FAI upwardly mobile after sealing €7.5m sponsor deal
IRELAND'S glamour friendly against Argentina next Wednesday is set to be a sell-out -- with fewer than 2,000 tickets still available to paying fans.
The news comes as the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) yesterday announced a lucrative new deal with mobile phone company 3.
The €7.5m agreement installs 3 as the primary sponsor of the Republic of Ireland team over the next four years.
However, the FAI again declined to release details on how many of the 10,000 seats set aside at Lansdowne Road for 10-year ticket holders had been sold.
The 10-year premium tickets -- with a minimum price of €12,000 -- were put on sale through the Vantage Club in 2008, but it is thought they have been slow to sell in the current economic climate.
Their sale is seen as vital as the FAI attempts to meet its daunting €74m financial commitment to the Aviva Stadium.
On Wednesday night, the official attendance for the Airtricity versus Manchester United match was given as 49,861 at the 50,000-capacity stadium, but many observers felt the figure was much lower.
A spokesman last night confirmed that the premium seats not yet sold for the Argentina game had been made available to those who had already purchased a 10-year seat.
"They may go on public sale if some are returned but a final decision has not yet been made on that," he told the Irish Independent.
Chief executive John Delaney earlier refused to comment on whether there would be empty seats at upcoming international matches at the redeveloped ground, amid ongoing suggestions that sales of the 10-year tickets were poor.
"Today, for me, is about the new sponsorship," Mr Delaney said. "The 24th of August -- at our AGM -- we will deal with all those matters."
Mr Delaney was speaking as the association announced details of the 3 sponsorship. It works out at €1.875m per year before possible bonuses, and is worth more than the previous deal with Eircom, which was estimated at approximately €1.5m per year.
Mr Delaney described the deal with 3 as "one of the biggest in Irish sport". He declined, though, to reveal exactly how much Eircom had paid during its 11-year spell as primary sponsor. The Ireland team has had just two title sponsors -- Opel and Eircom -- during the past 24 years.
But the list of FAI 'partners' continues to grow and includes Umbro, Carlsberg, An Post, Nivea for Men, Tayto, Aviva, Lucozade Sports, Boylesports, DHL, Ford, Newstalk and Airtricity.
Sources said the association had been looking for closer to €9m for the four-year deal. 3 also sponsors the Waterford hurling and gaelic football teams, Waterford United FC and the Irish Open.
The mobile company's CEO Robert Finnegan said: "Football fans will be at the heart of 3's sponsorship strategy and we plan to launch a range of exciting new initiatives, including priority ticket bookings for 3 customers."
Mr Delaney said the €7.5m was "absolutely" guaranteed, and there would be more money paid in bonuses if Ireland qualified for a major finals.
"In the football world, all the sponsors are very, very important and we will try our best to qualify for the European Championships," team manager Giovanni Trapattoni said.
Bringing a bit of levity into the press conference at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, Mr Trapattoni referred to the new sponsors as "the 3" and "number 3", and added that it was "the perfect number" in Italy.
The home Ireland jersey will feature the figure 3 in white on the chest.
BRING ON ARGENTINA: sport