Experts lined up to help lure major sports events
A panel of experts will be used to attract major sporting events to Ireland as the government steps up its plans to increase visitor numbers to these shores.
Following the success of events such as the Volvo Ocean Race and the Navy v Notre Dame college football game, sport has been identified as having a key role to play in boosting tourism.
And the prospect of setting up a new sports bidding body has been mooted several times recently, most notably by the Minister for Sport Michael Ring at last month's Global Irish Economic forum in Dublin Castle. Sport featured at the forum this year for the first time, and the value of sports tourism – and specifically of hosting international events – was among the items discussed.
"The hosting of significant events, such as the Tall Ships Races, the Navy versus Notre Dame American football game, or the annual Irish Open golf event, allows us to provide a great showcase for Ireland as a destination," the minister told the Sunday Independent yesterday. "Many thousands around the world watch major sports events on their tv screens and this presents a great opportunity to show a positive image of Ireland. We want people to choose Ireland as a holiday destination and the exposure that key sports events give us helps us to put Ireland on thousands of travel itineraries each year."
Although Ireland has succeeded in recent years in attracting major sporting events, there is a feeling that a more co-ordinated approach, bringing together expertise from sport, tourism and business, could yield even greater results.
The plan is that this expert group would advise and work with the various national governing bodies for sport, targeting events that can be accommodated in Ireland. The various governing bodies will be asked to draw up a wishlist of events and then realistic targets will be set. For instance, there is a growing awareness that a bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 is not far-fetched, nor beyond the country's capability. Other major events which could be targeted would include a Champions League final, the Rugby Sevens World Cup and an NFL game.
However, the group's focus would not be solely on marquee events. In fact, it is thought that it will favour the 'less is more' approach. A similar model has operated in Denmark over the last decade and since its inception it has succeeded in bringing in over 250 international sports events, including a wide range of world and European championships, and major sports conferences and congresses.
The initial intention to attempt to attract international sporting events to Ireland was outlined in the Programme for Government but there is greater awareness now of the potential benefits.
This plan has been prompted by the part played by sport in The Gathering. Despite criticism in many quarters, government sources say The Gathering has been a major success and sport has been at the heart of that with a fifth of the events organised this year being sports-related.
The idea for The Gathering came from the first economic forum, leading to confidence that the push for a sports bidding body as outlined by the minister last month will be successful. It received significant support on the day and although the final report on the event is not complete, it's understood the plan features prominently.
Martin Naughton, the president of Glen Dimplex, who was part of the panel at the forum, played a central role in bringing the Navy v Notre Dame college football game to the Aviva Stadium in September 2012. The game attracted an estimated 35,000 visitors to Dublin.
Sporting events are worth millions of euros to the economy and although the exact figures are generally hard to quantify, and can very often be overstated, there is no doubt that not alone are they very valuable, but well-organised and marketed events can have major spin-offs.
According to the minister, a recent EU study on the contribution of sport to economic growth and employment found that sport contributed €2.4bn to the Irish economy. "It is estimated," he said, "that sport adds as much value to the European economy as agriculture, fishery and forestry combined."
Next year, Ireland will host the Croke Park Classic, another college football game, this time between Penn State and the University of Central Florida, and the first three stages of the Giro d'Italia next summer will be held on both sides of the border and broadcast to an expected global audience of 775 million.
In a separate development, sporting organisations have reacted positively to a suggestion from the minister that trade delegations to promote Irish business and tourism accompany our international teams abroad for major sporting fixtures.
"If the Irish soccer team, or rugby team, or cricket team, or whatever, are going to another country for a competition or game then the doors will be open to Ireland and we should capitalise on that," said Ring.