Let's cash in on spirit of Poland before it evaporates
Over two million people in Ireland watched some part of each Republic of Ireland game at the Euro 2012 Championships. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 travelled to Poland to experience the event in person.
This swell of enthusiasm needs to be captured by domestic soccer before it fades into a distant memory, and if only a tiny percentage are encouraged to sample life at an Airtricity League ground, it will have been worth the effort.
The opportunity exists now, and it has never been more needed. Monaghan United faded from the Premier League while the Polish adventure was under way. Since the return home, Dundalk have become the latest to go public about the difficulties facing clubs in the domestic game.
Clubs have cut their cloth and are operating now without high overheads. Sponsors have been encouraged into the game at Drogheda United, Bohemians and Cork City.
The key to survival though must be in attracting greater interest from those for whom soccer is a sport they will support given the right circumstances. Marketing and promotion is needed to make it happen and, rather than losing time by waiting for the 'big idea', here are five ways in which clubs can act in the coming days and weeks to tap into what you could think of as the 'Spirit of Sopot'.
Clubs could offer free or discount admission to any fans arriving on the night with a programme from any of the three matches in Poznan or Gdansk. Yes, there will be some lost revenue from fans that would otherwise have paid, but the gesture will lock in their loyalty and enable them spread the word to fellow travellers on the Rocky Road to Poland that experiencing Irish club soccer might be a good night out.
Invite Polish local residents to the game for free or at a reduced rate on production of a passport. The Poles threw open their country to our fans and there is a significant Polish community here that enjoys soccer as an international sport. Fair play to Waterford United who did just this on Friday night for the Munster derby against Limerick. Others could and should make an occasion of their 'Polish Thank You' event. Invite those who attend to come onto the pitch before the game to thank them on behalf of all Irish soccer fans. Hospitality and friendship breeds loyalty. Promote the initiative through Polish community groups and stores.
Why not run a social media competition for pictures taken among the fans in Poland, perhaps restricting it to those who were sporting club colours? Sligo Rovers' sponsors Connolly's Volkswagen could make this local and relevant by incorporating a prize for the best picture of a VW camper van, tying their brand to the experience, linking heritage and the present. Prizes could include Polish-themed material. Clubs should approach Polish businesses or brands. Don't ignore the Polish Tourist Board which spent money in advance and will be similarly looking to capitalise on the nation's new-found and special connection with soccer in Ireland.
The reality is that beer was a recurring theme for those who went and those who watched. Care needs to be taken in promotion but every club will have a local Aldi or Lidl that stocks Zywiec or a similar Polish beer brand. Clubs should approach the stores to see what joint promotion could be undertaken quickly and effectively to promote games in store, in an area that will appeal to fans.
Clubs should not be afraid to enlist the help of the FAI and its main sponsors -- Three mobile, Boylesports, Carlsberg, Ford and others will be looking for ways way of extending the 'tail' of their involvement with the Championships. Carlsberg is an official sponsor of the FAI and of Euro 2012. Ask for an association and promotion of the games through the Carlsberg social or even mainstream marketing channels. Boylesports are the official betting supplier to the FAI. There is little football on for the next month and they may be interested in running promotions through local stores or even at the games.
Irish soccer can't afford to just think about this. They need to turn what happened in June into an opportunity to promote our domestic clubs. If it works, the reward will be a bigger audience of people who love the sport and have looked elsewhere for their heroes and their colours. That's a chance worth taking at little cost other than energy and imagination.
Rob Hartnett is the founder of Sport for Business, an independent service providing intelligence, insight and innovation at every level of the commercial relationship between sport and business in Ireland. www.sportforbusiness.com @sportforbusines
Sunday Indo Sport