SGP Supremo Steve Gould – most successful EVER BSI Speedway CEO – suddenly departs without ceremony & traditional speedway airhorn salute
SO “farewell” to yet another pathologically dull BSI Chief Executive we barely got to know or notice. Without fanfare or a ceremonial speedway airhorn farewell salute, Steve Gould has suddenly left his job leading the Speedway Grand Prix series barely nine or so months after he joined to replace Torben Olsen. For a long time now there has been more drama and excitement served up in the Chiswick offices of the SGP rights holders BSI than there has been out on the track. It is in Chiswick that BSI boffins invented the miracle of timed qualifiers; crossed the defunct World Pairs competition with It’s a Knockout to create the ridiculously unpopular Speedway of Nations competition; presided over an ongoing but catastrophic collapse in television audiences worldwide and also established a roster of prolix social media channels that contractually can’t show the very SGP & SoN speedway races for which they exclusively hold the rights.
To lose one CEO could be an accident but to lose two CEO’s in under a year looks positively criminally careless. Especially when Steve ‘London 2012 Olympics’ Gould had been brought in to sprinkle “some stardust over the Grand Prix series”. It definitely reveals more than the Lifetime Achievement Trophy for Services to World Championship Speedway Royalties presented in Torun last October (2019) by the FIM – in recognition of BSI’s payments of over £24,937,515 to the FIM – that sits on his office bookshelf does about the man who hand-picked them both – BSI’s very own Very Senior Vice-President of their innovative but acclaimed Caravans, Trailers & Motorsports Division: Paul Bellamy. Having risen without trace himself, Bellamy is unafraid to appoint chief executives in his own image and is especially drawn to those also prone to get high on their own supply.
And yet, though bracingly anonymous, arguably Mr. Gould is the most successful EVER chief executive at BSI having been informally brought in to initiate a massive but top secret face-saving cost-cutting campaign. Though publicly Gould appeared hopelessly out of his depth; less charismatic than his predecessors Bellamy and Olsen (quite an achievement!); blithely ignorant of the basics of speedway; barely able to read simple pre-prepared anodyne interview soundbites nor able to master the basics of SGP product proposition on offer. In reality, this serial incompetence was a smokescreen that enabled Gould to fly beneath the radar to mastermind his thrillingly inept – and ultimately comprehensively losing – bid for the exclusive rights for the SGP series for 2022-2031. Rather than just fail to declare interest at the outset and suffer severe loss of sports rights agency status and market share, on behalf of parent company IMG BSI’s Gould assembled a brilliantly plausible bid deliberately designed to go ultimately down in a blaze of meh and ‘was that it?’ reaction at the FIM. While a proven track record of failing to execute on their own strategic plans, BSI should have been excluded from the get go but, instead, assembled a masterly bid of such pitiful scale and ambition that it massively drove up the contract bid price of their rivals Eurosport/Discovery Channel to eye-watering almost criminally expensive levels.
Having had twenty years of marking their own strategic plan homework and failing on every key performance metric they set themselves (except when erroneously reported upon by their hand-selected compromised but embedded media boosters) – whether it is capital city centre big stadia venues; big brand name sponsors and commercial break advertisers; global recognition for the sport and its riders; deluxe toilets; burgeoning worldwide television audiences on terrestrial stations – looked at coldly BSI were never going to win any sensibly run bid auction-cum-beauty-contest.
Indeed, BSI Speedway Ltd have so bastardised and devalued speedway in general but also the speedway world championships in particular for sponsors, advertisers and television companies alike that – even before Co-Vid 19 hove into view on the distant horizon – the SGPs survival to the end of this decade in anything approaching its current massively declining format looked seriously unlikely. Doubly so, if ever the present Polish Ekstraliga pipeline of riches that in reality underpins its business model ever begins to financially falter. Unless BSI could get their laughably unfulfilled strategic ambitions from two decades back re-presented as new initiatives and their bid contents presented with a straight face as if meant to be taken seriously by the speedway CEO equivalent of Forrest Gump, then their continued incumbency at the SGP seemed highly likely to ruin both company profitability and whatever remaining vestiges of credibility IMG have in Motorsports if their bid was – despite decades of virtuoso bungling – accidentally successful.
With Olympic Steve ‘Mystery Man’ Gould flying blind at the helm and Bellamy talking drivel while backseat driving, BSI’s covert guaranteed failure mission got accomplished with flying colours. Sadly, despite saving BSI an estimated of £25m in costs over the duration of the next FIM contract and another c.£30m of royalty payments also due from the eventual victor to further swell FIM coffers over the 2022-2031 period, Gould still left BSI by mutual agreement barely minutes after he had been hand-picked and anointed by Paul Bellamy. Once BSI’s traditionally flimsy back office structures and shocking customer experience kicked back in with a vengeance – plus general managerial ineptitude got further cruelly exposed by the virus – Bellamy urgently had to find a sacrificial victim to avoid any blame or any further stains upon an already distressed and severely stained leadership career at the SGP well-known for its broken promises and bungles. The virus continues to see Bellamy caught in the headlights of his trademark executive indecision and stymied like a dying goldfish gasping for air outside its suddenly broken bowl. Indeed, while CoVid continues, seemingly at random it also (slowly) forces BSI Speedway into the delay and/or belated cancellation (at glacial speed) of its various scheduled 2020 SGP series events. These cancellations now include the Cardiff British Speedway Grand Prix cash-cow upon which the whole BSI SGP house of cards ultimately depends for its meaning and profitability.
When the history of the BSI era SGP circus gets written and the World Speedway Truth and Reconciliation Commission identifies and sentences the guilty parties who knowingly ruined British and Swedish Speedway, grateful hosannas will ring forth for Gould along with chants of “Gould. Always believe in your soul. Gould.” Or the more prosaic, “There’s only one Steve Gould! Stevie, Stevie, Stevie Gould”. The name of this soon-to-be hallowed man of integrity – who almost single-handedly managed to save the bare decaying husk of what is left of speedway after the ministrations and nightmare-curse-cum-fever-dreams inflicted upon it by BSI via their barely transmissible and, ultimately, supremely missable de-invigorated SGP world championship series – will live on in glory forever after.
When all is said and done, we are left with brief but glittering memories of Steve Gould walking briefly amongst us. Who, amongst those lucky enough to read it – can really forget Gould launching himself on the unsuspecting SGP world with an all-holds-barred no-depth interview with Paul Burbidge in the pages of the Speedway Star? Or, indeed, how he so pointedly and magnificently called out its culture by parading around the SGP pits with his flies undone throughout? Some sniggered, while others recognised it as the deliberate searing rebuke of BSI management it really was.
There are so many (copyright: Speedway Star) interview Gould-Burbidge highlights they should be published as a book. Meantime here are some of the timeless insights and gems this brilliant masterclass from Steve Gould in shape-shifter magician level mis-direction threw up:
Gould insists BSI Speedway is working hard to expand the sport’s horizons beyond its traditional heartlands in the UK, central Europe and Scandinavia. He said: “Taking the sport to new countries such as Russia is what we’re all about. We are looking to broaden the horizons of the incredible sport speedway already is and take it into new markets where we can showcase our amazing riders and the incredible stories they have to tell. I am a firm believer that the product is a fantastic one in terms of the action on the track. It’s then a case of how we tell the story of that product. You only have to go to Poland [Gould had yet to go there as BSI CEO when this Burbo interview was conducted] and experience the fervent passion and nature of those fans to understand what the potential of the sport could be. That’s not to say we could perhaps achieve that level of fandom across several markets. But that gives me confidence that the product is good enough to take to new markets.”…
Asked if he was confident he could take the SGP series outside Europe, Gould replied: “We are confident we will do that. I wouldn’t put a timeframe on that. But we are always open and very keen to take the series outside Europe. We will engage in any conversations we can to take it back to Oceania or even to the States potentially one day.”…
The [IMG] business is keen to keep speedway within its vast portfolio of sports, which features everything from tiddlywinks, tennis and golf to World Rallycross and UFC, and Gould believes the [SGP] series can continue to flourish under BSI’s leadership. He said: “I think BSI has proved over the years what we can do. I know the FIM has great confidence in BSI Speedway. There’s a strong desire to continue to promote speedway and take the sport to the next level over the next 10 years. We really believe in the sport and we have taken it from where it was back in 2007 when we acquired the rights to where it is now. BSI has raised the bar within the sport in so many different ways, taking it to several new markets, increasing safety for the riders, introducing technological innovations, or continuously developing the production of the events. Also important is that we have brought the sport to new audiences through digital and social media. The list goes on and on, and that constant pursuit of improvement is really what convinced me this was the place for me.”…
But (no-one ever seriously asks), who next will get chosen as sufficiently independent minded enough to take Paul Bellamy as seriously as he takes himself? In the final dying season and half of the BSI era of “global speedway” (that barely left Europe), whoever it is won’t even half fill Steve Gould’s bargain basement shoes. If they are stand out, they definitely must be unafraid to lead from the front but not parade about with their flies open – the BSI equivalent of a Freemasonry Handshake – in obscure SGP locations. Nothing less than a Chief Executive with the talent, drive and skill to work the long hours required to pretend to want to discover new concepts, fans and sponsors while embracing the challenge of closely mentoring staff is needed to carry on the stunning speedway world championships legacy of Messrs. Postlethwaite, Bellamy, Olsen and Gould.