Dublin launch battle of the brands
Back in October 2009 the head of Leinster's commercial and marketing division surveyed the scene and saw a landscape that was blue, a deep royal blue at that.
"We're the only professional sports team playing in the winter in Dublin," Keira Kennedy declared. "So, in a capital city of a million people and a wider province of nearly 1.5 million, our challenge is to tap into that market fully."
The strategy of taking Leinster's games to the RDS, devising an innovative and family friendly ticketing structure and creating a series of added attractions around Leinster's 14 home- match season has made Dublin 4 the venue of choice for the discerning sports fan in the capital for the last few winter and spring seasons.
It has created an impressive brand, a large run on replica shirts and an environment that has allowed Leinster to overtake Munster as the No 1 rugby province on this island.
The image of Leinster rugby being an enclave just south of the Grand Canal has been stripped away in the process and a new fan base is being coaxed along.
The development of that Leinster brand, with night fixtures, match-day entertainment and ticket packaging, will have been in the minds of the Dublin County Board as they set about claiming some of that sporting market share available in these forthcoming months.
They aren't a professional outfit, nor will most of the 1.5 million provincial population be considered their hinterland, but the need for their brand to get a better foothold has prompted a radical presentation overhaul.
Conscious of the impact Leinster rugby has been making -- some 13,500 season tickets were shifted this year alone -- and the spin-off effects it is sure to be having in the clubs across the city in the battle for the hearts and minds of the young, Dublin have rolled out a package of their own that involves the first really serious marketing assault on Gaelic games, outside of International Rules and the previous Dublin/Tyrone games in Croke Park in 2007 and 2009.
Some in Croke Park may beg to differ on that one and there's no doubt the ticketing packages have been very instrumental in ensuring that crowd figures have remained constant throughout 2009 and 2010. The season ticket for €75 is good value for the committed supporter and the entertainment and presentation on All-Ireland final day continues to improve, it must be acknowledged.
But as an effort to get 'bums on seats' this represents the most aggressive effort yet by the GAA to swell crowds.
Taking Dublin's league games out of Parnell Park and into Croke Park represents a serious rolling up of the sleeves by Dublin in the face of strong competition from across the city.
Dublin football, essentially, has it all its own way in the summer months as long as the team is competitive. However, the serious slide in numbers after the Meath defeat last June for subsequent games against Tipperary, Armagh and Louth shows just how results-dependent the Dublin crowd can be.
The tickets may be bought as a package, €45 for the four games (including the hurling and camogie curtain raisers on each night and afternoon), but should the footballers lose to Cork and then Kerry there will be a lot of empty seats and hollow sounds for the remaining fixtures against Mayo and Down.
Not surprisingly the Dublin chief executive John Costello did not completely rebuff the suggestion of the Leinster experience being a factor as they unveiled the packages at Allianz headquarters yesterday. They've seen how it had worked.
But he did reveal that moving to Croke Park for league games was always part of their agenda and in accordance with proposals in their Strategic Development Plan.
"Croke Park would not have been available due to the scheduling of the IRFU and FAI games, so it wasn't possible. We didn't want to go to Croke Park for one particular night, we wanted to go for them all.
"It's worked out this year, we're keen to develop this. We'll review it at the end of the season."
Dublin have been fortunate that the footballers have four home games this season, two against the last two All-Ireland champions. It just so happens that the last two All-Ireland hurling champions make trips to the capital this year also. All the ducks are in a row.
Clubs have also been given the incentive to sell tickets and share in some of the profits as a revenue generator and that too should provide an added attraction.
"Clubs are struggling at the moment to pay bills in relation to coaching initiatives, to running teams. Traditionally clubs have relied on income from their bar, but sales have deteriorated in the last number of years. They have to think different in relation to fundraising," said Costello.
The presence of Jedward on the first night, sandwiched between the Dublin hurling match with Tipperary and their football encounter against Cork, represents what Costello calls "a novel approach to the National Leagues that hasn't been undertaken before".
"We're trying to create a carnival atmosphere. We don't see a risk. We don't see Croke Park as being half empty. We're going to drive the sales. We have an aggressive marketing campaign starting.
"We'll be launching through the clubs in two weeks' time. We anticipate large crowds flocking to the games given the value of the packages."