Saturday 10 December 2016

Easy money: It's a Euros windfall for FAI

The Euro 2016 draw brings the football tournament that bit closer. It's a big deal for the FAI's coffers and for the brands vying for position

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Ireland celebrate against Bosnia
Ireland celebrate against Bosnia
Celebration: Wes Hoolahan and FAI Chief Executive John Delaney celebrate in the dressing room after the Bosnia match.

Rewind to that chilly Monday night in November when Jon Walters' pair of goals ensured Ireland's qualification for next summer's European Championships. Joy was unconfined at the sold-out Aviva Stadium as the prospect of being part of a newly super-sized football tournament became a reality.

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The excitement in the home dressing room was writ large in the photos that emerged, including one of a beaming FAI chief executive John Delaney who didn't appear to care one jot that his suit had just been soaked in champagne by a number of jubilant players.

Delaney would have been excused for cracking open the champagne in the days that followed. Walters' goals did not just ensure that we all have something to look forward to next summer, they also meant that the Irish football governing body now has a gilt-edged opportunity to make a huge dent into its substantial debts.

By simply qualifying for France 2016, the FAI - like each of the 24 football associations taking part - is guaranteed €12m. For every win achieved, a further €1m is added to the kitty. Were Martin O'Neill's men to do the unthinkable and become European champions, the total prize-money paid out to FAI by UEFA would be in the region of €35m.

That would go most of the way to paying off the debt - reported this summer to be over €51m - that the Association has been saddled with since the costly redevelopment of the Aviva Stadium from the ashes of the old Lansdowne Road. Unlike its rugby counterparts, there was little uptake on the 10-year corporate box scheme that the FAI had hoped would help pay their share of the redevelopment.

But even the worst case scenario will ensure a FAI windfall. The €12m is guaranteed irrespective of how the team performs, even if all three round one matches are lost as was the case during our disastrous appearance at the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine four years ago.

Furthermore, the FAI's financial director Eamon Breen will be totting up the bonus payments from the 17 brands that are official partners of the Association: each would almost certainly have had a clause written into their contracts where additional payments would have to be made in the event of Ireland qualifying for a major tournament like Euro 2016.

It is conservatively estimated that with bonus payments and prize-money, the FAI should bag at least €20m next summer.

It's revenue that makes Walters' goals - and indeed Shane Long's winner against World Champions Germany in Dublin the previous month - all the more important.

At 5pm today, during the Euro 2016 draw in Paris which will be attended by John Delaney and manager Martin O'Neill, we will learn about our round one opponents and which of the 10 host cities we will play our opening matches in. Airline websites will be busy tonight with eager fans booking their tickets and Aer Lingus has responded to the expected stampede for seats by making 160 flights to France available for each week of the tournament.

The finals in France next summer will be the biggest and wealthiest Euros to date, with €500m prize-money up for grabs, compared to €300m at Euro 2012. Four years ago, the FAI received €8m in prize-money and champions Spain got €24m.

The bulging purse for Euro 2016 is helped by the fact that it is the first time since England hosted the tournament in 1996 that it's taking place in one of the so-called Big Five countries - making it far more popular with TV networks and brands.

Furthermore, 24 countries will compete in the finals for the first time - up from 16 in 2012. In fact, the competition has changed beyond recognition since Euro 88 - the first tournament to be reached by Ireland. Just eight countries competed in Germany then. Now, it will stretch out for four weeks, every bit as long as the Brazil World Cup of two years ago.

And unlike this autumn's Rugby World Cup, with its weekend-only games, matches will be held virtually every day making it manna for football fans and those brands keen to reach out to them.

In global terms, it is the third biggest sporting event after, respectively, the World Cup and Olympic Games, but for Irish audiences at least, it's set to pull in a far larger viewership than the Rio Olympics which gets underway just 26 days after the Euros end. And after having to look on as rivals TV3 attracted bumper ratings for the Rugby World Cup this year, RTE will be the place to go for armchair sports lovers in summer 2016.

In the months and weeks leading up to the start of the tournament on June 10, brands of every conceivable hue will compete to win the hearts and minds of Irish football lovers, and those who have jumped on the bandwagon. It's set to rival the ad spend of 2002 - the last time Ireland competed in a World Cup, and a year near the summit of Celtic Tiger extravagance - and greatly exceed the outlay of Poland/Ukraine in 2012.

Sports sponsorship spend has gone way up over the past few years. At the beginning of this year, the Dublin-based agency Onside Sponsorship predicted a 12pc growth for 2015 with spend projected to be €152m, with 47pc of sponsors planning to increase their budgets.

"The economy is in a very different place now than it was during the last Euros," says Kelli O'Keeffe, director of PSG Sponsorship, "and there will be a lot spent on sponsorship and advertising next year. But the difference between the campaigns of old and now, will be the emphasis on enhancing the fan experience. Brands have to be smart about how they run their campaigns and about how they tell their stories."

On Wednesday, O'Keeffe met with one of those brands, Spar, for early talks on how best it can position itself to stand out from the crowd next summer. As an FAI partner since 2014, the company will be keen to make every euro count.

"No brand wants to irritate an audience," she says, "it should try to enhance their experience. A good example of that was Duracell's campaign for the Rugby World Cup. It had an app [Power Check] which allowed the viewer to access match stats they mightn't see elsewhere. One the face of it, a battery company and rugby isn't an obvious fit, but it worked."

Qualification brings obvious benefits to some sponsors, none more so than kit manufacturer Umbro. It's thought that replica shirt sales go up six-fold when countries qualify for major tournaments.

It is expected that the new home kit will be unveiled in April, although the FAI haven't confirmed this date yet. In fact, the Association is heavily promoting the existing shirt as a potential Christmas gift even though it's likely to be only worn once more - during Ireland's friendly with Switzerland at the Aviva on Good Friday.

The FAI's failure to point out that a new shirt is on the way next year was criticised by some including Dermot Jewell of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, but John Delaney will likely feel it's his organisation's right to maximise the income it can generate from its long-standing relationship with Umbro.

Unlike Ireland's participation in Euro 88 and the World Cups of 1990, 1994 and 2002, there's unlikely to be as much brand focus on individual players.

"They just don't have the sort of profile that previous generations had," says Liam Gaskin, MD of sports sponsorship consultancy the Concept Partnership.

"To be frank, there's nobody in the squad at present that comes within an ass's roar, marketing-wise, of the likes of Paul McGrath or Packie Bonner. That's no disrespect to the lads now, but it is the case - you only have to look at some of the lower tier clubs they're playing at. We certainly don't have a Gareth Bale in Ireland."

As a result, Gaskin believes that brands will try to piggy-back on the feel-good party atmosphere participation in the tournament will bring, rather than on individual players or the team as a collective. "You could argue the person with the most brand value of all is Martin O'Neill," he says. "He has a lot of appeal to people."

Meanwhile, branding expert Jack Murray, CEO of mediahq.com, believes Euro 2016 offers brands the opportunity to be creative and harness the power of social media. "There's nothing effective about brands talking down to their audience," he says. "They need to engage with the people they're trying to reach and a good way to do that is to generate their own content - gifs, for instance - that add to the consumer experience.

"And there's huge scope to appeal to younger people on Snapchat and Meerkat [the popular streaming app]. I think the smart ones will look to those media during the championships. Brands need to be quick and nimble to make a mark."

The sports sponsorship market has changed considerably since the days of Arnold O'Byrne and Opel during the Charlton years, but the aim remains the same: associate your brand's story with that of a football team everyone is rooting for.

It's far from an exact science and simply throwing money around is no guarantee for a successful outcome according to Liam Gaskin. "The general public aren't stupid," he says.

"You can't expect to simply piggy-back on the tournament and expect people to buy it. We'll be inundated with TV ads in the weeks before it starts - many done on a shoestring - and 90pc of them will be shite. Being one of the 10pc is what the objective should be."

Players set for bonus payments

Besides the glory of representing their country at Euro 2016, Martin O'Neill's squad for France will enjoy the added incentive of bonus payments.

It is up to the football associations of each country to decide how much money will be paid to individual players, but sponsorship consultant Kelli O'Keeffe believes an FAI kitty of up to €1.5m is not outside the bounds of possibility. Those who competed in the 2002 World Cup were paid a rumoured €70,000 apiece, although the figure for the Euro 2012 was considerably less following amicable talks between players and the FAI in advance of the tournament.

The English FA made public the figures paid to players in 2012: £1,500 for a win and £1,000 for a draw [on top of a general bonus simply for qualifying]. The squad donated their fees to a cancer charity. A source close to the Irish set-up says several players will donate appearance fees to good causes.

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