Bumper qualifier crowds provide hope for summer attendances after slow start to championship
Connacht football and the All-Ireland qualifiers have bucked the attendance trend for this year's championships, showing increases on last year while Leinster, Munster and Ulster have all declined.
The total attendances for all senior championship games to date is 414,481 compared to 554,273 at the same stage last year. However, four 2010 provincial games (up to the semi-final stages) went to replays last year, boosting the total by over 61,000.
When that figure is deducted from the total, it means that attendances are down 78,767 on last year.
The GAA will be encouraged by the response to the first round of the football qualifiers, which show a 10,000 increase on last year.
Admission prices were reduced for this year's qualifiers, which may account for the surge, although it's probable that the Louth-Meath game, a rerun of last year's controversial Leinster final, also played a significant role in the increase.
Here's how the various provinces and qualifiers have fared so far.
2011 -- 47,296
2010 -- 45,419 (57,455)*
*Including one replay
Difference: Down 17.7pc on overall figure; up 4.1pc without last year's Sligo-Galway replay.
On a like-for-like basis, figures are up over 4pc on last year. However, the 2010 figures were boosted by the Sligo-Galway replay which drew over 12,000.
This year's returns were helped by last Sunday's Mayo v Galway semi-final clash (they didn't meet at all last year) but Connacht were unlucky that the weather was inclement for three of their games.
"That was a factor, certainly last Sunday (Mayo v Galway). Everyone else except us in the west seemed to get good weather. Overall, we would be happy with the attendances. We made a big effort to promote ticket sales this year and it seems to have worked. Now, we're looking forward to a bumper crowd for the Roscommon-Mayo final on July 17," said Connacht CEO John Prenty.
2011 -- 154,337
2010 -- 179,239 (204,364)*
*Including two replays.
Difference: Down 24.5pc on overall figure; down 13.9pc without last year's Offaly v Galway SH replay and Laois v Meath SF replay.
A crowd of 58,723 for last Sunday's football semi-finals (Dublin v Kildare, Carlow v Wexford) was higher than was originally expected but there's still an overall drop of almost 14pc on 2010 (excluding replays). Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly said that the general turnout was extremely good in the current economic climate.
"We're in a different world to a few years ago. Unemployment is up considerably, while people who have jobs are not as well off as they used to be and are more careful how they spend their money," said Skelly.
"It's hardly surprising that attendances are down somewhat but we would still be quite happy with the overall turnout. A crowd of nearly 59,000 in Croke Park last Sunday was extremely good in the current climate.
"We have been running various packages, which have proved popular, and it's something we will continue to do. GAA attendances were always going to be hit in the changed times but overall I'd regard them as holding up quite well. It's a tribute to the strength of the organisation and the value offered by our games."
2011 -- 84,432
2010 -- 131,801 (155,665)*
*Including one replay
Difference: Down 45.8pc on overall figure; down 36pc without last year's Cork v Kerry SF replay.
The headline figures are somewhat misleading as the difference on last year is heavily influenced by the football draw which pitted Cork and Kerry against each other in the 2010 semi-final. There's always a wide differential in Munster's football figures up to the semi-final stages in years when Cork and Kerry are drawn on the same side.
The pot was further sweetened by last year's replay between Munster's 'Big Two', bringing the total attendance for the two games to over 59,000.
Hurling has held up well this year, dropping by just 1.5pc to 60,581. However, last year's figures were down almost 25pc on 2009 due to a large degree to the weakened team fielded by troubled Limerick against Cork in the semi-final and the poor response by the public to the June Bank Holiday fixture between Clare and Waterford.
Munster CEO Pat Fitzgerald said that the bad weather for Limerick v Waterford this year seriously impacted on the attendance.
"For people who haven't bought tickets in advance, the weather is a big factor when it comes to deciding on a Sunday morning whether or not they will travel to the games. The weather could change the attendance by five or six thousand," Fitzgerald said.
"Obviously, there's a big difference between the football crowds this year because Cork and Kerry met twice in the semi-final last year.
"We had several promotions in place this year which helped but we're a bit disappointed with the take-up on the reduction for tickets bought through the clubs. There's €5 to be saved on terrace tickets bought that way."
Over 30,000 tickets have been sold for next Sunday's Kerry-Cork football final in Killarney and Fitzgerald is hoping that the 40,000 barrier will be broken. There's also big interest in the Tipperary-Waterford hurling decider at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday week. "Demand is unreal. People really want to see that game so we're looking forward to very big crowds for both finals," added Fitzgerald.
2011 -- 79,697
2010 -- 95,909
Difference: Down 16.9pc
The downward trend has continued in Ulster this year, dropping almost 17pc on last season. Attendances are down 28pc on 2009 and a whopping 36pc (exclusive of replays) less than 2008, which was a bonanza season.
However, there is good news for those planning to attend the Ulster final on July 17 as the Ulster Council yesterday announced price reductions.
Terrace tickets (which constitute the bulk of the capacity) are reduced from €18 to €15 (£15 to £13); stand tickets are down from €30 to €27 (£25 to £23), while other special packages for groups, families, students and senior citizens will also apply.
Ulster Council president Aogan Farrell said that the reductions for the final were not a response to the overall drop in attendances but a reaction to the general economic situation and a desire to draw as many as possible.
"Our final belongs to everybody, not just the competing counties so we want to encourage as many as possible to attend. The reduced admission prices will go some way to making the day cheaper for our patrons. We have reduced headline prices across the board while there's also a package deal to suit most people," he said.
2011 -- 48,719
2010 -- 40,080
Difference: Up 21.6pc.
Hurling dropped slightly over the first two qualifier rounds but the opening round in football last Saturday showed a dramatic increase. A total of 34,288 watched last Saturday's eight football ties, compared with 24,550 last year.
This year's turnout was greatly boosted by the Louth-Meath and Cavan-Longford double header in Kingspan Breffni Park.