Mick O’Keeffe is CEO of Teneo and one of the most respected advisers in the Irish sporting and business community.

Mick has been a supporter of Sport for Business from our very earliest days and has always been a trusted voice to bounce ideas off.

We sat down virtually with Mick yesterday to get his perspective on the challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead.

SfB: How are you doing personally with all of the changes thrust upon us?

MO’K: Like everyone, it is mixed. Working out of the office poses some challenges but with the changed routine, we get to spend a little bit more time with the kids. We have three boys under six, so it is busy and active.

Having no formal sport is an issue and a huge loss as playing and watching football, rugby, GAA and al sport was a big part of my life and indeed our family life.

In times like this, people need to lead and to show leadership and be there for their employees, family, friends and their clients.

SfB: Is Teneo ‘working from home’ now and how has that been with so many of your clients likely to be in need of advice?

MO’K: Yes, we are all at home. The technology works superbly.

Our clients have been very busy, but we have been talking to them more than ever in the last two weeks. We are confident we will all emerge stronger despite the obvious short-term difficulties.

SfB: As a communications professional how have you thought the Government and those we need to be listening to have performed?

MO’K: The HSE and Government have been excellent in my view. The key in a crisis is to show control, leadership and agility and to communicate clearly, consistently and often. They have done this in spades.  Everyone knows the symptoms, and everyone knows the guidelines to avoid becoming sick.

SfB: And from our smaller perspective how have you found the reaction of the sporting world?

MO’K: I think it has been one of general acceptance that sport is fantastic and vital in our lives, but we are part of a much bigger picture and everything needs to be put in perspective.

Some sports and indeed some governments were slower than others to realise and accept the massive global health challenges, but overall sport has acted responsibly. However, with the Euros and now the Olympics and Paralympics off, people will need sport more than ever and the focus will quickly shift to 2021 and the bumper year ahead.

SfB: How do you feel that sponsors will be able to react with empathy to the challenges that sport is facing?

MO’K: I think this is a case by case scenario.  Some sports bodies will be savaged by the cancellations and fall offs, but then again, some major sponsors will be hit very hard too by revenue or loss and their employees will suffer a loss of income.

The critical question is whether sporting events have been cancelled or postponed. What you may find is a compromise in most cases between rights holders and sponsors in a spirit of partnership.

SfB: When things come back there will be a massive backlog of sport to get through.  Will that in itself cause something of a problem or after such a drought will we be ready to take everything that sport can throw at us?

MO’K: I don’t think so even with the obvious logistical issues. I think people, including players, fans, partners and sponsors, will relish the action.

It won’t be possible to condense nine months’ worth of sport into four months so I expect reduced seasons, rule changes and new formats to ensure a practical approach is taken, particularly when it comes to player welfare but also sports broadcasting and indeed for those who wish to attend as much as possible.

2021 will be fascinating with so many major sporting events now happening in that year.

SfB: Are there ways in which sport can contribute at a deeper level in terms of its community reach, even when the action itself is suspended?

MO’K: Yes, we have already seen sports stars take a leadership role to encourage good behaviour and develop online skills tests and helping to keep morale up.

I think some sports stars may even throw themselves into the national emergency effort.

I see the GAA and others giving over their facilities for testing centres and this should be lauded. Any sports staff could be reallocated to the HSE to help with the effort, behind the scenes in call centres or in administration as much as anything else.

SfB: Do you think that we will be able to bounce back quickly or might there be structural faults in how we go about sport in terms of media, sponsorship and more that might now be exposed?

MO’K: I think sport will always survive and thrive, but it may never be the same again. And this also applies to other mass gatherings such as music concerts and festivals.

I think media selection is going to be fascinating and how people consume sport after this crisis.

Sponsorship will also rebound, but I expect organisations and rights holders to be far more tuned into risk analysis and the wording of contracts moving forward.

One major watch out is how gyms and leisure centres respond and how long will it take to see a return to the huge numbers taking part in mass participation events such as marathons and cycling events which have exploded in popularity.

I think they will all be fine, probably just be different after the crisis.

As a social and shared experience sport that brings people closer is everything that Covid-19 is not.

SfB: Is there anything you have seen over the past ten days that has lifted your spirits?

Mo’K: Yes, loads. How my colleagues have thrown themselves into their work and kept their good spirits is great to see.

How many of our clients have thrown their weight behind the national interest.

People have been supportive, and the world seems far less negative now and people really appreciate what we had and will have again soon.

This Week’s Sport for Business Interviews coming up will be with John Gillick of AIG on the impact for sponsors, with one of our athletes on how she has been impacted, with a leading sports psychologist on the ways in which athletes and all of us can cope and with one of our leading agencies on how their world has been impacted.  We are exploring ways of carrying these in words as we have done so far but also as live interviews where we can all get more involved…

Read more: Get Involved with our Special Interest Groups
Read More: Leadership Interview with Mary O’Connor
Read More: Leadership interview with Ciaran Medlar


Image credit: Teneo / Sport for Business