Monday 16 September 2019

Analysis: Football sponsors losing out to hurling counterparts in a GAA of two games

 

Davy Fitzgerald was part of a memorable hurling summer. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald was part of a memorable hurling summer. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Declan Lee

For 35 minutes of their semi-final meeting, we had a football championship. Mayo led Dublin at half-time and the inter-county squads across the country thought 'there is hope for us all'. There wasn't.

Looking back on the 2019 championship, you'll be hard-pressed to find many standout moments.

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If you are a football fan then you are no doubt throwing an envious eye towards the hurling championship. The game that can currently do no wrong, almost every match at the business end of the season is a classic.

There were countless memories across the summer months: the Munster Championship, Wexford's Leinster win, Limerick's dethroning, Davy Fitzgerald's antics and, of course, Laois' rising.

For fans, it's a case of 'there's always next season' but for sponsors, they want to be associated with a top-quality product. Centra, Littlewoods Ireland and Bord Gáis Energy can gleefully rub their hands as sponsors of the best show in town.

On the other side of the fence you have SuperValu, eir and AIB sponsoring a championship that has become a sky-blue procession.

Each of the sponsors will be able to produce statistics to say it has been a record-breaking season and justify their multi-million investments to their CEOs and boards. They'll win a few marketing awards, all will seem well. However, there is something in sponsorship that is simply intangible - the true sentiment of your audience. It's almost impossible to capture but in the best sponsorships you can feel it.

The AIB club championships have that, a respect and admiration from those involved and the fans towards AIB who have championed club football when no one else cared.

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The sentiment towards the hurling and football championships could not be more different at the moment.

That's not to say the sponsors will want to press home their financial authority, but of all the stakeholders, they're best-placed to do so. Money talks and sponsors are powerful.

"Sponsors are incredibly huge because they put a lot more pressure than we are able to on US Soccer," Alex Morgan of the US women's soccer team said recently, as they continue their legal battle against US Soccer to achieve pay parity with the men's side.

Visa, Nike and many others have rowed in behind their cause. At home, we saw the sponsors circle around the FAI when issues arose in March and April of this year, and with the Irish Greyhound Board following the Prime Time exposé.

Sponsor pressure is extremely significant and sends a public message to those at the top.

Similarly, the general public now demand sponsors to take action.

As a sponsor, you would think your team continuously winning is the best possible result. However, what happens when the team you sponsor becomes so successful that they become hated by the rest of the competition? Despite the football championship's failings you would think that AIG are sitting pretty.

The sponsors of Dublin GAA are no strangers to backing winners. They were shirt sponsors to Manchester United at their peak under Alex Ferguson, from 2007 to 2010.

Despite having just won the Champions League and Club World Cup, the American insurers didn't attempt to renew their sponsorship in 2010. United's American owners were under considerable pressure after AIG had to be bailed out four times in the space of a few months by American taxpayers.

Employees were even advised not to wear any AIG-branded clothing in public as it may incite hostility.

While a jersey-wearing Dub may still be able to walk down the main street in Castlebar relatively unscathed, it's unlikely AIG's insurance business is booming in Mayo, or Kerry.

The sponsorship ground in Ireland has never been so fertile.

The Olympics is around the corner, a new generation of Irish track stars are forming, our hockey teams have come to the fore and Irish golf continues to perform well internationally.

The explosion of sentiment and support behind women's sport has also created new opportunities for sponsors. What they all struggle with is the reach of the GAA. It is a network that will get you into the heart of every community and for a sponsor that is gold.

Football has the superstars, the well-known faces that hurling lacks, and the access to every county, not just the elite hurling few.

While it's unlikely any of the sponsors will be putting on huge pressure for change, it will surely be mentioned in passing over the coming months.

And when it comes to renewal time, will these sponsors want to continue pumping money into Dublin's annual Croke Park procession?

Declan Lee is a PR consultant who has worked with a range of Ireland's sports National Governing Bodies and has handled national and international sponsorships for brands such as Aviva, William Hill, Powerade, Vodafone, Boylesports and Three.

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