Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Manchester City FC’

Towards Datatainment – Working with Data Gods

1 April, 2012 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

The following is an article I’ve just written for Leaders in Digital Sport‘s “Leaders” bulletin. The data gods in question are Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley of the MCFC Performance Analysis team.

Do you know a bit about football? Or a lot? Can you remember the score of a game 5 years ago when you were standing in a stadium on a wet wednesday night and your team lost 3-2 after going down to 10 men in the 63rd minute?

That made-up match might not be the right details, but if you’re a real football fan then you probably remember something similar – as well as a selection of other random details from times past and fixtures forgotten.

Does that make you a statto?

Most people will react badly if you call them a statto. It has become a pejorative term – as portrayed by Skinner and Baddiel‘s Fantasy Football League comedy sidekick or maybe long before that – and although there’s a grudging respect for the feats of memory that sporting stattos display, there’s also a lot of laughter behind the communal hand.

The stereotype is that stattos remember facts. Data. They don’t necessarily remember meaning or turn that data into knowledge or, better still, understanding, let alone the peak of the information pyramid: wisdom.

So data’s got a bad rep – it’s the domain of stattos and geeks.

But I have seen football data that delights.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been working closely with the Performance Analysis team at Manchester City FC. Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley have been informing and enthusing me (a footballing muggle) with their explanations and demonstrations. They are sporting data gods. 

Every movement of our players in a match, in the gym and on the training pitch is recorded, converted to data, analysed and presented back with expert understanding. It forms part of the whole picture that informs training and performance improvements. No-one here is called a statto and yet they all accept their statto status.

The reason why I’ve been working so closely with them is because I think they hold the solution to a challenging problem for football. It is this: How do you bring together people with a lot of knowledge of the game and those who only have a little? The fan from Manchester and the fan from Minnesota. The established and the uninitiated, or, as I like to call them, the veteran and the newcomer. Of course a Minnesotan might actually be a lifelong soccer fan, it goes without saying, and there are definitely people in the UK with low levels of knowledge (myself included) but generally speaking the average Mancunian knows more than the man in Mumbai.

Frank Skinner, Ed Sulley (Statto) and David Baddiel. (ok, so it’s Angus Loughran who played Statto)

You could argue for hours about what makes a ‘fan’ vs a ‘supporter’ or ‘follower’ but leaving those definitions aside, I believe there are a couple of major challenges for any club that wants to increase the number of people who care (to whatever degree) about the activity of the club, but have a range of experience of the game: 1) veterans do not necessarily welcome newcomers and 2) it is tricky to talk to fans with varying levels of football understanding.

I don’t think that Gavin and Ed have the solution to problem no.1. But I think that data, digital media and performance analysis might hold the solution to no. 2.

In my view, broadcast media is bad at addressing multiple audiences. It picks a target audience and aims at it. In the case of football coverage in this country, the BBC’s MOTD and Sky’s MNF address fans who are closer to the veteran end of the scale. There is little explanation for the layman.

Digital media, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to explain the game to the uninitiated. We have restrictions about what we can do with match footage, but we can use performance data, put it in an application that allows the user to choose a comfortable level of knowledge and let them play with the information. What’s more, they can do it at their own convenience and at their own speed.

This is what takes data into a new sphere – we can move from data journalism through data visualisation and, hopefully, to the holy grail of engaging an audience: data entertainment, or (forgive me) datatainment.

Gavin and Ed have been able to show me how the data can tell a story which gives me greater understanding of the strategic context of a game. I now appreciate some of the chess-playing tactics of managers and the expertise it takes to carry out those plans.

Over the next few months at City, we’ll be starting on a journey towards datatainment. We’ll begin by launching prototypes that start to make the performance data transparent and, with the help of the audience, we’ll progress towards making truly entertaining data-led products.

I can’t wait for the audience’s reaction and I’ve no doubt it will be voluble whether in praise or pillory, but if even just one stato and one newbie both get information and perhaps enjoyment out of our prototypes, then we will have started off in the right direction.

Advertisements

A week of MCFC, datatainment and Guardian rants

2 September, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

Thanks to Robert Andrews for the interview and write-up on paidContent where we went through a whole bunch of the digital and media strategy for Manchester City FC. Of course, any one of those things could have been explained a lot more – but maybe that’s for another time.

Only one thing to add to the interview.. I want to make it clear that I’m well aware that ‘datatainment’ is a horrid horrid word. I promise not to come up with more like that.

Also, Joe Weston… the answer’s clearly a very very loud ‘No’: Is Richard Ayers the most influential man in sports and social media? It’s kind of you, but definitely still ‘no’.

And then there was the Guardian blog post and back-page of the sport section last Saturday where Scott Murray wrote a rather remarkable, entertaining and, frankly, odd piece about MCFC’s approach to media. “Manchester City’s film should get an ‘X’ certificate“.

MCFC-Guardian-mcfc-blog-110902I was alerted to the post at about 10am on Saturday morning and once I’d picked my jaw up off the ground, I emailed my boss and the communications director to ask for the ok to make a comment on the blog. What amazed me was how pseud0-intellectualised the piece was… all those arty references to cinema… and how much he’d got carried away. I should add that I thought it was a good blog post – entertaining, well written, bombastic, opinionated and, of course, not based in any truth at all. Because it was a Saturday and even communications directors have lives, it took quite a while for me to get signoff on the comment I wanted to make… but by 10.39pm we were there and I was able to respond. (it’s on page 4 of the comments).

We think the video’s great. But then I would say that, as it was my team that made it. ‬

‪Our club and editorial policy is about giving fans access to the club and that means behind the scenes material is perfect. We know the fans love it because we’ve done loads of things like the Tunnel Cams and the picture galleries of Today at Carrington – and the response is really really good. You can also be sure that if the fans don’t like something, then I hear about it pretty quickly. ‬

Part of ‪my job is to try new things – to innovate in ways that will mean that the fans get more of what they want. And what they want most is access to behind the scenes at the club – access to players. Some things don’t work, of course, but I’m happy to say we’ve done lots that are greatly appreciated as a lot of the comments here show. ‬

‪As for our visual style – well, cinema is orchestrated, but reality tv is much more free-form and that’s the style we go for. Which, to be honest, is why it can look a bit awkward sometimes – but then we’ve had enough reality tv over the last 20 years or so to know that, haven’t we?‬

‪I guess there’s something here about editorial taste. I like the video. The BBC like the video – that’s why they got in touch and ran it on the BBC Sport site. As I write this, 383,081 people have watched it on youtube and some of them must like it. Then there are those that watched it on our website first. But you didn’t like it – and that’s fair enough. ‬

‪Equally, fans liked the ‘Nasri scores’ image from EA. A bit of fun that nicely shows off the game’s amazing graphics. That’s an approach the FIFA game playing audience would appreciate, I think.‬

‪I’d be more than happy to talk to you or the media team and explain our digital and media strategy in detail. ‬

‪In the meantime, as this is a blog with comments I’d just like to add that you missed off the best ever steadicam shot… in the opening sequence of Point Break. ‬

‪thanks, Richard‬
ps. we put another one up, do let me know what you think: Inside City: Nasri’s First Day Training

You should have seen the first version of the response – it had a lot more sarcasm and bombast of my own. It started with “I love blogs. Mainly because they’re not journalism and have no requirement for accuracy, contacting the people you’re writing about or even a suggestion of reporting the truth…”. Probably best that what I commented was a lot more moderate. The main thing was that Mr Murray seemed to be writing from a pre-internet time – with no sense of modern media. In fact I’ve since talked to a couple of Guardian media reporters and they thought it was odd too. Oh well, each to their own.

The most wonderful thing was that, by the time the post had been up even a very short time, a whole bunch of commenters had responded. And what responses they were. Blogger Steven McInerny‘s comment was great and said a lot:

Or you know, maybe it wasn’t an over-the-top dramatisation of his signing, and it wasn’t tightly choreographed and maybe it wasn’t an attempt at projecting self-importance …maybe, just maybe it was quite simply a video that they thought that I, like many other City fans, would find incredibly interesting to see. And I did. I really did. I quite enjoy seeing what goes on behind the scenes.

Because that’s what it was. I really do think it was as simple as that. A behind the scenes look at what happens during a transfer. If anything it was pretty mundane, despite your valiant attempts to dramatise it and paint it as something it wasn’t, Mr Murray. There was no grand entrance. No music. No paths lined in gold, and Garry Cook certainly didn’t have an office and a place to call home glamorous enough to please Scaramanga. It all looked pretty normal. It didn’t pretend to be anything other than that. Perhaps too, Patrick Vieira was simply hanging around to say hello to a friend. Not just to lurk seedily in the shadows and do his best impression of a mobster waiting for the call from the big man. It’s pretty possible that maybe your cynical nature has taken over here, and i’m aware it’s in vogue to laugh at City, but sometimes I think people look a little too hard.

To be fair though…Garry Cook is a bit of a tool. Bless him. He always will be though. It’s just in his nature. So yeah, laugh at him as much as you want, and though silly, the FIFA thing was nothing really either. But you can have that one too if you want.

But please, leave our extra content alone. I enjoy it. It gives me something to watch. It makes everything seem normal, and it definitely goes along way to destroying some myth that a huge wall exists between them and us. If anything it makes the fans club feel closer to the club and I salute that.

And so it went on… comment after comment talking about content, clubs and their approach to media – and lots and lots of them were very supportive of City’s approach and rather circumspect about the blog post. It was a great moment for the club – to have so much support – and in particular, for our media strategy. Syndication is a new thing for a club to do – and it worked. Responding quickly, like a news/media organisation is a new thing to do – and it worked. Even posting an official comment on a blog is a new thing to do.

I wanted to add a post-script to this…

The original video that Mr Murray picked up on was this:


And although there are currently over 1600 comments – the vast majority of them being inter-club abuse – there are a few that are a credit to the Club – and I’ve never seen a bunch like this before. Jim, our Endemol Sport exec producer highlighted these to me:

 
I support Manchester United but I love this! It’s fantastic to have a insight to the ongoings at a football club, even though they are our rivals 🙂
fes9371 1 day ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
Arsenal fan, and I love this. I’m not bitter, kolo and Samir are great footballers and good people. I am angry at wenger, not them.
tAcTiCaLnUkE118 1 day ago
 
I’m a Chelsea fan but this is far better than there channel, and kolarov is a legend
JordanRankiin 11 hours ago in playlist Videos from mcfcofficial http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
great videos/channel, very interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes hope the videos keep coming throughout the season. kolarov seems like a right character!!
saros08 2 days ago
 
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to like Man City.
Amino2 2 days ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
 
i wish liverpool did this
YOUNGMr1996 2 days ago
 
Thumbs up for MCFC for putting videos on Youtube now. Some cracking videos have been made in the past two years since the site was relaunched, many better than the MUTV and LTV crap that gets put out if I’m perfectly honest which normally just features a second rate past player just eulogising and stating the bloody obvious.
mancity1000 3 days ago 7
 
Love it. Also not a City fan, but looking how it all looks on the inside of the club, its just great.
VolverinBVB09 3 days ago http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif

So, thanks for the comments, the interaction, the abuse and the plaudits. Here’s to more content and more engagement.

Defining Data Visualisation, Data Journalism & Data Entertainment

21 August, 2011 7 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

After my blog post from last week, Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment, and a comment about datatainment seeming very close to data visualisation, I thought I’d try to define my thinking on how these terms differ.

  • Data + Visualisation is the process of making the data visible – the representation, such as Nike + or the use of epic, relies upon the data itself being informative or entertaining, but the process of visualisation does not apply an editorial filter. Of course, any design belies the application of some kind of filter – but with visualisation there is an attempt to represent the ‘real’ events or facts.
  • Data + Journalism is using that visibility to investigate an issue or point – it may not necessarily visualise the data for the user, but will use the techniques of visualisation in the journalistic process.
  • Data + Entertainment is where you use data as the primary source of entertainment. You might choose to make the visualisation of raw data entertaining or perhaps use data visualisation as part of the process of entertainment – but there’s definitely a strong editorial control which is focussed on entertaining the audience rather than exposing data.

Let me try to give examples:

Data Vis: Showing the number of check-ins on location based services foursquare and facebook check-in by MCFC fans over the course of the season.

Data Journalism: Using the visualisation to explore the patterns of LBS behaviour on match-days and therefore the stress on local transport infrastructure.

Datatainment: During the pre-match show at City Square, profiling the fan who’d checked-in at the Etihad Stadium the most over the course of the season. Or, bearing in mind that we have a huge number of people who visit us online during a game, perhaps we might also represent the global locations of our fans – maybe using foursquare’s ‘swarm’ approach to identify key hubs of City fandom outside Manchester so that we can bring those fans closer to the match day experience.

There are better ideas of what to do with Datatainment for City, but I won’t write about them here as I’d rather talk to the fans and see if we can deliver them in the real world.

Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment

17 August, 2011 13 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

[In which I justify the creation of a horrible new term that describes where data and entertainment meet – in this case, through football and it’s fans.]

Datatainment is a new thing. Linguistically it’s a bastard son of Data and Entertainment, with it’s irritating cousins Gamification, Informercial and Advertainment. But I think it’s more than just a stupid word dreamt up to try to kick-start a dull meeting. Could it be a new genre? How does it differ from data journalism? And what does it have to do with football?

Though the journalist in me wants to write a fully thought-out report – the blogger will throw up some thoughts and see if you’ve got anything to say.

Way back

Many years ago I did some work that pioneered online data journalism. I only realised this the other day because, at the time, we didn’t call it that. I was just working on the ‘specials’ team for BBC News Online and 3 of us were dedicated to the Kosovo Conflict special report. One of my jobs was to get the overnight press release from the allied command which detailed the locations and targets of overnight bombing raids. Then I’d make sense of the data, and go to work with Max Gadney, then one of the designers, to turn it into a map which represented the data, but also registered the nature of the target. You may remember, this was the conflict where many claims were made about laser-sighted accuracy – and some of those claims were later found to be overblown. Schools and hospitals got hit – and the data showed it over a month of intense bombing raids.

Little did I know that, many years later, data journalism would become a ‘thing’. A thing many others have studied, researched, honed and blogged about. Something that you can do a course on or can feed with a well-focussed FOI request.

Data Journalism – it’s not Entertainment. It’s not Datatainment.

In my role as Head of Digital for Manchester City FC, I was meeting with a major global hardware and entertainment brand yesterday. When asked what was my next move in innovation – my answer was clear – to make the most of the data. We will lay down a data architecture, and we will invent data products to sit on top. We will use it to entertain and engage. We will use it to involve a wider audience. We get 40,000 people in our stadium, but we get at least 4 times that on our online Match Day Centre (MDC), but the big difference is that the capacity of our stadium is limited. Of course, the capacity online is not.

I’ve whinged about the use of ‘gamification’ as much as the next man. It’s fitting that my spellcheck on this machine has just corrected that word to ‘ramification’. The inimitable Margaret Robertson (@ranarama) has written, among others, just how mis-placed the awarding of points misses the point of how games and game theory can be employed to the benefit of a project. And that’s to say nothing of the badgification (!) that we’ve seen with foursquare and, seemingly, every other venture in the last year. But at least it’s not ‘greenification’ that I heard used at the Power to the Pixel conference keynote last year.

So, what the hell and I doing creating another of these sodding hybrid words.

Datatainment. it’s better than ‘datafication’.

Let me tell you a story. At the drinks after last year’s Story conference I met the chief creative at an award-winning Brighton agency who’d done lots of work with the BBC, Channel 4 and others. I thought to myself ‘excellent, I bet there’s some great stuff he could do for me at Manchester City… I wonder if he’d like to come and have a look at what we’ve got and talk about some opportunities.’

But when I told him that I worked for a football club, the disappointment was palpable. The light in his eyes died and I could see him thinking of a way to get out of there. But I am persistent, if nothing else. I gave him some facts: We have roughly 40000 people who turn up every week to the same place. More and more they turn up for a full day out – and the MCFC experience is one that really moves things beyond turning up a five minutes to 3pm, watching the game and going straight home. Our 40,000 season card holders are passionate and engaged with our brand (forgive me football fans, but you know what I mean). They’re representative of the population in terms of smartphone penetration or computer usage. AND, the vast majority of them carry the seasoncard around with them – a seasoncard that uses an oyster-card-like RFID chip to identify them and store some basic information. Oh, and because I thought it might come in handy, these 40000 peoples’ cards now also have personalised QR codes on them and, just because I could, they have augmented reality markers on the back too. Is that enough to do something cool and interesting with? No? then I told him some more…

In the last couple of months we’ve launched a tiered system of membership to the Club – and for the first time that includes a beginner-level membership – Blue. One of the main audiences that will be most interested in what this has to offer is the overseas audience – the audience who could never get to the ground but still want to be involved. And these Blue membership cards *also* have the RFID, QR and AR elements built in. So where we say 40,000 people have cards today… by the time the ex-pat and overseas audience gets involved, we’ll be talking many more. So, suddenly you’ve got a massive, engaged, excited audience focussing on the same series of events and all with personalised, data-driven, tech-useful clever cards.

Now, if you can’t do something exciting and creative with that lot… Can you imagine the amount of data coming off those cards? location, activity, frequency… and that’s without even adding any other levels of gaming on top. but I didn’t need to labour it. By this time he got the point and could see that maybe football was worth taking a closer look at.

What’s interesting is that this kind of data is just the beginning.

In terms of football data, what we get is phenomenal.
– opta stats – public and professional level telling you everything from a player’s possession rate to his average sprinting speed. and there are also the prozone and venatrack systems available. All this match, and training, performance tracking feeds into the Performance Analysis team – and some of it also goes live into our web-based user-facing Match Day Centre.
Of course there’s also the data we generate from tracking site usage – english and arabic – and on our social and media presences, twitter, Facebook, youtube and flickr.

Then there are things like Fanvision – which has a major impact on user experience in the US market where getting stats on a game, during a game, creates a remarkable added-entertainment layer to American Football and other sports.

Statos have always been present in sport… celebrated in some, shunned in others, but always present. F1 – motorsport in general – massively data dominated. Cricket has the home of sport data – Wisden. Golf is basically a data-driven sport.

And then there’s our partnership with EA SPORTS for FIFA12. Do EA have any data we could work with, do you think? 3m people bought the console game in the UK last year, 10m worldwide. Over a 100m people have purchased it. And another 8m play the online version of the game every year. And do EA have stats to play with … data you could use as prediction engines… data you could use to entertain? It’s already gearing up to be a fun partnership.

That’s Datatainment

So I’ve gone from data journalism to data entertainment – datatainment.
Is this anything new? perhaps not.
If you define data as pieces of information – then you could argue that quiz shows have been examples of datatainment for years. But you’d be wrong.

I can’t remember who said it – and I’m probably misquoting – but there’s a difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. At which point it’s beholden on me to also quote the saying “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”

Data is less than the information that’s shared or tested in a quiz show. Data is the raw, unadulterated fact. Moulding those facts into stories – like @mattsheret does so well for last.fm in his role as Data Griot (data storyteller) – is data storytelling. Using facts, like the data from the bombing raids over Kosovo in 1998, and plotting them on a map to expose the detail of whether those laser guided missiles actually *were* as consistently accurate as claimed… or the homicide map of New York… or David McCandless’s work through @infobeautiful and the Guardian …  or using spreadsheets and databases to bring up anomalies in MPs expenses… or the other work showcased at Design of Understanding… these are some of the many excellent examples of data journalism. But when it’s not journalism – when it’s used to inform but, primarily, to delight or inspire or to bring someone closer to a subject they love and give them that warm glow of passion and fun… I submit that this is something else. It’s data entertainment. And that’s what I want to bring to football with @MCFC.

Are there other examples? I’m sure of it. And I’d welcome your thoughts on the nuances I’m missing or the examples that prove or disprove the case.

I may not be allowed to return to London – at least not uninjured – after @matlock @jaggeree and @ammonite promised to do me harm if I kept using the datatainment. But I’ve compounded that now so I will just have to bear with the ‘deadarmtainment’ or the ‘chineseburntainment’ that have been promised. I suffer for my art. Actually, speaking of art – the rather lovely @artfinder app for ipad is, well, art and entertainment, isn’t it? what do you think? Arttainment?

—-

John Kearney’s comment below prompted an attempt to clarify my thinking: Defining Data Journalism, Data Visualisation and Data Entertainment.

Manchester Riot: Madness at the Malmaison

10 August, 2011 2 comments

this is a rather stream-of-consciousness report based on my experience of the last 7 hours. apologies for the lack of critical thinking or reflection (or proper punctuation). more of that tomorrow, perhaps.

It’s like looking through reflective glass onto a different world – only it isn’t… it is clear glass and the policeman on the other side of the glass is looking at me with a face that says “for god’s sake, man, what are you doing – get away from the glass and let us get on with the job”. so I do.

There’s a woman in a decollete little black dress and high heals. The fake tan is too much but she’s giving it everything and her date is in awe of the glamour, but it takes just a moment of standing out on the pavement looking for a taxi to realise that they’re not going anywhere this evening… that they’ll be better to head back inside and get a drink.
The Malmaison staff were excellent. keeping a lid on things. behaving as normal. still serving the steak tartare, still taking the orders and taking the soup off the list because it wasn’t to sir’s liking. but there was an underlying tension. the assistant manager had a cool, calm, jovial face. right up to the point where she said “gentlemen, are you staying in the hotel tonight? well then I suggest that you go to your rooms. They’ve just smashed up the Mint Hotel round the corner and they’re coming this way”. We took her advice.

Little Black Dress and her date are oblivious… they’re virtually sitting in the middle of the foyer, locked together by mouth.

Fourth floor viewpoint

But we stopped off on the 4th floor by the lifts to look out over the front of the hotel. Every now and then a group of young men would saunter by. swaggering. confident. cocky. and clearly cold because their hoods are all up. This, I reflected, was the best moment of their young lives – or at least it looked like it was – they owned the streets. maybe this is the only time they’ve owned the city – felt like it was their’s – dominated.

A young, female, mancunian colleague tweets: “@richardayers There are gangs running round here with axes and hockeysticks”. I suddenly feel like sitting and watching it from a fourth floor window is like watching a roman games. I’m a bit embarrassed. I worry about those of us who have spectated – on tv, in person – and how much that builds the desire for these idiots to act. I worry about my colleague. To be clear, I’ve got nothing to worry about – it’s the people who live here, the people whose community is getting smashed up for no good reason who’ve got the trouble.
The two security guards from the Mal stand outside on the street – looking at the groups that walk by. Doing nothing but looking. nervously.

We started at the stadium

At the start of the evening we’d been in the office. It was 6.30 and I was settling in for another evening’s work at City@Home. But the call came from the police and quickly the word spread … “Police advise that we leave the building. They say that there’s been trouble in the centre of town and they’ve blocked it off so the gangs will be heading this way. The Mercedes showroom have removed all the cars from their forecourt and we should just leave now”.

Now, I’ve spent the last 3 days living in a quiet part of Islington – just a mile or two from the centre of the riots in London… and i’ve left my wife, baby and friends down there… and I remember the IRA bombing campaign in the 80s… and I remember the 7/7 bombings and the t-shirt that had a london underground sign with the station name as ‘Still not scared’. So I’m more annoyed than scared. I had a lot of work to do. But it’s sensible to leave and there’s a lift on offer, so I give myself over to the general mood and head out.

Mr Portugal, Mr New York and myself are all dropped off near the Malmaison which is our home for the evening. On our way walking there we come across groups of teens. Sweet looking, non-hoodie wearing, kids. You can tell there’s an excitement. As we pass, I hear one girl say to another ‘you’ve got to be here – just to see it – haven’t you. you’ve just got to, to see what’s going to happen’.

As we came round to the front of the hotel, it was an odd sight. A main street quietened. Police in a line at either end. Some strewn rubbish up the road. A smashed bus stop. The ‘gang’ – or do we call them criminals? ‘horde’? – had just been through. Police were directing us down other roads – but “not through here, sir”.  I can only think to say to the young PC “thanks for all you’re doing. I don’t mean to be patronising, but carry on the good work.” “thank you sir,” he says “enjoy your evening”.

As we stood looking at the officers and the debris, 4 kids cycled into the area on street-versions of mountain-bikes. All 4 between 17 and 20 years old, dark clothing, two of (I’m guessing of course) Somali descent, two with blackberries in hand as they were riding. Nothing unusual so far. What *was* unusual is that they cycled up to where the police stood, circled around, then over to where the debris was, circled around again, then back to where they entered the street and circled once more – checking, looking, assessing, chatting between them… and then there was a decision to move on and they accelerated off back down the side-street where they’d come from.  Now I’m all for encouraging pedal power – and normally I’d say it’s good for the environment – but there was something oddly threatening as these kids were scoping what was going on. It’s all too tempting to get drawn into dramatic analogies, but the movement on the bikes had a sweeping, stealthy and threatening grace to it… it felt like a 4 hawks swooping to check out a field. “Why don’t the police just arrest them?” my colleague asks – and we hear from the hotel assistant manager that the police *have* been taking suspicious people off the streets earlier in the evening, but nonetheless I answer, “What are they going to arrest them for? Cycling with intent?”.

The American I’m with just can’t get over what’s going on. He’s been in the country for 5 days – literally – and it’s blowing his mind. Several times he says “but this just wouldn’t happen in the states. we’d have the navy seals on the street”. I don’t think you would – but i get the point. “we’d have the army. this would have been stamped out right away. what’s stopping the police sorting it out?” His disbelief is palpable, and perhaps even endearing. I try to explain that we have a tradition of not calling the army onto the streets – and caveat that Northern Ireland isn’t a good example. I try to explain that our police often take a more steady approach – intervene if there’s something life-threatening, but otherwise, let it settle of its own accord… and then use the unparalleled cctv coverage in our country to make sure that the right people are prosecuted.

“What caused this?” he asks again and again. … and I don’t have a better answer than, ‘it’s complicated’. Socio-economic reasons – kids frustrations- underclass – disenchantment – criminality – yobbery… even just plain ‘doing it for the hell of it’ – like the tweet that said “It’s like grand theft auto” ..these are all too complex answers and the combination of them and others make it even less fathomable.

I came up to Manchester this morning and tweeted “feels odd to leave my city in the wake of the riots and to be heading to calm Manchester”. Not calm any more. But Little Black Dress and White T-shirt Man don’t care. They’ve taken the blitz-spirit to heart and head to bed. Love, or something, conquers all.
For most of our meal we didn’t really notice the riots outside our hotel. We were talking business, putting the company to rights, ordering the burger and thinking about where my Portuguese and American colleague should live. Sadly, this madness interjects. What a welcome to our country.

FA Cup Final day

15 May, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

What a day.

Everyone from MCFC is exhausted. The build-up has been unbelievable (as Micah Richards would say – it’s his only adjective) and then you add the adrenalin, the pressure, the happiness… and I don’t really think it’s sunk in for them all.

When I left the Mandarin Oriental at midnight, there were a smattering of stragglers, but the majority of the party had made its way to bed. No hijinks, no madness, none of the high-rolling scandal the papers might talk about. This was a bunch of people who are knackered and genuinely over-wraught.

As one said to me, her first game was in 1977, when she was 6, and the last win had been 1976… so it’s been all her life – all of it – that she’s been waiting for this moment. The emotion was palpable. Several times people talked me through how it felt and nearly came to tears. Bless him, but the match-day operations director has, in the last 10 days, become a father again, seen the club he’s worked for for 14 years reach the qualification stage of the Champions’ League… and now win the FA Cup. Remarkable.

The digital media team have done me proud as well. 16 pieces on video which will make more than that by the time we’ve edited and divided it into chunks, text stories, picture galleries, fan reaction, twitter commentary, Match Day Centre live coverage,…

One of our guys has followed the cup all the back to Manchester on the train.

We had 20 minutes IN THE CHANGING ROOM! which is unheard of and will be great viewing.

And, as Garry Cook said in his emotional, inspirational speech – it’s just the beginning of more great things to come…

Make yourself redundant, it’ll be a good thing

9 May, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

It’s Friday afternoon. The page has been prepared, it’s live on the web, only no-one knows it’s there.

Maybe I could just quietly leave it there for a while, unpublicised, and no-one would ever see it… then I could go on working here, having a fine time, and I’d never get replaced. Hold on… that’s not the plan. So I write the tweet and hit send.

“This is a very good job. Really. I should know, I’ve been doing it for 6 mths. You want it? http://bit.ly/kOuV1W #jobs”

<gulp> The I go to linkedin and do the same. <gulp> There’s no going back. I’m making yourself redundant.

And…. breathe.

Once, twice, three times redundant…

Making yourself redundant is a bizarre experience. Even though each time it has been part of my plan, it’s always weird.

I’m not talking about the “looking for a payout” redundancy that The Idler so deftly advises, nor the “I’m a Director, how can I make myself redundant” advice that’s needed for financial and legal reasons when you’re shutting down or selling a company.

No, I’m talking about when you make the “Right” move because it’s right for the business… and because you’ve done your work, delivered what you planned, and now need to take a step backward.

At Magic Lantern Productions we decided to restructure the company and as the MD I was in the odd position of planning to reduce headcount – including getting rid of my own position. Felt odd, and (of course) it was a move full of concern for my financial future – but without a doubt it was the right thing to do for the business.

At Trinity Mirror, I was the first Web Publishing Director in Regionals… so on an interim role to see if it worked, set up the strategy, be an agent of change, get things going… and then hand over to someone so they could run it full-time. It was supposed to be for 6 months and ended up being for 20.

And now, at the wonderful Manchester City FC I am going through it again. City is at a wonderful point in its digital growth and the job is, quite genuinely, the best I’ve ever had… good people, clear decision making/focus/audience/subject matter, passion and a load of good business to do around the club. What’s not to like? Only one thing… I think you need to be in Manchester and run full-pelt at this stage in the company’s growth. And I’m going to become a father in London very (very!) shortly… so I don’t want to be spend nights a week away from all that. (or maybe I’m mad and it would be the perfect way to get some sleep…hmmm..)

Let go, be happy (and effective)

Management books often say you should aim to make yourself redundant – and it’s often credited to Henry Ford – but whoever said it, I believe in the epithet. It means you train people to do what needs doing better than you can do it as part of your role. It means you hire people who are brighter than you and work hard to make their work easier. It means you set yourself free to look upward and outward and to spot the next new, exciting thing to work on.

As Bre Pettis of MakerBot said to me the other day:

“If I spend more than an hour a day on it, then it should be someone’s full-time job. So I go get someone.”

Of course, the downside is that you have to be live through the insecurity and the network’s reaction.

Friday evening saw a deluge of tweets, emails and texts from people saying “so, you’ve decided to move on? why? what’s wrong?” or “Why aren’t you doing it, if it’s so good?”. It’s easy to see how people get the wrong end of the stick. Which is why I thought it would be a good idea to write this up. Although I hope to stay involved with City from a distance, I don’t have the next (non-parenting) project lined up. I have no doubt that I’ve done the right thing (again) but that doesn’t stop me being jealous, already, of the person who gets the job.

10 years experience – too much?

Speaking of which, let me give a little context on why I’m asking for 10 year of experience in the role profile. City’s inestimable HR director asked the question :

“Why is it so important to have 10 years experience… with technology moving so fast, does it really matter?”

To which I answered:

10 years is important because …
1) everyone claims more experience than they actually have – so if we set the bar at 10, then people with 5 will still apply but also, much more importantly,
2) ten years ago the .com bubble burst… so what i’m asking for is people who were around *before*. Why? The people who were involved in the first wave of growth of new technology then had to live through and deal with the aftermath of over-excitement. they were the ones who learnt to adapt and be flexible with creativity, technology, commerciality. the people who came later didn’t learn those skills of adapting which are so key to the stage this business is in.
3) Ideally we want someone who has similar skills and experience as I had 5 years ago… and I’ve been doing this 16 years, so 10 is about right.

You’re right, the technology changes fast. But that’s why it’s essential you get someone who has long and hard-won experience of driving a business while dealing with / adapting to change.  It’s not that there aren’t good people out there who have 5 years experience – it’s just that there are lots of charlatans and I wanted to set the bar high.

If you’re applying for this role, thank you and good luck.

Full role profile and job application details here: www.mcfc.co.uk/joinus

In case you arrived at this page looking for some good advice on redundancy, then here are some useful links:

HMRC Advice on redundancy

In-Business.co.uk: How do I make myself redundant

Phil Gyford’s excellent guide to being a freelancer

Employment lawyers I can highly recommend: Audrey Onwukwe at Levenes (UK, London and Birmingham offices)

%d bloggers like this: