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Why there is a big possibility that a Dublin v Kerry championship match in Croke Park will not sell out

But if the crowd dips below 70,000 then the alarm bells will start to sound.

Dublin face Kerry this weekend© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

SUNDAY is a watershed day for the GAA.

For the first time in nearly half a century, there is a possibility that a Dublin v Kerry championship match in Croke Park will not sell out.

There were still plenty of tickets available for purchase on the Ticketmaster website late yesterday afternoon.

Of course, it could be a case of everything being alright on the day with fans leaving it late to buy their tickets. Still, the next 48 hours will be a nervy time for the GAA.

It won’t be the end of the world if Kerry v Dublin does not sell-out. A crowd in excess of 75,000 is perfectly acceptable. Once that number pass through the turnstiles there will be no post- mortems.

But if the crowd dips below 70,000 then the alarm bells will start to sound.

In the last semi-final between Dublin and Kerry in 2016, 82,000 packed into Croke Park for a classic match.

Their two most recent meetings in the 2019 All-Ireland final and replay attracted full-houses as well. But traditionally the majority of All-Ireland finals sell out.

This is the first championship in three season that full attendances are allowed.

In 2020 the All-Ireland series was played in winter behind closed doors. Last year it reverted to a summer campaign. But it was only in the latter stages of the series that spectators could attend and numbers remained restricted. The limit for the All-Ireland finals was 40,000.

So, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a splurge in attendances this year. This hasn’t materialised, particularly in the latter stages of the All-Ireland series when Croke Park hosts the games.

Nobody knows for sure why the crowds have been sluggish, though some of the reasons are patently obvious.

Those of us who live in Dublin are often oblivious to the cost of bringing a family to Croke Park for a match.

In a recent column in the Irish Independent former Sligo player Neil Ewing estimated it would be more than €170 euro for a family of two adults and two kids to go to a match in Croke Park - and that is excluding the cost of the match tickets.

Overnight stays in Dublin are virtually out of the question for the majority of families unless they have booked their accommodation months in advance. On the other hand, a one-day return journey from Kerry to Dublin by car is a tough and taxing ordeal.

We are experiencing a cost of living crisis in Ireland due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has caused a spike in the cost of fuel in particular.

In fairness to the GAA their pricing policy for match tickets were set out before Putin decided to wage war in Ukraine.

Given the price of theatre and concert tickets, charging €50 for a stand ticket for an All-Ireland semi-final is not exorbitant in normal times.

Arguably we are not living in normal times. In recognition of what is happening, perhaps the GAA should have considered cutting the price of match tickets or offering more family tickets at a reduced cost.

The timing of the All-Ireland championships is a factor as well.

We are all creatures of habit and apart from Covid years, All-Ireland semi-finals have been played in August for decades.

Fans and families may have booked their holidays in July not realising that the GAA was introducing a new time frame for this year’s championship.

Due to the fact that the All-Ireland Minor semi-finals are no longer played as curtain-raisers to the Senior semi-finals may make them less attractive for some fans.

At one time the Dubs were the hottest ticket in town; everybody wanted to jump on their bandwagon.

The core Dublin fanbase remains as loyal as ever. But others have drifted away, possibly bored by all the success and the one-sided games in Leinster. This too has contributed to the fall-off in attendances.

As I have written about the issue before, I won’t dwell on the fact that in terms of media access this championship has been unquestionably the worst ever. There has never been a such a low-key build-up to one of the showcase fixtures in Irish sport.

For decades the GAA didn’t really have to market their products.

Firstly, the newspapers did the job for them, whereas in more recent years the competition sponsors have been in the vanguard of the marketing drive.

But the association needs to be more pro-active across all the social media platforms.

Ultimately fans with fewer euros to spend are opting to stay at home and watch even the big the games on TV.

This is worrying for the GAA because its financial well-being depends on attracting capacity attendance to the games at the business end of the All-Ireland series in football and hurling.

It’s time for the association to start thinking outside the box.

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