Tech of a Life Edition 4: Scoring success

Demand for inspirational sport documentaries is on the rise, with different arenas of sport sharing their stories with audiences across the world.

The likes of Drive to Survive which goes behind the scenes of Formula 1, and The Last Dance which follows the rise of Michael Jordan, are captivating millions of viewers– and not just those who are devoted fans.

These shows have got us hooked on the stories of sport. The highs, lows, challenges and successes in equal measure, which are all part of the game – and life. To navigate this flux, athletes and those involved in elite sport from managers to owners often have one big thing in common – a winning mindset and vision that drives them to operate at the top of their game.

Synergies between sport and business have long been compared, particularly in the highly competitive world of property. Here, the owner of Newcastle Eagles basketball club shares his winning formula for why it’s important to have a vision, how to adapt it, and how to set yourself up for success on the road to realising it.

Newcastle Eagles is the most successful professional basketball team in UK history. Over the last 24 years, the team has won an impressive 27 trophies under the ownership of Paul Blake. No stranger to the court, Paul started playing basketball when he was 12 years old, working his way up to National League level, before moving across to the business side of the sport.

Creating a strong
culture within your
business will give
your team the
motivation they need
to work together.

A winning vision – not just shooting hoops and securing sales, you need aggressive defence and hard work

“At any level of sport, I think there is often too much focus on whether you’re recruiting attackers or defenders, although in basketball we use the terms offense and defence. I’ve always had the attitude that defence wins
games, no matter how good you are in offense. To win you need to have strong defence. You don’t need lots of sporting talent to play defence well in our sport either, it’s all in your mental attitude, you need to want it.

“I think there are parallels with business. Offense is the fun bit in business, going on corporate golf days, networking events or launching new services for example. Whereas defence is the hard work – being consistent with your finance, emails, and business strategy. Winning new business isn’t going to be worth much if you aren’t on top of what you’ve already built.

“Another key element of a winning vision for me is hard work. American NBA player Karl Malone said, ‘Every minute you’re not in the gym, I am’. You can’t win anything without hard work. On the basketball court you might be a great point scorer clocking 20 points in a game, but if the man you’re guarding scores more, you’re not working hard enough. Being committed to staying ahead of your competition will keep you and your business sharp.”

Picking the winning team – all about attitude not aptitude

“Winning in sport and business means having the right team of people around you. What is sometimes overlooked though is how much personality matters. We invest a lot of time and energy into making sure we recruit the right personalities for the Eagles. Having all the best technical capabilities isn’t enough if candidates are negative characters. We take a good look at their previous experience to see how they have worked in a team. The difference between a professional and amateur sportsman is not always how technically gifted they are, but their mentality. We have developed a glass half full culture at the Eagles – an ethos that our Head Coach, also the Head Coach for the British Men’s Basketball team, Mark Steutel lives and breathes. I also think this is key for any successful business, as culture is everything.

“To help with finding the right players, we have a group of volunteers who support us with pre-season photos who have said on several occasions they can tell from the way the players behave when they coordinate photo sessions which ones will succeed or fail. They’re often right. It’s all about mental attitude – are they coachable? Do they want to learn? Will they go the extra mile? Will they listen to someone who they see as
not being ‘on their level’ giving instructions? These all offer us clues as to whether they will be part of our winning team and support our vision.

“We are also always looking for people who are in it for the long-game, positive people who want to ‘play for the badge’, and want to make Newcastle their home. We are the best supported club in the league, and we want our players to fall in love with the city as well as the sport – this all plays into a winning mentality. If you have someone in your team who isn’t engaged with the wider vision and instead see their role as a stepping
stone, you don’t get the player trying to win a trophy, you get an individual looking after their own stats. Creating a strong culture within your business will give your team the motivation they need to work together.”

Navigating the journey – stay positive

“I’ve always believed that big goals need breaking down into steps, and still do the same today. In my playing days, my vision for success started with getting on the court in the first place, by being chosen to play the game, tournament then majority of games in the season. It was a process, and I had to work hard at each step. I never got to where I wanted to be in basketball, but back then there wasn’t as clear a pathway as there is today. My love for the sport never faltered though, and I didn’t let this blip in my vision get me down – for long anyway. I adapted and moved over to the business side of the sport, shifting my vision and realising the opportunities ahead.

“Newcastle Eagles encompasses multiple businesses – the club, the foundation, and the arena we play in. Even though I am passionately invested in club games, I am also involved in the day to day running of all three businesses. If we lose a game at the weekend – even though I really struggle to get over losing games – I must find a positive mindset to approach the tasks that need doing for the other businesses on Monday morning. Remaining positive is a key pillar to winning and staying on the path to achieving your vision. As a team after losing a game we focus on everything we’re doing well – we might have lost on points, but we may have sold out all tickets again. A couple of years ago we lost our Coach, Fabulous Flournoy MBE who is now working for Toronto Raptors, so we took a step back and made a lot of changes. We supported each other through this transition period, knowing that change is necessary to grow, and our new Head Coach, Mark is in a positive place and we’re starting to win again. The same applies in business, especially an industry like property where things can change quickly. There are always wins to be found and although it’s important look at how
we can improve, it’s not productive to dwell on the negatives.”

Aim high, then aim higher still – does your vision have a purpose?

“We took on Newcastle Eagles when it was a loss-making business and looked at what we had to do to make it break-even. There weren’t enough young people playing basketball and we knew anyone who plays is likely to come and watch so we got involved in community delivery, built up an audience, and ultimately set up a foundation in 2005. The club was doing okay on court, the foundation started growing, and people started coming to games. We didn’t have our own building then, so we had to pay for venue hire and couldn’t train in the same building. We started the ten-year journey of building our own arena which is now the home of the Eagles. The club is continuing to win in the new venue four years in.

“We now want to run larger events via the foundation which will provide a revenue to support junior basketball training. One of our goals is giving as many young people as possible the opportunity to play the game. We’re now looking at extending the building and on the club side we’ve taken the decision to join a European League. There are always new goals being set, and your vision adjusts. As long as the changes you make have a purpose, you’re on the right path.

Remaining positive is a
key pillar to winning and
staying on the path to
achieving your vision.

Push through failure

“You’ve got to be willing to always pick yourself back up from failure. A lot of businesses fail in the first two years, and some say you have to fail a couple of times before you succeed. We’re all human at the end of the day and make mistakes, take risks, try something new that doesn’t come off. My wife and I could have easily – and nearly did – say this isn’t going to work, but it’s worth recognising that starting out is the hardest bit. We didn’t accept failure and found ways to keep the cash flow coming in. Drive, passion and resilience is what has helped us to achieve everything we have so far– always with a clear vision ahead as to what we were striving for.”

A legacy vision

“I hope the work I’ve done means this team never disappears. Much like football clubs that have been running since the 1880s and other longstanding businesses which naturally go through different ownership and leadership, I hope the Eagles keep doing what they do for hundreds of years. I am just the latest person running the club and will take it as far as I can during my time here.”

Related Insights & Resources