BARRY NEWCOMBE, after seven years, is standing down as chairman of the SJA. Here is his final annual report, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the Association being staged in London tomorrow lunchtime
Welcome to the annual meeting of the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain, as we enter our 65th year.
The London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games clearly dominated the world of sport and sports journalism and have left a challenging legacy for what comes next at world level, like rugby and athletics, as well as giving all of British sport the chance to build on the mood created in 2012. Glasgow 2014 and the Commonwealth Games are just around the corner and will present the Association with further opportunity to work on behalf of our members and colleagues.
Since its formation in 1948, the SJA has always had an involvement in the Olympic Games and 2012 continued the relationship and simply asked for more. SJA members were everywhere to be seen, providing information, trouble-shooting and generally trying to help smooth the way for a worldwide media contingent numbering tens of thousands.
Happily, with assistance from St Bride’s and sponsors, your Association was able to host a reception for hundreds of our visiting colleagues, with our President, Sir Michael Parkinson, giving the address at the church in Fleet Street and BT paying for the drinks and canapés at the Stationers’ Hall afterwards.
The years since 2005 had been used wisely by the organisers to make London the greatest of Olympic venues, blending the new with the old, building an Olympic Stadium of eye-catching brilliance with other landmark settings. The streets of London and beyond became Olympic staging posts for two glorious and emotional weeks which are never to be forgotten.
Communications were one of the keys to success. At the start of 2012 the British Olympic Association had its media programmes ready with detailed planning for each sport. There were briefings, then rehearsals, and then the wait for the real thing. Team GB House at Stratford, just outside the gates of Olympic Park, was the staging post and coordination point for much of the media activity.
The BOA gave me the task of managing their offices in the Main Press Centre in Olympic Park. Philip Barker, the Olympic historian and memory man, was there as well. We began each day with a breakfast discussion at Queen Mary’s, where we were in residence for three weeks, before heading off to the Tube or bus to travel to Olympic Park.
Media ticketing has always been one of the key functions of the SJA’s Olympic attaché and this was no exception but for two reasons was easier than any of the other Games which I have experienced. The first was the use of emails for applications and responses, the second because the BOA recruited a first-class team to share the load. On top of that, London 2012 ensured that the allocation to UK accredited media was much higher than before, reflecting the presence of the Games in this country.
There were working pressures that only the Olympics can provide. Over the days of competition there is no greater test or reward in sports journalism. But Fleet Street was ready. Each group had been planning its operations for years, rather than months, and knew what they were going to do, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. The voracious
appetite of the internet simply increased the demands.
With our industry under pressure, and our sports desk staffs often being cut to the bone, it is worth noting that the sports department of one major newspaper group – I cannot name them for reasons that will be obvious – managed to make a £7 million profit last year through its sports department alone. It is a commercial value which some managements would do well to remember the next time they consider a “restructuring”.
Being a home Games, uniquely some of the British press corps was able to live at home and commute to the Olympics, so while the John Rodda Workroom at the MPC was always busy, the Steve Parry Bar in the Press Centre was never as packed as some might have anticipated. But as a hub, the Press Centre worked, from its elegant conference rooms
to the working floors and the myriad of television screens aimed at ensuring you missed nothing.
My role did not include watching events live. But there was one unexpected development. For the men’s gold medal tennis final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer at Wimbledon, the IOC decided the previous evening to ticket the media seats. On the morning of the final, I set off from Olympic Park to Wimbledon with a wad of tickets, the only passenger on a media bus. And when Murray made history to beat Federer for the gold medal, I was there.
Of course, the activities of your Association went far beyond Olympic Park last year, and I am both pleased and proud that in what was my final year as SJA chairman, the hard work of my colleagues on the committee and our friends at Start2Finish events saw the SJA continue to deliver worthwhile events and activities for our membership.
Randall Northam, who stands down today after four years as Treasurer, does so with a healthy sum in the bank account, an extraordinary achievement given the difficult financial circumstances.
In part, the bank balance is due to the work on sponsorship which my deputy chairman, David Walker, has done with our agents, Red Torch. In the past year, we have enjoyed commercial partnerships with BT, as previously mentioned, and the National Lottery, who were generous sponsors of our December sports awards. BetVictor has continued to sponsor one of our journalism awards, we found venue partners in the Concerto group, and we renewed an agreement with Laureus which will see them support our activities, both at our awards and with sports lunches, through to 2015.
Our Sports Journalism Awards last month at the Grand Connaught Rooms were attended by, for a second year, a record number of members and guests, and we received record entries across all categories, the judging organised expertly by Jon Ryan and Mike King, two other members who are standing down from their duties today. Paul Hayward was named Sports Writer of the Year 16 years after first taking the title, AFP’s Adrian Dennis won the Sports Photographer of the Year prize for the first time, Clare Balding was voted the Sports Broadcaster title and The Times was chosen as our Sports Newspaper of the Year for a third year.
Our Sports Awards last December were widely acclaimed as one of, if not the best ever, staged at a new venue, the Pavilion at the Tower of London, where nearly 600 people saw us acclaim Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins and the Ryder Cup golfers as our sportswoman, sportsman and team of the year.
As with the Sports Journalism Awards, the ticket prices for this event remain considerably less expensive than many other, similar trade awards events, and ticket prices for SJA members have been subsidised at 50 per cent of cost for the past three years, a considerable benefit for the membership.
This year, we extended our membership categories to accept associate members, from those in PR or perhaps university students yet to become full-time sports journalists, which offers contact with the Association as well as some valuable benefits. Uptake of this offer has been a little disappointing so far, and we will be looking to publicise the offer more broadly.
One of the other benefits of membership – full or associate – are our sports lunches with subsidised prices for our members, thanks to sponsorship from Laureus and from Ladbrokes. Often staged in this very room, in 2012, our guests included former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallagher, Olympic gold medallist Edwin Moses, minister for sport Hugh Robertson and former England cricket captain Alec Stewart. And all of them delivered up storylines that made it to the back pages.
2012 saw us publish a sports journalists’ guide to the London Games in magazine form, edited by Steven Downes and published by Randall Northam, distributed through the Main Press Centre thanks to our committee member on the “inside” at LOCOG, Mary Fitzhenry. The magazine cost the Association little after advertising revenue was received, and your committee is already planning similar publications for 2014 at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2015, linked to the Rugby World Cup.
The Association has gradually shifted to entirely online and email communications over the period of my chairmanship, saving thousands of pounds in postage by limiting ourselves to just two or three mailouts each year.
We are able to do so confident that we remain in touch with our members largely because we are sending out usually two email bulletins every month, and because the SJA website continues to grow in reach and influence, regularly breaking industry news or simply seeing its many readers break into laughter thanks to the regular contributions of members such as Norman Giller, Anton Rippon, committee member Janine Self and cartoonist Kevin Macey.
Last month, with heightened interest because of the shortlists and results of the British Sports Journalism Awards, saw our biggest single day’s website traffic, with more than 9,000 visits, and record traffic for the month, with nearly 85,000 visits. All that, and your Association’s Twitter feed is now followed by 18,000 people.
Undoubtedly, though, such high interest in your Association was boosted by the London Olympics and Paralympics.
Patrick Collins, recently acclaimed as our Sports Columnist of the Year once again, captured the emotion of it all very well when he wrote in the Mail on Sunday, “We had always known it would be wonderful, that much had been clear from the moment London won the Games. Britain’s love of sport and spectacle, allied to qualities of wit, tenacity, and organisation, made it the safest and happiest of choices. But nothing has prepared us for the stunning
“For in the panoply of sport nothing begins to compare with an Olympic Games and we have just delivered the whole thing with style and assurance. A measure of satisfaction is entirely appropriate.”
Thus, on the final day of London 2012, the BOA offices, which had been a home to so many of us in the support team, a calling point for writers, photographers and many others who had been part of the fabric, closed down. The posters came off the walls as did the photographs of achievement during the Games. The phones were unplugged, televisions disconnected. The fridge was emptied. It was time to go.
And so it is, after seven years, that I am standing down as chairman of the SJA. It has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I just hope that my successor, David Walker, receives as much support from his committee and members as I have, and that he has as much fun each year he is in the chair as I have been able to enjoy. Thank you.
Farnham, April 2013