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great divide Capital’s commercial clout still casts long shadow over the rest

Covid restrictions impacted hard on 2020 finances but the GAA’s commercial divide very much remains

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Cork GAA secretary Kevin O'Donovan. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork GAA secretary Kevin O'Donovan. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork GAA secretary Kevin O'Donovan. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

In our survey of county board chairpersons, the results of which were published in the past week, views on Dublin and the level of central coaching and games development funding it continues to receive drew wide-ranging reaction, a majority of it showing a reluctance to tamper too much, if it all, with it.

Two of the six county chairs who were keen to see a review that would not necessarily impact on Dublin alone were of the view that any funding from Croke Park should be linked to a county’s capacity to generate it in their own right.

Longford’s Albert Cooney felt “ability to earn sponsorship should be deciding factor” suggesting a number of counties “not just Dublin have been successful raising large sums of money.

“I would suggest a graded system based on history and levels of success raising funds,” he added.

Roscommon’s Brian Carroll also touched on that theme, pointing out that Dublin has got a lot of help and consequently, they are “now an attractive brand which stimulates increased funding through sponsorship. The successful counties would be in a better position to raise their own funding (for coaching and games development),” Carroll added.

Leitrim’s Enda Stenson went further, saying that rebalancing to give Dublin less “has to happen.” He pointed out that they don’t have to even think about “walking 50 miles in January”, a reference to a fundraiser held in January that yielded €100,000.

They don’t. Not when they can continue to generate €1.4m in commercial revenues, down from €2.1m in 2019 but still a considerable distance ahead of their nearest rivals on that front.

Draws, race days, golf classics are not something they have to get their hands dirty with on a regular basis to support their functions; hence nothing in their fundraising column for 2020. At €88,445, they were the third-lowest among counties in the fundraising column in 2019.

Of course, it’s a question of scale. Dublin is the capital with the biggest population and has need for such revenue. But the rest can only look on at their figures every year with some envy.

Last year most counties had to take a backward commercial step with sponsorships of both county teams and championships down due, in some cases, to renegotiation because of shorter seasons and more limited exposure for the relevant brand. But it wasn’t the freefall that might have been expected as the attached figures illustrate.

Cork is Dublin’s ‘closest’ commercial rival and the county arguably most capable of bridging the gap. Last year their commercial revenues were down with the value of their main sponsorship arrangement with Chill Insurance taking a performance-related drop from €330,000 to €260,000.

But in November they launched ‘One Cork’, a new commercial vehicle that aimed to co-ordinate strategy between the board, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Cairde Chorcaí, a supporters’ fundraising arm. An ambitious target of €20m over five years was set and at the launch it was stated that up to 50 revenue streams through four distinct channels were identified corporate, campus, supporters and community.

Kevin O’Donovan, the current chief executive, is also chair of ‘One Cork’ and knows the potential value of streamlining the revenue-raising side of what they do.

“Take sponsorship,” he explained. “If you had a commercial manager in the stadium and a commercial manager at county board level, as is becoming standard in some counties, they would effectively be in competition going to exactly the same people.

“People who would be looking externally in at us saying, ‘Aren’t Cork GAA and Páirc Uí Chaoimh the one thing’. Or supporters would see them as one. So that was very much a part of it and we got great support from Croke Park too in terms of taking back the day-to-day running of the stadium. It’s all interlinked,” said O’Donovan.

“If you are talking to a potential sponsor, they are going to want to look at your suite of options, whether it’s a sign in the stadium, a jersey, naming rights, premium package, sponsorship of county championships. They don’t want to hear that they are in different departments, they want access to them all at one time, in terms of picking the best option for them.”

The awareness of Cork’s potential as a GAA brand is strong. “Cork is a big town in a lot of ways and the GAA is still discussed on the main street in every town. We’re not so big as to make GAA irrelevant so we’re in a pretty good place in terms of starting point. There is a lot of commercial activity in the city and county, we have the numbers.”

And when the sponsorship contract with Chill Insurance expired at the end of last year they had sportswear chain Sports Direct, which has a big presence in the city, ready to step in.

It was the wrong fit for some, given how a House of Commons committee had been scathing of some of the company’s work practices in a 2016 report.

O’Donovan said Cork “hear the criticism the same as everyone else but it has not come through their clubs, our governing body.”

“It’s a good deal and we feel it’s a good partner. We report to them (clubs) at board meetings. I know people don’t see it that way, they don’t see it as being the clubs but that’s how it is ultimately. We are elected by the clubs, our executive consists of 14 people from 14 different clubs and they have vetted all contracts and all aspects of this deal in advance, as did our sponsorship group.

“In that context, there hasn’t been negativity, we do hear it on the airwaves, we do see that outside. We want to promote the Cork brand as well, we want visibility and we want exciting partners who are going to activate partnerships. The part that people often ignore is, it’s not just the money put up front for a deal, the payment terms for the contract, it is also the investment that they will make in activation.”

In time, Cork GAA believes Páirc Uí Chaoimh will more than pay its way, O’Donovan pointing to developments in the city that will put the stadium at the centre of business.

“Cork city is moving down to envelop Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the work in the Marina, the Marina Park is being developed alongside us. You can see the hotels and the high rise is coming towards us. It will look very different in five years’ time. Concerts, sale of premium tickets and naming rights are fundamental to any business plan you will write on the stadium. We have a business plan at present and all of those would be challenged by Covid so all our work at this point in time is going in to be ready to almost relaunch once we are clear of Covid because those large ticket items will be the ones that will address the debt and then the stadium can breathe on a commercial basis in terms of events, day-to-day.”

Many other counties are looking to maximise their corporate reach and generate greater revenue. Waterford GAA launched a 10-year strategy plan last week and consulted Dublin GAA and Leinster Rugby among others for pointers. Their aim is to raise €10m over a five-year period to support coach, growth and Walsh Park redevelopment.

Some counties have been leaning towards the appointment of commercial managers but the question remains for most as to what the limit of what they can source is. Some have already realised there is a ceiling.

Mayo and Limerick were among the counties that, when commercial and fundraising revenues were combined, had built up an impressive ‘war chest’.

Cavan topped the fundraising table, courtesy of proceeds from their draw for a house in Dublin 15 that took in over €500k.

Some fundraising figures should be explained. Roscommon ran a deficit, Club Rossie’s expenditure €2,744 more than their income, outlay for their ‘Win A Home in London’ draw in December (outside the financial year) that put up an apartment in the British capital for raffle, yielded more than €900,000 in profit that will reflect in next year’s figures.

Donegal’s €140 has the context of its house draw, also in December, that sold all 15,000 €100 tickets. Louth also have a double house draw coming up that chairman Peter Fitzpatrick hopes will realise between €1.5m and €2m.

Clare GAA didn’t raise any funds and having raised just €12k in 2019 there were stark warnings from their auditor again at convention last December.

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