Wednesday 25 April 2018

GAA sponsorship deals highlight rich-man, poor-man divide

Elite counties' financial muscle creating uneven playing field that gives 'have-nots' little chance of upsetting order

The Sam Maguire being held aloft after Dublin's All-Ireland victory last month
The Sam Maguire being held aloft after Dublin's All-Ireland victory last month
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The old argument says that any 15 from one county are as good as 15 from another county. In other words, on a given day any sort of an upset is possible.

But if that was ever the case, the financial landscape has changed enough to ensure that the chances of an upset are getting slimmer year on year.

The introduction of the back door, which was designed to give the smaller counties more championship days out, has instead forgiven the big boys for their off-days.

In the last couple of months, Tyrone, Kerry and Dublin have all made major announcements that underline the financial clout that sets them apart.

Tyrone, with the help of their 'Club Tyrone' supporters' wing, opened their astonishing new €8m training base in Garvaghey on September 28, 10 years to the day after they won their first All-Ireland.

Kerry revealed plans for a similarly ambitious dual-base centre of excellence this week that will cost them just shy of €6m – with the backing of €1m from county sponsors Kerry Group.

Dublin's sponsorship deal is even bigger, as they'll benefit to the tune of some €4m over the next five years after agreeing their bumper contract with insurance firm AIG during the week.

These are the counties that have won nine of the last 11 All-Ireland titles, so the roll of honour backs up the theory that the gaps between the haves and have-nots is widening.

Dublin, the GAA's showtime team, are market leaders in terms of attracting a sponsor – and they are also the biggest spenders.

In 2011, Dublin spent close to €2m when they won Sam Maguire and their senior hurlers reached the last four.

Hurling isn't immune, either. When Tipperary halted Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five', they spent a record €1.2m on preparing their county teams that year, and that figure has remained around the €1m mark.

Clare's expenditure jumped by €110,000 last year as they secured an U-21 All-Ireland and, after retaining that title and collecting the Liam MacCarthy Cup, another sizeable leap in outgoings can be expected.

Commercial appeal can help offset the costs of running county teams but some counties are finding it increasingly difficult to attract sponsors. Last year Cork wore a charity's logo as they searched for a successor to telecommunications giant O2. Insurance company Chill eventually signed a three-year sponsorship deal worth an estimated €1m.

At the other end of the scale, Leitrim are the often cited example. Their €15,000 sponsorship deal is a stark reminder as to just how uneven the playing field is when it comes to money.

Sligo have been told to get their house in order before appointing a new manager of their football team, at a time when many sides already have preparations for next year well under way.

On his departure from Fermanagh, Peter Canavan alluded to the problems counties of that ilk face, saying: "I understand that there are restraints within the county".

Provinces are not immune to financial realities either. Dublin won't play a Leinster championship game outside of Croke Park because it doesn't make monetary sense to have them anywhere else.

In Munster too, the seeded football draw that has caused so much consternation almost guarantees a provincial final between Cork and Kerry and a bumper pay-day, much more so than should one of the other four counties make the final.

Niall Carew has seen both sides of the coin. He was a selector under Kieran McGeeney in Kildare before taking over the Waterford footballers last year.

In the wake of their heavy defeat to Kerry in the Munster championship, he said the counties were poles apart in terms of preparation.

"It's like comparing Man City and Wigan in terms of finance. We need to spend money, and the players recognise that, to do the things we need to do. Kerry probably spend about 20 times more on preparation that we do."

Having completed a full year in the hot seat, in which his Deise side came within a whisker of causing a massive upset in the qualifiers against Galway, he sees the issues as more pressing than ever.

To help bridge that gap, Carew and his panel have turned fundraisers, to help ensure they have the best possible set-up in 2014.

"It's a manager's job to prepare a team as best he can but there's no doubt resources are a huge factor. The Waterford County Board are very good and look after the lads well. And they are straight about what they can give you," he said.

"The top teams have more frills and I think that makes it easier for players to commit to the level that they need to when they see that they are getting the best possible set-up. In Kildare, for example, they have their own gym which the players raised money for themselves.

"So that's the model I have based this on. We've been out fundraising. It's not nice asking players to do it but the lads are very enthusiastic about what they are trying to achieve.

"But the smaller counties are up against it in every way – I have seen that with Waterford when we didn't get calls we should have. They have smaller resources, smaller pools, it's hard to bridge the gap.

"We came close in a couple of very important games – it's those extra couple of percent that can make all the difference.

"We'll have a psychologist for next year and that's important, those are the things that can make the difference. If we had beaten Galway it would have been massive for us. The best way to earn respect is by getting results."

For the smaller counties, getting those results looks set to become more and more difficult.

Irish Independent

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