GAA failure to stir interest in league playing into hands of sporting rivals
AT a conservative estimate, there will be around 270,000 unoccupied places at the 16 grounds which host the opening round of the Allianz Football League this weekend.
Nothing unusual about that since most grounds are too big for championship requirements, let alone League games in February. Still, the first weekend of the GAA's competitive season demanded that a concerted drive be made to attract as many punters as possible through the turnstiles.
So what exactly have the GAA done to promote the start of the League? Some radio ads have been aired but they're of a general nature and, as a result, probably won't have much impact. Still, they're better than nothing but certainly don't come anywhere close to the promotional blitz which should have been undertaken.
The success of the Dublin-Tyrone games in Croke Park in 2007 and 2009 (and indeed the Dublin-Armagh game in 2003) proves what can be achieved by proper marketing.
Surely, in the interests of promoting the League, Dublin should have a home game at the start of every campaign. Fixture rotation is all very fine, but at a time when Gaelic games are facing an ever-increasing promotional threat from soccer and rugby, the GAA should avail of every opportunity to showcase its assets. That includes exploiting Dublin's huge supporter base.
Even without that, a whole lot more could have been done to promote the League. Other than issuing the fixtures (in Irish!) last Monday, the GAA has done little by way of promotion. It was left to competition sponsors, Allianz, to arrange a press conference on Tuesday and since then the build-up has been driven by the media, not Croke Park.
Yes, there are special deals for season ticket purchasers and juveniles are allowed into games free of charge but the League requires more than that to drive it on.
Kerry v Dublin, Mayo v Galway and Derry v Tyrone are three glamour games in Division 1 which could be sold locally. Why not flood schools with free tickets? Why not blitz local radio stations and local newspapers with promotional ideas?
Ironically, Croke Park will rock today to the beat of an international rugby game which has dominated the national media all week. That's understandable, but instead of just tossing the fixtures gently into the mix, the GAA should have been aggressive in how they hyped the League's opening weekend.
But then their failure to sell the League has always been a problem. Bizarrely, the fixtures are sent out to the counties for their consideration in the autumn before they are approved by Central Council. Inevitably, the fixtures are leaked to the media when the GAA should retain them until they are ready for release in a glitzy launch.
With proper marketing and clever scheduling, crowds at all 16 games would be considerably higher this weekend. The GAA say that maintaining crowds rather than increasing gate revenue is their priority in these difficult economic times.
You would never think that judging by their failure to promote the launch of the new season.