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Is this what working in the music industry felt like in 2003?

Richard Ayers has been selling the future for most of his adult life, since he was the only nerd in the Radio 4 Today studio, teaching John Humphries to read the show’s website address out loud (Humphries refused to say ‘slash’ on air, preferring ‘BBC oblique Radio4’).

Today Richard runs Seven League, now part of the Mailman Group OUR PODCAST WITH RICHARD IS HERE. And like all good consultants, he's pressing a fear button, to provoke a response that frames him and his company as the solution. I get it, and all power to him, if I was a digital consultant I’d be shouting ‘fire’ too, at every opportunity. 

Richard Ayers is the one with the beard.

In reality, if I’m honest, I’ve no real idea whether this is a valid position or just another Y2K millennium bug panic whipped up by those with most to gain. 

(Btw, I recommend this piece on the music industry’s digital recovery by Andrew Harrison in The New Statesman, which has a killer first sentence: ‘Something is always killing music’

At every conference, sports rights holders are warned that they're sleepwalking to irrelevance. 

This is usually framed as a race against the clock. But it’s not a horse race or the 100 metres, where there’s a small gap between competitors, each straining to get over the finish line. It’s probably more like the London Marathon, a huge disparate group spread out over a punishingly long course, each running their own race in their own time, against a small group of other runners each with their own agenda.

There’ll be the Kenyans at the front and the bloke in the deep sea diving suit at the back and everyone else in small, discrete clusters in between.

There’s probably no finish line. Or at least the finish line is different for different organisations. Some will get close to Valhalla, while others will settle for something less ambitious, a compromise position that doesn’t break them en route.

But just below the surface of the conversation are some deeper themes I’m keen to mine via our podcasts. I’m most interested in what it means for the people who work in the industry. 

First, there’s the psychology of it all. This subject is fundamentally about change, which we tend to find hard, despite the childish excitement that gets connected to the word ‘disruption’. 

This leads to questions about personal incentives, a topic referenced by Richard in the pod. There are many people in the sports biz eco-system whose livelihoods depend on maintaining the status quo, which has sustained a very good living for their whole adult lives. Do you expect them to champion digital pivots anytime soon? What’s in it for them?

Won’t anyone think of the children

A few weeks ago, I looked across the exhibition hall at Leaders, and wondered what the next ten years meant for the people in the room, particularly those of around 25-35 years old. All those bright young things who are ‘passionate about sport’ and have a CV full of generalist marketing experience, but who lack the really deep expertise that will define sport’s next phase: stuff like econometrics, AI, robotics or data science. 

The forty and fifty somethings in senior positions today might be able to see a way of hanging around for ten years; just by being the boss, putting layers of management and obfuscation between themselves and the work of moving from B2B to D2C, much of which they will not fully understand. 

But it’s the ones below them where the greatest pain will be felt. They're the ones who’ll suffer the biggest shocks to their expected career paths. And is anyone telling them?

Summary: winter’s coming and we’re all going to perish - have a lovely weekend.

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