The Olympics should be scaled down and not scaled up, says Patrick Nally

  • I thought Ronaldo was brilliant. But I don’t think Coca cola’s share price went down because of it. A lot of people are using that as a bit of a story.
  • I am sure in a few years to come, match poker is going to be a significant sport in its own right.
  • I have finished the first draft of the first chapter of my memoir. 

It was certainly a classic story of blood, sweat and tears – a story of a boy who after having been educated on the streets, joins an advertising agency at the age of 15 and then sets up a company with Peter West, a renowned BBC presenter which eventually went on to become instrumental in redefining the industry of sports. Patrick Nally, the boy was hardly 19 years old, then.

His story did not end there. Soon, he grew up to be a man of stature who could negotiate with the formidable generals of Argentina and the Russian Czars. Nally, widely known as the ‘Founding father of modern sports marketing’ was in his twenties when he struck a deal with the generals of Argentina who had overthrown the previous government by a military coup, for the 1978 Football world cup. 

He says though scared to the core, it was the mental determination not to be cowed down by anyone that got everything going for him. “I would think they were just a couple of old guys and perhaps no different to me. And that worked.”

The generals listened to him and gave him anything and everything that could make the world cup work in their country.

Soon, he was going places.

“It was an interesting early life,” he says with a chuckle.

Patrick Nally is now the president of International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) and is busy writing his memoir. Let’s hear from the man himself on what he has to say about his life,  IFMP and the Olympics.

The Coca Cola and Fifa deal was a miracle in sports, a real game-changer. It not only made Fifa rich but countries like India also received financial aid from Fifa owing to this deal. Being the chief architect behind the deal, how does this innovative idea occur to you?

Patrick Nally: It was a long time ago. I started an agency back in the early seventies to use sports as a means of communication. It was a time when sports hadn’t really embraced the private sector. Back then, the membership of Fifa constituted predominantly Europe and South America. Countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, and Korea were not football markets. Asia and Africa were not really active. It was also the time when Joan Havelange, a Brazilian coach became the president of Fifa and during his election campaign, he made a lot of promises to develop and promote football around the world. But, Fifa had no money, no structure. They had just five staff. 

At that time, my client was coca – cola and I had clear goals on how to use sports efficiently. Back in those days, coca-cola was keen to change its reputation from being a product of the United States forces and wanted to get involved locally. Keeping this in view, we decided to bring both entities together.

 It was the beginning of showing how a private sector commercial company and an international federation could embrace and help achieve objectives for each other which led to coca-cola’s involvement in the 1978 World cup in Argentina.

Other than that, the programme could teach the world how soccer or football could work, how it could be structured, how it could be financed and to do that on a local level with local authorities and local governments. So by bringing this together, we had clear goals for coca-cola and that also gave a clear objective for the new FIFA management.  And the plan really worked. It still is an established programme.

You are now the president of the International Federation for Match Poker ( IFMP). Why Poker?

Patrick Nally: Primarily, I am still fascinated by challenges. Besides, we now live in a different environment. Things have gone entirely digital and unlike the olden days, conventional sports are no longer embraced by this generation.

But my first reaction to poker was a big ‘ No’. Because I thought it was all about gaming and gambling. But a professor who was the head of the Law school at Harvard convinced me that I was entirely wrong about poker. It has many elements embedded in it like improving mathematical skills, social skills, risk assessment and the like. Playing poker will help you assess and analyse the situation and the people sitting around the table in a match. It can instil in a person a lot of skills.

So I thought… that, if we add the digital revolution as e-sports is becoming quite a sports market in itself, it would present a huge opportunity. (Match poker is played on mobiles and tabs). I am sure in a few years to come, match poker is going to be a significant sport in its own right.

What are your future plans when it comes to expanding the game to Asian countries like India?

Patrick Nally: We are looking for a new partner in addition to Saran sports in India. (By collaborating with Saran Sports IFMP has already foraged in India’s corporate domain.)There are significant opportunities at the school and university levels. But what we need is to find the right partners within India and other countries to collaborate with. 

Currently, we are in discussion with one or two interesting groups. Once we find the right partner, we can have a solid launch. I am also working with schools and universities, sports management courses and European Association for Sports Management. We have signed an agreement with the International School Sports Federation. So we also see schools and universities becoming a key element.

How can IFMP contribute to bringing more women to play Match poker?

Patrick Nally: Women are also showing great interest in poker. There’s no age barrier in this game and can be played anywhere at any time. If a team has to play at the national level, it should have both men and women.

It’s really encouraging to see that more women are enjoying the mental challenges posed by the game. We are also seeing a lot of groups establishing themselves to promote poker with women in universities. We see it as a significant growth area.

You made the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rich and the Olympic Movement commercially strong. How did you do it?

Patrick Nally: In the mid 70’s Peter West, my partner and I started working with national Olympic committees of countries like Australia, Canada and the UK. And it was clear that the Olympics management had no money and no resources. So like FIFA, I started putting together a structure, a programme for showing how to get the Olympic ring under central control. It also envisaged a scheme to bring even the marketing under central control instead of leaving it to the organising committee.

And it worked and now, the project we created became the top programme that still brings in billions of revenues. Now it is a solid establishment and a financially stable organisation that churns out huge revenue. I am glad that I could contribute.

Do you think increasing the number of games would automatically increase the burden on Olympics hosting? 

Patrick Nally: The Olympics have gotten too big and expensive. It is definitely in danger and should cut its size. From a personal point of view, it should be scaled down and not scaled up. 

As we are seeing in Tokyo now, the Olympics should open the door for new sports that are responding to younger people. For example, Poker is in the DNA of Americans. So why not have digital sports. The Olympics can’t get to a point where it is so big and impossible to host it.

During the last Euro Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo removed the Coca Cola bottles during the press meet. The incident created a huge furore. What is your take on this?

Patrick Nally: I thought he was brilliant. But I don’t think Coca cola’s share price went down because of it. A lot of people are using that as a bit of a story. He is an incredible sports personality and you know sometimes it’s good to do something off the field that also creates awareness and attention to who he is. So I think it was quite a clever thing for him to do. It was well done. For Coca-Cola, they can’t deny that there are big issues related to sugar, obesity etc. Coca-cola is a very responsible company and they wouldn’t shy away from the fact that there are questions you need responses. 

They responded to it professionally. If he had not done it, it would have been another boring press conference. It stimulated discussion and awareness and made everybody join the debate. 

You can manage such gestures. But you can’t stop it. If you try to control it too much, then you are also creating an artificial protection of sports that really is public. At the end of the day, it’s the public who rules. It needs to be embraced but not restricted. Of course, there needs to be some discipline. But I think if you take away the ability for sports stars to be spontaneous, you are risking and challenging the integrity of the game itself. It has to have challenges, controversies. But it would be entirely wrong to try and restrict it so much.

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  1. Interesting insights there. Please Keep them coming. Would love to hear more from the likes of Patrick Nally, who is an institution in himself. Would be curious to know their thoughts on making the hosting of Events like Olympics a viable option. With the involvement of Airbnb, the hosting of the athletes / staff could be a different dynamic in the future perhaps.

  2. Intresting to read the efforts taken by Nally to publicise other sports, when usually the Indian media is more behind cricket alone…


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