Wednesday 27 March 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Price hike puts more pressure on fans already feeling pinch'

 

GAA president John Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

At a media event yesterday, GAA president John Horan addressed the sticky issue of the GAA's ticket price increases.

He was on a hiding to nothing. Even though he pointed out it was the first jump since 2011, price hikes are never popular. Try as he might, there was never going to be a satisfactory explanation for them.

But perhaps the real question is whether they can be justified?

Tickets for the league matches in the top two divisions will jump by 33pc, from €15 to €20, if bought on the day. All-Ireland final tickets will increase by €10 to €90.

There are different packages on offer that help offset the cost of attending matches over the course of a season but every game under the control of the GAA centrally, with the exception of All-Ireland quarter-finals, will cost more to attend in 2019 than last year.

So why the jump? Horan stated an additional €500,000 will be dished out to clubs on the back of the increases.

The GAA regularly point out that in excess of 80pc of the money they take in is sent back out to the various units.

Where the money goes is not in doubt. But are hard-pressed supporters willing to take the hike in their stride?

Just because you can increase ticket prices, doesn't mean that you should.

And Horan agreed there was a risk involved in the move.

"Anyone running a business and having a product when you go for a price increase, you'll always have to take it on board that there's the law of diminishing returns, that if you up the price, you may diminish your sales," he acknowledged. 

"At Congress last year I did say that we would do more for the clubs.

"I'd like to follow through on that and we've increased the club funding and development areas this year by €500,000, it's going up by another €500,000 next year so, in the space of two years, it'll have gone up by 50pc, or €1m."

Clubs and overseas units will benefit and that is welcome.

However, the problem is that the people who prop up their local clubs are, by and large, the same people who follow their county teams. They buy the local lotto tickets, pay in to attend club matches and contribute to fundraisers before they travel to follow their county.

These hikes come on the back of changes in championship structures that have increased the number of games that supporters are paying for.

The 'Super 8s' in football and round-robin series in the provincial hurling championships mean fans are stretched thin, something that Horan acknowledged yesterday. The busier summer, across a shorter period of time, took its toll on attendances last year.

Centrally, football gate receipt revenue was not up in 2018 despite the extra games.

The All-Ireland football semi-final between Galway and Dublin attracted just over 54,000, the smallest crowd for an All-Ireland semi-final since the 1995 clash between the Dubs and Cork, when the Cusack Stand was undergoing redevelopment.

Dublin's dominance was undoubtedly a factor but so too was the pressure on fans, particularly Galway's.

Galway's footballers hadn't been in the last four of the championship since 2001 but thanks to their success in both codes, their supporters were hard-pressed.

For context, each of the previous four All-Ireland semi-finals involving Jim Gavin's Dublin (including two against Mayo in 2015) were all but sold out. And now that day out will be even more expensive.

It was pointed out this week that GAA prices are still competitive when compared to other sports. However, comparisons with admission prices for other sports are largely redundant.

Given its nature, ideals and size, the GAA is different to most other sporting bodies.

It's not that the GAA shouldn't look to grow revenue streams. They have plenty of mouths to feed with what seems to be a serious overrun in Cork for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

There are also significant infrastructure projects in the pipeline for Navan, Newbridge, Casement Park and others that they will be expected to provide significant funding for.

Different

But this feels different to other money-making moves in the past such as bringing in Sky to make the battle for TV rights more competitive and therefore more valuable.

With this hike, the GAA are hitting their own members directly in the pocket. It can be pointed out that many things, including this newspaper, have jumped in price. However, companies are meant to make money.

A healthy balance sheet is not the reason the GAA exists. Or at least it shouldn't be.

The GAA holds itself to a different standard. It's less than a year since Congress voted overwhelmingly to ban any sponsorship from gambling firms at a time when other sports are awash with money from various bookmakers.

The GAA cut itself off from a potentially very significant revenue stream but it took a stand, based on the interests and well-being of its members.

However, with these price increases the GAA are asking for even more from their own. They are in danger of over-fishing their own waters. And even that pool is only so deep.

Irish Independent

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