Once upon a time sport was for the weekend. It was escapism and began and ended with a whistle or a flag.
Once upon a time it was played by dashing amateurs who were living the dream we all had as kids to score the winning goal and lift the treasured cup.
It was played by ESB linemen who ran out for their clubs on a Wednesday and their county on a Sunday dashing back for dinner to be ready for the next morning’s shift.
When Jimmy Magee, and before him Fred Cogley and Bill O’Herlihy passed away they were mourned for the lives they lived and the moments they created from the then rarity of televised sport. We remembered, we were there as kids. It was our shared history.
Sport has always been an important part of many of our lives and identity. We talk of ‘we’ in relation to teams of millionaire footballers from cities in Northern England. We know they don’t know us but what does that matter in the thrill of a 1-0 away win.
In the modern era we recognise that sport provides us with a single point around which we can gather. It creates a universal language and a shared experience that can draw 82,300 to Croke Park and 1.3 million more to watch on TV screens at home, in pubs and on mobile phones.
And in this age of constant updates and information, it is sporting conjecture and reportage that draws us in more than ever before.
We want to know more about the 364 days of toil that lead to one glorious moment in the spotlight.
We are intrigued to hear stories of why Jim Gavin tilts his head to one side in a TV interview and what is the ‘process’ that drives Dublin forward.
There is a general fretting and anxiety over Jamie Heaslip’s ‘complicated’ back injury. What does that mean and how soon can it be fixed?
In the two weeks since the All Ireland Football Final we have seen a rich flow of players released from media lock down, out and about promoting the PwC All Stars, a smile campaign for Sensodyne toothpaste and Sky’s new investment in grassroots GAA.
We see the players, we hang on their every word away from the pitch because of what they have done on it. They have the grit and determination to succeed that makes us root for them. They have become advocates for social change and commercial persuasion and it works because we like them and want to hear their stories.
Back in 2013 Microsoft created a Youthspark campaign to give IT skills to 10,000 youngsters that would help them get jobs. Enda Kenny launched it but it was boxer Bernard Dunne to whom they turned to get the message across. He told the story of how he had never used a computer before learning the skill to write the speech he was giving at the launch.
He wasn’t a ‘suit’ or an actor in an ad. He was a World Champion boxer who was telling a story and 10,000 kids were hooked.
The power of sport and the parable-like quality of the lessons that transfer from training ground to top dog have been readily understood and embraced by business leaders.
In two weeks time, the One-Zero event I was part of creating for Dublin will bring together the storytelling power of Hope Solo, Frank Bruno, Sean O’Brien, Sam Torrance, Brian O’Driscoll, Tony McCoy, Niamh Briggs and many more.
It will play out at Croke Park before an audience of sports fans but also leaders from the Countries biggest businesses.
Bank of Ireland, Vodafone, the IDA, every law firm and marketing agency in town and most of those in financial services, advisory and sales that want to create a memorable day for fellow sporting fans for whom a right impression is gold currency.
They will listen to stories of lives lived where success and failure were rarely more than a breath apart.
The measures of winning in business are determined and judged over longer periods than 70, 80 or 90 minutes but in those time frames the qualities of how to do so and the lessons they hold for the longer game are never more clearly expressed or easily understood.
Sport is war without weapons, it teaches competitive advantage in terms that will motivate and inspire account executives and managing directors with childlike ease.
It is all around us and it brightens our lives. Perhaps in part that’s because of an ingrained memory of childhood dreams but in the modern world, it’s as much to do with the credit we bestow on those who play it best.
Hearing the backstory of how they do it has become a valuable tool for business leadership and globally the most important way to reach the hearts and minds of those we want to influence.
Rob Hartnett is the founder of Sport for Business and a co-Founder of One-Zero. Find out more about the full lineup of speakers at www.One-Zero.com
Dublin City Council, the FAI, Tetrarch Hospitality, Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are among the more than 220 organisations that play an active part of the Sport for Business community.
Image Credits Inpho