Thursday 22 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Ticket issue is hardly a scandal - and there's an simple explanation behind what happened'

Excessively tight scheduling the real reason for the Dublin-Mayo admission controversy

When Saturday comes: Supporters in Dublin form an orderly queue as they go in search of All-Ireland semi-final tickets on Dorset St yesterday
When Saturday comes: Supporters in Dublin form an orderly queue as they go in search of All-Ireland semi-final tickets on Dorset St yesterday
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The last time a football team was pursuing the All-Ireland five-in-a-row, it caused problems for the GAA.

Interest in the Kerry-Armagh semi-final in 1982 dipped so low that only 17,523 spectators turned up in Croke Park. Those who stayed away were good judges as Kerry won by ten points. A week later, only 25,111 attended the second semi-final between Galway and Offaly.

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The GAA attributed the apathy to Kerry's dominance, TV coverage (All-Ireland semi-finals and finals and Railway Cup finals were the only games shown 'live' during the entire year back then) and a depressed economy. They even considered playing the two semi-finals on the same day in 1983, but decided against it.

Thirty-seven years later, another team has reached the semi-final stage in their five-in-a-row bid and it's also causing problems for president John Horan and the rest of the GAA hierarchy. But the issues are very different to 1982, albeit also involving crowds. This time, the difficulty comes with the numbers who want to attend Dublin v Mayo. Basically, Croke Park isn't big enough to cater for demand.

At one level, it's a welcome problem for the GAA. On the same day as Ireland's rugby team play Italy at the Aviva Stadium and the Dublin Horse Show continues at the RDS, a stadium with a capacity of 82,300 can't cater for demand for a football game.

The appeal of Dublin v Mayo should be a cause for celebration in GAA HQ, but instead they find themselves fighting a firestorm over the manner in which tickets were made available, specifically the difficulty accessing them online and at shop outlets.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock has criticised the GAA hierarchy of the way ticket sales have been handled
Fine Gael TD Noel Rock has criticised the GAA hierarchy of the way ticket sales have been handled

The system certainly didn't run smoothly and in a social media world where even small challenges are rapidly elevated to levels of 'outrage, scandal, disgrace, farce', the GAA were pummelled from all angles.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, high priest of self-promotion in ticketing matters, almost took it to state-of-emergency level when declaring gravely that people had contacted his office to unload their woes. You wonder about these individuals - and Rock - if that's their response to having a difficulty in acquiring a ticket for a sporting event.

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He hoped that "a better solution can be found for the All-Ireland final," which, of course, ignores the fact that no tickets are sold online for the final.

The mistake in all this wasn't made this week, but rather when the Super 8s were squeezed into a tight timeframe, already shortened by bringing forward the All-Ireland finals.

GAA president John Horan. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

They got away with it last year because the Dublin-Galway and Tyrone-Monaghan semi-finals weren't as attractive as this year's two games. Consequently, no ticketing issues arose in the one-week turnaround between the end of the Super 8s and the semi-finals.

Dublin v Mayo always needed more time to allow demand among the clubs in both counties to be assessed and satisfied before tickets went on general sale. That could have been done quite easily in a two-week gap.

As paid-up members of the GAA, club members are fully entitled to first call on tickets ahead of casual followers, but obviously it takes time to ascertain exactly how many are required. That wasn't available in this case, leading to huge demand online, followed by anger at a slow system.

The lesson for the GAA is that jamming games so tightly at this time of year is neither practical nor advisable.

What happened this week was unfortunate, but scarcely the scandal some would have you believe, because whatever ticket distribution system applies, there will always be disappointment when demand exceeds supply.

At least that controversy arose from a genuine issue, unlike the RTÉ-inspired reheating of TV rights, which had Mayo v Donegal on Sky last Saturday. It's five years since Sky came on board as minority rights holders behind RTÉ, whose coverage of the deal at the time was scandalously lopsided.

They haven't let up since, highlighting how some particularly high-profile game should be free-to-air.

It usually comes in the form of pundits (with no encouragement from RTE obviously) expressing their sorrow on behalf of the dispossessed who couldn't see some game because it was on Sky, as opposed to the channel for which they work.

Oddly enough, their tears don't flow as freely for people in lower-ranked counties, who rarely see 'live' coverage of their teams, either on RTÉ or elsewhere. Do they not merit any consideration or is that reserved solely for stronger counties, whose games are allocated to Sky?

If you take the claim that all games should be free-to air a step further, should there also be free admission to all games? Nobody is demanding that, well not yet anyway, but you never know.

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