Friday 21 July 2017

Gate receipts to account for just 10% of Irish Open costs as attendance is capped

Jon Rahm of Spain plays from the rough on the 16th during Day 2 of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf Championship at Portstewart Golf Club in Portstewart, Co Derry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jon Rahm of Spain plays from the rough on the 16th during Day 2 of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf Championship at Portstewart Golf Club in Portstewart, Co Derry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dermot Gilleece

It will cost about €10 million to stage the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart this weekend. And as a contribution to that figure, gate receipts will represent a relatively modest €1m or 10 per cent of the overall outlay.

The remainder will come from the various sponsorship arrangements the European Tour have in place for the event.

So against this background, it wont be a matter of serious concern if attendance figures don't exceed the cumulative record of 126,505 set three miles down the road at Royal Portrush in 2012.

Local rivalry had prompted speculation that Portstewart would outstrip their illustrious neighbours. These aspirations took a nosedive, however, with todays failure by the championship host Rory McIlroy to make the cut.

Mind you, the omens didn't look especially good even before McIlroys departure. For the opening round, attendance figures of 17,763 were almost 6,000 below those of 2012.

At this stage, we can take it that Royal Portrush will remain supreme among Irish Open venues. And when the final tally is done on Sunday afternoon, there is likely to be a general feeling of acceptance among European Tour officials.

I understand that for health and safety reasons, like the ability of spectators to navigate the towering dunes of the front nine, a ceiling of 24,000 per day has been imposed. As it happens, that figure has been exceeded at all of the last five venues, starting with a record 30,721 for Portrush on the Saturday of 2012.

Insurance is a crucial aspect of staging major sporting events and there have been so many tragedies over recent decades that organisers simply cannot afford to take risks with the publics safety.

Ironically, links terrain carries particular spectator appeal. For the reasons outlined, however, it cannot, as a general rule, accommodate as many spectators as purpose-built parkland venues such as The K Club and Mount Juliet. Royal Portrush and Portmarnock are probably the most notable exceptions in this context.

That is why the 2012 staging of the Irish Open was so important in securing Portrush a return of the Open Championship in 2019, for the first time since 1951. Open Championship attendances can run as high as 40,000 per day on the established courses on the R and A rota.

At the other end, we had a situation for the Irish Open at Ballybunion in 2000 when concern for the dune structure caused the organisers to limit attendances to a decidedly modest 8,000 per day. Which meant that the shortfall in attendance revenue had to be subvented by the title sponsors, Murphys, and the Government, through Failte Ireland.

Meanwhile, a more realistic target for Portstewart this weekend would be the figures for Royal Co Down two years ago. That was when the daily totals reached a peak of 24,902 on the Saturday in a cumulative 106,906 for five days, including the Wednesday pro-am.

Incidentally, Portrush also holds the record for that particular eve-of-championship occasion, with 14,225 in 2012.

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