WHEN Boylesports and Sunderland announced in April that the Irish bookmakers were taking over as the club’s official sponsor, owner and founder, John Boyle, raised a few eyebrows — not least those of a certain Roy Keane — when he told a press conference at the Stadium of Light that he could see the Black Cats winning not only the Premiership, but the Champions League.
“I think it might be wise to urge a bit of caution,” chairman, Niall Quinn, was quick to interject. Still, just five months on, Sunderland have at least given themselves a shot — albeit a long one — at delivering on the first part of that forecast but, even with expectation rising daily on Wearside as the new season looms, Boylesports’ chief executive, Daniel O’Mahony, is not about to be tempted into emulating his boss in the colourful prediction stakes.
“I’ve got to be very careful what I say in relation to that,” he laughs. “But as I said to Niall afterwards, John even sets massive targets for my wonderful self.”
So has he maybe announced that Daniel will win gold for Ireland in the Olympics? “No, but I’ll tell you what he did two years ago. He announced that my objective was to hit a billion turnover and 20m in profit. And, in fairness, to June ‘07, we well exceeded 600m in turnover and 15m in profit. So I’m doing well on the profit side, I’m getting there. But in relation to Sunderland, all we can really say is that we wish them the best, and we’re delighted to be involved.”
The Boylesports deal — a first venture into football sponsorship for a company which already sponsors horse and greyhound racing — will see their name emblazoned on the Sunderland kit this season, and they will also take over the running of the betting facilities at the Stadium of Light. Estimated to be worth at least £8 million over four years, the deal was put together with remarkable ease, according to O’Mahony. And, appropriately enough, agreement was secured at a racecourse which, like Sunderland football club, is another recognised home from home for the Irish.
“Our head of marketing, Blanaid Morris, and Niall Quinn and the guys from Sunderland, ended up meeting at Cheltenham and, believe it or not, the deal was done extremely quickly,” he says.
“In principle we agreed it there and then, and we got the contract closed out in literally a couple of days from that. It was all very simple. They’re easy people to do business with. I’m involved in negotiating contracts with lots of different people, and in fairness this contract got wrapped up with very little difficulty.”
For Boylesports the merit of the arrangement lies in increasing the company’s already fast-growing profile — especially its internet betting service — at home and in Britain.
“There’s no doubt that Sunderland are getting a growing fan base in Ireland,” O’Mahony observes. “I know one guy who flew over for at least six home games last season.”
But Boylesports, who have 113 shops in this country, hope that the deal will help them secure an increased presence across the Irish Sea. The more than 20 betting booths at the Stadium of Light, for which Boylesports will initially bring over some Irish staff at the same time as they train up locals, are set to be a mere foothold for the company in Britain if current plans bear fruit.
“We are actively looking at shop locations throughout the UK at the moment. It’s something we’ve been working on for a number of months, and we will definitely be opening shops in the UK. The only thing in relation to the UK is that there are new licensing laws from the Ist of September and we have to see how those pan out, but we’ve already applied for our operator’s licence. Certainly we’ll be disappointed if, within the next 12 months, we don’t have shops in the UK.”
In the meantime, as official sponsors, John Boyle and his staff will be rooting for Sunderland to maintain their version of forward momentum in the Premiership — even if Boylesports’ own odds offer something of a contrasting reality check to all the hype. 500-1 to win the title?
“Well, it’s wonderfully available now if you want to have a couple of quid on them,” Daniel points out. “But I’d prefer to focus on Sunderland to finish in the top half at 15-8. That’s probably a nice bet.”
And did the club sponsors perchance inform Roy Keane that they have him at 28-1 to be sent to the stands on his first visit back to Old Trafford as a manager?
“Eh, no, we didn’t,” Daniel laughs, “but I think those odds are probably a fair reflection on the probability of that happening.”
Being associated with a club managed by Roy Keane is, O’Mahony admits, one of the most attractive aspects of the sponsorship deal.
“Obviously Keane’s presence is important. You have to admire what the guy achieved as a player and, even in his one season as a manager, it’s fairly spectacular what he’s achieved there. The way I look at it, Roy and Sunderland are responsible for results and all we can do is wish them well.”
So, all in all, would Daniel O’Mahony characterise the Boylesports deal with Sunderland as a safe bet or a gamble? “Taken as a package, I think it’s a safe bet,” he says, adding meaningfully, “and that’s coming from a bookmaker.”