Making the most of sporting opportunities

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I was honoured to be part of a double act with the great Gareth Edwards at the mediawales offices in Cardiff eralier this week where we both took part in a question and answer session on the economy and rugby.

Whilst most of the questions to Gareth were about the successful rebirth of the Welsh rugby team over the last few years, the outstanding sevens win in Dubai and the recent decline of the English team, one of the gathered crowd also asked whether Wales should host another rugby World Cup here in Wales in 2015.

More specifically, given the fact that the Assembly and the Welsh FA have given up on the European Championship bid, whether Wales had the financial clout to be able to underwrite the £80 million needed for a successful bid to the International Rugby Board.

Quite rightly, Gareth focused on whether Wales can afford not to get involved in such a global event and if we are to be an ambitious forward looking nation, we must always strive to be amongst the best in the World.

Of course, there are detractors that would say that you cannot focus such events on one city in one small nation. However, as David Pickering, the Chairman of the WRU said to me afterwards, Wales could learn a lot from Melbourne in Australia, a city which has positioned itself as a centre for attracting the best sporting events.

As a 2006 report from London-based research and consulting firm ArkSports indicated, Melbourne is arguably the best city in the world in which to hold a sporting event, lending, and is ranked top for public interest in events, facilities, and number of major events hosted.

Not surprisingly, it has some enviable sporting venues, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), arguably Australia’s largest and most popular stadium, and the Etihad (formerly Telstra) Stadium, which caters for a range of sports such as ‘Aussie Rules’ football, rugby league, rugby union and cricket.

Melbourne is home to the Australian Tennis Open, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix, Superbike World Championship rounds and Australian Rules Grand Final. It also hosts the Melbourne Cup, one of the world’s richest horseracing events.

Some would argue that Wales doesn’t do too badly for a small country in attracting global sporting events.

For example, thanks to the outstanding efforts of Sir Terry Matthews, we have secured the Ryder Cup for the very first time in 2010. In particular, this is an event that can bring enormous benefit to the economy from the USA where golf is almost a religion amongst the business community although there is still scope to persuade the R&A that Wales could, and should, develop one of its fabulous links courses to host the British Open.

Glamorgan Cricket Club has finally persuaded the powers that be at Lords that Wales deserves its own test cricket matches will create new opportunities for attracting visitors and the fact that the first test match will be part of the eagerly awaited Ashes series with Australia is bound to generate worldwide interest, not only in the antipodean nations, but also in the fast growing cricket-mad economy of India.

In rugby terms, the annual festival that is the Six Nations rugby tournament brings thousands of supporters to Cardiff to savour the unique atmosphere that is a result of having a world class stadium in the heart of the city.

However, it could be argued that not much has been done to take advantage of these sporting events to promote Welsh businesses and, more importantly, welsh products and services.

That is why the Celtfest09 event, which takes place at the Cardiff International Arena on March 21st, is to be welcomed.

Whilst essentially a musical event featuring Cerys Matthews, Bryn Terfel and the Wolfe Tones, the festival is also a showcase for Welsh food and drink and is a perfect opportunity for welsh businesses to highlight their brands to thousands of rugby fans.

For example, Felinfoel – the Llanelli-based brewer – is launching its new Celtic Pride beer at the event, seeing it as an opportunity to persuade potential Irish buyers of the quality of the beer, especially at a time when the weakness of the pound is making it attractive for Welsh manufacturers to export to the euro-zone.

Given that Wales was largely ignored by the 2012 Olympics procurement programme, with less than £100,000 of contracts awarded to four Welsh firms, events such as Celtfest, if held during every six nations home match, could provide a showcase to the fortunes of Welsh firms in a range of sectors and, if successful, the organisers may even look to an opportunity to replicate such an event when Wales travel to Rome, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris and, yes, even Twickenham.

To use a sporting analogy, we may be small but Wales does have the capacity to punch above its weight. However, to make every punch count, we must also take advantage of the business opportunities presented by every sporting event to ensure that we market our wonderful nation, and its products and services, to the rest of the World.

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