Sport for Business Leadership Interview – Ciaran Medlar

Ciaran Medlar is an influential figure within the business of sport in Ireland. As a Senior Partner in BDO, he has built up a strong practice in advising sporting bodies and individual players on the financial aspect of the way they conduct themselves.

He has negotiated and managed on behalf of some of the biggest names in Irish sport and his views are always considered and well worth listening to.

In these times like we have never experienced we sat down virtually with Ciaran to discuss a number of the challenges that face us all.

SfB: First off how are you doing?

CM: As well as can be expected. I’m in the office this morning but most of our team are working from home and all of our meetings are taking place over the phone or using video.

It is a very difficult time for individuals and businesses in terms of their financial challenges and as advisors, we have to be there for them to offer them guidance on how to get through.

SfB: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing sport?

CM: There are many and there is no advantage in sugar-coating what many will be facing.

From an organisation perspective, all sports rely on engagement with players and fans both for their purpose but also for their sustained viability. gate receipts are the lifeblood of our senior clubs in football, in rugby and at inter-county level in Gaelic Games. That has now disappeared and there will be serious challenges for everyone to face as best they can.

SfB: You’ve been closely associated with Football down the years. What is the situation with the SSE Airtricity League Clubs?

CM: They are probably the ones where the pain will come fastest and harshest. Many of our clubs are running on a week to week basis relying on gate receipts every fortnight to sustain their ability to pay players, staff, put on games and maintain grounds. Without the receipts, there is little to sustain them.

The FAI restructuring package, from a financial perspective, is very important in that there will perhaps be some leeway but the pot will be too small to sustain the clubs beyond a very short period of time.

SfB: Could the clubs survive if they were to go amateur?

CM: The player wages are an important outgoing but without the players there is no sport. It’s difficult to think of contracts when there are so many more people losing jobs, hopefully on a very temporary basis but clubs will have to be looking in that direction as their single biggest outgoing.

If we knew when the game could resume there might be some way of maintaining a lower level of existence but without that it is extremely difficult.

Everyone needs to work together to get the best outcome for domestic football surviving.

The sport is perhaps better placed than many with the financial power of UEFA and FIFA as a backstop but this is a global crisis and we are just one small part of a very large economic machine.

SfB: Is it a relief for rugby to have at least ‘banked’ the rugby World cup last year?

CM: Without a doubt. At a global level, the income from the tournament keeps it going on a four-year cycle and if this was year four as opposed to year one the outlook would be much bleaker.

The IRFU is also in a better position being debt-free on the stadium and having income from the land it sold at Newlands Cross. Even if it needed to fo down a financial route to sustain the provinces and the Central contracts with players it would be in a better position to do so.

SfB: Where do you imagine would contracts be in regards to a shutdown that can hardly have been imagined when they were being drawn up?

Nobody will want to withdraw but every business will be facing their own challenges and supporting sport at a time when job losses are taking place on an epic scale might be hard to justify.

A lot of contracts, with teams, tournaments and players will have bonus payments built in. Without competition, they will not be triggered and that will have a knock-on impact in financial planning.

SfB: How will the changes coming in impact on fans engagement with sport? (As we asked the question news came through confirming that the Heineken Champions’ Cup Quarter-final between Leinster and Saracens was postponed)

CM: Fans are resilient. We want to enjoy seeing the team in action but sometimes absence can make the heart grow fonder and already we are missing the routine beat of a life immersed in sport of whatever shape.

That was inevitable losing the Leinster game. We were planning to entertain some clients at the Aviva but we will regather when things come back, as will the fans. It will be a puzzle to arrange so much sport in a shortened time period when it comes back but it will, the fans will and we will start over.

SfB: Will there be a long term impact on the business of sport?

CM: Over the past number of years sport has become an incredibly big and powerful industry. From players and media through sponsorship and engagement it touches on all of our lives to a huge degree. The impact on sport will be similar to that in many other sectors. The one thing we have in our favour is the ability to inspire and to leave other problems behind, even if only for a short while.

Tomorrow’s Sport for Business Interview is with Mary O’Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport

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Image credit: BDO

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