Tuesday 28 January 2020

Comment: Like it or not, we all need the GAA to be making money

Cash generated by Croke Park concerts is a big earner and ultimately trickles down to all levels

Taylor Swift’s recent concert in Croke Park was a significant moneymaker for the GAA. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/TAS18/Getty Images
Taylor Swift’s recent concert in Croke Park was a significant moneymaker for the GAA. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/TAS18/Getty Images
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

On RTÉ radio yesterday morning, GAA president John Horan hit a conciliatory note.

After the 'Newbridge or nowhere' row that left Croke Park chiefs with a black eye, the Dublin official sought to park the issue and offer assurances that any side who reaches the 'Super 8s' will be afforded home advantage.

After a difficult week of mixed messages from the governing body, Horan agreed it was a situation that should have never come to pass.

"It is in the rules that each team in the 'Super 8s' get a home game and that will be stood over," Horan said.

"It was agreed at Congress and we won't be going back on that.

"I'm sorry that such a situation did develop, that one of our national committees locked horns with one of our county boards," said Horan.

"But look, at the end of the day we did find a resolution, the game went ahead and I think we will have learned lessons from that going forward, I think we'll be better for the experience."

Horan's words were an admission that Croke Park misread the mood music when they originally fixed Kildare for Croke Park.

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Perhaps they did so on the basis of precedent. Kildare had previously given up home advantage for a qualifier game. And maybe they were aware of the fact that, centrally, the GAA had come to the aid of Kildare financially in the recent past. As such, they may have expected little resistance.

Either way, it was a call they got very wrong with the decision to originally fix the game for Croke Park as part of a double-header. The subsequent fall-out led to the usual accusations of greed from the GAA, the weapon of choice when it comes to criticising the association.

To suggest that the GAA at a central level is motivated only by money is a neat catch-all. But whatever the flaws of the organisation, it's not an accurate read on things.

If anything, it would be irresponsible of the GAA not to generate as much revenue as possible considering the scale of the organisation.

The GAA's desire to generate money came into sharp focus once more with the news that the Leinster SHC final replay was heading for Munster and Thurles due to the Michael Buble concert set for the Jones's Road venue.

Yesterday, Horan said they'd look at keeping the venue free for GAA activities in July and August.

"In fairness, both Kilkenny and Galway are quite happy to play the game in Thurles. So Thurles isn't an issue. Unfortunately, plans are made way in advance in terms of signing contracts for concerts.

"But it's certainly something I want to change, that the months of July and August will have no non-GAA hurling or football events taking place in Croke Park. Going forward I'd like to see that change."

Profit is something of a dirty word for an organisation built on an amateur ethos but it's necessary to fund a bigger and better tomorrow.

And renting out Croke Park for concerts is a significant money-maker for the GAA.

In the 2017 accounts, the 'hire of facilities' amounted to more than €4m. Does renting out HQ for concerts on a weekend that was due to be free from activity before Sunday's draw amount to greed?

Or is it just smart governance of an organisation that has many hungry mouths to feed and many ambitious developments to fund?

As it stands, there are a handful of money-hungry projects in the pipeline. Casement Park is in line for a significant redevelopment.

More than €10m has been spent on that project before sod has been turned.

Páirc Tailteann in Navan is also due a facelift at the end of the year that will cost around €9m.

The Connacht Council recently announced plans to build an indoor arena at a cost of €3-5m.

Waterford will lobby hard for monies to redevelop Walsh Park while the whole venue row has highlighted the scale of the work required in St Conleth's Park.

Centrally, the GAA will be expected to contribute handsomely to all of these projects, and to achieve that they'll have to put all their assets to work. Recent reports suggested that Cork GAA stood to earn €1-1.4m from the three Ed Sheeran concerts.

In 2017, Croke Park posted an operating profit of €10.9m, €7.5m of which was handed to Central Council which in turn handed the money over to various units. The U2 and Coldplay concerts there made up a good portion of that cash while last month's Taylor Swift concert will have added significantly to the 2018 figure.

Croke Park have always maintained that the vast majority of the money they earn goes back into the association at a variety of levels.

Last year they put a record €14.8m back into the games. Payments to units represented 23pc of spending while games development came in at 17pc. What comes in to central funds goes back out.

The pot should increase this year. The 'Super 8s' will see more big matches between the top teams, which are the single biggest revenue generator for the association. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't try and take in as much money as possible.

Of course there is a balance to be struck there between making money and doing what is best for the ideals of the association. It's a difficult line to walk.

The money-making corporate end of the GAA has always had an uneasy relationship with the volunteer arm that make its foundations strong.

But the truth is, both sides need each other.

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