Wednesday 20 February 2019

'Hurling stars will pay a big price for their media silence' - How Tipp move could cost players up to €30k

Premier silence: Brian Hogan (far right) stands for Amhrán na bhFiann last summer. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Premier silence: Brian Hogan (far right) stands for Amhrán na bhFiann last summer. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Declan Lee

It's been just over a week since Tipperary goalkeeper Brian Hogan refused to speak to reporters about the team at a media event to promote the sponsorship of the Higher Education Championships. Not his choice - he had been instructed not to talk to the media about Tipp by Liam Sheedy and his management.

Some of you will not have heard about it, more of you will care even less. However, it's safe to say that this could potentially cost Hogan's inter-county team-mates €30,000 this year and will be a contributing reason as to why hurling will continue to fall into the category of a 'niche' sport.

Every summer the Irish public is captivated by the fastest field sport in the world but it's safe to say the majority of the 2018 hurling All-Stars will sit undisturbed in any pub outside their own counties. The likes of Philly McMahon, Conor McManus and Michael Murphy would not have the same luxury.

The hurling helmets certainly don't help to build recognition of some of our most skilful sports people, but the decisions like that of the Tipp management will only set it back further.

These players are amateur and these media events are not only an opportunity to earn additional income, but also build both the player's brand as well as hurling's. Why is this important?

Sports sponsorship is growing and most brands want a slice of the sports pie. To fuel this, brands need ambassadors and in turn these sports people can earn additional income. This is even more crucial to those who may be amateur or not commanding life-changing wages in their professional sport - sport is a short career.

Brian Hogan at last week’s Electric Ireland press launch. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Brian Hogan at last week’s Electric Ireland press launch. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

These days sports people set themselves up for their post-sport careers while they are still playing; they build their brand. Media exposure is key and becoming known for having an opinion or a personality is what will drive brands to their preferred ambassadors.

When their career is over, newspaper editors, TV producers and brand marketing gurus will not want sports people known for anodyne answers. They want personalities who'll create headlines, attract online traffic and drive social media engagement.

Look across the water where Robbie Savage and Jimmy Bullard are regular faces on the highest-rated soccer shows and it's not because of their trophy cabinets. A quick trawl through twitter will show fans regularly turn off one of the game's most decorated players, Paul Scholes, not known for his sparkling wit. Even back here the public crave the outspoken views of a Davy Fitz or an Eamon Dunphy. It's not sport, it's showbiz, baby!

Sometimes you need to go west. In America, their sports stars crave the camera, because they see the bigger commercial picture. When it comes to commercialising sport, America is always several steps ahead.

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

In Super Bowl week, every player from the two teams are available to media. The players want to build their brand and, in turn, the brand of their team and sport. Hard to imagine Dublin and Mayo doing this ahead of an All-Ireland final though. Even the England football team embraced this approach at the 2018 World Cup after Gareth Southgate had seen the practice first hand on a trip Stateside.

In a time when Declan Rice's head is apparently being turned because England status will help him command additional commercial income, Ireland's amateur sportspeople are being denied these opportunities.

Declan Rice celebrates his first goal for West Ham last month. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

It's inconceivable to think that one of Ireland's professional female soccer stars would not talk to the media in the run-up to a big game. Why? Firstly because they deal with these experiences regularly and are comfortable in the media spotlight and, secondly, they understand the need to increase the publicity for women's soccer in Ireland and that takes precedence.

Liam Sheedy and the Tipp management team are doing a disservice to the game of hurling and its future. In his time out of the game Sheedy was a regular pundit on 'The Sunday Game'. He knows how it works and made his own money from it.

Will it come to the point where players realise their commercial value is being impacted by the decisions of their management teams and strike back? Possibly. It's the age where even sports journalists have their own brands to build online. Some of those lined up to gather Hogan's thoughts this week are probably better known nationally than the player himself.

Players will eventually become disgruntled at missing out on commercial opportunities at the whim of their manager, when they are committing six nights a week to the sport and feel they should benefit now and again.

An inter-county player can easily command €1,000 for a PR media event. No brands will be seeking out any Tipp players for the foreseeable future, where the first 15 could all easily be asked to take part in at least two PR media events in 2019, potentially many more if they take a Munster title. If you can't trust your players in front of a camera or recorder, how can you trust them on the pitch?

Hurling is a glorious sport that is starved of the exposure it needs to grow beyond the small group of counties that currently ply its trade. Decisions like this one will only ensure hurling continues to be Ireland's finest niche sport.

Declan Lee is a PR consultant who has worked with a range of national governing bodies in Irish sport and has handled national and international sponsorships for brands such as Aviva, Powerade, Vodafone, BoyleSports and Three. Twitter - @DeclanLeePR

Irish Independent

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