Management Juggling Sports, Business & Volunteers

Speakers at MBA Association of IrelandMore than mere entertainment but much more than a business, Ireland’s sporting bodies present unique challenges for their leadership teams.

This was just one of the insights at A Conversation on the Business of Sport, part of the Eastern Chapter of the MBA Association’s Beauchamp’s Series of talks.

The evening also got some exciting news about a potential major sporting event for the country.

Philip Browne, CEO of the Irish Rugby Football Union, was asked about New Zealand’s success hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Brown said the island of Ireland has the stadium capacity, and a feasibility study is being carried out to see if the tourism and physical infrastructure is adequate.

”They did a fantastic job,” he said of the Kiwis. “’It’s probably the biggest sporting event Ireland could cope with.”

Drawing a capacity crowd, the Conversation featured four other CEOs and one Commercial Director from Ireland’s best-known sports organizations.

The panel consisted of:
John Delaney, CEO FAI
Philip Browne, CEO IRFU
Peter McKenna, Commercial Director GAA and Stadium Director Croke Park
John Foley, CEO Athletics Ireland
Damian McDonald, CEO Horse Sport Ireland
Warren Deutrom, CEO Cricket Ireland

All were asked about the challenges of running hybrid professional/volunteer organizations. Foley spoke of the importance of looking after volunteers. “You have to be in all sorts of places at all sorts of odd times’ attending events to earn the moral authority to lead. Then he added, ‘You can’t fire a volunteer.”

“But they can fire you,” McDonald quipped.

Delaney agreed. Sports bodies rely on community volunteers to keep their programmes running. “The worst thing you can ever do to a volunteer is ignore them,” he said.

Deutrom spoke of matching volunteers’ commitment by administrators in head office. Traditionally a niche sport, cricket shot to prominence in Ireland after the Irish team’s shock defeat of world-cup winner Pakistan.

“It gave us the inspiration to say if they [the players] could be that good why can’t we be that good?,” he said. The public expects a lot from players and they should demand the same from administrators, he added.

The big football organizations have huge volunteer staffs, annual revenues around 50 million, quasi-democratic structures and hundreds of locations scattered all over the country.

All plough revenues back to the local clubs. McKenna said the GAA sends 86% of its turnover back. Browne said the IRFU gets 91% of its revenues from professional game, but spends 61% in that area. The remainder goes back to clubs in what it calls “the professional dividend,” he said.

Part II of this report is here.

Photograph taken by myself and shows, from left to right: (front) Warren Deutrom – Seán McKeon – John Foley – (row 2) Damian McDonald – Peter McKenna – John Delaney -(back row) Philip Browne – Gary Rice.


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