Paul Blake

paul blake

Paul has been owner and managing director of Newcastle Eagles Basketball club since August 1999. He chairs the Eagles Community Foundation and is director of the Basketball Foundation and British Basketball League. With a career in sport, Paul has lectured in undergraduate and post graduate Sport Management programmes at Northumbria University. He played a key role at Newcastle United Sporting Club, marketing the newly established Falcons rugby, Eagles basketball and Cobras ice hockey teams, before buying the Eagles in 1999.

We’ve had the same Companies House registration since 1996, that’s something I’m incredibly proud of. In 21 years Newcastle Eagles haven’t folded, we haven’t crashed. We haven’t closed or been re-named. We’ve managed to succeed in a very challenging industry, in a ground breaking space. It’s a real achievement for the club.

If you were to ask my team what sort of a boss I am they might say things like “challenging, supportive, friendly..” But I think a boss should probably be harder? I don’t jump on problems, I prefer to nurture and grow talent. We don’t have a massive turnover of staff, people tend to stay and I like to think I help them grow into role. This isn’t always ideal in the short term, and we could be sharper in many areas, but we’re here for the long haul, and that plays out with the staff too.

While I do take counsel, and ask questions (too many sometimes) I would describe myself as a risk taker. I tend to go for it, and once I’ve made a decision I stick with it and make it work. My partner Sam is more risk averse, which is perfect, I need the balance she brings. I can bounce ideas off her, she refines my thinking and together we arrive at the best way forward.

The work we’re doing here is pioneering. Basketball in the UK now is like football was in 1890. We’ve jumped some hurdles, but we’ve a long way to go to effect the culture change that’s needed to get people talking about basketball as a major sport in this country.

You can’t give your staff a job you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Our culture here is family/team oriented. Our values are about honesty, transparency and leading by example. I dig in and get my hands dirty like everyone else. Fab (our player/Coach) does the same, we lead by example.

If I were to have a conversation with my younger self before I took on the Club I would probably say, “Don’t do it!” I made so many mistakes. My financial management and organisation were terrible in the early days. This has been a massive all encompassing learning curve, it has taken over our lives.

Very few basketball clubs in the UK have found a way to survive and grow over a period of time. We’re pioneers.  There hasn't really been a sustainable club model to follow. I think we've done a creditable job in deciding on a strategy and persevering with it.

 I think leaders who fail are leaders who throw the towel in too soon. You have to be determined to explore every option, and chase every opportunity to make it work. Every Season is hard. This isn’t a profit making venture, any profit is invested back into the team. The main focus is remaining debt free.

In the early days I think largely I drew on the desire to do it, to explore all options, to bite away at it and above all not to fail. The basic determination to make it work kept me going for the first 6 years. Winning on the Court, helped massively. We won trophies, which won sponsors and got our audience base back.

If I were to give advice, it would be to have a really solid, realistic financial plan. Budget for the worst case scenario and then be ready for it not to work. Then put time and effort into the detail, every last detail. The big picture is important, so are vision and dreams, but the detail is what gets you over the line. Look at the detail of both sides of the picture, income and expenditure, question and understand it.

I don’t really have bad days. Work doesn’t ever stop for me because I enjoy it. My brain’s ticking over the whole time, I don’t switch off. I’ve learned to manage it by sending emails to myself when things crop up. That helps me cope with the fear of missing something or forgetting. I don’t get stressed out unless things are slow or out of my control, but I’ve learned to manage by not responding straight away. I take a breather and respond later.

I get most job satisfaction at the end of the Season. I look at the books and there’s no loss and I look at the trophies and think “Job done”. When I look back over the last 10-15 years I can see real progress, and that’s pleasing.

I’ve taken advice and learned from the Leicester Riders' owner. Mainly because he is so different to me. It’s really interesting to see how he approaches things. I get a different perspective from him. He was an engineer, he’s tenacious, just doesn’t let things go. I’ve learned from him.

The most memorable lesson came from Pete Ellis, someone I worked with years ago. He gave me a simple paying in system that set me on the path to some basic organisation which got my finances on track. Without it I don’t believe I would be where I am today.

We are building our own Stadium in Newcastle, and seeing that up and running is my dream. At the end of the day I’m just a custodian. My legacy will be a sustainable club, maybe playing in Europe, but certainly keeping a clean track record and continuing to make a difference in the community.