EventScotland chief: We need to ‘take risks’ to remain global player

Dan Purvis of Team GB at the World Gymnastics in Glasgow. Picture: SNS Group
Dan Purvis of Team GB at the World Gymnastics in Glasgow. Picture: SNS Group
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HE HAS been at the heart of efforts to bring some of the world’s biggest sporting and cultural extravaganzas to Scotland – now the country’s events supremo is warning that Scotland must take more risks in future if it is remain a key global player.

Paul Bush, who has spearheaded the EventScotland agency for the last decade, has warned “more of the same is not an option” following a decade which saw the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games, the MTV Europe Music Awards and The Turner Prize lured to Scotland.

He wants to see Scotland pursue joint bids for the football and rugby world cuts, “mass participation” events for thousands of cyclists and runners, new festivals drawing on the nation’s cultural identity and heritage.

New extreme sports and adventure tourism events will be encouraged under a strategy to develop an industry already worth an estimated £3.5 billion.

The 10-year plan is trigger a new push to attract events which appeal to older people, women and families, and the encouragement of month-long cultural celebrations.

Mr Bush said the industry needed to grapple with the impact of new technology, which is allowing huge numbers of people to watch entire events on their mobile phone, and the growing impact of pay-per-view television, which meant certain events are “virtually impossible for average punters to attend.”

Speaking ahead of a national events conference on Thursday, he said Scotland would “disappear” off the global radar if it failed to take risks, adopt an aggressive approach to international bids and innovate over new events.

Mr Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: “More of the same is simply not an option for Scotland. We can’t keep getting the same signature events. It is simply not sustainable. We’ve got to constantly challenge and reinvent ourselves.

“If you look at Scotland over the last 10 years we have probably had more events than any other nation in the world of a similar size and scale. It’s a period of great challenge and innovation, and a period where we’ve got to take more risks. It is going to be about finding different angles, being smarter in the way we work in partnership and sweating our assets better.”

Mr Bush has helped secure major events like the recent World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, the European Sports Championships, which will be held across Scotland in 2018 and the Solheim Cup tournament, which will see the world’s top female golfers descend on Gleneagles in 2019.

He added: “There are some events we’d never bid for. Hosting the Olympics is a romantic dream. But there’s an opportunity to partner with other cities and countries for some of the mega stuff, such as the football and rugby World Cups which could be held in a UK context.

“We have to change our whole thought process around sport and look at more mass participation events, like the Prudential Ride, which sees tens of thousands of cyclists going through cenral London. Can Scotland have something as big as that?

“We’ll also need more events for older people, women and families if we are to attract new commercial sponsors.

“Adventure sport is also a huge area which is probably untapped in Scotland - getting people in to do these wild and wacky things.”

Mr Bush the growing trend for cultural events to be live streamed posed a major challenge for events like the Edinburgh Festival ahead of its 70th anniversary in 2017, but he there was also the potential risk of major sporting events being staged without an audience in future.

He told The Scotsman: “If the experience and the entertainment is strong enough people will still want to see it live, but there is a risk that we consume everything on our mobile phones in future and it endangers something like the Edinburgh Festival.

“You could get to a point where events are only streamed and you don’t actually have live audiences.

“Sport is already getting to a point where, if we’re not careful, it will be totally pay-per-view because BBC and ITV cannot get the rights. It will then be a case of ‘Why do you need to go to the event? Why would you pay twice?’

“There is a real challenge for rights holders, particularly for sports that are on pay-per-view TV, as the price-point becomes more expensive. They are making access to the events virtually impossible for the average punter.

“Look at the price of tickets for the recent Rugby World Cup. You were talking hundreds of pounds because of the rights fees that had to be paid to secure the event.”

The new 10-year strategy for the Scottish events industry calls for the development of a core which are “unique to Scotland and are embedded in Scottish culture.”

Scottish culture and heritage, including ancestry, education, architecture, innovation and literature - are described as “a valuable resource” that can help the country both attract and develop events.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds were ploughed into new cultural festivals staged to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, but both were dogged by controversy over poor ticket sales and the cost to the public purse.

Mr Bush said: “When you go abroad, as soon as you say you’re from Scotland, everyone loves you. There are a few reasons for that.

“One is diaspora, because there are so many Scots around the world. But there is also a fantastic empathy and affinity with the Scots and what they stand for as people - they are warm and welcoming.

“When we were bidding for the World Gymnastics Championships we were up against the United States and France. The bid was technically very sound and financially robust, but there were simple things that won it - kilts, bagpipes and whisky. They are unbelievable unique selling points that no-one else in the world has.

“We’ve got to balance the contemporary with our history. There’s been a bit of a push to throw out the old, but I think we do that at our peril. Some of our greatest strengths are some of our historical things.

“People want to come to Scotland to see the natural landscapes, they want to meet the people, they want to visit the castles and they want to sample whisky.

“That is so powerful for the country - we should not disregard it. Scotland’s cultural identity and heritage are our great strengths when we are bidding for things.”