Friday 9 December 2016

Martin Breheny: GAA need to examine reasons for football's attendance slump

Published 20/10/2016 | 02:30

It’s no coincidence that Páraic Duffy included the football figures in the document on championship reform, circulated to county boards this week. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
It’s no coincidence that Páraic Duffy included the football figures in the document on championship reform, circulated to county boards this week. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE

When total attendances for this year's All-Ireland championships are added up, they will make impressive reading but underneath the headline figures rests an uncomfortable reality.

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Excluding replays, crowds at football games were down to their lowest since 2000 when, of course, there were no All-Ireland qualifiers or quarter-finals.

At 788,746, the turnout was over 100,000 fewer than last year, maintaining a trend which started in 2010 when the total dropped below one million for the first time since the new championship system was introduced in 2001.

Four replays (All-Ireland final, Connacht final and the two Ulster semi-finals) added a further 136,000 to the total this year, but that doesn't disguise the reality that the trend is heading in the wrong direction. In comparative terms, hurling is doing much better off a smaller match base.

Presumably, it's no coincidence that Páraic Duffy included the football figures in the document on championship reform, circulated to county boards this week.

Complacency can be a corrosive influence so these figures should jolt GAA people into reflecting on what lies behind them.

Returns over the last six years suggest that the recession had, understandably, a negative impact on attendances but there's no reason why this should have been the worst season of all.

It's more likely that other factors are at play. The qualifiers -certainly in the earlier rounds - have lost much of the lustre as compared to their early years when the public responded to novel pairings arising from the 'back door' draws.

Dublin's overwhelming dominance in Leinster has been bad for business in the east.

Supporters of other counties no longer believe their teams have any chance of winning a Leinster title, making the entire competition less attractive than it used to be when it had four or five genuine contenders. By way of direct comparison, the attendance at this year's Dublin-Westmeath final was 38,855, a decrease of over 9,000 for the same pairing last year.

Of course, there's another consideration. Could it be that fewer people are attending games because they no longer enjoy the style being deployed by so many teams? It may, in fact, be the biggest factor of all in the decline.

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