Saturday 10 December 2016

Turning your team into a brand leader with help of big sponsors

The days of a local publican throwing in a set of jerseys and a free bag of crisps are over. It's now a hard-nosed business - and The Blues excel at it, writes Colm O'Rourke

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

WINNING: Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in extra time against Kerry in the nail-biting 2011 All Ireland Final. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE
WINNING: Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in extra time against Kerry in the nail-biting 2011 All Ireland Final. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE

The story goes that when AIG wanted to spend big on sports sponsorship in Ireland, the GAA at central level tried their best to entice them into sponsoring the All-Ireland football championship, the biggest event in town.

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But Croke Park was beaten to the punch by the Dublin County Board. So the millions went to Dublin county teams: football, hurling, ladies football and camogie.

This was not as a result of some slick promotion by Dublin. When it comes to sport, AIG knows the value of its money. After all, it sponsored Manchester United and currently sponsors the All Blacks, so its marketing department only looks for those with high profile.

Without the loose change, it amounts to about €4m over five years. It obviously feels that Dublin is good value. First of all, there are thousands of new jerseys being sold with the AIG logo and then there is the television coverage.

With Dublin in the hunt every year and over a million watching the All-Ireland final this afternoon, it probably works out as cheap advertising. Today alone more than half of Croke Park will be a sea of the newly-designed and very striking Dublin AIG jerseys.

If you compare this with more than 20 other counties, the disparity is very clear. The vast majority of counties would get less than €100,000 per year from a sponsor and that includes some inbuilt performance bonuses.

So as the Dubs ride off into the sunset with more trophies, the rest get a glimpse of their 16 shiny new Toyota cars - also part of a sponsorship deal organised by Tomas Quinn, the Dubs' commercial and marketing manager.

In many parts of the country the local publican throws in a set of jerseys to the local team. They might part with a bag of crisps too, but the sponsorship is purely goodwill rather than the hard-nosed business which Dublin excels at.

The business of football is all going one way. This is down to two reasons: first of all, it is a numbers game. Dublin with a quarter of the country's population is in pole position to pick up the big sponsors.

Secondly it is a case of self-help. Dublin has turned its senior team into a brand leader. There is a bit of glitz and glamour, continuing success but without losing the boy-next-door image. The Dublin players are models of best behaviour - no loud, brash egos. They portray an image of humility and respect, and it is totally genuine too.

Who wouldn't want their son or daughter being part of such organisation? A healthy pastime, a huge circle of friends and an army of volunteers who are only interested in the betterment of their communities.

Whether the chicken or the egg came first in Dublin's success is open to debate. When things were struggling a decade ago, the Sports Council certainly gave a Dublin a big leg-up.

A huge tranche of money was left at Dublin's disposal on an annual basis and it was put to good use. A big part went into placing full-time coaches in Dublin clubs who go about recruiting, training and mobilising the next waves through primary school. This builds a relationship with the local club and that ties in mam or dad or both. Membership has rocketed in Dublin clubs, and some could have a couple of thousand family members.

Maintaining a big Dublin club is like running a small to medium business but there are at least six Dublin senior clubs who would be a match for any team in the third division of the Allianz Football League and probably most of the second tier teams as well.

At county level there are plenty of sponsors for all the under-age squads. The best of training, gear, nutritional advice, gym membership and so on is available while the senior team can bring their food for the next few days home from training. Things have moved on from mothers' stews.

The juggernaut is driven carefully by John Costello as CEO. If he walked down the street most people would not know him but some sporting organisations in this country could take a leaf out of his book in the way he does business, occupying a quiet background role.

When he tried to fulfil his community role recently, Nama gave him a kicking. Instead of selling the Spawell site to Dublin GAA, they decided it was better with a vulture fund.

No one, to my knowledge, has been brought to book for this disgraceful decision. The gutless politicians allowed it to happen. 'We can't interfere' being their mantra. All the while Nama is supposed to help social and community projects. What a rotten crowd. Another example of the Dublin appeal is that when Dublin is playing a big live match in Croke Park there is competition between the TV stations to show the game, even if the numbers watching on Sky are dismal in the extreme.

The GAA at provincial level has belatedly cottoned on to the fact that unless there is some competition at Leinster level then attendances will collapse and money is being made available for similar coaching schemes to Dublin.

On a national level, the idea of Dublin and a few more being in the same competition as 20 other poor counties is total and absolute lunacy. Eventually Dublin will have to split several ways and there will be two or three different grades of championship.

For the moment anyway the Dubs will say that is none of their business. They just do good business, while the rest do almost none by comparison.

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