Devolution could be key to the North creating a Silicon Valley-style culture to boost physical activity and grassroots sport.

That was the view of panellists at the inaugural SP.IN (Sports Influencers) event at the National Football Museum this week.

Brendan Flood, director of Premier League club Burnley FC and co-founder of Orlando City Soccer Club – a new franchise set to join the United States’ Major League Soccer – said the North could learn much from the tech scene on the west coast of America.

“Silicon Valley is all about tech businesses, but there’s a very strong web of finance around that,” he said in response to BusinessCloud’s question about the culture of supporting innovation in San Francisco.

“How you create that culture here is to send a few people out there and see what works well.

“We’ve got the tent pegs here, the big football clubs and the facilities, but there are gaps – other sports and international governing bodies, for example. Let’s start there and do the research.”

 Ed Cox (pictured below), director IPPR North (Institute for Public Policy Research), added: “All the ingredients are here: we’ve got the scale, the levels of specialisation in sport to enable that Silicon Valley effect to happen.

"But too many decisions are taken outside the region [in the Westminster Village] to enable us to take advantage of all that.

“We also too often have a dependent attitude in the North of England and allow people to take those decisions on our behalf. We hope that other people will take action to change things rather than doing it ourselves.”

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Ed Cox

He then addressed the 90-strong crowd of sports influencers gathered for the ‘Does the Northern Powerhouse help sport in the North West?’ event: “Hopefully, given the expertise in this room, people will go away from this meeting and decide to do something about all this together.”

Sarah Collins, head of sport at BBC Radio Manchester and highly active in netball administration and coaching, said the football clubs play a key role in driving digital in the North West.

“The media departments at Manchester United and City are massive now. They’re online 24/7,” she said. “Look at where Liverpool and Everton are going digitally; and look at where the BBC is going digitally.”

Cello Fabiano

The Social Chain’s director of sport Marcello Fabiano sees great potential in Manchester, where the influencer marketing agency is based.

“Manchester is known for sport and manufacturing, but we also see it as a massive tech digital broadcast hub,” he said.

“The big student population here contains the next generation of thinkers: we’re going to go to the universities to find the next wave of people to drive the content we produce for our social channels.”

Chris Brindley is chairman of GreaterSport, where he works with government, local authorities, health bodies and national agencies to deliver sport and physical activity to the North West.

“Let’s remember that graphene was invented in Manchester,” he said. “Now FinTech and the technology scene in general is on the rise here.

“Look at the university hubs: a lot of people really want to study in Manchester – and what’s great is that they then want to stay here. There is great intelligence here.”

Mike Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant at Manchester United and former manager of Hull City, told the audience that the knowledge and talent in the region amazes him but that his eyes have been opened to the diminishing investment in grassroots sport since “coming out of the football bubble” several months ago.