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Minority sports continue to have a major problem when it comes to marketing

AN invitation from the nice people at SSE provided access, last weekend, to the potential for the Top Gear-ification of sport, as tens of thousands flocked to the Hydro to see the three buffoons who present what is apparently the BBC's most successful export.

It is a programme that, in its current ridiculously successful manifestation, provides the perfect demonstration of how a product can be transformed by the right packaging.

Top Gear had been on television for more than a quarter of a century as a fairly standard motoring show when that came about. Staid and solid, as was the BBC way in those days, it was reckoned to have had its heyday and cancelled in 2001, before Jeremy Clarkson came up with a way of revitalising it two years later.

A portly caricature of English sneeriness, a diminutive man-child who remains implausibly credulous and overly excitable in approaching the midway point in his 40s and a lanky ageing hippie have subsequently created a format that appeals to many more than a core audience of car enthusiasts.

I seem relatively rare in neither loving their programme nor hating it. Tuning in to their latest antics tends to be something of a default given the lack of decent options on the box of a Sunday evening, but is eminently missable.

However, I was drawn to their theme for the live show they brought to a magnificent arena which, as a showcase for Scotland's greatest ever sportsman, could take the Davis Cup to a new level for Great Britain - or Scotland - in years to come.

The premise, according to the Top Gear guys - in the city which will host this year's big multisport event, was that the Commonwealth Games will be boring and they were consequently seeking to offer a more exciting alternative, with motorised hurdling, football, curling and charioteering all on show.

Their basic thesis - that conventional sport would always benefit from being motorised - would be exposed as the bunkum they knew it to be just a couple of days later. That came when Tony Fernandes, owner of the Caterham Formula One team, offered a blunt critique of that sport as he threatened to withdraw from it.

"It's no secret people are paying more money to watch football, TV rights are growing, global audiences are growing, so what are they doing right that we're not doing right in Formula One?" he asked.

In truth, hardly a sport in the world, other than football, would not like to be as commercially unsuccessful as Formula One which, like Top Gear and English football, knows how to mix glitz and glamour to put bums on seats.

However, even if it was far from incontrovertible, the Top Gear boys still had a point. In recent weeks and months, I have covered a wide range of sports, from the Rugby League World Cup and World Championship Squash to international athletics, swimming, curling, darts, cricket, golf and bowls, not to mention international rugby union.

In many cases the world's best have been in action in Scotland, some of them homegrown products, yet they have performed in front of tiny audiences. That is down to a combination of how events are sold in advance and, particularly, how they are presented to those who do attend.

There is no doubt that the media is partly to blame, obsessed as it is with, in particular, mediocre football. Yet when it comes to what we collectively categorise as minority sports it is, in this day and age, truly extraordinary how many of them have no idea about ensuring that people know when their major events are happening and the calibre of competitor involved.

That is no criticism of the volunteers who organise many of these competitions. The problem lies with the vast amount of money wasted in employing armies of full-time professionals who would not last five minutes if exposed to the production standards demanded by the executives who produce Top Gear.

Scottish sport is riddled with administrative tamperers who crave power but lack the courage to bring about change when they have it. Added to that are marketeering drudges who lack the imagination to make anything, let alone the best of what they have.

Mostly reliant on state handouts, our national sports agencies and governing bodies are organisations that seem to exemplify what some would deem to be the worst aspects of public-sector thinking as they focus on justification of existence rather than seeking to innovate. That is not to say there have been no encouraging signs.

The commercially run "Duel in the Pool" offered a replicable, pacy match format for international swimming, while finals day at badminton's Scottish Grand Prix was noisy and vibrant at the end of a week which exposed hundreds of schoolchildren to the sport.

Darts was another eye-opener: people paying significant amounts to turn up to a huge barn and watch non-athletes fling missiles at a board on a big screen TV. Promoted by the marketing genius that is Barry Hearn, darts provides proof that any sport can attract much bigger audiences if marketed better.

If that can be done for what is a pub game - albeit a compelling one - we can only imagine what might be achieved for our most gifted and athletic sportspeople if some people who know how to work their way up through the gears could be put into driving seats.

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