The business of sport was on the agenda at a business breakfast in the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park today.
NFS Events, the arm of the Irish Football Association which promotes the stadium as a conference venue and events space, hosted the breakfast as part of its 2023 Business Leadership series.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson and Brian McAvoy, chief executive of Ulster GAA, were the key speakers.
The pair shared their insights and experiences on the challenges and successes of life in the sports industry, how to lead successful teams and what lies ahead for the future of sport.
The event was hosted by Rob Hartnett from Sport for Business, the networking organisation which builds links between sport and business across the island of Ireland.
Currency risk management specialist Alpha Group is partner of the Business Leadership series, while the breakfast was also supported by Sport for Business.
The event kicked off with a Q&A with Professor Johnny Moore, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Clinical Director of Cathedral Eye Clinic, which sponsors the Irish FA, Ulster GAA and Ulster Rugby. The professor discussed the links between his work and the sporting landscape in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Nelson said he was enthused by the number of young players, such as Conor Bradley, Isaac Price and Shea Charles, in the current Northern Ireland senior men’s squad and he believes the team are heading in the right direction despite recent results.
He insisted a successful UEFA Euro 2028 bid by the UK and Ireland would bring considerable social benefits to Northern Ireland. He felt hosting Euro 2028 matches at Casement Park in Belfast would encourage people to play sport in general, not just football but GAA, rugby and other sports, too.
The Irish FA chief executive also commended the launch of the new five-year NIFL strategy, which is entitled ‘A Bold and Brighter Future for Professional Football’.
Endorsed by both the Irish FA and the European Leagues, the NIFL strategy is built on four key pillars which are focused on growing the league collectively and supporting member clubs. The pillars are competitions, governance, revenue and engagement.
Nelson also spoke about the positivity surrounding the appointment of Tanya Oxtoby as Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager.
“There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in women's football in this country,” he insisted after wishing the team well for their upcoming UEFA Women’s Nations League matches against Republic of Ireland and Albania.
Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy said he believed Tyrone legend Mickey Harte’s move to Derry from Louth has helped set the scene for an exciting season ahead.
He also talked about the rise of streaming via the GAA Go platform, which has allowed more games to be shown across all GAA competitions. And he outlined plans for continuing to grow the women's game.
Nelson talked about the excellent working relationship between the Irish FA and the GAA and in particular the work that enabled Casement Park to be part of the UK and Ireland bid for Euro 2028.
He also spoke about the need for government to unlock the much-needed sub regional funding for football stadia. “There are so many grounds in Northern Ireland that need investment,” he pointed out.
Hartnett closed off with a message to businesses in the room. He said: “There is so much good work happening in Northern Ireland and I encourage all of you to utilise this to help strengthen your own messaging. Sport is a great medium to do this.”
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