Bristol Sport: The blueprint for the future

Bristol City Football Club recorded a famous win in their history on Wednesday night knocking Manchester United out of the league cup to set up a semi-final clash against Manchester City.

One damp Monday in October I was able to spend an afternoon with the Bristol Flyers basketball team, interviewing their coach, captain, star players and watch their training. I learned a lot about the Flyers, their direction for the season and was able to observe how they work. But I learned even more about what enables the Flyers to work and play at this level. I learned about Bristol Sport.

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The Bristol Flyers are just one cog in a city-wide sports machine, under the banner, Bristol Sport. Bristol Sport is owned by billionaire Stephen Lansdown, and it comprises the basketball club, Bristol Rugby, Bristol City, their Academy and Women’s team. Bristol Sport operates like a sports society, akin to something you’d find in Europe with Barcelona (who aside from having a world-beating football club have a strong basketball side, roller hockey and handball teams to name a few) and much of South America (River Plate’s tennis club is quite accomplished and their members have access to an Olympic swimming pool).

Bristol Sport is the blueprint for how sports clubs in the UK can come together, pool resources and facilities across sports and thrive. Bristol Sport is a win-win for fans of multiple sports in their local area as the clubs they support are linked, supporting one another and it makes life cheaper for the fans.

A Bristol Forever membership will cost £21 pounds and last 12 months. The benefits are £5 discount to Rugby and Men’s football fixtures, as well as reductions and additional benefits for the Women and Basketball fixtures.If you are a fan of multiple sports and teams in your local area, then you will make savings throughout the season and throughout a weekend.

But what impact has the Bristol Sports project had on the teams?

Bristol Rugby was relegated last season has been somewhat of a yo-yo club in recent years but currently, sit unbeaten atop the Championship and looking a dead cert for promotion.

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Bristol City Women play in the WSL 1, the highest level of women’s football in the country, competing with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea’s women’s teams after gaining promotion in 2016.

Bristol Flyers play in the top flight of British Basketball having made their way through the English system and achieved a league license as a result of the backing from Bristol Sport. The Flyers are looking into building a purpose-built basketball arena like Leicester have and Newcastle has begun construction on. The Flyers have thrived since joining the BBL and currently sit in the playoff places after a third of the season, and are likely to stay there when it counts.

And what of Bristol City Football Club? They play in the Championship in which they sit third in the table at the halfway point in the year, playing fantastic football. Their social media impact is enviable (and can be pooled with the other Bristol Sport outfits) thanks to their incredible goal GIFs on Twitter, featuring players DJing on plates and ironing their shirts. Last night they won one of the biggest games in the club’s history, making the semi-finals by knocking out the holders Manchester United 2-1 at home thanks to a last-gasp winner from Korey Smith.

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The victory for this Championship club, who work in tandem with a local basketball, rugby and women’s football team over Manchester United, one of the most well-financed clubs in the world backed by one family with one goal, to make money. Manchester United once upon a time had a basketball team of their own and, until the despised Glazers arrived, had a women’s football team.

How much of one football match on a cold night in Bristol can be read into? Of course, much of the praise for this historic giant killing must go down to the players of Bristol City, their manager Lee Johnson and his backroom staff, but where might they be without the greater structure of Bristol Sport?

Bristol Sport was founded back in 2012. Bristol City finished dead last in the Championship and was relegated having won just 11 out of 46 matches. They made it to the third round of the FA Cup and were dumped out of the League cup in the first round. Five years later and City are the talk of the world having won a famous win, one that Stephen Lansdown and his team will be proud of. They meet Manchester City in the next round, with two matches guaranteed against what many pundits are calling the best team in the world.

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This author saw in October that Bristol Sport is one of the potential blueprints for Sport in the UK being sustainable and successful that work for the institutions and the fans. It appears that, for now, we are past the boom/bust period of football which saw the likes of Portsmouth playing in the Premier League and Europa league going into administration and making their way up for the very bottom of the football league. But, we are seeing the chasm between the haves and the have-nots growing year on year, as the rich get richer and to hell with everyone else. Bristol Sport has allowed one of the best basketball clubs in the country take a seat at the top table of the domestic game, has steadied the ship for the city’s rugby club and women’s team and has ushered a boom period for the football club. Bristol City is in the box seat to be in the Premier League next season which would be an incredible payday for the club and a trickle-down benefit to Bristol Sport.

Could this be something that rolls out nationwide? Could it work with a premier league side? Could a Manchester Sport work? Would the Manchester City owners ever be interested in pooling the resources of the Academy and Women’s sides with the Manchester Giants basketball team and the Manchester Storm Ice Hockey team, to enhance and build upon the experiences of fans and to grow the fortunes of other sports clubs in the city?

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The care with which Bristol Sport has been built and operates would be the vital factor in this model of club ownership and links to work. All too often a good, or great, idea is ruined, be it through incompetence, laziness or poor-application of an idea.  It would take dedication and clear planning to succeed, but for a number of struggling clubs and minority sports, it could be a very viable avenue for growth and success, both on and off the fields of play.

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