Everywhere He Wants to Be
by Niall O'Dowd
He travels the globe putting sponsorship deals together and whether it's the soccer World Cup in South Africa or the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs or the Olympics in Beijing, Visa's Michael O'Hara Lynch will be there.
Michael O'Hara Lynch is everywhere you would want to be. As head of Visa event and sponsorship marketing he flies to World Cups, Olympics, Super Bowls and every other major event on the planet. He negotiates multi-million-dollar contracts for Visa and helps create the marketing buzz for the world's greatest sports events.
He's the kid brought up near the Bronx in the small town of Katonah who grew up to see the world and all that's in it. And he loves every minute of it.
He was one of the first sports agents, those Tom Cruise wannabees who scream "Show me the money" in movies like Scott Boras with Alex Rodriguez in real life except you couldn't imagine Michael O'Hara Lynch doing that. He's quiet, cool and very effective.
As a sports agent he negotiated deals for superstars such as Michael Jordan and Arthur Ashe. With Jordan he put him on the box of Wheaties, achieving the ultimate iconic status for the Bulls superstar at the time.
Strange as it may seem, he had a tough job convincing General Mills to do it. They only wanted already minted legends and were unsure that the new sensation Jordan belonged on the box. O'Hara Lynch convinced them otherwise. Wheaties has never looked the same since.
These days he is near the top of a company which handles an average of 7,000 credit card transactions per second every second in the U.S. and $4.5 trillion in transactions every year.
He travels the globe putting sponsorship deals together, and whether it's the soccer World Cup in South Africa or the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs or the Olympics in Beijing, the tall, lanky O'Hara will be there.
He's fifty and looks forty, lives in the suburbs of beautiful San Francisco with his wife and two daughters, McKenzie, a star Irish dancer, and Dylan. For recreation he's a Notre Dame sports nut as befits an alumni of that great Irish bastion.
He attended Notre Dame and was a walk-on for the basketball team - he has never forgiven then coach Digger Phelps for keeping him warming the bench. It might have had something to do with the fact that the Fighting Irish at the time were ranked near to No. 1 in the country,
He was a contemporary of Joe Montana at Notre Dame and saw the golden years of the football program. He left in 1979.
When we talked he had high hopes for the team for the 2007 season. Enough said. Suffice it to say South Bend is one of the places even Visa doesn't want to be this football season.
So how come the name Michael O'Hara Lynch? "The reason I use O'Hara, you know, is my mother Kathleen Jean O'Hara," he says. "She had nine boys. I was the sixth but I was the only one who got her middle name. Out of respect for her I use it all the time." A dutiful son it seems.
He laughs that his parents, good Catholics, probably used the rhythm method when they got married. Nine boys arrived in rapid succession, not a baby girl in sight. "I guess they gave up trying after the last one," he says with a smile.
His dad was a high school principal and he gave Michael his love of sport. In 1976 his dad drove him from Katonah to faraway Montreal for the Olympics. All they could afford was standing-room for track and field tickets, but to the youngster it looked like heaven.
"I got the bug right there - to this day, seeing all these countries and people coming together, there was something truly special about it all. Right there I knew I wanted to work on the Olympics."
Many of his siblings became teachers, but from an early age Michael had a head for numbers, a heart for sport and an eye for a deal.
" I don't know where I got the business instinct from." He says part of it was the influence of Notre Dame. "I always felt really comfortable in the marketing areas, and numbers came easy to me. Sport was a given."
He got a bachelor's in business administration at Notre Dame and later went on to an MBA at Cornell. In between he fused his two great interests, sports and marketing, together.
"Prior to Cornell I worked as an in-house consultant for the Timex Corporation, and when we were developing the iron man triathlon watch, we hired two athletes, Alberto Salazar and Mary Slaney, to promote it. That's where I learned about the business of sports marketing."
It was a brand-new business. He joined Proserv, founded in 1984, then one of the first companies in the field. "It was predominantly lawyers who were handling the athletes," he remembers. "I came in with a marketing background to help build the athletes' brand. We felt there wasn't a single corporation out there that couldn't use sports in one way or another to develop their business"
He fondly remembers working with Jordan. "Michael is able to differentiate between the public person, the celebrity icon and the normal private person. He was a tremendously normal guy, and recognized that this celebrity thing was not who he was as a person. He was also raised by great parents and they raised him right."