As a former project director of The Ryder Cup, Robbie Clyde is a familiar face at the towering waterfront office block in Leith which the national events agency calls home.
A career civil servant, he has been a presence almost since the inception of EventScotland in 2003, with the notable exception of his last post where, among other things, he helped to sell cheese to the French.
Although he stresses this was most certainly not the crowning glory of a comparitively short spell at Scottish Development International (SDI) – where he managed the western European team of the agency responsible for boosting Scotland’s international exports (amidst the uncertainty of Brexit, it should be noted) – it makes for an amusing anecdote and perhaps one that commits itself to memory better than the usual dry economic data.
Clyde, a former national alpine skier, is in relaxed mood as he settles into his new brief as Head of Events at EventScotland. He is just a month into the job and his most immediate priority is to “get to know the team”, some of whom remain from his last stint at the organisation and are working towards the delivery of the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in 2019 – the ladies’ equivalent to The Ryder Cup. Whilst he says his “life was golf” during the nine years of building a team to deliver the 2014 men’s event, he must now burnish his credentials on the arts and cultural festivals side of the equation as well.
Having been exposed at SDI to the cut and thrust of the business world, and the language of jobs, growth and GDP, Clyde opens up by drawing a parallel to what he sees as the potential for events: to generate economic growth.
“It’s no different to what we’re doing here to attract and support events in Scotland, to either bring them in or to help them grow, which in turn allows organisers to hire more people and fill beds in hotels. Ultimately, it all stems from the same basic driver which is economic growth for Scotland.”
I ask whether Clyde considers himself more as a marketer or an administrator. Much of what EventScotland does is to distribute money to lots of existing events and new ones through a variety of funding schemes. I ask because of a recent conversation with an events organiser, whose criticism was that the national agency was not all that imaginative and exists ‘merely to distribute a fund’. The implication was that it needs more skilled marketers, people willing to take risks.
Clyde doesn’t answer the question directly, but he does stress that he would like to be able to give his team freer rein to think more innovatively as the organisation moves forward.
“What I would like to be able to do is to free up some of their time to be able to do that,” he says.
“That means maybe doing things a bit more efficiently; some of our processes could perhaps be a little bit more efficient. I want to see us get better at the things we already do well and to be a platform for the events industry in Scotland to be able to say, ‘right, ok, what can we do?’”
He says: “We want the events industry to be coming to us to say here’s a new idea, here’s a new innovation, or something that’s never been done before. I want to ensure that my team have got the time to be able to sit down and work with that event organiser and go, ‘yeah that’s a fantastic idea, what do we need to do to make this work?’”
There is no doubt that Clyde deserves credit for the way he helped deliver The Ryder Cup in 2014, which is generally viewed as one of, if not the most, successful in the history of the competition. He was an integral cog of a well-oiled national events agency machine that was set up in 2003 on the back of failed bids to secure mega events in the late 90s/early 2000s. Modelled on Australian and New Zealand tourist and event agencies, EventScotland was a deliberate attempt to project Scotland’s name on the international stage as a host for events. Events such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014 were also fruits of that labour.
But where to next is always the burning question in events. Clyde was at Sport Accord – the biggest international trade fair for the international sporting events industry – in Bangkok in April; where Scotland was once a backwater on the international events stage, it is now considered to be one of the world’s leading destination for events, and one that continues to innovate.
This summer , Glasgow will host the first-ever European Championships multi-sport event involving six different sporting federations, and will include cycling, triathlon, and swimming events. Although Glasgow itself – rather than the national agency – is delivering the event, EventScotland has been on hand to assist and advocate. But the important message that has travelled overseas, Clyde insists, is that Scotland is a pioneer, willing to take risks and to lead. And that is something he wants to see more of.
“With our experience in Scotland we’re almost uniquely positioned to be able to think out of the box and not try and think about what mega event is next up for us,” he says. “Why not create or be involved in the creation of different events – we have also got to be thinking of what consumers are looking for, our spectators, our visitors. Again, let’s be careful, it’s not just about sporting events, it’s the same in the world of culture and arts festivals. What are consumers looking for?
“I would say we’re at that stage now where we’ve absolutely achieved where we set out to be 15 years ago, we’re a global leader,” he adds. “Ten or 15 years ago it was, “Scotland, where?” That’s not a question now. The European Championships this summer are being seen by international federations as absolute innovation. They didn’t exist five years ago and Scotland was involved in actively developing and creating this event – it made sense to organisers, broadcasters, federations, and sponsors to not have to compete with one another to find a slot for their championships in summer 2018.”
He says: “More and more governing bodies and federations are looking at variations of that type of model. It’s got to the point now where bidding is almost too challenging. We’ve seen now with the Commonwealth Games – we’ve seen with other world major championships where countries and regions are deciding not to bid because of the real or perceived prohibitive high costs of bidding, only to then lose.”
He adds: “Most European cities and countries have an events agency now and we’re bidding and competing against them. So, now is the time for us to think about how do we innovate, how do we continue to demonstrate our leadership as a major events destination and stay ahead of the pack. For me, that’s where I see my role. Over the course of the next few months, I want to see what we’re doing now and how we develop and grow further.”