Who could ever have imagined that 2020 would turn out the way it did? Still, we adapt, we do what we can to survive, and we come through the other side.
Sport should give us the tools to be resilient depending as it does on performance under pressure, persistence in turning up each day to put in the hard yards, and learning from each win and loss to come back better in whatever the new circumstances are that we face.
Sport for Business has tried to serve our community as best we could, in ways that we were only grappling with but quickly brought forward as the year progressed.
In March it looked like a steep cliff. If there is no sport then will we survive? The answer came through from you, our members, who in numbers that we will always remember, came through with kind comments, renewals of membership and increasing engagement as what happened off the field of play became ever more important, and so too perhaps, did we.
It has not been easy reporting daily on more lows than highs but finding enough to keep you connected to the industry you have built and which we try to reflect.
We will be back for more in January and are excited already for the prospect of a year to remember for all the right reasons.
For now though, here is a whistle-stop tour of what happened in the past twelve months that mattered most to us, and to you…
We kicked off the New Year with an A-Z of the exciting events that were to engross and entertain us all over the next twelve months. Looking back it is a heartbreaking reminder of everything we lost in 2020, though at the time it was a list of hope and excitement. We will be doing the same again in the first week of January. In fact, many of the entries will be the same, just twelve months on.
Onside Sponsorship produced its annual forecast that there would be growth in 2020 of eight per cent in sponsorship.
That was backed up with a flurry of deals that we were able to report on through the month.
The GAA signed a technology partnership with Huawei. Gala signed on for four years as a key sponsor of Special Olympics Ireland. Boylesports committed to another four years of partnering with Fairyhouse as sponsors of the Irish Grand National. PwC extended its relationship with the IRFU through to 2023. Dove came on board as partners of the Guinness Six Nations. Tesco became part of the Camogie team for an initial two-year deal.
Paddy Power signed up as the headline sponsor of the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, Energia lent their weight to what would be a new Rugby 7’s Festival, Lidl stepped up again with Comortas in Gaelic Football and Chadwicks put their name on Wexford Park.
We hosted a special evening at the offices of William Fry with Women in Sport on the agenda. Elite level managers Vera Pauw and Mick Bohan were joined by triathlete Carolyn Hayes and soccer analyst ruth Fahy for what proved to be a great night in front of a packed audience.
The Sporting Year Ahead took place at the Aviva Stadium with the CEO’s of the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland joined by Circle K, the College Football Classic, Indeed, Aer Lingus and many more great speakers. Our keynote interview was a warm, very personal chat with GAA President John Horan as he embarked on his last full year in the role.
We also were part of a roadshow where the backers of the All island League in soccer put their case to fans, potential partners and the outside world.
The Big Stories
The FAI dominated our headlines as grey Owens took over as interim CEO and the deal with Government, UEFA and Bank of Ireland came into focus. It was signed as the month drew to a close and our analysis of it generated record readership throughout the month.
The government was busy elsewhere too, announcing the first phase of funding for large scale projects around the country.
We sat down with Dessie Farrell, the newly appointed manager of the Dublin Men’s footballers, and with Paul Mallon of Paddy power on what they were planning for their major new sponsorship at Leopardstown.
On the morning of February 3rd, we penned an editorial piece entitled ‘Is Sport at Risk from the CoronaVirus?’ We based a degree of trepidation on the lessons from history and the impact that the Foot and Mouth scare had on sport back in 2001. “If that was the impact to protect against a disease that impacted animals and the economy but not human health, what might we expect in terms of restrictions to try and combat the worst effects of this threat to human health?” The answer was to dominate the year in a way we could never have imagined.
Oh, and there was a general election as well with our rundown of the sporting promises from each of the parties proving one of our most popular pieces of the month.
The biggest news of the month was Allianz committing to another five years with the GAA. This was by way of celebrating twenty years of the Allianz Leagues and the Cumann na mBunscoil tournament in schools.
Team Ireland was busy ahead of the Tokyo Olympics with partnerships secured for kit with Adidas and for travel with Qatar Airways. Elverys Intersport became official retail partners of the FAI while Mitsubishi Motors signed up as vehicle partners with Dublin GAA across all four codes of Gaelic games.
Dubai Duty Free extended their long term partnership with the Curragh racecourse for another year and JD Sports came on board for two with Shamrock Rovers. In athletics, Kia renewed its backing of the Road Race Series and Deep Heat cam on as naming partner of the Great Ireland Run.
The new identity of Golf Ireland was unveiled at Carton House and Ireland was a big winner at the European Sponsorship Awards in London, with An Post taking the Grand Prix and awards coming for Electric Ireland, Vodafone, Aldi, Littlewoods Ireland, Paddy power and Vodafone.
We were joined in the hot seat by Sean Brett of Liberty Insurance, Mary O’Connor of the Federation of Irish Sport, Pippa Doyle from Littlewoods Ireland, Sinead Cassidy from the Galway Races, Mark Kennelly in his first major interview as CEO of the new Golf Ireland, and Daniel Lambert on the importance of community at Bohemian FC.
If there was a word cloud for March it would be dominated by the word Postponed. Cheltenham started on March 10th and while there was some unease, there was no strong demand that it shouldn’t. Within days though everything had changed. The US Masters, the All Ireland Championships, the Euro’s and the Olympics had all gone within the darkest seven days that the sporting world had ever seen. We carried each story as it happened, gathering reaction from across the Irish sporting world. It was hard to bear, hard to see to the other side, but in the gloom, there were glimmers of light to cheer us.
Before the end of the month, new dates had been set for many of the major events and at a more local level, the GAA, Supervalu / Centra and the Government had come together under the banner of Club Together which was to stand out as one of the highlights of the community spirit that was already coming to the fore.
Before the shutters began to come down Kinetica signed two partnerships with Dublin GAA and the Dublin Night Run as it continued to expand its connection across Irish Sport. Galway and Punchestown Races signed new sponsorships with the Tote and Vista Healthcare, Volve extended its partnership with Quest Events for another year and Clubforce signed a new partnership with the Federation of Irish Sport.
We took part in a major Innovation session for Sport Ireland at the Campus before having to cancel events at the Aviva and Trinity College. The PE Expo at DCU took place in the week before the shutdown and our last live event was a lunch and learn session with the team at Fleishman Hillard.
The move to online was already crystallising and we hosted our first live Webinars on Sponsorship with our friends at Core Media.
As the world around us shifted on its axis we commenced a series of Leadership interviews in which we saught the wisdom and experience of Ciaran Medlar from BDO, Mick O’Keeffe from Teneo, Johnny Madill from Sheridans for a UK perspective, Cliona O’Leary from RTÉ Sport, and Mary O’Connor and Miriam Malone from within sport.
30 Under 30
Always one of the most popular series of the year this was the fourth year of unearthing young talent working across the sector. We now have an ‘alumni’ of 100 many of whom have risen to great heights. We will celebrate with them in 2021 and look towards how they might see us best emerge into a post Covid world.
The search for the next 30 will begin again in the spring.
We gathered and published the first wave of research in the Sport for Business Onside Sports Impact Monitor, gathering insight from across the Sport for Business community and painting a picture of where our optimism and fears were at the time.
Covid dominated as the world of sport ground to a complete halt, then restarted in a virtual sense. From F1 to a virtual Grand National that was watched by million, a pre season College Football game in virtual mode that drew 20,000 viewers and our own local derby between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemian being played out on FIFA.
Ireland’s esports community came together to form esport Ireland as a nascent governing body, Munster Rigby lent its name to an egaming franchise and Red Bull got behind a major Irish esports event.
One bright spot was the decision of Toyota to extend its partnership here with Paralymopics Ireland. Aviva lit up its stadium for the frontline healthcare workers and Nissan, Boots and the FAI got active in delivering prescriptions within communities. Lidl and the LGFA came together with Jigsaw to provide a mental health toolkit for clubs around the country.
We hit our stride on live webinars hosting events online that were reaching out to hundreds of Sport for Business members each week. We covered sponsorship in terms of measurement and activation and took a look at Irish sport on Social media in a live version of our popular monthly report. The William Fry team joined us for a consideration of contracts in sponsorship and broadcast and we hosted a Sponsorship Masterclass with Paddy Power and Leopardstown looking back on how they brought their new partnership at the Dublin Racing Festival to life.
Our Leadership Series took off and moved into the world of video content. Our first step into this new world for Sport for Business saw Tom Ryan, Director General of the GAA join us for an interview that went viral and appeared on news bulletins and in mainstream media. Once the debut had gone well and the world of video editing had been grappled with, it became a major part of our own reaction to events.
John Gillick, Rachel Solon, Ryle Nugent on his new venture Stakeholder Sports, Sarah O’Connor and Niall Woods also came along and the second video to go into the mainstream both here and across the UK was with Brian Kavajangh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland.
Darkness Into Light was reborn into Sunrise Moments and virtual events like the Big Rugby Run helped to raise hundreds of thousands of euros for those in greatest need. We became Radio presenters taking a weekly slot on the new Quarantine FM broadcasting across Ireland and the UK.
There was a bright spot at the end of the month as Sport Ireland revealed we were more active as a nation than had ever been the case.
We began to emerge from the darkness and Sport for Business carried a daily update on how sporting bodies and tournaments around the world were preparing for a return to the field of play. It was all happening under strict guidelines and behind closed doors but it quickly became the norm to see empty stadia. Onside sponsorship research revealed that most fans would only feel comfortable returning to crowds with the development of a vaccine, however long that might take.
Leinster Rugby switched its season tickets into a new Membership format, a move that led the way for others as well.
We saw the first pages reopening of sporting activity here with Tennis and Golf joined by rowing, athletics and horse sport in being the first to get back. The Government established an Expert Group to provide consistent advice to those returning.
PRO14 Rugby confirmed the investment of €140 million into the tournament from CVC, a move that was to provide a lifeline in difficult times and a beacon for the future.
It started as a half baked idea early on a Monday morning and the Sport for Business Super Quiz gre into one of our major events of the year. 16 teams from across the Sport for Business membership, including from RTÉ, Off The Ball, the GAA and more wnt head to head, question to question and laugh to laugh across the next two months before Teneo emerged the winners. It is an event that will be back again for 2021.
We held live Webinars on social distancing in sport, on how Sports Clubs were coping and engaging, and with the CEO’s of Golf, Tennis, Rowing, Athletics and the Sport Expert Group on lessons learned from the first phase of sports return.
Energia held its Rugby Awards virtually from Mario Rosenstock’s back garden and the Gaelic Players Association and Joanne O’Riordan brought two world together with the FIFA 20 All Ireland Charity Tournament from which Laois emerged as All Ireland champions.
Our interview with Dermot Rigley continued the trend of our zoom based content drawing an audience from across the wider media world and we also welcomed Matt English, Peter SmythLiam Harbison, Eric Cunningham and Sharon McHigh into our virtual studios for a chat.
The return of live sport began to accelerate. RTÉ broadcast its first live action in three months with racing from the Curragh and the premier league was back on our screens with virtual crowd sound from the middle of the month.
The outgoing Government announced a funding package of €70 million to mitigate the impact of Covid, a move that was warmly welcomed across the sector. In England Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide meals to children showed that Government’s don’t always get it right.
We published the second wave of the Sport for Business Sports Impact Montor with Onside Sponsorship and ran a €15,000 competition to win a rebrand for a sporting organisation, from which Volleyball Ireland emerged the winner.
Our in house production went into overdrive with Steve Smith, Head of Sky Sports Content joining us to reveal how the crowd sounds would be created on Sky’s coverage of the Premier League and more. Padraic O’Kane, Marie Arnold, Ramsey Cardy, Ken McCue, Pat Keogh, Conor talty and Gary Sewart also joined us on screen and at the end of the month we celebrated Pride with a trio of interviews with Richie Fagan, David Gough and Lisa Bergin from Aviva.
The Sport for Business Super Quiz was in full flow with Bernard Brogan up against AIG with his Legacy Consultants teammates and pre tournament favourites Off The Ball going out to the team from the GAA.
We hosted important and popular live webinars on tackling ethnicity and Women in Sport where we were joined by Sene Naoupu, Jenny Egan and Nora Stapleton.
The PwC Sport for Business 30 Under 30 for 2020 came together virtually and we also held a webinar on Fundraising and the hit it had taken as well as how to recover.
Sponsorship began to kick back into life with Paddy power and Juddmonte International signing new deals at the Curragh, Darragh Greene forming a partnership with Coral Leisure amongst others.
We gained a new Government but no sooner had we introduced Dara Calleary as the new Minister of Sport, than Golfgate intervened and Jack Chambers was named as his replacement. Sport had a new home in Government with a move to a new Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
It’s first challenge was to get on top of the tensions emerging within the FAI as the necessary changes in governance eased their way through. A big positive in soccer though was the emergence of Watch LOI a new streaming platform in partnership with RTÉ and GAAGo to bring action from the SSE Airtricity league online. Every minute of every game for the rest of the season.
Gaelic games returned to our playing fields and the first live game of the season was broadcast on RTÉ on Friday evening, July 17th between st martis and oulart the Ballagh in the Wexford Club Hurling Championship.
Cúl Camps returned as well as the summer sunshine seemed to hearlad the beginning of the end of Covid disruption.
Former Leinster Rugby player Paul O’Donohue emerged as a key mover in the takeover of Sports Joe
It should have been the month of the Olympic Games but in its place we brought Ireland’s olympians to screen in a series of interviews with those who would have been stars of Tokyo. Shane Ryan, Nhat Nguyen, Chloe Watkins, Roisin Upton, Heather Boyle, Patricia Heberle and Kate Kirby all took part.
We hosted a virtual hospitality session for Cricket Ireland’s return to action against England
Teneo were crowned as our inaugural Sport for Business Super Quiz Champions.
RTÉ Head of Sport Declan McBennett joined us to talk about streaming, sports coverage and new models. We were also joined by Matt McKerrow of Cycling Ireland to discuss the sports new five year strategic plan, by Marcus O Buachalla, Sam O’Byrne, Paul Flynn, Maeve Buckley and hurling legend TJ Reid.
Vodafone announced that they would be the lead sponsor of the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa, with the Irish sponsorship team leading the way.
Cricket Ireland signed up to a new multi year deal for shirt front sponsorship with ITW in an announcement histed by Sport for Business and shown around the world on Facebook Live.
AIB launched its Toughest Summer activation with video content and a documentary to be filmed by leading director Roos Whitaker.
Boylesports committed again to the Irish Greyhound Derby, Elverys Intersport signed a five year extension with Mayo GAA and staying out west Connacht Rugby unveiled a new partnership with tribe catering.
GAAGo signed a three year deal with FRS Recruitment, Green farm backed Game On on RTE Radio, Athletics Ireland and Irish Life launched a new ‘Mile’ activation and Clarity travel gave us hope for a future of sports travel by signing a new partnership with Ulster rugby.
After the optimism of July things took a darker turn in August as the shutters began to come down on tighter restrictions for those attending matches. Rugby’s season got underway though and had fans buzzing from a distance.
The Irish Open was confirmed for Galgorm in Northern Ireland on the weekend that would have been the Ryder Cup. A new Irish Rugby short was launched by Canterbury, though not without some controversy over the use of models for the Women’s shirt.
We helped to launch two major campaigns during the month with Bank of Ireland putting Rugby front and centre stage of its new TV advertising Campaign and Lidl launching its chapter of the 20×20 initiative.
We published the third wave of the Sport for Business Onside Sports Impact Monitor where, like a refrain from Frank Sinatra, the optimism of June was back down again in August.
Athletes were to the fore this month in our virtual studio. Ireland Hockey Captain Katie Mullan, athletics star Ciara Mageean, Dublin footballer Michael Darragh MacAuley and Paralympian Greta Streimikyte all dropped by.
We also spoke with Paula Murphy of Bank of Ireland, Joe Mooney from Lidl, Brian Mahoney from Connaght Rugby, Brendan Meehan from Irish American Events and Amy O’Shaughnessy from Energia, while Jacqui Hurley also took time to share her story of the publication of Girls Play Too.
Vodafone were active again, signing up to a new three year deal with Leinster Rugby while the FAI secured Three to the end of the year and added Tipperary Pure Water as an official supplier.
UPMC extended their reach within the GAA by adding their name to Nowlan Park in Kilkenny.
Connacht Rugby saw a new name on their shirt with local consultancy Genesys coming on board, and Clear Currency did likewise as a partner of Cricket Ireland.
On the international scene Pepsi committed to a five year partnership with Women’s Football and Heineken put 0.0 as the brand behind its support of the Europa League.
The FAI got its deal over the line and began to get ready for the next chapter, albeit without Gary Owens and Niall Quinn who both announced they would be stepping down.
Covid restrictions became tighter as the second wave began to emerge and the CEO’s of the GAA, FAI and IRFU painted a bleak picture sitting before the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Cuture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
There was a bright moment though as the decision of Ireland Lacrosse to give up its place at World Championship level to enable the Iriquois Nation take part went around the world as a classy example of sporting integrity.
The Dublin Sports Fest and European Week of Sport both took place in virtual fashion, while the Government released additional funding for the Gaelic Games Championships and Local Sports Partnerships.
We hosted two major webinars with Paralympics Ireland on #WaitForTheGreats and on the future for Third level Sport with trinity College Dublin, Student Sport Ireland and Ulster University.
Judy Glover from Circle K, Ross Whitaker on his work for The Toughest Season with AIB, Sene Naoupu and Aidan Mahoney, Conn McCluskey from Ireland Active, Bernard O’Byrne from Basketball Ireland all joined us online for chats.
We also welcomed Darren Lepke from Verizon Media in Los Angeles to talk about streaming, Peter Conway of Swim Ireland and declan Byrne from ironman into our studio.
20×20 is drawing to an end and the final chapter with KPMG posing the question to #ThinkItAskIt was launched with an evocative look back on what the campaign has achieved. AIG launched their Dublin GAA Sponsorship for the season by honouring Clubs across the County. Huawei signed up for another year with Dublin club hurling champions Cuala. Immedia made a mark on the Irish Open by giving over its spot on Shane Lowry’s shirt to 20×20, and the Irish Times came on board with the GAA Museum.
A big month for Sport for Business with the launch of our new online platform on October 6th. a new more mobile friendly interface and better archiving of our wealth of content has seen another major lift in the number of those coming to see the stories we tell. Thank you to all our members for the support you have shown down the years and for the kind comments on how we now look.
It was the month in which inter county Gaelic Games came back to life albeit without fans. The loss was made up by extensive TV coverage with every game of each of the Championships made available either on mainstream TV or via the new world of streaming.
The Government budget was kind to sport with a significant increase in the financial commitments being made.
Jonathan Hill was confirmed as the new CEO of the FAI. He will be joining us for an interview at the 2021 Sporting year Ahead.
We launched a new series of columns diving into the numbers of the Irish Sports Economy.
We also kicked off the eighth year of our naming 50 Women of influence in Irish Sport, with Liberty Insurance.
We hosted a special webinar wit Rugby Players Ireland on Tackle Your Feelings. 20×20 wrapped up in a special way with a guest appearance from Martina Navratilova. We launched the PwC Global Sports report for Ireland and highlighted two special appeals for Special Olympics Ireland and Irish Wheelchair Association Sport.
Eoin Conroy joined us to discuss the Leaders Lounge. Moira Aston, Brian MacNeice and leon Blanche from Boylesports gave us insights into a variety of different areas of interest to Sport for Business members.
Sarah O’Suileabháin helped us to launch the 2020 Virtual Goal Mile and a first time search for corporate sponsorship that we believe will be a winner in 2021.
Gráinne McElwain stopped by to discuss taking over as Sky Sports main presenter on GAA for this year. Maria Kinsella, Chair of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association told us about major new research from among players and Johnathan Courtenay gave us some gems on the new Ireland soccer jerseys for both the men’s and Women’s teams and fans.
SuperValu launched its GAA season encouraging us all to watch from afar. Bord Gais Energy unveiled a GAA version of Gogglebox to lighten our days. Linerty insurance doubled down on commitment to streaming of Camogie Championship matches, Umbro came back on Irish shirts in soccer while the GAA and Ganzee Leisure launched a new online store for leisure wear in county colours.
Allianz made a global commitment to Women’s Rugbywhile at home kinetica signed up Cycling Ireland as the latest in its sports to be backed.
The GAA commemorated Bloody Sunday and how the impact of events on that day 100 years ago have shaped sport and politics in Ireland down the years.
Fans returned to professional rugby at Kingspan Stadium but those few hundred who made it will be among the tiny minority of 2020.
One Cork came together in the GAA, looking positively towards how they can move forward together.
We stepped into the ongoing debate over the funding of Gaelic Games in Dublin, with an opinion that has become one of our most visited stories of the year.
As our Women of Influence series progressed there were two major advances for Women in Sport with TG4 and RTÉ radio hosting Men’s rugby events where the entire presentation and commentary teams were female, and then the European Olympic Council adopted an Irish motion to secure gender balance of 40 per cent across all Olympic Federations.
We partnered with Titan Experience to bring Leaders Lounge to life this month. Paul McGinley, Jim Gavin, Stuart Lancaster, Lisa Fallon and Fiona Coghlan delivered a powerhouse series of interviews to an online audience in the thousands, from a special studio at the RDS.
We then joined up with the British Irish Chamber of Commerce to deliver Conversations from our Table, an engaging discussion about sporting rivalry and friendship with Niall Quinn, Bernard Brogan and Jacqui Hurley.
Our most popular webinar of the month came with a look at Irish Sport on Social media with Olytico.
We carried a week of special interviews commemorating Bloody Sunday with Julianne McKeigue, Michael Foley, Cian Murphy, Lisa Hayden and Marcus McDonnell.
We were also joined by Paul McDermott of Sport Ireland to discuss the latest lockdown restrictions and we launched the new branding for Volleyball Ireland with CEO Gary Stewart.
As the year draws to a close we finished out the publication of our 50 Women of Influence in Irish Sport with 30 per cent new entries in this year and a line up that is unstinting in its inspiration.
We are determined to be positive and have launched The Sporting Year Ahead to take place on January 21st.
We are dedicated to shining a light on the great work which sport and business can do together for the good of society and that was very much to the fore in our annual event and report with Allianz looking at Sport for Social Good in the year gone by.
John Shiels from the Man United Foundation, Rob McEvoy from Allianz, Minister of State Jack Chambers, Edel McCarthy from Electric Ireland and Maighread Cremin from Supervalu all joined us for our main event of the month.
We were joined this month by Liam Moffatt, chair of Mayo GAA, by Simon McAllister of EY, and by Sorcha Fennell Sheehan of Bord Gais Energy.
The Gaelic Games Championships came to a conclusion having lifted the spirits of the nation over the last ten weeks of darkest winter and with only 400 people short of one million tuning in to watch Dublin against Mayo in the Men’s Football All Ireland on the last Saturday before Christmas.
We do not know yet the level of restrictions that will be introduced to take us into 2021 but we will keep on going, keep on serving news and connection to our ever expanding group of members.
We thank you for your continued support and we look forward to a year of great sport, good health and above all hope in 2021.
In the meantime enjoy the break as best you can with those who mater most to you.