As football fans all over Scotland pondered quite how their sport got a (perceived) raw deal compared to rugby when the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 emergency handouts to sport were released, they probably didn’t know who was largely responsible.
The man who was front and centre of Scottish Rugby’s considerable charm offensive to Holyrood was Dominic McKay, who is to succeed Peter Lawell as chief executive of Celtic FC.
A slick progression
McKay’s 13 years at Murrayfield have been a slick progression of growing responsibility.
He joined in 2008 from the Chivas Regal whisky brand as a mere director of communications. He ended it as second only to chief executive Mark Dodson and, we all thought, the heir apparent.
And while the CEO job at Murrayfield is well provisioned – Dodson carried off a salary and bonus worth nearly £1 million before Covid-19 realities took hold – the job at Parkhead is something else entirely.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) January 29, 2021
What kind of man are Celtic getting?
An excellent operator, for sure, who is supremely comfortable in boardroom circles and dealing with the important outside agencies.
McKay has been chair of Scottish Rugby’s Threat Management Group throughout the pandemic, dealing face to face with the Scottish Government.
But he’d already established relationships with successive Holyrood administrations that ensured rugby’s voice was heard at those levels.
When rugby got a generous grant from the government to shore up its finances during the pandemic, it had McKay’s fingerprints all over it.
A counterweight to his boss
His firm but disarming charm was the counterweight to Dodson’s preference for a confrontational style.
McKay has been generally delegated the areas where diplomacy is required – although notably not when Dodson and World Rugby got into a spat in Japan during the World Cup in 2019.
McKay’s other speciality has been successfully selling the brand.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) January 29, 2021
Murrayfield’s impressive list of sponsors and commercial nous has been a major factor in – pre-pandemic, obviously – Scottish rugby’s annual turnover blooming to £60 million under his watch.
Murrayfield were even able to make the claim – dubiously, if one looked at the books with a careful eye – they were finally “debt-free”.
They’d had decades of debt caused by the decision in the mid-1990s to redevelop the stadium without a penny of public money.
Previous dealings with football eased the path to Parkhead
As chief operating officer, McKay has been responsible for management of the BT Murrayfield “campus”.
He’s hawked the facility relentlessly as a concert venue, to the football authorities and indeed to Celtic.
McKay led the campaign to have Murrayfield named as the venue for Scottish football matches in preference to Hampden. The SFA eventually opted to stay put, but it was a closer thing than anyone anticipated.
There’s no doubt a favourable impression of Dominic during these dealings with those in power in football at national and club level eased his path towards his new job.
The hottest ticket in Scottish sport?
McKay has also been in charge of Scottish Rugby’s marketing, ticketing and communications strategies.
Before coronavirus closed the doors, you could make a case for the national rugby team as the hottest ticket in Scottish sport.
Murrayfield was a sell-out for all major matches involving the Scotland team.
With imaginative packages, they could fill the seats for games always considered “poor” draws like Argentina, Samoa and Fiji.
McKay also took charge of the activities of the two professional teams, Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, with the Warriors’ going from crowds of 1500 at Firhill to sell-outs of 7000 at Scotstoun.
Crowds at Edinburgh have also risen, although more modestly.
While some of these successes with the pro teams have been at local level, there’s no question who was signing everything off.
The new and different challenges of Celtic
McKay hasn’t had much of a public profile, although he’s been an assured, if over-corporate, presence in rare media sessions. Dodson has remained the aggressive public face of Scottish Rugby whenever it’s been required.
This is the maybe the most intriguing aspect of McKay taking on the post at Parkhead.
The scrutiny and the interest will be far more intense than anything Dominic has had to deal with before.
He’ll also no doubt have to deal directly with the actual playing side of the sport. That was something he managed to largely avoid at Scottish Rugby.
Dominic’s not had an easy ride from the Scottish rugby media, although we’ve mostly had a decent relationship. But the atmosphere will unquestionably be different in football and especially with Celtic.
His easy charm and ability to win people over worked well in the less-intense arena of Scottish Rugby.
We’ll be very interested to see how he goes in more cut-throat world of the other code.