Friday 23 March 2018

Olympic guru insists unity will be vital in Irish World Cup bid

Keith Mills, the man credited with making the London Olympics such a success, has extensive sporting interests, writes Marie Crowe

Keith Mills: 'We have a great squad and a great manager'
Keith Mills: 'We have a great squad and a great manager'
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Keith Mills, one of the world's leading sports entrepreneurs and the business brain behind London's successful Olympic Games, believes Ireland has what it takes to host the Rugby World Cup.

"You need to demonstrate to the organisers that you have great venues to showcase their events and also that you have enough hotels for all the spectators and the media," explained Mills.

"The cities that have failed in bids have not been able to demonstrate those two things. When we were bidding for London 2012, we focused on demonstrating how we could create the most iconic venues. For example, we had Olympic beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade and equestrian at Grange Park and we had 125,000 hotel rooms, 40,000 of which we fixed the prices."

For Mills, having the right people on board is also crucial because at the end of the day it's about making a sales pitch. He advises all organisations in Ireland to come together to show unity and a common goal to bring the tournament to the country. Not just government and sports organisations but cultural sectors, tourism, the police – everybody.

"The way we won the London Games was by getting all the organisations across the country behind a vision. When this happens the message that goes out when you are bidding is that the whole country wants it, the whole country is behind it and that says to the people who make the decisions that these guys are serious."

As international president and CEO of London 2012, Mills formed an ideal partnership with the face of the Games, Seb Coe. He came on board in 2003 and worked right through the bidding process, the organisation and running of the Games, until finally closing the door on the campaign last Thursday. His role was predominantly behind the scenes but Mills is credited with being largely responsible for the overall success of the London Olympics.

Mills' association with sport runs deep. He is very vocal on the positive impact it can have on society and regularly encourages politicians to invest in sport at grassroots levels. His passion, and his innovative approach to sport, was very much in evidence during his keynote speech at a special conference organised by the Federation of Irish Sports last week.

Along with being chair of two charitable sport for development foundations and owning two yacht-racing teams, Mills is a non-executive director at Tottenham.

He's been a fan of the club since he was brought to a game as an 11-year-old boy by his uncle. Mills very much sticks to the business side of things in his role at the club, such as the plans to build a new state-of-the-art stadium and all that goes with that, including efforts to sell the naming rights.

The first phase of this development is under way, and the next phase is the stadium itself. The plan is to build as much of the new stadium as possible before demolishing the existing one and the financial key to helping this happen is securing a naming rights partner.

"We've been talking to a lot of companies over the last six months or so about that prospect. These naming rights deals are very long term, over ten or 20 years, and are worth a lot of money. The sort of organisation that would sign up to such a deal are less impacted by the economies of the world. They are the very large companies, Guinness is a good example, and a Guinness stadium in London would be fantastic."

Massive deals like this take time but Mills hopes to have something finalised by the end of the year. For the London Olympics they sold a billion pounds' worth of sponsorship without displaying any branding. The companies that bought into the Games, like BT, did so to showcase their products and by doing so got a significant return. Mills can see something similar happening with White Hart Lane; for instance the club has been in discussions with an energy company which could showcase the stadium as the most sustainable in the world.

As with the London Olympics, Mills is more involved with business at Spurs but every now and then he gets to have his say on the football side of things.

"We had a situation earlier this year when the new manager Andre Villas-Boas wasn't playing Emmanuel Adebayor, so I had dinner with him and asked him

why he wasn't picking him. He had many good reasons for doing so and when Adebayor was ready to be played he played him. For the back half of the season he started nearly all the games."

Mills, who made his fortune by pioneering the concept of air miles, is a big fan of Villa-Boas, a man he describes as a breath of fresh air. He especially buys into his data-driven approach to training and managing the team.

But winning is important to Mills and so is the Champions League payout. Spurs narrowly missed out on securing that coveted fourth-place spot to their London rivals Arsenal and last year, even though they finshed fourth, they lost out when Chelsea won the Champions League.

"It's a £30 million deal. The structure of football means that the rich by and large get richer and the poor by and large get poorer. Next year instead of being the bridesmaid, we will be the bride, we have a great squad and a great manager."

Irish Independent

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