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UK Athletics

Official Line

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04 March 2010

Official Line column by Claire Furlong - UKA's Head of Marketing and Communications - as featured in Athletics Weekly Magazine

Last month marked a number of key developments for the way we market and communicate about our sport, with two significant developments that I believe will help with our longer term ambitions to increase the profile and further cement athletics’ position as the number one Olympic and Paralympic sport.

Firstly, launched to great acclaim and given a superb reception by the sell out crowd at last weekend’s Aviva Grand Prix, the Extreme High Jump competition demonstrated the unique talents of our athletes, and how athletics and athleticism is truly the base of all sports.

Pitting the talents of inline skaters and bmx riders against some of the country’s best high jump talent showed how the normal competition formats and structures can be evolved and appeal to new audiences involving different sports, and once in a while removing the shackles and letting athletes show just what they can do in a slightly different setting. I want us to clearly demonstrate to the general public the importance athletics plays in all other sports and Extreme High Jump showed that. Watch this space for the next chapter...will it be Harry AA v Kevin Pieterson between the wickets or Goldie Sayers v Rory Delap in a throwing competition. This isn’t about cheapening athletics, but reinforcing its importance in all sport.

Secondly, in the last few weeks UKA have appointed a social media officer in a joint appointment with England Athletics in order to help use these very unique and effective communications channels to best effect in the approach to 2012.

Recognising that social media is very much part of the landscape in how athletics markets itself in future is key to moving with the times. Years ago such a position might have been unheard of, but then in the same way email and text messaging have revolutionised the way in which everyone communicates, social media is having the same effect, and rewriting the rules of marketing, pr, advertising. You name it, social media has taken a significant foothold in how and what we communicate.

Both areas share key characteristics in that they are very much a product of the 21st century. Both take established formats and tweak until the user gets something new and unique. Both are ground breaking and equally although in smaller numbers both have had people question whether athletics ‘should be doing such a thing’

It is clear to me and many in the sport that athletics has a wonderful opportunity in the approach to 2012. Social media will help us to communicate more effectively with fans/spectators/athletes/coaches building up a following and helping to interact with the increasing audience that will come as part of a Home Games.

Events like extreme high jump widen the scope of what athletics can offer spectators. Exciting new and offbeat ideas sit perfectly alongside the sort of events we saw last weekend in Birmingham with World class fields and record breaking performances. But they also drive home the message that our sport truly is the base of all other sports.

Post 2012 the value of sport will differ in a number of ways than it does now. Exciting, ground breaking and innovative ways of selling the subject will take pole position for a number of different audiences. Athletics’ future can be as bright in a post Olympic era, but embracing new ideas will be key, and last week was another step in securing great opportunities.