Monday 19 February 2018

Figures don't add up -- they just raise questions about future income

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE Football Association of Ireland (FAI) yesterday released a statement in response to yesterday's Irish Independent investigation revealing that fewer than a third of the 10,400 premium Vantage Club tickets on offer had so far been sold.

But, as Daniel McDonnell argues in a detailed response to the statement, many key questions remain unanswered.

  • FAI statement: The Football Association of Ireland today (September 9) reconfirmed, following its AGM last month, that sales of Vantage seats, including sponsor commitments, have surpassed 6,300.

At the recent match against Andorra the number of Vantage seats occupied on premium level was 6,900 and the overall attendance at the match against Andorra, the bottom seeds in the group, was third-highest at all UEFA qualification matches taking place that day in Europe. Claims made in this morning's Irish Independent about a ticket fiasco are unfounded.

  • Daniel McDonnell: John Delaney has consistently been asked to provide a breakdown of the 6,300 figure that he first mentioned at the AGM and which is now repeated in the FAI statement.

The distinction between sales and sponsorship commitments has never been outlined. The Irish Independent understands that '3' Mobile has been offered up to 2,000 premium-level seats as part of their four-year €7.5m deal with the FAI.

When asked how many seats had been attributed to '3' Mobile in a detailed list of questions sent on Wednesday, the FAI said it had nothing more to add to what Mr Delaney said at the AGM in the Irish Independent's presence, even though the question wasn't raised on that occasion. On Tuesday, huge groups of children populated the area for premium-level seats.

While Irish attendances have always compared well to other countries around Europe, it seems appropriate to ask what number of complimentary tickets contributed to the 40,000 figure, considering that block bookers who hadn't requested a ticket for the game received them in the post and some schoolboy clubs were given up to 100 tickets. Indeed, the great shame of the whole Aviva Stadium project is that the prices are too high for many Irish supporters to afford.

The FAI still hasn't provided any specific details on the overall level of Vantage Club sales to counteract figures seen by the Irish Independent, which show that, when International Stadia Group (ISG) ended its association two weeks ago, the amount of allocated 10-year tickets stood at 4,077, including 939 existing 10-year ticket holders, scores of cancelled tickets, and direct debit holders who have chosen not to fill out and return their forms.

  • FAI: The Irish Independent reported that David Blood had stated that an offer was made by a third party to the FAI of €75m to bear all risk from the Vantage sales process.

The board of management of the FAI this morning confirms categorically that the board never rejected any such offer and David Blood acknowledged this to be the case.

  • McDonnell: If that is the case, it would be helpful if the association clarified what David Blood was referring to when he was asked, in May, why the FAI rejected an offer from a third party for all the seats.

Mr Blood said: "We did feel confident enough that we could sell our stake. We still do. The thought at the time was that we would be in a good position to do that. But the downturn in the economy has affected everybody. At the time we made these decisions, we thought about them. We just didn't say 'no'. It was well thought out, we feel."

Mr Blood added that the FAI would probably have been criticised if it had handed over all the premium seats to a third party.

  • FAI: This morning's (yesterday's) Irish Independent also claimed that a number of Vantage seats had been cancelled. The Football Association of Ireland can confirm that these account for less than 100 seats in total. The association has less than 4,000 seats available to sell on premium level and that the 6,300 figure reported at the AGM took account of this small number of cancellations.
  • McDonnell: The Irish Independent stands over the fact that, last month, when ISG's two-year contract was winding down, there were more than 100 cancelled tickets still in the system.

The FAI has also failed to acknowledge the 160 direct debits in progress, many of whom are individuals who were sent out forms in 2009 and have chosen not to return them. The proposed ticket orders were included in the figure of 4,077.

  • FAI: The FAI also wishes to clarify that existing 10-year ticket holders who purchased in 2004 and 2006 have paid for their 10-year tickets in full and it is incorrect to claim that they have not paid for their tickets in the stadium.
  • McDonnell: The Irish Independent never said that existing 10-year holders hadn't paid for their tickets in the stadium. It was clearly stated that they hadn't paid a cent since the Vantage Club project was launched in 2008. The existing 10-year holders paid for their tickets in either 2004 or 2006 at a cost of up to €7,500 per ticket.

The 939 tickets taken up by these existing ticket holders are included in the sales figures for the premium seats on the understanding that they will renew in 2014 or 2016 at Vantage Club prices.

When asked at the recent FAI AGM why it wasn't indicated at the outset that these 939 people would be included in the figures, John Delaney said: "We haven't got 11,000 to sell, we've only got 9,000. Do you understand me? Ten minus one is nine."

It begs the question that if the FAI only had 9,000 to sell, then why was the project marketed as offering in excess of 10,000 seats, and why are unconfirmed sales being included in Vantage Club sales figures?

  • FAI: The FAI has met all of its contributions to the €411m Aviva Stadium, which it jointly owns with the IRFU. In close consultation with its banking partners, the FAI has put in place detailed business plans that will see it debt-free by 2020, while continuing to fund the development and growth of the sport at grassroots.

The association's business plans, backed by record levels of turnover and a commercial portfolio, which has trebled in the past five years will give the FAI a debt-free status from 2020.

These business plans have been agreed in close consultation with our banking partners who are comfortable with our seat sales and revenues.

  • McDonnell: The FAI's confidence that it will be debt-free by 2020 is acknowledged. However, it is a concern that 939 of the 4,077 allocated seats, as it stands, belong to people who are not guaranteed to renew their tickets for the duration of the period until 2020.

Additionally, the Irish Independent understands that the FAI has signed sponsorship agreements with its partners that contain a sizeable number of premium-level seats. The contracts in question are shorter than 10 years.

The FAI has also failed to clarify if it is covered in the event of direct debit ticket holders cancelling their tickets because they cannot afford it anymore, an option that is also available to people who paid a percentage of money upfront and are subsequently due to make annual payments.

John Delaney said at the start of the project that the FAI needed to sell 60pc of the tickets to reach breakeven point. Our investigation shows that the FAI is well short of that sales level, in addition to raising questions about their income streams over the next decade.

Irish Independent

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