Before their final fixture of an incredibly successful 2016, we caught up with Leicester Riders’ Chairman, Kevin Routledge. A Rider since 1974, Kevin has overseen the development and transformation of the Leicestershire based franchise.
Kevin has built a wealth of experience, over the years, having turned his hand to a variety of roles for the club: “After my playing days finished, I sort of just stuck around! I moved across to help on the administrational side of operations and pretty much helped out wherever it was needed and I tried to lend a hand in any way I could: marketing, radio, newspapers, commentating… always prepared to turn my hand to anything that needed work.”
As well as oversight of the Riders, I took on the role of Chairman of the BBL from 1988-2002, the longest tenure to date, so I’ve always tried to put the effort wherever it was required into something I’m hugely passionate about.”
No club, however, is built on one person. We’ve been lucky enough to have exceptional volunteers, partners, sponsors and supporters along the way: some of whom have been with us for decades. We all share a common passion and it’s that bond that has allowed the club to establish the foundations you see today.”
Having recently commissioned, sourced the funding, managed the construction and moved into the Leicester Arena, the club now have a home to match their lofty ambitions.
“The new venue has been a game changer. Once people know where you live and understand that you’re in it for the long haul you can start to build greater trust and long term loyalty. We’ve got a great facility, in a fantastic location. I can’t underestimate the importance of a club having access to its own facility. In terms of what you’re able to accomplish, it’s critical. Being able to host games, train and run junior sessions under the same roof helps build a real sense of community and ownership: we’re all one big family.”
On game nights we can offer a variety of corporate deals, to supplement our usual fan experience. We can also keep the tills ticking over during the offseason by opening our doors to other events. It means we don’t have to rely on ticket, sponsorship and merchandise sales as our only source of income. In many ways, this allows us to focus on putting out a better product for our supporters.”
The support we’ve received from the council, throughout the venue build, has been critical. That’s the way it should be, everyone working together for the betterment of the community.”
The Club is also focussed on giving to the community: “We’re heavily involved in community schemes and youth programmes, across the region. We also work alongside other professional clubs like Leicester City Football Club, the Tigers RFC and Leicestershire County Cricket Club and work hand-in-hand with local media. All these factors add tremendous amounts of credibility and contribute to us being able to be a critical part of the Leicestershire sporting infrastructure.”
A vital aspect of the club’s community outreach portfolio is its successful social media presence. “We work of course very hard with traditional media, and our relationship with local media is perhaps one of the strongest in the league, but we’re making huge strides to increase our social media presence. Joe [Pinchin] is doing great work producing innovative content. It allows the club to remain relevant, engage meaningfully with our fans and adds real value to the league. It can be very difficult to cut through the digital noise, but Joe is great at getting our message out there.”
We strive to showcase the club in its entirety, as the BBL team is only one exit route of our extensive pathway. The Women’s team are doing very well in the WBBL, our Loughborough programme is thriving and our juniors at Charnwood have enjoyed excellent success in recent years.
It’s really important we recognise our entire club’s success, across all the pathways. The strength of our boys and girls youth programmes is something the club pride itself on and as such we’ll continue to give it as big a platform as possible.”
The club, along with the league, have experienced a recent upsurge in coverage as a result of a TV deal that sees games stream lived on the BBC Sport website, and via the Perform Group. Kevin is keen the Riders, as well as the league, capitalise on the spotlight. “As much as possible our focus is on promotion of the games and playing in front of full houses. We need to ensure matches are promoted better and people are aware of where they can watch them.”
You can’t legislate for the quality of game on any given night, but you can certainly control everything else to best showcase the club and sport in front of the cameras.”
We’re delighted with the BBC deal; they bring in great numbers and a real sense of credibility. They’ve put in a huge amount of effort and we’re only scratching the surface of where the deal could progress in future years.”
Increased media coverage is only one of Leicester’s goals; European ambitions still whet the appetite of the club. While as keen as anyone to see the club progress and take on Europe’s best, Kevin is caution on when this could become a reality. “It’s a huge step and puts an incredible demand on a club: increased financial commitments, additional administration and a higher level of competition… we’ve all seen the clubs in the past who’ve not been able to sustain it.”
Of course, Europe is where we’d like to be, but we need to ensure we’re in a position where we could sustain European competition year after year.”
To do that you have to get all the building blocks in place. We’re working on it, but we’ve got some ways to go yet. You only have to look at Leicester City, with all the resources at their disposal, as to the effects European competition can have on a club’s domestic competitiveness. It’s a good lesson for all of us.”
A strong foundation and a consistent approach are important in Kevin’s view to Leicester’s recent success. “Stability is hugely important, not only to establish a culture and build a rapport with the fans but also win games. At the end of the day, it’s the results that matter and clubs like us and Newcastle have shown that consistency of personnel can lead to sustained on-court success. Both clubs have great coaches that they have remained loyal to. And the clubs have kept a core group of players together over a period of years. Moving forward, I expected more clubs to follow that blueprint.”
We want people to know what the club is all about and we don’t want to be in a position, each offseason, where we’re continuously looking to recruit an entirely new roster. Creating a sustainable culture is of the highest priority. We want all our players and coaches to grow, thrive, achieve on the highest stage and leave a legacy at the club.”
Image: Jack Osmond