Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A week to remember: Part 1

Last week I had a board meeting in Paris, the launch of the German edition of The Lovemarks Effect and some client meetings in Frankfurt, and a regional CEO meeting in London. Through an amazing set of coincidences, it turned out to be one of the great sporting weeks of all time.

Sport has been a passion for mine since I was old enough to kick and catch a ball. I’ve played rugby, soccer, cricket, tennis, squash, badminton, table tennis, as well as track and field, all my life. As a fan, I’m passionate about the All Blacks, Manchester City and Lancashire County Cricket Club. This week, because of the magic of serendipity and Saatchi & Saatchi, I attended four great sporting contests. I did it live and, as you will read, in some style.

Here, in two parts, is the story of my week.

It started last Friday when I flew overnight from New York to Dublin. I was catching up with Munster Chairman, Roger Downer, and his wife Jean, and we were hosted by the Irish Rugby Football Union. They were keen to explore marketing possibilities with USA Rugby. A splendid Friday night was held at The Horseshoe Bar in The Shelbourne, which has just been refurbished. In its time, The Shelbourne has hosted W.B. Yeats, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, and pretty much every other literary lion Ireland has produced. And that’s not mentioning Marianne Faithful's one night fling there with snooker player Alex “Hurricane” Higgins in the early 70’s. How weird is that? Still, lucky Hurricane!

Anyway, after a few draughts of Guinness we went to dinner with the Irish Alickadoos. From there it was back to The Shelbourne, where we bumped into the reigning Miss World and a bunch of Irish beauties, before taking off for Lilly’s, the hot spot of the moment in Dublin. We were ushered straight into the VIP room and a very pleasant evening was had by all. I took my leave, as News of the World would say, at 2:30am and went to my hotel, The Merrion, a haven from international weekend rugby madness.

Saturday afternoon was at Croke Park where, along with 76,000 other rugby fans, I watched Ireland play Wales. I’d never been to Croke Park before. It is the spiritual home of Gaelic football in Ireland and is being used temporarily until Ireland’s own rugby mecca, Lansdowne Road, is renovated. We were once again hosted by the IRFU and it was a fantastic day - bright and sunny. It was also a fantastic game with Wales playing brilliant attacking rugby to win a pretty good match. I was pleased for Warren Gatland, an ol’ Kiwi mate who coaches the Welsh. Warren has taken Wales all the way to a grand slam this season.

I had to leave Croke Park immediately after the game and miss the black-tie dinner with the teams. But believe me, after having gone to probably 50 of these in the past, this was no great hardship.

As I was traveling onto London for the regional CEO meetings, my mobile rang. It was Alistair Mackintosh, the CEO of my favorite team, Manchester City. Alistair asked if I would be interested in helping City go global and meet with their owner Thaksin Shinawatra, ex-Prime Minister of Thailand, to discuss how this could happen. Would I ever! Coincidentally, Thaksin Shinawatra was on his way back from Bangkok (where he has 800 million sterling assets frozen by the current government) and would be in Manchester on Sunday when City were hosting Spurs in the top of the table Premier League clash. “How would having a private lunch in the Chairman’s lounge with Dr. Shinawatra sound before watching the game together?” Pretty good actually.

Before all this, Mike Forde, the performance director of Chelsea Football Club, invited Ben and I to visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening to watch Chelsea play Derby County and also meet the top brass in Mr. Abramovich’s suite. Now that was a special treat not to be missed. The owner’s suite seats 24 around 2 dining tables along with 24 plush leather seats outside. I’ve never watched soccer in such comfort. The food was high-class Nobu-like Japanese and the beer was Moretti. The hospitality lounge next door was Armani’s, reflecting the cosmopolitan chic of Chelsea.

When we sat outside to watch the game, I found there was a button on the side of my seat. I pressed it and waited for lift off. Instead I got heat! It was like sitting in a Lexus. How about that? A heated leather seat to watch soccer from. Luxury. Bloody luxury. And the game was fantastic with Chelsea winning 6-1. It was also fascinating to meet old Chelsea players and managers and see the two cultures (the current Russian owners and the old school Chelsea staff) working together.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - The sporting thrills continue...