I was asked to contemplate this subject, based upon my overseas work; and especially to compare and contrast practices between the United Kingdom and Turkey with a sprinkling of anecdotes.
1. The power of learning: The collaboration between both countries has been apparent in many ways. Often a starting point is the innovation and proactivity of educational establishments. We have recently co-ordinated a successful conference called “Haydi futboldas olalim” (or “Let’s be football friends”). In planning for the event, my colleagues and I had consultations with leading universities and were particularly impressed on the sports educational front by both Kadir Has and Bahçeşehir. This in terms of forward thinking, curriculum, facilities and enthusiasm. Obviously, we start with this comment as a common grounding in sports education and marketing stems from the qualifications that are obtained post-mainstream schooling. Arguably. British sports marketing options at universities and further education are more mature, but there is no reason to doubt the suitability of the increasingly popular Turkish alternative. We helped to pull together an impressive panel of both academics and practitioners in Istanbul. These included: Turkish Football Federation (TFF), Birkbeck College (London) and FC United of Manchester (FCUM). I represented FC Sports Marketing. The papers presented, considered the pros and cons of governance and the suitability of the adoption of such as the FCUM model to Turkey’s professional sport. Many of the reasons that underpins greater supporters’ ownership and governance worldwide are equally applicable to Turkey, yet the desire for change appears still in need to be proven. In recent months we have witnessed, hooliganism, lack of family orientation, missed tricks on commercial marketing and alleged match-fixing. Maybe it’s just that one club needs to ‘put its toes in the water’ and others will follow suit. We could be helping this very first step in the year of the ‘Istanbul European Capital of Sport 2012’. Next stop for us is a ‘bit part’ in the “International Congress on Sports Management and Economics”. This time moving from Istanbul to Izmir. Its focus appears in the programme to be to “review and analyze sports industry within the framework of economics, management and business discipline.” Maybe I’m mistaken but at first glance perhaps a more scholarly communication – yet the timing is ripe for a debate on ‘where are we now, where do we want to go to’ etc.
2. Marketing and the feminine touch: The media coverage in the UK, looking in at Turkey has had a positive tone recently. Another inspirational concept surrounded a footballing spectacle with a global grasp of attention. The topic in question is one that I’ve covered in my personal blogosphere. I refer to the incident concerning Fenerbache and other instances of fans’ violence. It was expected that empty stadiums would be a foregone conclusion (incidentally, I’ve never seen the painted hoardings of spectators in the UK as they have done in Turkey when fans are banned from a fixture). The Turks however, brought a novel approach, with input from our friends at the TFF. They opened the gates to the match against Manisaspor, but only to — women and children under the age of 12. That’s right no men, the traditional, majority in the stadium. It doesn’t stop there. All tickets were free of charge. A whopping 40,000 crowd attended the fixture. The singing and hospitality was more ‘lady like’ in tone and activity also. How can this impact on the Country’s sport which mirrors many of the problems that were former ‘evils’ of the British counterpart in former years? Maybe not at all – but I would have hoped at the very least there will be an increased sensitivity to appreciating the aspirations of all segments of the supporting population, and maybe this could be catalyst to increasing ‘football in the community’ which has not been as well explored as it has in the United Kingdom helping numerous beneficiaries in an array of subjects from good citizenship, healthy living, child safety, sport and exercise and learning.
3. Playing hard ball: Another anecdote, and one that I continue to investigate is the differences that we have recently witnessed when assisting in the establishment of a new merchandise and toy distributor in Turkey. Our roles were both consultative and negotiative in co-operation with our respective contacts at Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbache. We were promoting an opportunity that was already adopted, for a Scandinavian company, with the giants of European football branding including Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus. As a generality, we have found the ‘Turkish nut’ a tougher one to crack. Not in terms of not succeeding but there has been a tendency to more desire for substantial up front deposits from any affinity between a manufacturer and a club (and use of its brand). Understandable, yes – and with common facets to many a deal that we do in the Barclays Premier League; yet I wonder whether the earlier accepted success fee only and dependency on royalties, however significant, is a tact that will bare fruit in Turkey?
4. New sports: At short notice, we were approached to assist in formulative plans on introducing the sport of rugby to Turkey. The approach came via another agency, which had limited expertise in rugby. We organised for some of our contacts including former Sale Sharks Lock and Coach (England Counties XV), Dave Baldwin, plus representative(s) of the Rugby Football Union to visit Istanbul for preliminary discussions with an intended follow on to provide a ‘roadmap’ for the development of a Turkish National Rugby team and also a long term grass roots development plan for the Country. Subject to funding from the General Directorate of Youth and Sports and possibly the International Rugby Board (IRB), there is a huge opportunity and hopefully one that we will assist further on. I get the impression that the powers that be are looking to ensure a proper representation of Turkish sports people and athletes across some sports that have not traditionally been pursued by the indigenous population. This all packaged around the bigger picture of pursuing the ‘Olympic Dream’. I have noticed that Lacrosse has just started in Turkey but again by an immigrant from the United Kingdom. I believe (or so they say), this was how football was introduced to the Country also?
6. Governance: I make no apology for returning back to ‘Governance’ as a differentiator between the respective countries. FC Sports Marketing and I are perfectly positioned to advise those clubs, irrespective of sport, when they take that leap of faith. I’m assuming, it will only be a matter of time. Supporters’ Direct (SD) is a key protagonist helping sports organisations with guidance and knowledge-share on this subject. One of the closest taking that plunge has been FC Aris. SD is the overseeing organisation formed by the British Government (with cross-party, political agreement) to provide support to ‘supporters’ trusts (fans) to secure a greater level of accountability and democracy within football clubs and more recently in other sports that include rugby. Notable milestones in this movement have been 170 supporters’ trusts formed, the active engagement of more than 270,000 fans and 26 trusts having achieved majority equity stakes in the clubs in which they are involved. Trusts are now established under the auspices of SD in ten European Countries. To appreciate the context and sea-change that will be needed, I paraphrase a recent constitution of an evolving trust, it set as prime objectives: To seek to acquire a shareholding in the sports club; To have an elected member attending meetings of the Board of Directors; To be the pioneer, in any relaunch or ‘phoenix’ club in the eventuality financial difficulties arise. Already, one can appreciate how this is a big move in many Turkish clubs – but an option that possesses benefits for the appropriate converts.