Sport Inc, Ed Warner, London, Yellow Jersey, 2018
Former chairman of UK Athletics, Ed Warner, argues that “money is pulling all the strings in today’s sports market”. The book has chapters on television, agents, sponsorship betting, drugs, Government funding, the role of sports federations, a case study on an elite athlete and more besides. Remember Warmer was also chair of London 2017.
Warner is well informed on these topics but is at his best when he writes of processes where he has been intimately involved, such as ticketing of athletics events including the London 2017 World Athletics Championships, the bidding process for London 2017, UK sports funding as seen from the perspective of one sport, issues surrounding the London (Olympic) Stadium, how Diamond League finances work etc.
He admits that professionally he “learned some things I wished, as a fan, I didn’t have to know”. He does not mince his words, calling the International Olympic Committee “the ultimate sporting magpie. Over the course of a century it has persuaded the watching public that its compilation of games constitutes the pinnacle event for the vast majority of the constituent sports without being the governor or regulator of any of them”.
He is no less critical of the IAAF (the world governing body for athletics) which, he says, “has garnered sponsor revenues, seen its championships played out in front of half-empty stadiums is and had seemingly no developmental benefit…The short-termism of the lAAF hierarchy is laid bare by the transient nature of the sponsors that have been dragged aboard the athletics bandwagon by host governments looking to embellish their bids”.
While the book covers a range of sports, this review concentrates on track and field. Among the topics covered which would be interest to people involved in our sport are:
1 Selling tickets for Track and Field events, what the London 2017 World Championship learned from the London Olympics and hosting the European Team Championships.
2 How Diamond League finances work and how the promotors of the London Diamond League had to persuade the British government to change the law on tax liability of overseas athletes in order to persuade Usain Bolt to run in Britain. Warner writes: “the financial Secretary to the Treasury cited ‘an exceptional opportunity to prolong the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ as the government’s justification. In truth, it was all about enabling UK Athletics to persuade Usain Bolt to run in London rather than elsewhere on the international circuit, so boosting ticket sales and creating a necessary buzz in the run-up to the2017 World Championships”.
3 There is a chapter of Jenny Meadows and her commitment to stay in the sport even though at times it was costing her money to do so and the amount of sponsorship she lost because of being beaten in major finals by athletes later disqualified as drugs cheats. Then there is the case of British sprinter, James Ellington, selling himself on Ebay to get a sponsor.
4 The battle between the big kit sponsors and its impact on UK Athletics is described. If GB has a contract with Adidas, then it is very difficult for the Federation to use Nike sponsrored athletes in any promotional work. That issue prevented some Adidas athletes running in the Nike sponsored Athletics World Cup in 2018.
5 There is a detailed account of the delivery of the 2017 London IAAF and IPC World Championships and the differences of dealing with the different bodies. On the bidding process, Warner comments: “I now look back on 2011 with far less affection that I might have I expected to, had you told me ahead of time that we would be victorious. Bidding is a grubby business, however much you try to rise above the muck. One small example, the website poll of the likely winner that Doha kept stubbornly ahead really bugged me. So much so that I doubted its veracity. I begged a favour from a City technology contact who set his automated trading robots to see if he could boost London in the poll. Briefly he managed it before Doha pulled ahead once more. His conclusion – their robots were at least as good as his”.
I always found Ed Warner approachable, visible and friendly and was in many ways sorry to see him go. His book is very readable and full of insights into our sport.