Sunday 26 March 2017

Dublin are shifting 100,000 hoodies, T-shirts and tracksuits... and 30,000 jerseys annually

A €4m sponsorship deal, a full-time commercial director and a dream team roster of blue-chip corporate clients - in the second part of a major INM series, Simon Rowe examines how the Blues' slick marketing machine has been transformed into a rampaging juggernaut that's the envy of other counties

Dublin's Tomas Quinn Picture: Sportsfile
Dublin's Tomas Quinn Picture: Sportsfile

Simon Rowe

Dublin GAA is pure box office when it comes to generating commercial revenue.Since appointing a full-time marketing manager in 2014, the Blues have become a marketing juggernaut, scoring serveral top class sponsors.

Helmed by All-Ireland-winning footballer Tomas 'Mossy' Quinn, Dublin GAA has been signing major deals that are the envy of other counties.

Quinn came on board in 2014 as part of a strategy to take a more professional approach to generating income. He previously worked as a business development manager with Dalkia - an energy service company, now known as Veolia - which was run by former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy.

With more than 90 clubs, an estimated 100,000 registered players, and a catchment population of 1.3 million, Dublin GAA gives the marketing team a lot to work with, Its attractiveness to major league advertisers and media partners is obvious. But it needed to be harnessed and maximised.

Alongside Quinn, Dublin hired fellow Dubliner Mike Farnan, who has 25 years' experience of marketing sports brands internationally, including Manchester United, Jordan Grand Prix and Sunderland FC, to set in motion its Blue Wave strategy - a five-year plan to develop Dublin GAA.

It was launched after the All-Ireland triumph in 2011, when Stephen Cluxton scored the winning point and Dublin's fortunes began to turn for the better, ending its 16-year All-Ireland title drought.

Farnan says Dublin has been successful at "building revenues gradually" and courting corporate sponsors. But striking a balance between preserving the game's amateur ethos and maximising its commercial potential can be difficult, he said. "It's a unique model that needs to be kept intact but at the same time it needs to move slightly forward to create more 'outside the box' thinking to generate more income," he said.

Another obstacle that Dublin had to overcome was a recession. However, despite it being a depressed market for corporate spend on sports sponsorship, Dublin bagged a number of lucrative commercial deals.

After its €800,000-a-year sponsorship deal with Vodafone ended in 2013, insurance giant AIG came on board with a €4m deal over five years. It is the biggest inter-county sponsorship deal of all time, uniting Dublin's football, hurling and camogie teams under the one banner.

Former Dublin County Board chairman, the late Andy Kettle, who helped usher in the AIG deal, said at the time that it was a vote of confidence in Dublin GAA. "The strength of the Dublin brand is illustrated by our ability to negotiate this outstanding sponsorship in a depressed economic market. The sponsorship revenue is critical in helping towards our expenditure on club coaching programmes and inter-county teams at all levels."

Last year, the Blues agreed a three-year sponsorship deal with Ballygowan Natural Mineral Water and Energise Sport, which are both owned by Britvic Ireland. The two brands elbowed Deep RiverRock off the pitch as Dublin's 'hydration partners' for its men's football and hurling teams at senior and U-21 levels.

The Dubs now has an enviable list of sponsors which includes O'Neill's, Lifestyle Sports, Toyota, Ballygowan, Bavaria, The Gibson Hotel, Skins, Linwoods, Ros Nutrition, Benetti menswear, Gourmet Food Parlour and media partner The Herald newspaper.

Dublin also makes lucrative profits from jersey sales - the most of any county team - with the Blues selling 100,000 hoodies, T-shirts, tracksuits and other merchandise as well as shifting 30,000 team jerseys each year. About one in every five replica GAA shirts sold each year are Dublin jerseys. The county also bags around €1.4m in games development funding from Croke Park's central fund, the highest amount of any county.

But not everyone's happy about Dublin's success on the field and in the boardroom. Every year at the launch of the GAA annual accounts there is grumbling about the huge disproportion between Dublin's games development grant of €1.46m and that drawn down by other counties.

If Dublin was still on its 1990s losing streak, other counties probably wouldn't mind so much. But most fear it is no longer a level playing pitch, as they are competing with a team that can command sponsorship deals worth more than twice what any other team can expect.

One other elephant in the room is what Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna referred to earlier this year as "Dublin's domination in Leinster". He cited this as being a factor in the stadium's €600,000 drop in match day rental income. This appears to be an acknowledgement that the champions' domination of the province is affecting gate receipts.

Indeed, in an ironic twist, one of the reasons Leinster counties have been reluctant to vote to send Dublin out of Croke Park for championship fixtures - unless drawn against them - is that there are more gate receipts for distribution if they're kept in the stadium. Although this practice changed this year - with Dublin playing Laois in Nowlan Park in Kilkenny - concerns at Dublin's dominance are never far from the surface at any GAA meeting.

Nevertheless, on and off the field, the Blues juggernaut will keep on rolling.

Other counties fear it is no longer a level playing pitch, as they are competing with a team that can command sponsorship deals worth more than twice what other teams can expect

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