WHO ARE YA? Geoff Wilson, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Irish Football Association (Northern Ireland)


Geoff Wilson, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Irish Football Association (Northern Ireland)

1) Who are ya?

Geoff Wilson, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Irish Football Association (Northern Ireland). I have just turned 40 and have over 17 years marketing experience in a wide range of organisations including BT, the Irish FA, FIFA and UEFA.  My Twitter id is @geoffwnjwilson

My current role involves building the Irish FA brand, merchandising, sponsorship, database management and public relations.  I have managed to secure some of the largest sponsorship deals in the history of the Irish Football Association together with redeveloping the Irish FA brand.  In 2009 I received the prestigious ‘Marketing Director of the Year’ award from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) in Ireland and in February 2010 I won a Marketing Excellence Award, within the SME sector throughout the UK, from the CIM.  I am currently on a ‘Marketing Expert’ panel for FIFA, advising Member Associations on a variety of marketing topics.  In 2009 I worked with the Ulster Grand Prix (the world’s fastest road race) to redevelop its brand, merchandise, sponsorship and PR strategy as well as communication channels to fans.

I regularly speak at conferences in countries such as USA, Switzerland, Slovenia, Turkey, Cyprus, Denmark, Austria, Malta, Georgia and Jordan for UEFA and FIFA.  I am also a member of the board of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Ireland.

2) Who do you support?

I have been a lifelong Liverpool and Northern Ireland fan.

3) What was your first game?

Northern Ireland international in Belfast v Austria

4) What do you do for a job?

  • Responsible for all marketing, PR, CRM and commercial aspects of the Football Association and overall development of the Irish FA brand.
  • Accountable for growing and maintaining commercial revenue incorporating sponsorship and advertising revenue streams in addition to account managing sponsorship partners and negotiating commercial contracts for newly secured sponsors.
  • Developing an effective merchandising strategy.
  • Ownership over the launch of a new brand, logo and marketing campaign (through a variety of marketing channels) for the domestic league in Northern Ireland.
  • Generate positive PR across all of the Association’s activities, providing crisis management when necessary.
  • Manage the government lobbying strategy with the Association, meeting and developing long term productive relationships with politicians and other relevant individuals within both local and national government.

5) Have you played/worked for any football clubs?

No, just my National Association, the Irish FA.

6) How did you get into it?

Previously I worked for BT gaining valuable marketing experience before responding to a job advert for my current job. I went through a rigorous recruitment process and was then appointed to the role in August 2005.

7) What do you get out of it?

  • Pride. Working for your National Association gives me tremendous pride especially when I look back on how we have moved the business forward.  In eight years, we have doubled turnover, changed the Irish FA brand, introduced new communication platforms for our fans/stakeholders, as well as implementing a wide number of community programmes throughout Northern Ireland .
  • Valuable experience in sponsorship, merchandising, brand building and CRM.
  • Networking with other people in the sport of football, fans and major brands.

8) What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your stud marks/footsteps?

  • Get good grounding in marketing.
  • Network network network.
  • Try new things – be first to market.

9) If you could do it all again what would you change?

  • Build more network at Premiership and Championship clubs.
  • Additional focus on marketing our women’s game.
  • Additional work on our club development programme.

10) Who’s your footballing hero?

Dennis Bergkamp – great reader of the game and fantastic role model off it.


Manchester City’s Yaya Toure has suggested that black players could boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia unless the country tackles the issue of racism in football.

“If we aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we don’t come,” the Ivorian midfielder was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

This is in the wake of Uefa investigating Toure’s complaint that he was the target of racial abuse by some sections of the CSKA fans during last Wednesday’s Champions League game in Moscow.

Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley  has stated that the referee who officiated at that match, Ovidiu Hategan, should not officiate again after failing to deal with racist abuse.

Ouseley told the BBC that Hategan had “failed to do his duty”.

The official, a FIFA referee since 2008, was also in charge of the match where Lazio fans were found guilty of racist behaviour towards Tottenham players in the Europa League last season.

FIFPro, the global union for professional footballers, said it was “disappointed” match officials failed to implement agreed protocol following the Toure incident.

FIFPro European president Bobby Barnes said: “The player, having done what was asked of him to notify the referee, quite rightly expected that the referee would go speak with the safety officer.

“The protocol agreed is that the safety officer should make a stadium announcement warning the fans that if the chants do not desist that the game will be stopped.”

CSKA deny the allegation that any racist chanting took place and do not acknowledge that there is a problem with their fans.

A club statement read:

“Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from fans of CSKA.

“[On] many occasions, especially during attacks on our goal, fans booed and whistled to put pressure on rival players, but regardless of their race.

“In particular, this happened with Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko. Why the Ivorian midfielder took it as all being directed at him is not clear.”

The statement added that CSKA had never been sanctioned for racist abuse while competing in Europe and that the club will “continue to fight” racism.

However, if the club is found guilty, Uefa could force CSKA to close part of its stadium for a future game.

There is a precedent for this in other Eastern European countries as Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, Legia Warsaw of Poland and Honved of Hungary have already had full stadium closure orders where they have had to play games behind closed doors.

Elsewhere, Italian side Lazio were originally given a full stadium closure that was reduced to a partial closure on appeal, Polish clubs Lech Poznan and Piast Gliwice, APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus and Croatian outfit HNK Rijeka have also had sections of their stands closed for matches after problems with their fans.

Piara Powar, executive director of European anti-discrimination body Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) and a member of Fifa’s anti-discrimination taskforce, backed Toure’s stance:

“Yaya Toure is absolutely right in raising the spectre of African players or players of African heritage not going to the 2018 World Cup – and without them there will not be a World Cup in Russia.

“I wouldn’t blame them – in this era players are the most powerful force and if all the players said they are not going there wouldn’t be a World Cup, or if there was it would be meaningless.”

Powar stated that he did not envisage overt racism at the World Cup in Russia, but he did claim that the situation in the country’s domestic football is “dire” and fuelled by far-right extremists:

“In terms of the number of black players being abused, that is happening in club football in Russia and in that regard the situation is dire.”

Incidents of racism and far right extremism are being reported more and more at football matches across Europe.

Fare has identified banners supporting the Greek far-right political party Golden Dawn – which has a swastika-like symbol – being displayed in several stadiums in Eastern Europe including Russia in the last month.

FIFA need to follow Uefa’s lead and act quickly on this issue.

Uefa announced back in May that for cases of racist incidents involving spectators a partial stadium closure would be applied for the first offence and a full stadium closure for a second, coupled with a fine of 50,000 Euros (£42,800).

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Maria Miller told BBC Sport:

“Any form of racism in sport is absolutely unacceptable and I think any allegation of this sort needs to be investigated in full and Uefa needs to take it very seriously indeed.

“When countries like Russia are going to be very shortly hosting the World Cup, it’s important we know a tough line is going to be taken.”

The World Cup 2018 organisers issued their own statement in response to Toure’s allegations:

“It is worth restating that all stakeholders in Russian Football have made it clear that there is absolutely no place for any type of racial discrimination or abuse in our game.

“What is clear is that football is uniquely positioned to educate fans in combating this global issue.

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, in particular, can act as a catalyst to positively change the mindsets and behaviour across all involved in Russian Football over the next four years.”

This would seem to be a tacit admission that the problem exists in the Russian game.


A recent report has revealed that alcohol brands are shown approximately two times a minute during televised Premier League and Championship football matches.

Researchers studied six matches that were broadcast on the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports in the UK for references to alcohol brands – either seen on screen or heard in commentary. They also looked at conventional advertising for comparison.

In 18 hours and 21 minutes of broadcast time (the total for the six matches combined), there were 2,042 visual references to alcohol, mostly in the form of beer logos or related branding at pitchside, plus 32 additional verbal mentions of alcohol brands from the commentators referring to the alcohol brand sponsoring the event (“the FA Cup with Budweiser”, for example).

This compares to the 17 formal alcohol commercials shown during the matches at half time, which contributed to a mere 0.6% of the broadcast time.

The matches the researchers picked had a combined UK audience of more than 15 million people, including a certain number of viewers who had watched all of some of the other games.

The report’s lead author Dr Jean Adams told BBC News: “I guess I hadn’t appreciated quite how pervasive the marketing is. I thought that [where the money was spent] was adverts in shops. I think it’s so normal we don’t notice it anymore, and it took me to stop and count to notice.”

She continued: “Alcohol causes such a large range of problems, a range of health problems from sore head the next morning to deadly liver disease.

The researchers also pointed out that guidelines set up by the Portman group, the voluntary code of practice for alcohol advertising, state that alcohol advertising “should not be targeted at under-18-year-olds”. However, the visual and audio references to alcohol brands bypass these guidelines as they are not part of the actual advertising breaks.

The charity Alcohol Concern reported in 2010 that up to 5.2 million children between the ages of four and 15 years old would have seen alcohol advertising on TV during the 2008 UEFA European Championship alone.

Dr Adams is concerned about the amount of brand information that is presented outside traditional commercials in this way, as this is often less noticeable, yet still has a brand awareness and reinforcement effect:

“We know that it has an effect, on kids particularly. If we care about protecting our children, we should care about the things that are harming them. So I think we should be worried.

“You stop noticing it, it’s become normal. That means these brands are normal to us, we expect to see them in all sorts of walks of life, and so by extension that drinking is just very normal.”

Dr Adams was asked whether she thought that this kind of marketing contributed to the ubiquity of alcohol in UK society. She responded:

“I can’t believe that it doesn’t contribute to it.”

A spokesman for the Portman Group told BBC News:

“National trends around alcohol consumption are encouraging. Government figures show that fewer and fewer children are even trying alcohol and the number of adults that drink to harmful levels is also falling.

“The drinks industry is committed to responsible marketing practices in all forms to help continue these positive national trends.”

Prof Matt Field from the University of Liverpool, who was not involved in the study, stated that:

“Not so long ago, tobacco advertising was plastered all over racing cars and snooker venues. That has since been banned and perhaps we need to do the same for alcohol and sport, if it’s a way of introducing beer to young people.”

Football and sponsors/advertisers enjoy a symbiotic relationship – each profits from the other. If you ban alcohol advertising and tournament sponsorship in the same way that tobacco advertising and sponsorship was banned in the early 2000s whose branding will we see?

An article on Soccer Lens (http://soccerlens.com/the-worlds-biggest-soccer-sponsors/52174/) details the biggest sponsors in football. These are Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s, Barclays Bank, Anheuser-Busch InBev (owners of the Budweiser brand), adidas, Puma, Visa, bwin, Pepsi, Carlsberg, Red Bull, Volkswagen, Mastercard and Emirates.

“Coca Cola has had stadium advertising at every World Cup since 1950 and has been an official World Cup partner since 1978. Coca-Cola’s World Cup 2010 campaign had a presence in 170 countries and that sponsorship deal was recently re-carbonated until 2022. Coca-Cola also has a long-term deal with UEFA, and will be an official UEFA partner for Euro 2016.

“(McDonald’s) can afford to copy Coca-Cola’s approach and be long term sponsors of both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship. In addition, McDonald’s also sponsors the English Football Association’s grassroots coaching efforts.

“(Anheuser-Busch InBev) owns the Budweiser brand, which is a long-standing Official Beer of the FIFA World Cup. Since Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired Budweiser, it has replaced Budweiser as the alcoholic beverage partners of both the Premier League and Major League Soccer.

“Carlsberg’s name was on every Liverpool shirt from 1992 to 2010 (but no more) and has adorned FC Copenhagen’s shirts since 1999. Carlsberg is also a long-term sponsor of the UEFA European Championship, from Euro ’88 until at least Euro 2012.”

Ban alcohol and Carlsberg and Anheuser-Busch InBev would disappear from the mix, leaving betting, fast food, fizzy drinks, banking, sportswear and airlines, but where do you draw the line? Extending bans for the sake of not exposing children and teenagers to products and brands liable to influence their consuming habits or damage their health to their logical conclusion; adverts and references to fast food, soft drinks high in sugar, gambling and potential debt in the form of credit card borrowing should surely also face a moratorium.

What does that leave with? Well, going by the list above it leaves you with the sportswear manufacturers and car manufacturers – big fish in a small pool. Other non-controversial or contentious advertisers such as Ford and Continental tyres (who already sponsor the European Championships and coverage of the Champions League) would fill the void left by the banned brands, changing the landscape of sports advertising. With less competition, these mega brands would undoubtedly advertise and sponsor more, further controlling what the television audience is exposed to.

CTRUS football by Agent


The CTRUS football by Agent is transparent and changes colour when it crosses the goal line.

The Mexican design studio claims that it’s the world’s first see-through football.

The ball is designed with a flexible plastic shell that houses the components, and it bounces in the same way as a standard football. An internal web gives the ball its structure and a transparent spherical shell full of holes forms the kicking surface. This construction means that the ball doesn’t rely on air to give it shape or need re-inflating after use.

“The flexibility provided by the materials emulates the bounce of an inflated pneumatic soccer ball, but offers the advantage of not losing air,” said Agent.

It has sensors embedded inside it that detect kick force and travel speed, as well as providing GPS information to track the exact position of the ball. The ball communicates with control stations that could be located in any football stadium, which record data.

Lights in the ball’s core can be programmed to change colour if it goes out of play or into the goal, giving quick feedback to the referee, players and fans; and a stabilised on-board camera could relay a “ball’s eye view” to video screens around the ground.

As the technology is inside the ball itself and it communicates with the control stations as long as the signal isn’t interrupted, there would be no need to use Hawkeye-like goal line sensors or stop play to review whether the ball has crossed the line or not. This seems like an ideal solution to an on-going problem.

If FIFA and UEFA adopt this revolutionary football technology then we could see it at major championships in the not-too-distant future.