When Eagles Dared
Jeff's second book sees him following the Eastbourne Eagles throughout the 2005 season. Despite its focus on the Eagles it covers many topics that will be of interest to all speedway fans. In this short extract he casts a caustic eye over the marketing survey issued by the B.S.P.A.
This season's notorious team of a thousand nationalities arrives at Arlington with yet another new-look squad riding under the Oxford Silver Machine team banner. No one could ever accuse promoter and team manager Nigel 'Waggy' Wagstaff of timidity when he wants to ring the changes to his team. It's an approach that either motivates the riders to fight for their places, or, more likely, they quickly descend into apathetic resignation when things don't quite go right for them. They're definitely only too painfully aware that another change, which probably involves them, will be just round the corner. Not that injuries have exactly helped team stability, but Waggy has shown quite an appetite for what Chairman Mao called "permanent revolution". You can imagine that any really keen Oxford fans would avoid having their favourite rider's name put onto their replica shirts. Well, it would be a safe bet to put McGowan, Hancock, Iversen or Hamill on your back, but apart from them any other rider's name would be too risky to contemplate. If the 1970s fashion of tattooing your admired riders' names on your body were still popular, any Oxford-based tattoo parlour would thrive.
Tonight the Sussex audience will be treated to the chance to watch Kroner (not yet replaced by the Euro), Gustafsson and Tomicek who guests in place of Gafurov. A quick glance in the programme confirms that Steen Jensen, the Eastbourne rider spiritually closest to an honorary Oxford rider, is still "unavailable through illness". What's not inside my programme, although there's still nearly an hour to the start time, is the market research questionnaire that the BSPA are using to survey the British speedway watching public. It's impressive that the BSPA has awoken to the modern reality that potential advertisers and sponsors need to understand the make up and constituency of the traditional speedway audience. Said advertisers and sponsors will definitely want to learn all about speedway's various market segments and stratifications before they'll potentially consider investing any serious amounts of dosh. We continually hear throughout the year of the urgent need for greater cash injections into the sport from local and national sponsors. If this survey will help that process, it deserves praise but unfortunately the utility and efficacy of the results appear to be handicapped by a number of small but significant flaws - specifically, the number of surveys provided as well as the content, structure and methodology of the questions. These problems will inevitably reduce the quality and accuracy of the results.
We all understand that a sample is what it says it is, namely a statistically relevant subset of the total population to be examined from which you can hopefully extrapolate meaningful conclusions. Sadly the majority of the crowd at Arlington arrived too late to get a copy, due to insufficient supplies. Or, it may be the correct number was supplied, who knows, it's all a mystery. We can safely say that if the surveys were only handed to the early arrivals, it would skew the survey towards only capturing data from the really committed supporter (who likes to arrive early, bagsy their favourite spot and leisurely visit the pits prior to the meeting), or those who've travelled the furthest distance and have allowed enough time for their journey to take into account unexpected delays. In fact, as I think about it, these careful journey planners might make ideal respondents. But ironically for a company named on the survey form as 'Influx Marketing', they've gone out of their way to manage to ensure they don't get an influx of completed questionnaires!
These comments aren't solely due to my bitterness at failing to get the chance to win any of the prizes offered, namely the chance to see a "BSPA Shared Event" - who would have any idea what that was unless they were already a speedway fan? Or to have the chance to win tickets to watch some more mysterious sounding events with interesting acronyms such as a "VIP Trip to the PLRC or ELRC" or tickets to a World Cup qualifying round. All of these are attractive enough incentives, if you don't already have your ticket to see the World Team Cup1, if you're already a speedway fan well versed in the casual freemasonry of the sport's terminology. But they're probably not so hot to use if you're not familiar with this aspect of speedway's language.
But then a quick glance at the questions reveals that the authors assume that they'll mostly be preaching to the converted and the chance of casual spectators taking the survey is as likely as the meeting itself being interrupted by a snowstorm. The questions themselves appear to lack little interpretative power beyond the narrow confines of the available answers you could give. Most notably they lack any obvious interpretative or formal grading/scoring system. Like, for example, the ones that you sometimes get when you travel by plane on holiday where you can rank 'the overall quality of the in-flight service' from 'very poor' through various gradations like 'average' to the highly unlikely 'excellent'. Many of these questions suffer from bad syntax, others make rather rigid assumptions that don't include the full range of possible answers or else seem pointlessly intrusive. Some questions manage to combine all three of these potential faults, a remarkable achievement for 20 questions on a double-sided piece of paper.
My favourite part, where the survey betrays its own point of view, were questions about the number of holidays you take per year and where you visit (seaside/Europe/Other parts of Britain/Other Overseas destinations). The question on qualifications ranged from 'None' to betraying the questioner's worldview and possible age by their selection of acronyms. After they ask if you bought the programme, they immediately then assume that you did since they follow up with a question about the programme. This extremely general question was a forlorn attempt to establish the effectiveness of the recognition of the many companies that advertise at that particular meeting ('Do you use the services advertised in the programme?'). This futile masquerade, an attempt to establish the level of brand recognition of advertisers among the attending spectators, but it's a question that I'm sure the promoters would prefer to remain shrouded in mystery; particularly as they will hope that their general reassurances about effectiveness of such adverts satisfies all concerned enquiries. I believe that programme adverts are often reliably ineffective in generating new business, except by sheer serendipity or from those who consciously wish to support their club's local sponsors. Many of the service offerings are uniquely local and extremely specific, so it's difficult to see how much new volume business they could generate.
As I travelled round the country, I've noted that the types of sponsorship and advertisers attracted to speedway vary from the specialist, to the local, to the obscure or unusual. As I casually glance at the Eastbourne programme for this meeting, I realise I do not intend to bet; hire a van; have some printing done; buy a toilet alerter; read The Herald; go to Buddies in Polegate; use an electrician or paint; get insured; record a CD; visit the Transport festival; hire a disco; start a website; fit out an exhibition; move, sweep up or hire a plant. And I've hardly begun to list all the possible services. Though I must say, on a personal note, that I'm delighted all these people sponsor the club and the riders, since we probably wouldn't enjoy the high quality racing that we do get see at Arlington otherwise. In fact, I'd always recommend all of them to my friends should they ever be in need of these services, and I wouldn't hesitate to allow myself to be influenced - consciously or subliminally - by their attractive, informative, and eye-catching space advertising. Marketing is an industry where they inevitably say that 50% of all advertising works: only they don't know which half.
The survey also assumes that none of the spectators at a speedway meeting read the Daily Express, Independent, Metro or Sport. The most surprising omission, in light of the rich historical heritage that it has in its reporting on and in its sponsorship of speedway meetings is the Daily Express! Despite these omissions, at least the compilers did have the imagination to expect both sexes would attend as the survey asked for your Gender, Who you came with, and the number of people in your group. Maybe they hoped to try to send them all on holiday, once they had your name and address as well as your age and income details.
Overall, the questionnaire reeked of amateurism tarted up in a valiant attempt to appear to solicit information in such a way that, on a sunny day with the wind in the right direction, might influence a wavering potential sponsor that the speedway demographic would be ideal for their product. However, they say the number of fish you catch depends on the size of the holes in your net. This net had holes so large, it would struggle to catch a whale. It would have been more fun and only marginally less useful if they had asked more imaginative questions, for example: 'what colour is your goldfish?' 'What was the name of your first school?' 'Should the death penalty be introduced for unfair riding'; 'what is the make, model and mileage of your car?' 'Does your language let you down in important social situations?' or 'Would you consider an evening class in speedway bike maintenance that leads to an internationally recognised qualification?'
I had half a mind to write to Influx Marketing asking for a copy of the results under the Freedom of Information Act to learn the full details of their insight into this season's speedway spectators that this questionnaire generated. Or, once the devil was in me, to write to them to check their full compliance with Data Protection regulations, but decided that life was just too short to bother to do so. After the crowd carefully observes a minute's silence for the passing of John Vincent, Eagles' fan and Chairman of Wealden District Council, the meeting itself began. It was never expected to be that competitive, but terrible luck and sudden injuries quickly had the Oxford side on the ropes. The meeting turned into a busy night for the medical staff. Indeed, it was an evening they'd have been advised to keep the engine running on the ambulance, they had so many stricken riders to remove from the track or to ferry to the local hospital. Mostly it was the Oxford riders who suffered and, by the end of the meeting, it was pretty well the case that anyone who could ride, did ride, for the visitors. Henrik Gustafsson withdrew after a crash in his first race of the evening that caused "his shoulder to pop out" as Kevin 'KC' Coombes delicately described such an excruciating experience. Billy Hamill then withdrew after two rides, as he felt very much "under the weather" from a recent tumble that seriously exacerbated the fragility of his recovery from his early season catalogue of horrendous injuries. This made an already difficult task impossible; Oxford were only able to track one rider in the often the often crucial heat 13 with the match already effectively over at 46-29.
In a meeting that challenged the skill and capabilities of the Oxford team manager and the St. John ambulance team in equal measure, heat 14 capped off quite an evening. The first attempt to run this meeting saw Lubos Tomicek "come together with Davey Watt" according to KC. It was an encounter that resulted in Lubos's immediate withdrawal from the meeting, a decision made easier for his team manager Waggy who told KC, "Lubos was stunned and didn't know where he was!" In the re-run, it appeared that Iversen didn't know where Watt was, when he appeared to spear him with his bike before he then fell heavily himself into the fence on the final corner of the first lap. After an extremely lengthy delay to load him into and take him away in the ambulance to Eastbourne General Hospital, we learnt that Watt had "luckily only suffered shoulder, chest and rib injuries", but otherwise was conscious and in "severe pain". The few riders that were left for Oxford managed to complete the final race of the night as the Eagles ran out easy victors 57-35. In the final analysis, the cost in injuries was high for both sides with Greg Hancock, the only visiting rider to offer any real resistance against a good all-round performance from the Eagles.
16th July Eastbourne v. Oxford (ELB) 57-35
This book is available from www.methanolpress.com
This article was first published on 15th December 2006
"I've read both of Jeff's books and though I slightly prefer Showered in Shale, this one is excellent as well. It's great that someone puts in so much detail about the meetings they attend, we probably all notice the same things that he does but we immediately forget they've happened!"
"That survey seems so typical of the BSPA, a good idea in principle but executed in a ham-fisted manner. Thanks for including Jeff's articles, they're always a good read."
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