Row Z edition 46; dateline 27 August 2010

‘Are you prepared for what’s to come?’
Can it really be September already? Judging by this, surely ironically crass, email alert’s subject line (as recreated in the headline above), it is and that must mean it’s time for slot machine operators, sausage wranglers and treadmill traders to make their way to a crinkly tin shed in the West Midlands for another rendition of Leisure Industry Week. We haven’t been able to take in the full majesty of this event for a couple of years (do they still have the pool and the pole-dancing?) but everyone at The Leisure Review wishes everyone at LIW well, particularly with their efforts to get punters to part with £30 at the door to get in.

It’s in the post; now where's the cheque?
Who can resist the promise of the unknown, the allure of implied delight? Certainly not the editor of The Leisure Review who popped off to the Post Office to find out what could possibly be worth the investment of £1.19 of TLR funds. Having coughed up the necessary (19 pence for the under-payment of postage and £1 for the “handling fee”) to release the package from Post Office prison, he eagerly awaited Postman Pat (or, in this case, Postman Darren) to work his magic. When it arrived expectations were quickly lowered by the worryingly flat envelope but imagine his disappointment on discovering that the contents offered only a copy of the latest newsletter from one of our most respected leisure management companies. However, while paying to receive someone else’s PR puffery ranks as low as possible on any editor’s list of larks, he was buoyed when he realised it was issue one and therefore no doubt a collector’s item.

Chartered institute, mon oeil
If the current camel-as-horse government proves anything it is not to believe a word written in a manifesto. However, here at Row Z we have had a sneak preview of what is supposed to be coming the way of the sector when the much-vaunted CIS finally hits the stocks. Gossip long ago told us that the new organisation will come into being, failure to achieve chartered status notwithstanding, from 1 January and that it will be based in Loughborough but we sneaked a peek at the manifesto document itself when a colleague we were visiting left it on the corner of her desk while she went to feed a parking meter. We can exclusively reveal to anyone who, like us, can’t get past the log-in at either ISPAL or ISRM’s website: that the parks sector is not included in the plan whatsoever; that the CIS (or as the Excutive [sic] Summary sometimes has it, the CSI) aims to have 20,000 members by 2020; and that it will not be a lobbying body on behalf of the sector.

£1,500: the price of a pint?
As someone who knows someone who rides a bike and won’t stop going on about it, Sideliner keeps a weather eye on all things cycle-related and was thus intrigued by news of a report by Mintel Oxygen (“Your one-stop shop for market and consumer analysis”). After many, many man-hours of highly expensive research it seems that the Mintel wonks have discovered that a lot more people are buying and riding bikes, that many of them are men between the ages of 35 and 50, and that a fair proportion of this group spend quite a lot of money on their new-found hobby. We can infer that the research was highly expensive from the fact that they want £1,500 for a copy of the report. But fear not. If you would like to discover all the details of the new cycling boom and the attitudes that fuel it just nip down to your local pub and find a couple of trim looking chaps with their trousers tucked into their socks that seem to be conversing entirely in numbers with a random sprinkling of French and Italian words thrown in. Buy them a pint and they will tell you all you need to know until you’ve had enough. Believe us; we’ve done it.

Farewell then, Audit Commission
What to make of the reports that the Audit Commission is to be dragged out into Whitehall and thrown on the fire with the rest of the dead wood that has been hampering the efficient running of the nation? Some in the leisure sector may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, having been subjected to so many peerings at and proddings at the AC’s hands over the years but what, they will quickly wonder, is behind it all? Surely a central government that seems so mistrustful of local government will not give town halls free rein without some checks on their expenditure? And won’t the spending of billions of pounds of public finances (presuming that the total spend of local authorities in the next financial year will be able to stretch to ten figures once Georgie ‘Bullingdon’ Osbourne has done his work) need at least a once-over with an auditor’s beady eye? Step forward the highly qualified and oh-so-experienced auditing teams from the major accountancy and outsourcing firms, like those from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Capita or KPMG with which so many Row Z readers will be all too familiar, to fill the breach. Never mind that names like these have signed off the accounts of so many businesses that have failed, so many lottery projects that have been erased from all but the most jaundiced of memories and so many large banks, the carefully audited collapse of which brought the world economy to, and arguably beyond, the very brink. They will do the job and no doubt do it well but, as they always tell us, quality costs and accountants don’t come cheap.

What price a logo?
Sideliner was surprised to see the good name of The Leisure Review among a long list of organisations adding their name to the list of supporters for an imminent half-day event regarding a foreign part. It’s going to be a cracking event – we genuinely do think delegates will “learn, debate and be inspired” – but Row Z would have counselled caution before the management at TLR allow their charming, if under-designed logo, to appear on the same bit of paper (it’s what we used to use before a screen, kids) as the organisations that TLR’s own managing editor considers to be the source of so many of the leisure sector’s problems. These are organisations that he, reportedly, also deems to be singularly ill-placed to be part of the solution. Sideliner can confirm, after extensive investigation within TLR Towers, that the insertion was something of an oversight, the result of some over-enthusiasm among the office juniors, and it won’t be happening again in a hurry. Should said managing editor ever discover that one of the professional bodies on the page in question had actually had the chutzpah to demand a fee before releasing their logo and that the event organiser, one of said organisation’s supposed “ambassadors”, had ACTUALLY PAID IT the attractive Swedish-style wood-effect floors of the TLR board room would now be ankle-deep in the blood of recently despatched staff.

What price a logo? Part 2
Our regular reader will recall the media release from Volleyball England Volleyball which we regurgitated as news in last month’s column? No? Essentially they have paid money to an expensive design company to re-jig their logo, change a few other things and supply some gobbledegook explaining exactly why this extravagance is both necessary and good. We know, because we asked, that colleagues from The Leisure Review wrote to the head of marketing and communications at England Volleyball England to ask how much this might have cost and what the rank and file of volleyballers thought about it. We also know that neither he nor either of the other two communications professionals nor any of the other 25 people at their new head office responded, instead asking someone from their PR agency to do the honours. We also know that our colleague spoke and wrote to said PR person and tried to organise an interview with either the head of comms or even the chief executive. Despite a timely reminder and a very real will to give Volleyball Volleyball England England the chance to put a positive spin on logogate, no interview has been arranged; the original release was dated 15 July. Normally we would ignore people who ignore our TLR chums but when we hear that not only did the women’s GB volleyball team for 2012 feel constrained to organise a sponsored bike ride to raise funds for their podium bid and now find out that the British Volleyball Federation have had to “un-fund” two of their six 2012 programmes we thought mention should be made. We asked the BVF – no PR company and no sign of even one communications person on staff – about the financial parlousness of our national teams and we received a prompt and courteous response: “The BVF, its directors, staff and players, have done everything within their power over the past four years to find innovative ways to use the finance we have had at our disposal [and] to keep all of our programmes developing in the right way. Every programme has contributed massively to our success and the vision, commitment and energy of all involved is testament to our continuing determination to succeed. With the London Olympic Games less than two years away ongoing resourcing issues had to be re-assessed in the light of budgets available, and changes made. The hunt for significant commercial and private partners, who would wish to be part our continuing story to participate with credibility and honour in our home Olympic Games in 2012, goes on, and most certainly will intensify.” Sideliner is forced to ask whether some of the English Volleyball Association’s communications budget might more profitably be used giving our teams a chance to perform in London. We think so.

Phil the Git says, “Anyone but Sky”
Sideliner demurred to comment on the Tour de France in the chronologically better placed August edition of Row Z in order to allow the bile to subside and for perspective to return. Contador is a dodgy character riding in a dodgy team but his nearest rival, the boy Schleck, was riding for a team managed by disgraced Dane Bjarne Riis so there’s not much point in getting steamed up about the final shake-up. Not even the sainted David Millar – who rode most of the three weeks with broken bones – voiced concerns about drugs this year, and when Mark Renshaw got slung out when he did cheat not even Mark Cavendish complained. What got Sidey’s goat throughout all three weeks of La Grande Boucle was the simpering asides of Phil ‘the Git’ Leggit while commentating for ITV4. One has learned to forgive his hagiographic endorsement of all things Lance Armstrong and his virtually racist refusal to embrace the language or cultural influences of the host country. One can even ignore his inability to work out what’s happening before his eyes in the race itself, an idiosyncrasy he shares with the BBC’s chief bike commentator, Hugh Porter. What is unforgivable has been his refusal to countenance Team Sky’s contribution to proceedings as anything other than an irritating intrusion. Bradley Wiggins riding all but the last few mountains in company with the heads of state goes unmentioned. Geraint Thomas wearing the white jersey in the early days is patronised. And Norwegian Edvald Boasen Haagen is downgraded to “Eddy Hagen” for the purposes of the final circuits of the Champs Elysees. Does any of this matter? Is it simply related to the commercial competition between two television companies and merely a minor irritant? Should Sideliner deign to comment? Respectively, “yes”, “no” and “hang on to your cycling helmets.” David Brailsford, when asked to define success for Team Sky in the 2010 Tour, said: “Success for us is… if in the next three weeks the team inspires more kids to get on their bikes.” Whatever brand that team wears, they remain a key part of British Cycling’s attempts to make us the best cycling nation in the world and to create a massive surge of grassroots activity on the back of it. The only cycling most people, certainly most young people, will see on the television this year is the tour on ITV4. For its senior (as in oldest) commentator to behave “like a slapped-arse kid” about a squad that everybody else in the country is proud of raises three related words: “out”, “to” and “grass”. Get gone, The Git; you’re part of the problem.

Cycling’s lack of proficiency
And while we’re talking about Sky and its contribution to cycling in Britain, Sidey has had cause to pass not one but two Sky Rides in recent weeks and is sad to report an ignorance of road craft bordering on arrogance among the high-visibility-vested participants. You thought, as did we, that Sky Rides only take place in coned-off city centres, safe for the participants, safe for other road users, a pain in the neck for anyone wishing to use the roads they pay road tax for? Not so. It transpires that blue-shirted Sky Ride guides are taking parties of pedal cyclists on the open road and causing carnage for car drivers there as well. Narrow road, cars parked, a classic pass-with-care situation and a bevy of rather silly cyclists pretending they are Eddy Merckx himself – old, slow and running to seed. Their “race” to the “summit” of a slight drag causes fat fools on bikes to slew across the carriage way making passing of any kind impossible and forcing drivers to stop or risk collision with biker, parked car or both. Were apologies proffered? No. Was anyone even conscious of their own discourtesy? No. For once a brand image – self-absorbed, arrogant, greedy – was actually fully endorsed by the amateur oafs wearing it. This particular peloton looked and acted for every inch like a child of Sky and its masters at News Corp. British Cycling would do well to get a slightly longer spoon before they sup any further meals with Friend Murdoch.

Details, details
Everyone at TLR Towers is committed to the success of the sport, leisure and culture sector, and to the people and organisations that serve it. For this reason we are moved on occasion to offer a gentle word of advice. Or perhaps two. For example, if you are going to invite people to join your professional body in order to play a part in shaping the future of the industry in which they work it looks better if you demonstrate that you know that there is a difference between the words ‘industries’ and ‘industry’s’, particularly if it is scrolling around the top of your website on a loop expounding the virtues of your organisation. Similarly, if you are trying to attract people to visit a show offering the best that the leisure industry has to offer why not admit that the words ‘hears’ and ‘here’s’ have different meanings, particularly if you are sending it to thousands of people? We’re the first to admit that mistakes do happen but we’re all under the microscope these days. Time to go that extra mile.

At the Arts End

That’s one twisted melon
Sideliner was saddened to hear that fellow bon viveur Bez of the Happy Mondays has been jailed for four weeks, if secretly amused at the style in which he achieved this sentence. Representing himself in a case which would have resulted in a £450 fine and 100 hours community service, Mark Berry, as the former tambourine shaker is more formally known, refused to accept the court’s authority (once it had found against him) and is reported to have shouted “Victory is in my grasp” as he was handcuffed and led away. Too many drugs, Bez, or a justifiable reaction to the judicial system’s presumption that the man is always wrong in any situation involving broken families? We may never know, although as Bez is also reported to be looking forward to “the next fixture” we may get the chance to find out.

Cartoon no caper shock
It’s official: Toy Story 3 is too traumatic for anyone under the age of 18 or over the age of 18 to go to. The woman who comes in twice a week to do the books took her two daughters – 17 and 20 – to a virtually empty afternoon showing of the Pixar movie and the three of them spent the majority of the one and three-quarter hours in tears, with the oldest of the trio actually sobbing embarrassingly loudly at one point. Described by one critic as “a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and…love”, there can surely be no surprise that a cartoon film about toys made by Americans might be a tad mawkish. Mind you, some people were amazed to discover that contestants on the X Factor had been digitally enhanced.

Strined relations?
Rude Australians are something of a theme in Row Z this month with Man Booker long-listed author Christos Tsiolkas offering an interesting perspective of European fiction for a bloke trying to win a European prize for, well, fiction. His in-depth analysis, offered up at the Edinburgh international book festival, was that a book of European short stories he had chanced to peruse was “dry and academic” in a “cheap, shitey way”. We care little for Tsiolkas and less for his opinions but his grammar has us somewhat foxed. “Shitty” is a word – if a rather unpleasant one to use in company – but “shitey”? We checked the TLR style guide and the word is not included.

Goodbye now, Helen Rose
Sad news for lovers of quirky reportage with the revelation that Helen Rose, The Leisure Review’s very own cub reporter, may have to curtail her commitment to the magazine once she starts studying theology at Queens, Belfast in September. A bit of a bummer for all those who enjoyed her well written forays (A* in English, of course) into the varied worlds of music, the Edinburgh Fringe festivals and librarianship but grand news for the circulation department with our Northern Ireland readership figures now set to double. Congratulations, Helen. Best of luck, Belfast.

Drawing a veil:

This month we will be shunning:

Graham Swann’s unmanly midnight dash for a screwdriver to free his trapped cat; the continued lack of outrage at the curtailment of Radio 2’s Radcliffe and Maconie show to only three nights per week; Cardiff City’s acquisition of the man-baby Bellamy at idiotic pounds per week when they should have been paying off some of their £30 million debt; Sport England allowing an economic report from 2008 to finally see the light of day to cries of “These figures underline the huge value of sport to our country, and the significant role it can play in supporting the economic recovery”, a quote as it happens from the agency’s chair Richard Lewis; and all references to Blackpool’s soccer team’s roller-coaster ride in the top flight.

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