The €1million question
THE absence of a glamour Allianz football league opener involving Dublin in Croke Park will cost the GAA over €1m in lost revenue this year.
That's a massive downturn in what is already predicted to be a challenging year on the financial front for the association.
Sell-out league opening nights, involving Dublin v Tyrone, turned into huge cash bonanzas in 2007 and 2009, yielding a total of €2m in gate receipts. And since league monies are pooled and shared nationally, the value to all counties of a high-profile launch game in Croke Park is apparent.
The big opening-weekend gate will not be forthcoming this year as Dublin are away to Kerry in Killarney in their first game next Sunday and will play their home games against Derry, Monaghan and Galway in Parnell Park.
It means that unless Dublin reach the Division 1 league final for the first time since 1999, there will be a serious income drop by comparison with last year.
Full financial details for 2009 won't be available until the GAA publishes its annual accounts next month, but overall income is expected to be down by between five and 10pc on 2008 levels. However, there's good news for the GAA public as there will be no admission-price increases for a fourth successive season.
Nor are there likely to be any price hikes in 2011 either. Instead, the GAA is to concentrate on sustaining attendance levels through various pricing initiatives. Those include maintaining season-ticket packages at €75 each per code. They cover all divisional league games, plus the first game of the championship involving the ticket-holder's county.
GAA Financial Director, Tom Ryan, revealed that the uptake on season tickets had already doubled this year.
"Around 2,500 were sold last year and we're up to the 5,000 mark now. Obviously the public regards them as very good value. Those who take up the scheme are automatically entitled to buy a ticket for the All-Ireland final if their county is involved, which is also proving an incentive," said Ryan.
Despite the country's economic woes, GAA attendances held up remarkably well last year, although revenue was down.
Said Ryan: "The policy has been to keep crowds as high as possible even if it results in a revenue drop. Various packages were put together last year to make it more financially attractive to attend games and it worked well.
"It's better to have a large crowd paying less admission money than a smaller crowd playing more." Gate receipts for All-Ireland championships (excluding provincial competitions) and National Leagues totalled €26.35m in 2008, which was €5m down on 2007.
It was the first time for many years that there had been a decrease and with a further drop for 2009 to be announced next month, the GAA will have less to spend on various projects.
"It was inevitable that the economic downturn would have an adverse effect on us, but it hasn't been as great as many people were forecasting," added Ryan. "Supporters are definitely more selective in what games they go to see but our policy is to continue making it as attractive as possible for them.
"Keeping up crowds is vitally important, not just in financial terms, but also for the general well-being of the association."
With another €1.5m due to roll into the Croke Park coffers this weekend in rent money from the IRFU for the staging of the Ireland-Italy rugby game, the GAA is in a very healthy financial position. By the end of the Six Nations championship, rugby and soccer will have yielded €36m in rent money. However, it has been ring-fenced for special projects unrelated to the GAA's regular programmes.
Each county has received €250,000 each from the rugby-soccer income with a further €28m to go on specially targeted programmes.
Ryan admitted that the loss of rugby-soccer revenue -- which ran at around €9m per annum since 2007 -- would present the GAA with a new challenge in terms of funding projects in the future,
He also believes that comfort for supporters should come ahead of capacity in any future ground developments around the country.
Most grounds, which never have their capacity tested, fall far short of the comfort levels demanded by supporters.
"We have to be conscious of what people expect nowadays and comfort has to be a priority in any development," said Ryan.