We are now seeing the launch of SkySportsGAA and, by the looks of their social media accounts, it looks like they will have a very successful launch. One of the most talked about aspects of digital TV is the money these broadcasters bring into the sports they cover.
Being an amateur sport, the GAA have naturally resisted professionalism and their stance has been supported by many of the top participants – most recently by Brian Cody of Kilkenny. However, one cannot get away from the fact that there is money to be made and this money should be carefully distributed.
Unlike rugby, the GAA do not have the international dimension of a Heinekin Cup or a Six Nations, but they do have a vibrant inter-county game that has huge financial potential within the global Irish diaspora. Making the All-Ireland series as attractive as possible for these people must be a priority. Some counties, especially those prone to emigration in the past, are huge in comparison to the population and the economic clout of those counties today. As such, the traditionally ‘weaker’ counties can puch above their financial weight in this arena.
Another topic for discussion (lately) is the disruption to the club championship schedules and the demands made on the players – many of whom put their careers on hold, and have their family and personal lives severely impacted by their chosen sport. There is a myriad of issues lurking here – physical health, mental health and expenses to name but a few.
I recently wrote blog articles on re-vamping the All-Ireland C’ships and another on the economic benefits of doing so for each county. Developing these points further, I would like to publicise a few ideas on the following :-
- compensating the clubs for the loss of their top players during the club county championships
- protecting and rewarding the players for their efforts
- developing the weaker counties
- Exploring other avenues for potential revenue
Compensating the clubs
GAA clubs are the life and soul of the Gaelic Athletic Association. They are also the life and souls of many rural communities and their activities and facilities are vital to the survivial of these comunities, as well as the survival of their culture, traditions and unique identities. It is vital that the GAA (and their various sponsors) recognise this.
My idea is very simple and very equitable – pay the clubs for producing the top county players. Without the inter-county scene, the GAA would find it very difficult to attract “big money” sponsorship, i.e. they are making millions off the backs of amateur players and amateur club organisations. It is only fair that the GAA rewards these clubs, e.g.
- most players do not want to be paid to play the sport they love
- pay the clubs a fee of €1,000 p.a. for each county panelist at senior level
- pay the clubs a fee of €500 p.a. for each county panelist at intermediate, junior, U21 and minor level
- there are 32 counties and each gets an equal share of this particular pie
- put a numerical limit on county panels + additional fees for replacements for injuries
- these fees would be separate from the money allocated to county development squads, i.e. it is for the clubs
Protecting and rewarding the players
Without the inter-county players, we have no ‘big ticket’ GAA attractions. I love the club championships at county, provincial and All-Ireland level but the crowds (and the sponsors) are most interested in the All-Ireland series. Without the development work that goes into under age players, we have no senior game at the high levels we currently enjoy and cherish. It is vitally important that we look after the players at all levels properly, e.g.
- allowing the players to claim for ‘reasonable’ expenses would be welcomed by most players
- having a career path after finishing their playing careers would be nice (coaching)
- having appropriate healthcare / medical / sports science facilities during their playing career would also be nice
Developing the weaker counties
This is the most difficult of all challenges that face the GAA. Not all counties are equal in terms of population, the sports they prefer (football, hurling or both), the money they have available for development, etc. etc. If there was a ‘draft’ system, similar to American college basketball and football, would the supporters back the ‘imported’ players from other counties, would the ‘imports’ have the same pride in the jersey, would the local sponsors back them? There are so many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ here, it may not be practical to have such a system.
My idea is to do the following :-
- use the National Leagues as a seeding competition for the All-Ireland series
- open, seeded draw for the All-Ireland series on last day of the national league season
- introduce a Champions League format (8 groups of 4, with 3 home + 3 away matches each)
- top teams play at home in Last 16, runners-up play away
- 3rd place teams play at home and 4th place team play away in All-Ireland B C’ship
- mirror the senior fixtures with Intermediate, Junior, U21 and Minor fixtures on the same weekend / venue
- all counties (and fans + sponsors) guaranteed a minimum of seven championship games each
- all counties (and local businesses) guaranteed a minimum of 3 football + 3 hurling championship weekends each
- organise ‘gathering-type’ events around home county GAA fixtures each year
- organise ‘most influential GAA emigrant’ awards for each county every year and host the awards ceremony on GAA weekend
Exploring other avenues of financial revenue
If the All-Ireland series is played on a Champions League basis, it brings many financial benefits to each county via having a guaranteed 6 home weekends (3 football + 3 hurling). Each county will benefit economically from travelling fans spend and local businesses will get very creative re additional events / services and attractions. This extra money will filter down through the local economy and create jobs. My ideas include the following :-
- all county stadiums to be expanded for 50% more spectators
- all county stadiums to be upgraded in terms of seats and other facilities (medical, healthcare, etc.)
- these works will be financed by increased numbers of fixtures and sponsorship
- all unsold tickets distributed to clubs (for raffles, prizes and other fundraising activities)
- all county stadiums to include a county GAA museum, GAA merchandise shop and ticket office