The buzzword in GAA HQ these days is marketing and how the Association is going to tackle the challenge from other major sports over the coming months. It is going to be a tough task, but not dissimilar to what the GAA has faced in the past with successful results.
First up is the Heineken Cup and fate has dictated that it will involve two teams from Ireland. That fact alone will ensure that the game gets wall to wall media coverage as Leinster and Ulster head to the home of English rugby at Twickenham.
The final pairing ensures that a winner will come from this island, so that will help to deliver continued coverage weeks after the game has finished. Leinster, the title holders, start as warm favourites, but if these Ulstermen carry the same passion as their Gaelic footballing counterparts to London in a couple of weeks, our own provincial representatives may not have everything their own way.
It is ironic that as two Irish sides take to the Twickenham pitch to contest the premier club rugby competition in the Northern hemisphere viewers in terrestrial TV land in Ireland will not be able to see the game live.
One will need access to Sky TV to view a game which will be historic in that it is the first time a final has involved sides from the same country. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of BSkyB, has the funds to satisfy the hunger of the professional rugby world and his media empire will continue to dominate the world of sports coverage for many years to come.
People may continue to bemoan the absence of such games from traditional TV outlets, but there is no turning back. Every sporting organisation strives to maximise its commercial income and media rights have now become a hugely important revenue source.
The GAA may well be an amateur organisation, but it too has to operate just like any professional sporting body such as the IRFU and the FAI. TV rights are a vital revenue source for the GAA and the Association is fortunate to have a quality product to sell.
I wrote recently that when the next GAA TV rights come up for resale, I expect some new media outlets to start showing an interest. Practically all GAA games today are available on free to air TV, but it is my view that this position could change in a couple of years.
No sooner will the noise have quietened after the Heineken Cup than it will start up all over again in Poland and the Ukraine with the commencement of the European Soccer championships.
Ireland’s involvement will generate plenty of hype, much of which will probably be over-the-top, as it usually is with these competitions.
Ireland faces a number of very difficult games in their group and if they manage to get through to the next stage of the competition it will be seen as a major achievement.
The Irish team may not possess the same talent as some of the other sides who will travel to Poland and the Ukraine, but none will possess greater commitment than the men in green.
The summer challenge for the GAA reaches a crescendo in June when the Olympic Games return to London. It may cost a king’s ransom to attend many of the events, but the Olympics are such an iconic institution that I suspect a lot of people will want to travel to London.
Ireland will send in the region of fifty athletes to London and Kilkenny’s interest will centre on the fortunes of Darren O’Neill in boxing and Joanne Cuddihy in Athletics. Apologies if I have omitted any more Olympians with a Kilkenny connection.
The cost of getting to London may stop many Irish people from travelling to the English capital, but it will not deter Olympian die-hards from watching wall to wall coverage of the games on TV. I have no doubt that many people are glad that the Olympic Games will be shown on terrestrial TV.
Throw in a couple of horse racing festivals and major golf tournaments and it is not difficult to understand the challenge which the GAA faces getting patrons into grounds around the country this summer.
The GAA has faced these dilemmas in the past, but not quite on the same scale as the plethora of events which are due to takes place over the coming months. The four Provincial Councils are most vulnerable when it comes to competing head to head with the array of upcoming international events.
Well earned break
The straight knock-out GAA championships do not commence until early August (not forgetting the Sligo v New York game last Sunday in Gaelic Park), by which time all the rugby and soccer players plus the Olympic athletes will have departed on a well-earned break.
The GAA’s campaign to focus the hearts and minds of its supporters around the country starts on this coming Friday night when all inter-county teams are being asked to hold a training night.
I have not seen the details relating to the training night, but I imagine it is an opportunity for the general public and the younger cohort of supporters, in particular, to meet with the members of the respective inter-county panels.
That is a laudable request from the GAA President and Director General, but how many counties will actually accede to the request from the Association’s top officials? The request was channelled through Central Council so in theory that means it has the support of every county.
For the most part counties have no interest in supporting any marketing drive to encourage supporters to attend games. There are exceptions, of course, but the marketing of Gaelic games is primarily seen as a job for Croke Park and the Provincial Councils.
The GAA wants to improve the marketing of its games. Some of its marketing efforts in the past fell short of what was required, but it needs the support and co-operation of its counties to ensure any campaign achieves its objectives.
Throughout the upcoming senior championships many supporters will continue to see the benefit of their Season Ticket. A range of concession tickets will also be available to supporters covering juveniles, group passes, club passes and the match packages which become available when the do-or-die games take place in August.
Unfortunately for many patrons the economic climate is dictating that irrespective of the match day concession prices they still cannot afford to attend games. That is the sad reality for many families in Ireland today and to be honest not being able to attend their favourite sporting event may well be the least of their concerns.
During the recent leagues the GAA undertook a series of TV and radio advertisement campaigns. A similar advertising campaign will take place during the summer as the championships unfold. Such campaigns are costly, but are necessary to keep patrons aware of upcoming games.
Criticism has often been vented at the GAA regarding the advertising of its championships when compared to the International Rules Series. Such criticism is unfair in that the International Series is a stand-alone event which (when played in Ireland) is the sole responsibility of Croke Park.
The income and expenditure for the International Rules Series is controlled by Croke Park and any profit (or loss) is retained by GAA Headquarters. There is no distribution of any surplus funds emerging from the Series to the counties.
The GAA championships are the primary non-commercial source of revenue for the GAA and allow the Association to provide a range of services to its constituent units. The GAA at national level operates an open-book policy in that expenditure is always geared to match the available income.
I often wonder how many patrons take time to look at the annual GAA accounts, because they would be enlightened at the range of activities their match day admission fees support. The accounts to the end of 2011 are available on www.gaa.ie for the perusal of readers.
During the recent Congress GAA Director General Paraic Duffy appealed to counties to support the marketing campaign and asked specifically that they release their teams well in advance of games to allow media profiling of players and analysis of the game.
Like the suggested training session planned for next Friday night, I expect this plea from Paraic Duffy to fall on deaf ears for the most part. That is a pity because the challenge from other sports this summer is real and the GAA needs all hands on deck particularly from officials, players and team mentors.
As the GAA sets out on its championship marketing campaign it also has to contend with criticism from many quarters about referees and refereeing matters, playing rules, player transfers, etc. The list is endless.
Such negativity makes the task of promoting games all the more difficult. Maybe the next time someone wants to rant about something or other they might consider the problems their utterances create for those entrusted with the task of marketing Gaelic games.