Sport and the Irish Abroad

Sport for Business took to the skies on Thursday morning for the latest in the Members’ Round Table programme.  Our focus on this occasion was Sport and the Irish Abroad.

The meeting was hosted by the Irish Embassy in London, alongside the boundary wall of Buckingham Palace and we were joined for the morning by technology investor and Director of the Irish International Business Network Damon Oldcorn; CEO of Badminton Ireland Richard Vaughan; National Sports Campus director and sports marketing specialist Maeve Buckley; Community Sports innovator David McNally; Dermot Keehan from the commercial team at the Irish Embassy; Finance Director of the FAI Tony Dignam, Atomic Sport Director Patrick Murphy; Founder of Maven Ventures, Michelle Coventry and Rob Hartnett from Sport for Business.

From a detailed and wide ranging exploration of the topics we emerged with a larger than normal list of 12 take away points and two initiatives which Sport for Business will follow up over the coming months.

12 Take Away points on Sport and the Irish Abroad:

  1. It was recognised that access to individuals who have built a reputation or wealth that would be of interest to clubs and sporting organisations is difficult to secure.  These are generally busy people with many calls on their time and any approach must be researched in detail and crafted specifically around a particular personal point of reference for that individual.
  2. Sporting groups should look to become involved in as great a way as possible with crossover ‘Irish’ festivals and events like the St Patricks Festival in Trafalgar Square and others where an Irish related audience is gathered.  Munster Rugby and the GAA both had a presence in Trafalgar Square last weekend but sport was possibly underrepresented in the overall cultural space and this might be addressed in future.
  3. Better connections should be sought and cultivated with established networks such as the Irish International Business Network and the London irish Business Society.  There is a universal language and affinity around sport which audiences are receptive to.
  4. Twinning of clubs facilitated by emigrants leaving Ireland and establishing new relationships where they go is an important and valuable way of maintaining contact and benefitting from shared experience in fundraising, coaching, and management.
  5. Involving the Irish abroad in a volunteer capacity with key national events can also tap into a broader range of experience and talent, as well as providing memorable links back to an organisation that might otherwise lose contact with important and previously committed individuals.  Badminton Ireland was recognised as going one step further by hosting the 2013 Irish Open in New York.  The additional cost of travel and accommodation can be offset by the greater potential to attract sponsorship and commercial interest by innovating through relocation from a crowded marketplace to one where the ‘Irish’ factor has a greater differentiating appeal.
  6. It was recognised that bringing an exhibition of Gaelic Games overseas was hampered by the need for larger pitches but the possibility of an Allianz National Hurling League encounter between Kilkenny and Galway in a ‘pop-up’ arena in Hyde Park as opposed to Nowlan Park has plenty of appeal in principle…
  7. The GAA initiative with Connect Ireland was recognised as being of merit. It involves individuals introducing that group to other individuals or companies who are considering a location for new or expansion ventures.  Connect Ireland will serve to put in place the right pathways to investigating Ireland as a location.  The benefit for sport at club level is that introductions can be made that will highlight the advantage of specific local areas and cash rewards of up to €50,000 can be shared between the individual and the club.  It is a good hook to open up a conversation that could reap tangible and lasting economic benefit.
  8. The Tailteann Games have a heritage that predates the Olympics and recent exploration of a revival should be encouraged.  A Croatian World Games started in 2006, attracted 2,500 athletes representing over 40 ‘host’ nations in a multi sport environment that delivers tangible economic and emotional return for the country.  Events like the World Mini Sport Games in Cork and the Irish World Cup taking place at UCD this summer as part of the Gathering provide foundations on which a greater quadrennial event might be built.
  9. The value of commercial boards as an effective way of reaching out to sympathetic individuals was recognised.  A recent case in point was Munster Rugby’s approach to business leaders of the calibre and standing of Niall Fitzgerald, Patrick Coveney of Greencore and Ken Murphy of Boots.
  10. The FAI will next week host a gathering of Irish Supporters Club Networks in advance of the World Cup Qualifier against Austria in Dublin.  The ways in which a governing body can enhance the benefit of membership of such clubs will be explored as well as the new possibilities for effective engagement through social media and ways in which membership benefits might be initiated with commercial partners.
  11. Competition between sports is natural but a greater level of cooperation in the overseas arena may leverage a greater return for all.  Co-opetition through an appeal to ‘Team Ireland’ fans is not as easy in reality as on paper but the common ground that exists between those who would cheer for Robbie Keane as loud as Rob Kearney or Paddy Barnes as they would Padraig Harrington creates a space that has potential.
  12. In looking to the Irish abroad, we should also consider the multinational audience that has been attracted to Ireland through multinational companies based here.  Local sporting competition among the polyglot workforces of eBay, Google or Microsoft can create a lasting positive memory of Irish sport among groups that will one day travel to the four corners of the world.

The two initiatives which we will explore in greater detail over the coming months are:

  1. A closer investigation will be undertaken, gathering those that have already started looking at it, of a revival of the Tailteann Games.  History revisited can be a powerful driver of engagement with a domestic and an international audience.  Big events can often be daunting when looked at from afar but we will look to take some small initial steps towards a revival in advance of the centenary of the last time the idea was brought to life again in 1924.  If you would like to be part of what we might do please contact us today to express your interest.
  2. We will look at what emerges from next weeks gathering of Supporters Club networks with the FAI and see within the broader Sport for Business Community what might be possible.
Forthcoming dates to note in the Sport for Business Programme of events are our Round Table on Fan Experience on April 25th; a special conference on ‘A New Approach to Women’s Sport’ on May 23rd; and a Round Table on the sporting impact of changes to the National Lottery on June 20th.
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