Tuesday 25 July 2017

City rivals bring €2m respite from revenue slump

DAMIAN LAWLOR

THE GAA will receive a €2m boost from today's All-Ireland football semi-final between Cork and Dublin, which will draw the biggest attendance of the season so far to Croke Park.

A crowd of over 70,000 spectators is expected to boost the Association's coffers in what has been a difficult year on the gates.

"We'd certainly be hoping that it will be around that figure, if not over," said stadium director Peter McKenna.

Attendances are down two per cent from last year, but this afternoon's fixture will help offset the reduced income, as well as compensating slightly for the loss of rugby and soccer fixtures at the Jones' Road venue.

"You can never replace the money that soccer and rugby brought," McKenna admitted. "Holding concerts is far more costly than staging those games and with the World Cup on this year very few of the leading bands around were touring anyway."

As the GAA looks to explore alternative revenue streams now that soccer and rugby have moved back to Lansdowne Road, the Sunday Independent understands the stadium was due to host a spectacular Croke Park on Ice extravaganza before Christmas but that proposal fell victim to low market demands. It's also understood that the possibility of bringing a Monster Truck Rally into the ground was ruled out on the same grounds.

"We looked at extending our options and we had looked into the Ice event but the market was not right," admitted McKenna. "But it's not just us that is experiencing such market forces -- the numbers haven't been coming into the Aviva or 02 like expected either. But we'll reflect on that and hopefully have a better demand in 2011."

McKenna added, however, that his department would continue to make a huge contribution to the GAA's central funds.

"Before rugby and soccer came here, we generated around €4m per year for the Association, of which we're a huge part anyway. When the IRFU and FAI came on board, we contributed €20m a year to the GAA. Without those sports this year, we're looking at contributing €6-7m. And from now on we'll be generating around €4m per annum for the Association.

"Along with the GAA, we've already pumped €30m into developing our games in every county this year and that's a serious achievement in the current economic circumstances."

McKenna also defended the controversial new fence around Hill 16, claiming he was frustrated with what he felt are uninformed criticisms of the decision.

The new fence -- to be installed in time for next Sunday's second football semi-final between Kildare and Down -- will be almost 10 feet high and will include emergency gates.

"The design will be such that vision won't be impaired," he said. "But I cannot understand the views of senior journalists and GAA personnel who are highly critical of our actions. If they examined the Garda feedback, crucial footage and data that we have before they spoke on the issue it would be better all around. People have to get their minds around the fact that the halcyon days of pitch invasions are over. You'd swear we were trying to rip down the Tricolour or something.

"The bottom line is that we have severe problems after a pitch invasion and off the field people are choking exits under the Hogan Stand in particular, which is troublesome.

"There is huge congestion in certain areas and it's just not safe. Yet, anything we say is dismissed as histrionics and we're seen as being almost sensational.

"All it takes is one incident to change or damage a venue's reputation. Croke Park is a family-based ground; we have worked hard to establish its reputation but you can lose that very quickly. One incident and the stadium is irrevocably damaged."

McKenna revealed that one spectator already had to be resuscitated following a pitch invasion this season and that children had to be removed from the field on numerous occasions after games to avoid a crush.

If the new fencing measure, to be introduced for the Kildare-Down game, fails to have an impact, installing seats on the Hill 16 terrace could be the next step.

"That would be a last resort," said McKenna. "Seating Hill 16 is not off the radar but it is possible at some stage. At the moment, the heightened fence around Hill 16 was the least intrusive option available to us.

"If that doesn't work you look at what's next, so seating Hill 16 is still a possibility but you would be hoping not to have to do that; the atmosphere in the Hill is what makes it so special. It would be a tragedy if we had to implement any change there."

Sunday Independent

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