In a few weeks time, John Feehan will take over as the new CEO of Basketball Ireland.
It is three years since he left the same position at Six Nations Rugby and he is ready for a return to the full-on world of executive leadership.
We sat down with him at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght to find out a little more about he believes to be possible and how he is going to make that happen…
It has been three years since you left the big desk at the Six Nations though two of those have been in a time of Covid. How have you been through this time?
It has been very strange watching it from outside but thankfully not having to deal with it. I’ve been involved in Sport2Sport with Derek McGrath which has been very enjoyable but this will be my full-time role now and I’m very excited about it.
There is a real buzz about the sport at the moment, now that it has been released from the lockdown measures that were not kind to indoor sport. Have you experienced that in the opening weeks of the new season?
People cannot wait to get back. It has been an awful long time.
During Covid, people who got to games across all sports found a new enthusiasm for it. It was a realisation that we perhaps had taken for granted the ability to get fired up at a live match and the numbers we have been allowed to bring back to halls in the past few weeks have been very appreciative.
We had an International summer of Basketball tournaments and more games coming up next month. Team Ireland is doing well and getting noticed. Do you feel that now is the time to take a bigger role within the broader Irish sporting landscape?
There is no doubt. Basketball is the fourth biggest sport in the country, the biggest indoor and yet it does not get the recognition it deserves.
We need to provide as many avenues and pathways to get people involved in what is happening.
We need to create media solutions that give greater exposure.
There’s a strong base at schools level and colleges but is the revival of international success the key to that?
Visibility is key to any sport. When I started in Rugby in the 90’s it was an amateur sport and not many people went to see even the interprovincial games. Now look at where it has got to. And when you think about it, it has made that leap in a very short space of time.
Basketball is well-positioned to do something similar here. It has so many strong foundations from which to expand.
We have 30,000 players, a great mix across the country, it’s ready to go.
Your predecessor Bernard O’Byrne came from a similar background of running one of the major sports, the FAI in his case and had a quite dramatic impact in terms of turning things around from a financial and a respect perspective. Do you feel those shoes are comfortable to step into?
Well, I’m a different character to Bernard. He really did do a great job moving the sport forward, but things change and people move on.
From the point of view of developing the sport, I think I have a number of skills that can be very effective. That will feedback across all levels of the sport and as I’ve said I think it is ready for a really good period of growth.
When you were at Six nations, broadcast revenues were substantial and a core pillar of how the sport was funded. Basketball now has done well in terms of streaming, bringing Joymo on board to stream club games. What do you see in terms of the broadcast future for the sport?
How we communicate the sport is really important. We need the maximum number of opportunities to see games and get to know the players and the teams. There are different solutions that we will be looking at in order to help that. So yes, creating channels where people can enjoy the sport in a variety of forms will be high on the agenda.
That was all we had time for as part of his whistle-stop round of media but we will be returning, just like the crowds, and it does promise to be an interesting season ahead.
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