathering widespread support of the Dutch population for the Olympic bid. I will briefly outline my view on how this can be organized.

If we want to sell the Olympic Games, we want to accomplish that consumers (or in this case the Dutch population) will embrace the games and identify themselves with it. Hence focus should be on honesty, equality and fraternity, the values of the game. If these values are sold properly through effective communications, it should be possible to grow support.

In order to permanently influence the HEART, SOUL AND MIND of the Dutch population we would design a campaign along the following main issues.

1. Create awareness and transparency on “potential issues”
No doubt a lot of criticism and issues will come forward aimed at why we should not organize the Olympic Games. In order to deal with these issues it will be required that there be full transparency and awareness on these issues. If these are put in the open, an adequate quick reaction should be given immediately, hopefully taking away the ground for the opponents or at least shortening the span of attention. In this perspective it will be extremely important that fulltime communication professionals, who are actively involved in the day to day organization related to the bid, will deal with this in a proper way. In fact it may even be recommendable to come up with potential issues by the organization itself, as this would show a sign of strength.

2. Show the benefits of organizing the Olympic Games in 2028
One of the main arguments of opponents not to organize the Games is related to the benefits of the Games, “what’s in it for me or more specifically for my region/city”. From the beginning onwards it will therefore be important to focus on the benefits for The Netherlands rather than only the ones for Amsterdam or Rotterdam (the two cities which are volunteering). This should not be too difficult as the Games should be seen as a nation wide initiative, however being hosted by one city. We believe the main benefits that can be emphasized are the following ones:

i. Infrastructure: Hosting the Games will fast track key capital projects, especially transportation related initiatives. This should be seen as a big advantage as traffic and transportation currently are seen as major problems in the Netherlands, pestering economic growth. With all regions in The Netherlands likely to be involved, it will imply major investments in possibly public transportation are to be undertaken to solve these problems. It possibly means that regions like Limburg and the northern part of The Netherlands will get better access. This had to be done sooner or later anyway (so incremental costs are likely to be minimal), but the Games might clearly speed up the process, shortening decision times.

ii. Legacy: hosting the Games will imply that The Netherlands and Amsterdam have to upgrade their sports facilities. New venues will allow The Netherlands not only to increase active and passive participation, but also to host major events, which should improve the reputation of The Netherlands as a sporting nation. Additionally the Olympic Village will provide an excellent opportunity to build a new neighborhood or revitalize a neighborhood, which will provide future housing opportunities.

iii. Education: in order to stand a chance to obtain the 2028 Olympics, The Netherlands has to show it is a sporting nation and that it will be able to realize a top 10 position in the medal count. 2028 implies that the participants will be the children of today. This means that our education should become more exposed to sports. It is unimaginable that children do not receive gymnastics lessons etc. Olympic Games will imply that the standards will be raised and children will become more actively involved, not only through school, but also by getting easier access to sports clubs etc. This in turn might result in a healthier life style and less obesity, which should save future health related costs. Moreover, sports tend to unite people and children in particular; it means social cohesion between different parts of the population can be enhanced. Additionally the exposure to the Olympic movement will provide a great educational tool for geography, culture, history etc. The creation of sports related programs should result in children being more exposed to sports

iv. Economic benefits: it is clear that the Games should bring economic benefits before, during and after the Games. The construction of new venues and infrastructure will mean new jobs, whilst being a host city might attract domestic and international companies to open new offices, which in turn will create more jobs. The Games itself will attract a stream of incremental tourists, who will stay in hotels, eat and drink etc, creating additional turnover and jobs. Moreover, the Netherlands as a whole will get a boost from hosting the Games, again possibly resulting in more tourists and business activity after the Games. According to Jacques Rogge studies have shown that the GDP of a country hosting the Olympics rises by 1-1.5% every year during 6 years and that the sustainable incremental employment amounts to 60,000. With the exception of Atlanta and Montreal, all Olympic host countries have benefited from the organization of the Olympics, having realized both substantial profitability as well as sustainable growth.

v.Raising international reputation: the Games would offer both Amsterdam and The Netherlands a unique opportunity to present themselves to the world. Newspapers, TV stations, magazines, guests etc will be confronted with our country, which should offer a unique opportunity to raise our reputation/image and take away misperceptions

vi. Enjoy the experience: clearly the build up to the games, the experience of the Games and the aftermath is a unique once in a lifetime experience, which should be truly enjoyed. The Dutch population will have the chance to enjoy elite athletes in its own backyard and to experience the values that make the Games irreplaceable; fairplay, friendship, hope, inspiration, joy etc. Moreover beyond sport the Games will bring great cultural events to the city to be enjoyed by everyone.

Many people are still under the impression the Games will be costly for the nation. It should be made clear over and over again that this should not necessarily be the case. There is a difference between investments (which will require funding and returns) and profitability. Clearly huge upfront investments have to be made, but if managed properly the rewards may be substantial. Important in the communication should be that many of the investments will have to be made anyway (with or without the Games) such as infrastructural and housing investments. Moreover, increasingly there are new ways to finance these investments, which not necessarily have to be made by the government but can be done in cooperation with the private sector through for example PFI initiatives.

3. Create cohesiveness, unity feeling and national pride
The Games should also provide the opportunity to bring greater cohesion between different parts of the population. The values of sports such as cooperation, participation, fairplay and fun have to be forwarded to everyone, which might improve social cohesion if done properly. This could lead to an increased sense of togetherness and national pride. On the one hand this can be done by organizing all kind of (Olympic) activities for the youth, as they are the important consumers during the games. On the other hand this can be realized by attracting big events (such as the world championships) to The Netherlands, which should enhance the feeling that we indeed can organize such events, creating pride. Moreover as sports would play a more important role in society, quality of result should improve, again creating enthusiasm and the necessary top 10 place in the medal count.

4. Create cooperation between government, municipalities, sport and corporate worldIf indeed the HEART and MIND of the Dutch population should be permanently influenced, it will be extremely important that the same message is communicated by everybody. This is likely to be the biggest challenge, but has to be done. Government, municipalities, the sport and the corporate world all have to speak the same language and agree on how to organize the games. Rules of the road have to be defined at an early stage and more importantly all parties have to “walk the talk”. This will mean that all parties will have to give in to some extent. Only if this can be realized (we should start now) the message is broadly carried. If agreements can not be made at these levels, how will it then be possible to convince the people?

5. Create opportunities for Olympic communities on all levels within The Netherlands
– create attachment and active participation, use micromarketing. Obama has shown a targeted individual approach can do the trick. The current information age offers plenty of opportunities to influence people. We believe that the marketing of the Olympic Games should take place on an individual level. Different people have different questions and appetites, but all of them want to be taken seriously. Micromarketing and targeting could be a very effective tool. Individualized E-mails to the population should not only make people enthusiastic for the Games, they also should unveil where there are hurdles to be taken.

– Interactive (Olympic) websites with polls etc, interactive games (where participants create their own games) should also provide insight in what people occupies. Moreover, these platforms can serve as idea creators as well. It will be important that people will feel part of the Olympic movement and identify themselves being future hosts. We believe an individual approach could help in creating enthusiasm.

– Simultaneously we would advise a network approach. Increasingly our society consists of social networks, which all could be used to market the Olympic Games. It means that children can find blogs and info on specific children sites (or get specific info from sportspeople), seniors on senior sites or football players on football sites. Again problems should be unveiled at an early stage, whilst simultaneously attachment and familiarity can be created. If this is being done in a proper way, this could be the most powerful tool in creating Heart and Mind for the games.

6. Appoint figureheads, ambassadors who promote the games
We believe also that there should be specific ambassadors who will promote the games. These should be Dutch sports icons that have been Olympic champions and that appeal to most people. In this perspective we think of people like Pieter van de Hoogenband, Sven Kramer etc. These champions could also play an important international role in this perspective. Additionally we would also favor to have figureheads per sports, which can promote the Olympics within their own sport, particularly amongst children. It means for example that leading judo stars promote the Olympics to practicing young judokas.

If done properly by communication professionals, I feel that support for hosting the Olympics in The Netherlands might increase over the years. By simultaneously running a very good lobby with the IOC (by the right people), I feel the chance of hosting the Games should increase

What happened to boxing?

Posted by jan-kees.mons ADD COMMENTS

The other night I was watching TV and saw the 2001 movie “Ali” with Will Smith. Automatically my memories went back to the time when I was a kid when I was watching famous world title fights together with my father in the middle of the night. Who cannot remember the names of Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Sonny Liston? Even my little cousin has heard of these super champions. But if you ask someone to name the current heavyweight champion of the world, he will stare at you blankly, ignorance all over his face. I have to admit, I also had to look it up; stay tuned, they are Vitali Klitschko for the WBC, David Haye for the WBA and Wladimir Klitschko for the IBF and WBO. Confused? So am I. What happened to boxing and will old times ever revive again?

Boxing used to be a sport with a high fan base. Boxing was loved as it was a good simulation of a real man to man fight and as mankind always will fight and likes to watch violence, it appealed to many and hence boxing has experienced several golden periods like the twenties and the sixties and seventies. The sport has been cyclical to some extent and some claim there will arrive a new golden age sometime in the future. This could well be true but not without the necessary action. Not only has the sport of professional boxing changed, the environment has changed even more and this makes it an entirely different ballgame this time around, where just sit and wait for the next hay day probably won’t work.

Let us analyze briefly what the current problems in professional boxing are:
1.Media coverage. The big boxing fights are not broadcasted on the public networks. The boxing community seems to totally rely on pay per view. This is expensive and can run up to as much as USD 50.0. So a sport intended for the masses has eroded into one that is available almost exclusively to the upper class. This just doesn’t make sense. If boxing indeed aims to be a popular sport again with the sports fan, one that can compete with other sports, boxing should be seen on cable again. As far as the other media are concerned, there is little coverage on boxing (sports magazines only pay little attention etc)
2. Confused mindset of the consumer. Apart from the diehard fans, it is difficult for the average consumer to comprehend the boxing scene. Firstly there are 4 different unions (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) and the vast majority doesn’t have a clue, which union is most important and hence who is the true undisputed champion of the world. Moreover, again apart from the diehard fan, for the uneducated viewer, it is difficult to comprehend the points system as boxing is a jury sport.
3. Bad image of the sport. Boxing hasn’t the best of reputations amongst sports. It is often associated with the criminal scene, whereas there is the public perception that fights are often fixed. Promoters like Don King have aided to this perception. Promoters often decide when a boxer will fight, against whom he fights, where he fights and against what fee he fights. Moreover, promoters often protect their champions and hence purse by letting them fight with much lower ranked opponents instead of the strongest challengers. For example for a long time Mike Tyson only fought low ranked opponents. This obviously does not help the image of the sport. Spectators want to see the strongest boxers in the ring.
4. Overcrowded sports market. Clearly the world has changed. Boxing in its hay days in the seventies enjoyed much less competition from other sports. Not only were baseball and football seasons much shorter, at the time there were few other sports, which enjoyed the same popularity. With the advance of TV, other major sports expanding and several new sports emerging (amongst them other fighting sports such as MMA), boxing has not taken the right steps to remain competitive and sufficiently attractive.
5. No charismatic stars means no connectivity. The sport of boxing is lacking any stars at the moment, where fans can connect with; stars are either being loved (the good guy) or hated (the bad guy) but in both cases there is connectivity. If a sport has stars it sells itself. If the sport would have personalities like Mohammed Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard, it would be much easier to grab a piece of the pie.

The conclusion should be that boxing has positioned itself in a very difficult position and action should be taken if it wants to regain some of the ground it has lost. The sport is not entirely knock out; it still has some popularity (particularly in the US and some parts of Europe) and if the right buttons are pushed, it can fight its way up again. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) has proven it can be done, so no reason why boxing could not regain. In fact both sports could easily co-exist and learn from one another. For example boxing events could learn a lot from the production and marketing of MMA events, which attract a much younger crowd. So what would be the major solutions for boxing?

1. Give boxing back to the people: Pay Per View is too expensive to attract a big television crowd. Either PPV prices should be cut and a volume policy should be chosen or even better PPV should be entirely eliminated. In any case fights should become available again to larger audiences, which in turn would make it increasingly attractive to sponsors again. This way boxing would no longer be exclusively available to a small upperclass only. Obviously one could think of combinations between PPV and the channel networks in order to generate most revenues.
2. Clarify and regulate the sport: as explained, the mindset of the average boxing fan needs to be clear. In this perspective the sports should be better regulated. For example the points system may be changed, which might lead to more spectacular fights, which could be more competitive with for example MMA. Additionally it would help to have one undisputed champion of the world (the current titles have become somewhat meaningless); so unions should sit together and either merge or find ways to accomplish such clarity. Finally, the best fighters should regularly fight each other instead of worldchampions exclusively fighting minor fighters in order to keep their belts
3. Change the image of the sport: as boxing hasn’t the best reputation amongst sports, it should try to improve. It means the role of the promoter may have to be looked at and regulators and boxers themselves should take up their responsibility.
4. Reposition the sport: boxing may need a refreshment. Other fighting sports have proven that active marketing increases the connectivity. Boxing may need an overhaul and review its mission and values, particularly as it plays an important role in less privileged local communities, where values do not always play a role. The sport could take up its responsibility. Additionally boxing has a couple of advantages. First of all it is Olympic, which the sport can build from. By increasing the visibility of amateur boxing and emphasizing the values, the sports may attract larger audiences again. Secondly recreational boxing is becoming very popular in the gyms. This means the interest in the sports is still very much present. Proper marketing may unlock this potential. The conclusion is that rather than starting at the top (professional boxing), it may pay off to start at the bottom. And if stars re-appear (and they will), they could be role models for the sport again.

I am far from an expert and more importantly I am not a boxer (apart from hitting a few in the gym during my university time). I am aware some of these changes may be rather difficult to implement. However I have noticed other fighting sports have been able to do this, whilst simultaneously boxing has lost some of its appetite. I am a believer the sport should be managed and regulated by sportspeople themselves, they know best. So action required!

When did we hear this before? Over the last couple of months several stories on the poor state of Dutch footbalclubs popped up over and over again. RKC, Roda JC, ADO Den Haag, Willem 2, AZ, Vitesse, Feyenoord, just to name a few Eredivisie (Hollands premier division) clubs, that are suffering from financial problems. Even Ajax is now rumoured to significantly cut its number of players. In fact from the 38 Dutch professional football clubs only 10 seem to be financially healthy; clubs like Heerenveen and Heracles are for example healthy exceptions. Clearly governance is not to blame here; in fact without the Dutch Football Union (KNVB) the situation would likely be far worse. So where is the problem? The answer must be with the management of the different clubs.

Imagine the following situation. Fact 1: the season 2008/09 has come to an end and as a league a loss of EUR 34mln has just been realised down from a profit of EUR 64mln in 2007/08, a pretty hefty decline I would say, partly the result of a stagnating players transfer market. Fact 2: we are in the middle of a heavy financial and economic crisis. Fact 3: we keep our budgets for 2009/10 virtually unchanged at around EUR 410mln. Fact 4: average players salaries have just risen by EUR 65,000 to EUR 335,000 and are expected to rise further. Just read the facts again and let it sink in, does this make sense? Are we surprised there are casualties along the way? The answer is of course a capital NO. It was just a matter of time for this news to materialise.

Let us explain.
Fact 1 tells us that the season 2008/09 has been difficult and that the league as a whole suffered a loss of EUR 34m and could have turned out significantly higher were it not for the transfers of Huntelaar and Vermaelen (in spite of this Ajax still managed to suffer an overall loss of EUR 3.4m). The main reason for the overall decline could be found in a stagnating transfer market. Just think of it, it implies that the financial results of clubs are for a large part dependent on its ability to trade players. If there is a stagnating market (for example following a financial crisis) this means clubs immediately dip into losses. Even worse in case of cash flow problems they could even be forced to sell players (possibly with a loss) in order to generate cash. In any case, the fact that clubs partly rely on income from an irregular or exceptional item like transfers is asking for difficulties. Healthy clubs (and thank god there are a few) rely just on their regular income stream such as attendance, sponsorships and media rights. It is difficult enough to estimate these items.

Fact 2 tells us that we are in a financial and economic crisis. In such times football clubs should buckle up to weather the storm. Yes, similar to other industries, football is also very cyclical, albeit that awareness within football often does not align with the phenomenom of cyclicality. The football business is a very high fixed cost business (think of salaries and rent of stadium responsible for 70-90% of sales). This means that a club cannot afford to see its sales or top-line drop by too much as it will very quickly dip into losses. In an economic crisis companies either go down (see DSB/AZ and possibly Afab/Vitesse) or they cut heavily in items such as sponsoring in order to save money. Luckily some clubs have longer term contracts with their sponsors but renewals (if there will be a renewal) are likely to be difficult or are granted at a lower price. A second issue is of course that the number of spectators and skyboxes rented out might come under pressure as the consumer and companies prefer to keep his money in his pocket. In any case, it should be clear that it might be difficult for some clubs to realise similar sales levels, which are required to realise profits or to be at least break even. In such an environment you would expect clubs to become creative and find alternative ways to support the top-line. Somehow I am still surprised clubs do not make sufficient use of one of their most treasured assets, the supporters. Think of the hidden power here and the enormous database these supporters represent, think creative. I know there are exceptions but there is still lots to be done.

Nevertheless fact 3 tells us that clubs have kept their budgets virtually unchanged as far as income is concerned. Of course a budget is a budget and can be adjusted along the way. In the end it is cash management and contingency planning which determines the final result, but somehow we have our doubts whether such actions will take place, particularly given the high fixed cost base of some clubs as the recent past proves. Of course there are clubs that have reduced their budgets, but this also implies that others have increased it, which seems risky.

In the mean time fact 4 tells us that clubs are still raising their fixed cost levels, increasing player salaries by as much as 25-30%! This implies fixed cost levels are even increasing and that dependency on healthy sales levels even increases. There are around 644 contract players in the eredivisie. Their salaries alone (644 x average salary of EUR 335,000 = EUR 216m) already account for 53% of total sales. Adding the salaries of the remaining 1200 people (technical staff, management etc) employed by clubs in the eredivisie, we have assumed that by now salaries account for some 65% of total sales (vs 57% in 2006/07)! Come to think of it! And this is before stadium rental costs, variable costs, depreciation, selling costs, media costs etc. No wonder clubs are having difficulties to survive.

So it is clear something has to be done! Sales are stagnating, costs are rising! This has to be turned around, one cannot always count on the community (government money) coming to the rescue….Is management in Dutch football capable of doing it? I sincerely hope so. I hope they will find creative ways to grow the top-line, I hope they will be able to reduce costs (recent reports at least suggest that clubs like Ajax and Feyenoord are going to reduce salary costs), I hope they will implement contingency planning procedures. The proof of the pudding will be in cash flow management. I am sure some clubs with good management will be able to do this properly but there are also examples of clubs where I have my severe doubts. If I still hear management of clubs saying “ I am sure all clubs largely depend on transfer sums” or “ why always look at finances, it is good players which are important and then financing automatically will be allright”. Brrrrh, luckily the last comment was not from a financial guy, but it is exemplary for the mindset of some, which tend to be short term.

I do realise that better players will lead to better results, but reality tells us that we just will not be able to match the budgets of European clubs in the bigger leagues, which is a function of scale. Equal competition and a level playing field can only exist through rules of the regulators. In the mean time we have to start thinking longer term as in the end players are better off with a solid health of the clubs they are playing for. Holland has always been a producer of talent, our football schools are often examples for many clubs, this is a strength we should focus on. Financially it is also much more attractive then buying expensive stars from abroad. The youth is relatively cheap and by treasuring and growing talent in the right way and with the right values, the financial outcome will also be more attractive, a win win situation in my opinion.

See article in Telegraaf: bestuurders en BVO