The best strategies for smart investment in sport include investing in innovative technologies and pursuing innovation more generally to keep audiences engaged, and ensuring that the big money flowing into elite sport filters to the grassroots to support new talent and prevent a handful of clubs from dominating a league, according to panelists at the Doha GOALS Forum debating “Where is the Smart Investment Going in Sport, at a Local, Federal and Global Level."
Panelists also said money is well spent if it goes into sport infrastructure that supports multiple uses and serves the entire population, while government funds should be conditional on delivering results.
“We have talked about eschewing video games and new technologies and telling kids to shut off phones and computers, but in the United States we have a saying, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’ So we are trying to make our sports presentation more like video games, more accessible to the younger generation of viewers,” said Eric Shanks, Co-President and COO of Fox Sports Media Group. “Technology is about trial and error. You have to find out what audiences like. If everybody knew how to use technology, we’d all already be doing it.”
He said the National Football League is a great example of an organization that constantly moves to innovate to meet the changing needs of the game and the audience. “They change rules every year. … That’s the reason why, hands down, [American football] is the most popular sport in the United States.”
For Frédéric Thiriez, President of the French Football League, the key to a vibrant league is “putting the game before the business.” He said that to ensure sustainability of a league or sport, and a constant flow of new talent, there needs to be “solidarity among the professional leagues, and the smaller clubs and the grassroots.”
Otherwise, “if big clubs get richer and richer, the same clubs will win the competition and people will lose interest. It is the uncertainty that gives value to competition. So you have to give money to smaller clubs.” He said the French Football League spends 120 million Euros a year on second- and third-tier leagues and amateurs, half paid by the league and half paid by the clubs.
For Lord Mandelson, Chairman of Global Counsel LLP and a former government minister, smart money means investing in infrastructure that meets the needs of the whole population. “The female half of the population should be 50% of the 'team,' whether as spectator, participant or beneficiary – the infrastructure has to be for the whole of population.”
He also said government investment in sport must be tied to results. “Government is not a national ATM where anyone can go and pull out money.” In preparation for the 2012 games, “public money was put behind first-class athletes. We put money where we had a competitive advantage in our sport, and we demanded payment by results. If people do not deliver results, money will come away from them.”
Reinforcing this point, Mohamed Ouzzine, the Moroccan Minister of Youth and Sport, said “governance is the main and most fundamental issue facing sport authorities today. The issue isn’t necessarily how to get money to invest in sport, but how do we ensure that the money goes directly to sport” and is not wasted along the way.
In the context of the Republic of the Congo, smart investment in sport means building infrastructure that will deliver multiple, long-term benefits, according to Jean-Jacques Bouya, Minister for Spatial Planning and Delegate-General for Major Projects, Republic of the Congo. “For the All-Africa Games that we will hold in 2015, we are building infrastructure like stadiums and accommodations, that will be used for a university campus after the event, while other aspects of the infrastructure will improve the quality of life in the country.”