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John Gregory

John Gregory is a British canoe slalom and canoe polo paddler. John has spent more than 25 years as an international canoe slalom commentator, magazine contributor, squad coach and team manager supporting GB canoe slalom. He is a CIM Chartered Marketer with strong interest in the use of social marketing.

Canoe Slalom, Sponsorship & Media

Sponsorship, funding and its relationship with the media has much to do with how canoe slalom has evolved in the last twenty years. Here we ponder this in more detail and look at how this exerts influence on the sport and the athletes. So far this week we have looked at the athletes who have been confirmed for the London2012 Olympics in canoe slalom, the competition schedule and then yesterday a comparison between the Olympics, World Championships and World Cup Championships.

Media coverage and sponsorship are intricately related in a chicken and egg way. Media coverage brings sponsors but without sponsorship it is challenging to get the media coverage. This was our reality in the pre-Barcelona era of the sport. There were some limited sponsors to whom we were exceedingly grateful and there was some limited media coverage like BBC TV’s ‘Paddles Up’ later sponsored by Norwich Union – remember? The TV coverage from ‘Paddles Up’ did pull many canoe slalom paddlers into the sport. Without big sponsors it is tough for local or national slalom events as well as international and World’s to get the funding necessary to make a big enough event to attract high calibre media interest. Several of us, myself included, wrote our own releases and took our own photographs and sent them to a select few contacts in the media. If we never said thank you at the time it was really appreciated. Many of the sponsors at this time were companies involved in paddlesport and local businesses close to our competition venues.

Start pool of the Lee Valley course at 2012 Tesco GB Team selection showing sponsors banners (photo courtesy of John Gregory)

There is another aspect to funding and that is of the teams, thinking specifically of national teams and the funding of individual athletes. As Olympic silver medallist Gareth Marriott reminded me that at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the British athletes were amongst the minority of those nations who were part time athletes, fitting in training around their day jobs and taking unpaid leave to compete for Great Britain. Even then though, I think we were fortunate compared to many other nations as we could at least afford, beg or borrow video cameras. The other change that came about in the UK was the establishment of the UK National Lottery. They began funding athletes 15 years ago in 1997 so that they could train full time. This funding has played an important part in the GB Canoeing Funded Programmes set up in 1998. UK Sport is also a key funding partner in providing funding to the sports excellence.

Today, GB Canoeing has its first headline sponsor, Tesco, who actually have their international head office not far from the Lee Valley Whitewater centre. Thank you Tesco. It illustrates the point that Tesco’s sponsorship has generated significant PR and media interest at a national and local community level. This will encourage more members of the public to watch the sport, come and try and who knows stimulate a new generation of World Class paddlers. GB Canoeing also has a bronze sponsor, Fedex, plus supplier sponsors; Craft, Science in Sport, McLaren Applied Technologies and Peak UK.

BBC Sport journalist Ollie Williams interviews Lizzie Neave (K1W) after securing her Olympic place at selection (photo courtesy of John Gregory)

This new reality does present some challenges essentially through a loss of control, small price to pay maybe. Once we could do whatever we wanted as long as it was consistent with the BCU and ICF rules. Now there are very many highly influential stakeholders, IOC, LOCOG, National Lottery, UK Sport, sponsors and broadcasters to name a few. European Championships, World Championships, World Cup races and Olympics have now taken on a very different project management set of skills to manage the relationships and stakeholders. Again, though our dream in the 80′s was to bring this incredible sport of canoe slalom to the masses and the Olympics particularly in the UK has done this is a most exceptional way, of which everyone involved is and should be duly proud. After the Olympics finishes in August the Lee Valley Whitewater centre is already confirmed as the venue for the 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships. We hope you come back.

Funding also creates high stakes for athletes from a selection perspective. Any funding is always limited and so there are qualifications for different funding programmes. Invariably, while some athletes benefit from funding others miss the cut off for funding and so have to find alternative ways to fund their further training and purchase of equipment and travel until the next funding cycle. The cost of travel both for local training and international training has always been one of the largest components in canoe slalom and dependent on an income stream!

GB Canoeing van showing Lottery Funding (photo courtesy of John Gregory)

The media itself have evolved in exciting ways through digital cameras and the impact of social media. The media interest in all the athletes is a new pressure on the athletes themselves but demonstrates the pubic thirst for information, which should do much to bring canoe slalom into the minds of the UK and Worldwide public.

Tomorrow as previously suggested we look at last week’s Junior / U23 World Championships which wrapped up in Wausau, USA. What bearing does this have on London2012 or for future Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or beyond? As suggested yesterday, thanks for the 1200 views in the last two weeks. You are welcome to contribute by adding comments either here on @gregiej on Twitter.