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Gates up on last year as cut-price deals help GAA ride out downturn

THE enduring appeal of the GAA championships is beating the recession, with attendances for the first five weeks of the provincial campaigns showing an increase on last year.

There's a 2.8pc upswing over the same stage last year (excluding replays), which is encouraging for the GAA in a year when it was feared that the ongoing recession, plus the challenge of Euro 2012 on TV, might lead to a drop-off.

A total of 315,185 people have watched the provincial action live so far, an increase of 17,421 on last year. That includes 9,155 at two Leinster football replays, but even when that's deducted from the overall figure, it leaves an increase of 8,266 on 2011.

"It's very encouraging. A lot of work has gone into marketing and promoting the games right across the board and it's obviously working," said GAA director general Paraic Duffy.

"But, in the end, it all comes down to the entertainment being provided and obviously the public are enjoying the games enough to keep coming out in huge numbers. We're delighted with the public response so far."

However, while attendances are up, gate receipts will be down on last year. That's due to the various cut-price package deals on offer which are aimed at attracting families and groups.

"It's too early to say by how much revenue will be down but the important thing is to keep the crowds up and, so far at least, that's happening. We'd be confident it will continue," said Duffy.

Ulster and Leinster football, and Munster hurling and football are all up on last year, while Leinster hurling and Connacht football are down. The Munster football increase is due to Cork and Kerry meeting in the semi-final this year as opposed to the final last year.

The reverse is true in Connacht as Galway and Mayo boosted last year's early figures when they met in the semi-final.

Despite a disappointing turnout of 12,296 at the Clare-Waterford semi-final, overall attendances in Munster hurling are up by 262.

Ulster are showing a 19pc increase on last year for their first six football games. Ulster dropped their headline ticket prices for the championship.

A new development across all provinces this year is the number of tickets being bought through championship sponsors Centra and Supervalu, who have so far accounted for sales of over €500,000.

The next big attendance test comes next weekend when GAA chiefs hope that the 50,000 barrier can be broken for the first time this season at the Meath v Kildare and Dublin v Wexford Leinster football semi-finals at Croke Park.

Irish Independent