Sunday 22 September 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Tiered All-Ireland final prices could be just the ticket for everyone'

'Where the GAA fall down is that every stand ticket, from the best seats in the house in the Lower Hogan to the far reaches of the top tiers, cost the same.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
'Where the GAA fall down is that every stand ticket, from the best seats in the house in the Lower Hogan to the far reaches of the top tiers, cost the same.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It was a notable aspect of last Sunday's All-Ireland final that, along with a more expensive ticket, the match programme jumped in price - from €5 to €7.

A ticket to either of the GAA's biggest days now comes in at €90. Add in a match programme and there's just about enough change from €100 for a bag of chips.

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It's worth pointing out that the match programme at the hurling final didn't cost more money just for the sake of it. Last year's programme for the Limerick-Galway decider came in at just over 80 pages while last Sunday's production was considerably bigger at 130 pages.

But it wasn't the extra €2 that had people exercised last weekend. It was more likely that it was the latest way GAA fans were being hit in the pocket. The extra €2 for a key part of the match-day experience is only the straw that broke the camel's back.

Unusually for an organisation that turned over more than €65m in 2017, money and the GAA are uncomfortable bedfellows.

Its amateur ethos regularly flies in the face of its very real need to make money to fund ever-improving facilities and growing the number of full-time coaches.

GAA people expect Croke Park to simultaneously have deep pockets and to keep the games affordable. And when the powers that be make the decision to ask for more money from supporters, they are usually met with fierce resistance.

Last January, Central Council opted to make that move and as a result almost every game played under Croke Park's control cost more money to attend in 2019 than it did 12 months ago.

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There was a 33pc increase for league game tickets bought on the day. All-Ireland football qualifiers increased from €15 to €20 for Rounds 1, 2 and 3 and there was a rise from €20 to €25 for Round 4. Tickets for All-Ireland finals also saw a €10 increase to €90.

Those hikes were typically unpopular and prompted the usual calls of greed. There were various packages available to offset the cost, including a season-ticket scheme and concession for OAPs and U-16s, but the reality of the situation for most was that it was more expensive to follow your county this year.

The hike in league matches was particularly unpopular. Those games generally attract the sort of supporter who are already heavily involved in the GAA. Supporters paying in to league matches are also most likely paying in to club games and supporting local club fundraisers.

By the time travel and food are factored in, a day out at a match can become a costly affair. While the extra tenner for the All-Ireland final ticket wasn't welcome either, there can be little argument that €90 for a high-class sporting event is competitive (€45 for Hill 16).

Where the GAA fall down is that every stand ticket, from the best seats in the house in the Lower Hogan to the far reaches of the top tiers, cost the same.

American sports regularly price their tickets according to how close you are to the action. Seats in the nosebleeds are far more favourably priced than those down on courtside.

In England, tickets for the FA Cup final in May were available for a little as £45 but you could pay as much as £145 to get better seats. Could it be time for the GAA to look at something similar?

The GAA could keep the game much more affordable by making some of the highest seats cheaper.

Supporters would still get the match-day experience but it would be much more accessible for families.

The losses could be offset by making the best seats in the house more expensive. Many would be willing to fork out more money for the guarantee of a better seat.

It works the world over. Perhaps there's something in that for the GAA.

Irish Independent

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