You could have knocked me over with a feather when I received the email from Mike Laflin, CEO of SportCal, inviting me to speak on the Experts Panel at the 20 Years of Sport event in London. I felt it only fair to immediately point out to him that my knowledge of sports extended to no more than several pre-match parties at Wimbledon (no tennis playing involved I hasten to add) and a virtual medal for the ‘longest putt’ on my iPhone’s ‘Let’s Golf’ app! After all, I was the girl that nobody wanted on their rounders’ team at school, I was always the last to be picked for Sports Day activities and was relegated in my later Prefect years to reporting on the event for the school newsletter!
“It’s absolutely not a problem!” Mike assured me “We want a social media perspective on how sport might benefit from your success in social media Sarah-Jayne. It would be a pleasure to welcome you on board”.
And so there it was! The literature was printed and posted out in black & white for all to see – @grattongirl had finally been selected for a sports team!
Before I continue to talk about the event itself, I just have to take a moment to tell you all about the amazing experience I had at the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf (@FSLondon), which SportCal had organized for me. From the friendly drivers who took me everywhere in style, to the wonderful accommodation and service provided to me every one of the staff, it truly was (in itself) an experience to remember.
After arriving and having a luxurious soak in the tub, I was driven to a pre-event dinner to meet up with other panel members and organizers of the event. To be honest, I was terribly nervous – wondering what on earth to talk about and feeling totally overwhelmed by the heady scent of testosterone that filled the room. My nervousness was soon gone and my fears were laid to rest however by the wonderful welcome I received from all the attendees. So many guests had heard of @grattongirl and took great pleasure in relaying their individual social media experiences to me, asking for my opinions and advice as to how to get the most out of Twitter, Facebook and the like, that I soon forgot my nerves and found myself engaging in some wonderfully stimulating conversations about how communications had changed and were continuing to change and evolve at a rapid pace.
I was taken back to the hotel feeling elated, although apprehensive about what to expect the following day. I knew that my Twitter pal Jeff Bullas (@jeffbullas) was also going to be on the panel via video link and this calmed me a little as I sipped on my complementary hot chocolate and snuggled into my goose down quilt with positive visions of the following day dancing in my head.
The event itself was every bit as special and educational for me as the promotions had promised. More so, in fact, as I found myself caught up in a debate surrounding social media’s immediacy of communications and the legal implications (and ultimate backlash) resulting from a society with an insatiable appetite for gossip! Listening to the organizers and lawyers talking of the problems surrounding their role within the industry it dawned on me that I was looking at social media through the rose-colored spectacles of one who had only ever experienced the positive side of its impact upon society. Suddenly I was transported to a world where the ethics and principles of the UK sports industry have governed over commercial sponsorship in a way that made me proud to be British. It wasn’t that the powers that be didn’t want to use their sponsorship to line their coffers, it was just that they wanted to do so in a way that wouldn’t detract from the glory and historical foundations on which their sports were based.
My conclusions were that the sports world was ironically ‘lagging behind’ in the race for social media glory and (for want of a better word) exploitation! Now I began to realize that, while there was indeed some catching up to be done, and perhaps I was one of those who would be able to shed some light on the way forward, any progress needed to be considered and acted upon with the underlying principles of what sport is all about at its heart.
I am a proud, new age, social media beast – a woman who, like many of us, have found my passion for both creativity and expression rekindled by the ever-fanned flames of an increasingly connected society. The sporting world asked me whether this fire was just another dot com explosion that would burn brightly for a while and then peter out and I answered with a resounding “no”.
In fact, the whole philosophy of sports itself is testimony to my belief in social media. The teamwork needed in order to reach end goals, the communication and support that exists between the fans and the players that creates an electric current of energy, passion and even magic transcends itself through to the followers and fans we rely upon, learn from and look to in social media.
After all, social media really is, a contact sport!