The NAC recently confirmed the Hungarian water polo team, winners of the last three Olympic titles, will have a training camp in Ireland ahead of the London 2012 games. Ireland is in line to host a tournament ahead of the Olympics featuring six of the eight quarter-finalists at the last games.
While the Olympics are just 14 months away, Ireland is still in the running to secure more teams in aquatic sports. He said the window is closing but the distance from the media glare in Britain would appeal to several high-profile squads.
“You don’t want to have your team located where it will draw too much media attention,” said Conway. He made the comments at an event in University College Dublin (UCD) on Tuesday.
The NAC is also in control of the Morton Stadium athletics track. Conway said the track’s unique design, making it one of only a handful to be identical in surface to the track being used at the London games, could entice some teams.
Brian Mullins, director of sport in UCD said Irish venues must work to overcome financial incentives provided by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) for visiting teams to use British training camps.
LOCOG is offering grants of STG£25,000 (€27,800) for teams to train at venues around Britain. “It makes the challenge of delivering an economically viable model harder but not impossible,” said Mullins. “It means we have to be more competitive and do our pricing structure based on that STG£25,000 being available to English venues.”
UCD is partnering with the Irish Hockey Association to attract international hockey teams to Ireland. A tournament featuring likely Olympic competitors was recently held at the National Stadium at the university’s Belfield campus to support this effort.
The individual marketing opportunities of the games and the challenges they presents Irish firms were also discussed at the event.
“Consumers, or people as they are more commonly known, take their time,” said Jonnie Cahill, marketing director with O2 Ireland. He said consumer interest in the games will be intense but will come late.
“The penny won’t drop until the spring but when it does it will be enormous,” he said. “With the Olympics it’s short, sharp and intense, for both the athletes and the sponsors.”
Despite the public interest, sponsoring the Olympics is no easy decision for firms. “It is very challenging even for global brands to get involved with the Olympics. We’re not even on the radar for an Olympic sponsorship,” said Cahill.
He said the legal minefield of irritating the International Olympic Committee was one that firms needed to be wary of. “Our primary objective is stay out of jail as a sponsor. The IOC are very protective of their sponsors so we have to be very careful in what we do,” said Cahill.
The objective of Olympic sponsorship goes beyond simple brand recognition for major firms, they want to reach an extra level. “We don’t need to stick our logo on stuff, the industry is way past that. We have 97 percent name recognition in Ireland and I often wonder who the other 3 percent are,” said Cahill.
“The role now is to make the property better than when you came on board. It’s in your own interests to help develop it,” he said. The challenges don’t just exist for sponsor firms. Athletes looking to develop their own sponsorship earnings face hurdles when faced with the demands of major championships.
“It’s a really complex balance between individuals and teams. You’re to have a Puma shirt on an Adidas ambassador,” said Cahill. He said the balance between individual sponsorships and the Olympics official sponsors presented a challenge for athletes.
This view was supported by former Laois hurler Niall Collins, a solicitor with Mason Hayes and Curran. “Even the path of getting individuals involved isn’t terribly clear,” said Collins. “The athletes need to be aware that the brands they have been carrying through the days when they haven’t been in the spotlight probably won’t be able to continue through with them into the games.”
This is the first in a two-part feature. Part two will look at the sporting opportunities for Ireland and will appear next week.