Carl Lewis once said, “Life is about timing.”
He may have slickly been suggesting that everything had fallen into place for him, but in sporting terms he was certainly correct. If you get there in the right time you get Gold. If you show your hand too early you lose the pot. If you slow your pace too much you are behind the fans, and they are gone.
For this reason I must offer my congratulations to the think tank at Murrayfield because, in the parlance of modern sport, they’ve played a blinder.
Years of being run by moneymen showed that the SRU was being sensible and thrifty in equal measure. Such penny pinching, however, sat uneasily with fans because we heard little come out of McKie’s office, and when we did it was with assurances that we were operating with smaller debt by shrinking our on-field resources.
He left his post as his plans of streamlining squads and signing cheaply took effect.
In the interim we still had 2 focussed financial types in Jock Millican and Eamon Hegarty and the legacy of cutbacks. Gates were falling at the end of the season and the diehards, particularly in the east, were mumbling about not renewing season tickets.
Then, almost as if by magic, something changed.
I have previously criticised the SRU for having no full-time marketing manager or clear focus of attack to bring more people to rugby games. They advertised or pandered to the recognised rugby papers and sites, with their readership already The Fans. They could only get TV spots on minority channels BBC Alba and STV. They had billboards outside Murrayfield and at Roseburn and they placed ads on the Omnicentre windows during peak times.
We were left wondering how we could brand a Union with limited scope.
Now, however, we are looking at a future with businessman Sir Moir Lockhead, the same financial minds and a new Chief Executive Officer, Mark Dodson.
Before the announcement of a new CEO we were already witnessing some marketing changes. The Communications, Media and PR branches of the SRU were working overtime to try and renew interest in the game. More access was granted and more releases were flying down the wires.
The steady stream of video and audio pieces available through the pro teams’ sites (not to mention Edinburgh’s refurbished site) is a more media aware by product of this new move. People are being shown more through social media, like Twitter, Facebook and email, whilst the limited television avenues have been flooded.
There is a new ‘story’ from the Scotland team almost daily, at the moment. At half time during the Glasgow game on Friday there was a segment about the Scotland RWC squad, parading about in blue and gold. The news has updates. ITV is soon to air its ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ documentary-style show about the Scottish RWC preparation.
It is in the midst of this media drive that former newspaper man Dodson comes in. He has worked in the advertising departments of the Guardian Media Group. He has overseen regional output. He knows how to run an unrelenting campaign- which is good with the uphill battle Scottish rugby continually provides.
Scotland has been crying out for years for a glossy, attractive package to entice new fans. We need more folk flitting through the turnstiles to generate revenue. It is a harsh reality of competitive sport.
This, in turn, would be made easier still if we had more success in our rugby.
McKie always said his main focus would be on the Scotland national team. We’re not quite in the halcyon days, but Dodson is lucky we are heading to a World Cup optimistic, well sponsored and at 7th in the World Rankings.
He also says he will concentrate a lot of time on the pro sides. Great. They need a lot of work. They could also generate more success if they market themselves properly.
What has had no publicity, though, and is something that will not get better through marketing, advertising and fan initiatives is developing grass roots rugby.
What Sir Moir, Millican, Hegarty, Dominic McKay and even Gordon Bulloch may neglect to tell Dodson is that Scottish rugby has its biggest problems at the bottom; with the kids. We need better coaching, more facilities and the ability to convince the numbers of kids playing to continue to do so into their teens and into adulthood.
A man I know who was a junior footballer with Scotland and Manchester City said to me that what disgusted him most about the Edinburgh Tram debacle was that the £1billion they have already squandered could easily have funded 15 or more fully staffed excellence training academies, junior facilities and new coaching structures that could improve Scottish sport exponentially.
Rugby needs better coaching for youngsters with potential –particularly with the level of scrum coaching being atrocious for young adults, in my opinion, and our country struggling to produce truly class 10s- and we have no way of retaining a lot of players with what we have at the moment.
I have no doubt that sponsorship revenue and fan excitement can increase under Dodson and Lockhead. I just hope that President McLauchlan can convince them and Hegarty to pump some cash into youth rugby and club rugby.
If they time it right, the buzz from a World Cup could be transformed into a buzz about Scotland and fresh concern about the many facets of our sport.