Wednesday 22 October 2014

Sponsor deals not so rosy away from Croker

Published 15/03/2013 | 05:00

Alan Brogan celebrates at the final whistle of the 2011 All-Ireland final but Vodafone will not feature on the Dublin jersey beyond this year

At next week's GAA Congress a motion, put forward by the association's Rules Advisory Committee, will ask delegates for additional branding space on an inter-county jersey.

The thinking is that, if passed, additional space on the sleeves of shirts will open up new sponsorship opportunities for counties or at least help them to expand the profile of existing arrangements at an additional cost.

It is an obvious move, but also an ambitious one in the current 'soft' climate.

While the GAA at central level last week reported a stable financial environment that saw commercial revenue draw in some €2.3m more than 2011, up to €17.54m in total, there is something of a two-speed effect to GAA sponsorship that mirrors the start of the Irish economy itself.

Step away from Dublin and Croke Park and into the heartlands of the GAA and the sponsorship landscape is nowhere near as stable.

A number of counties have had to take a 'hit' on sponsorship money. Others have had to live with the reality that their brand is only worth what a company is willing to pay for it. And that's quite often nothing near what they thought it was.

Even Cork, who enjoyed such a bluechip and lucrative sponsorship with 02 that, according to their end-of-year accounts, was worth just short of €370,000 in 2011, up from €305,000 in 2010, have had to sign up to a deal that was less than what they pitched for.

Lucrative

Vodafone's departure at the end of this year from Dublin GAA reflects the company's apparent overall shift away from title sports sponsorship with their involvement with motor racing also coming to a end. But it is sure to test the market at the highest level all the same.

The firm will retain an associate partnership with Dublin that could be worth as much as several lower-profile counties would reap from their main title sponsors in a year.

Vodafone's deal with Dublin, agreed in late 2009, is by far the most lucrative that any county has ever had and both sides have got as much out of it as they could have hoped.

Who could have envisaged in late 2009, in the wake of that 17-point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kerry when the deal was being discussed, that Dublin would win an All-Ireland title and reach two semi-finals in the following three years with the promise of more of the same this season.

Add in two All-Ireland U-21 football titles, five All-Ireland minor final appearances (three hurling including one replay and two football in 2011 and 2012) and the success of the hurlers in 2011 in winning the league and reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and Vodafone can claim to have got bang for their buck in terms of exposure.

Various figures have been in the public domain since the deal was announced, but it seems that in terms of hard cash, Dublin will benefit to the tune of just over €3m over the four-year periodof the3e deal.

On top of that, there is the promotional value to the GAA of what the phone company put into Dublin GAA after that. From the redevelopment of the website to the billboard advertising around the city, the scale may not have been 'euro to euro' (for every euro handed straight over, another is spent on promotion and advertisement), but it certainly took the value of the deal much closer to €1m per year.

Dublin's next sponsors will be expected to have a similar outlay, with the projections for Dublin teams to be just as successful over the three to four-year period of the next deal.

"Dublin will certainly be looking at something similar to what has been in place with a big brand involved. If anything, the county is in a much stronger position than it was the last time," said Mick O'Keeffe, the managing director of Pembroke Communications, who helped broker the Vodafone deal on behalf of Dublin in 2009.

But the fact that so many potential sponsors are tied up with the GAA at central level (both the hurling and football championships have three partnership sponsors, while the fact that AIB, Bord Gais, Cadbury, Opel, Kellogg's and Electric Ireland are also linked to other competitions and ventures) shrinks their market somewhat.

There is an element of resilience, all the same, about the inter-county landscape with all 32 counties currently with sponsorship logos emblazoned across the front of their shirts.

But in some cases it has been a struggle, a slow-burn process. Cork footballers wore the Mercy Foundation logo on the front of their shirts before Chill Insurance stepped into the breach.

Some sponsors are remarkably loyal and generally a local angle is required for any deal. Tracey Concrete in Fermanagh have been involved since the genesis of shirt sponsorship in the GAA in 1991, so, too, have Carroll's in Offaly and Kerry Group in Kerry.

In the majority of counties there is a strong local link with their sponsors.

Elverys are a nationwide sportswear chain, but its roots are in Mayo, Supermac's have outlets rolled out across the country, but its founder Pat McDonagh is a Galway GAA diehard.

Some sponsors appear to be picking up a few bargains, if end of year accounts are anything to go by, and also reflects the vast gulf that exists between Dublin and just about everyone else. The Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon has its logo on Leitrim's shirts, but according to Leitrim's accounts for 2012 it paid just €15,000 in commercial revenue.

Dublin may, indeed, better their existing deal later this year. But it's the exception rather than the rule.

Irish Independent

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