Archive for March, 2010

Cheese Rolling and British Airways

15th March 2010

Cheese Rolling is eccentric, to say the least.  Every Spring, Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire is the site of a ritual which seems to be around 200 years old as cider-fueled locals chase a 7lb Double Gloucester cheese down a slope which wouldn’t look out of place on a black run in an Alpine ski resort.  The competitors almost never catch the cheese since it travels up to 70 mph; they often inflict minor damage on themselves which is unsurprising given that the 200 yards of Coopers Hill is almost a cliff; and the prize is, well, modest – second place gets £10 and the winner keeps the cheese.  Have a look on YouTube.

sports-injury-xsmallYet somehow, this daftness has persisted for centuries.  During the Second World War they even used a wooden cheese since rationing prevented the use of a real one, but this year concerns over crowd safety and the interests of local landowners have caused a postponement.  While the Daily Mail has predictably shouted about ‘Health and Safety kill joys’ no-one who has ever been near Coopers Hill can be surprised.  Last year 15,000 spectators turned up to an area where a busy week might more normally see 5 people and their dogs.  The tracks in the area are designed for horses, not cars, and the St. John’s Ambulance people treat far more spectators for minor injures sustained climbing fences than they do competitors for broken limbs.  Sounding like characters from an Ealing Comedy, the plucky organisers have vowed to return next year having sorted out how to manage spectator numbers down and find an insurance company that will cover them to the satisfaction of the local Police.

What does this have to do with British Airways?  Well, the message from Coopers Hill is that the outside world is closer than you might think.  Quaint and British just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Much of the increased popularity of Cheese Rolling comes from internet interest that has attracted spectators and competitors from around the world and many of BA’s problems are sourced in their failure to respond quickly enough to the changing landscape of their market.  While Trade Union Unite and the Company’s management arm-wrestle over the timing and extent of solutions, analysts report that the business employs more people at higher cost than others in their industry who are stealing share of the reducing air travel market at an alarming rate.  More cabin crew man each flight for BA than anyone else in their various markets and those cabin crew command higher wages than those of their competitors.  While sections of the British media continue to have a rose-tinted view of the ‘world class’ business that BA once was, the truth is that collaboration rather than confrontation is the only way forward for BA and it’s staff.

For Cheese-Rolling at least, the outcome is predictable – a charge to competitors and an entrance fee for spectators.  The revenue generated will be used to compensate the local farmers for damage to their land.  Its only a matter of time before a swoosh and ‘Just Do It’ gets emblazoned on poor old 83 year old Diana Smart’s cheese and Sky start bidding for TV rights.  For British Airways, the outside world may not have such a positive contribution to make.