Wednesday 13 December 2017

The real reason we are playing Brazil in London

GAA, soccer fans and economy left shortchanged by move of friendly

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

AT 8.0 tomorrow night, Croke Park will be dark and silent, occupied only by pigeons sheltering from the March winds amid cavernous surrounds in the house of Hogan, Cusack and Davin.

At the same time, some 290 miles away in north London, the Republic of Ireland soccer team will be preparing for kick-off in a friendly international against Brazil. The Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC, will rock to an excited beat as a crowd drawn largely from London-based Irish and Brazilians, curious English observers plus some supporters who have travelled over from Ireland, settle in for what should be a very enjoyable occasion.

They will have paid between £37 and £59 for their tickets. They will also have spent substantial amounts of money on taxis, trains, buses, food and drinks on their way to the ground and will repeat it on their way home a few hours later.

Brazil and the FAI will receive hefty fees (Brazil considerably more than Ireland). Arsenal will do nicely too for the use of their stadium. Staff at the Emirates will be paid for an extra night's work while police will clock up overtime.

All in all, a profitable night on several fronts, including for the London economy as it picks up an unexpected bonus from a game between two visiting nations.

Quiet

Meanwhile, it will be a quiet Tuesday night back in Dublin which, incidentally, has been designated European Capital of Sport for 2010. However, as soccer supporters all over Ireland settle in to watch the game on TV they will be asking an intriguing question -- why is a friendly between the Ireland and Brazil being played in London when Croke Park is available?

Brazil have always been the pick of the attractions on the international friendly circuit and since this is Ireland's first game since the clash with France on that grim November night in Paris it looked like the perfect opportunity to put together a Croke Park extravaganza.

Apart from boosting the country's spirits it would also provide a major commercial boost to Dublin, capital city of a country locked in one of its deepest recessions for decades.

So why the Emirates, rather than Croke Park? Enter the FAI and their relationship with Kentaro, which describes itself as "one of Europe's leading sports rights agencies in the world of football".

Kentaro have promotional rights for Brazil, including lining them up for friendly games around the world. In broad terms, Kentaro pay Brazil and their opponents a guaranteed fee and then promote the game in all its facets including venue, TV rights, etc. All going well, Kentaro take in a whole lot more than they pay out.

Last November GAA and FAI representatives met for a general discussion regarding the staging of international soccer friendlies in Croke Park this spring. The GAA agreed, as a general principle, to greatly reduce its asking price for the rent of the stadium by comparison with what had applied for World Cup qualifiers. The fee for those was €1.35m but Croke Park's opening demand for a major friendly this spring would have been around €650,000. Presumably, that would have been a negotiable figure.

Kentaro contacted the GAA just prior to Christmas asking them to tender for the Ireland-Brazil game. The GAA replied that, in line with previous arrangements since Croke Park was opened up in 2007, they would deal only with the FAI.

All soccer and rugby games staged in Croke Park -- including the Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster last year -- were set up through the FAI or IRFU. The Heineken Cup is organised at European level by the ERC but the request for the use of Croke Park for the Munster-Leinster game came from the IRFU, who also approached Croke Park on behalf of the ERC when it looked as if the bad weather might rule out the use of the RDS for a Leinster game last January.

Kentaro responded to Croke Park in mid-January, informing them that they wouldn't be staging the Ireland-Brazil game in Dublin.

Assuming average ticket prices of €50, a crowd of 60,000 at Croke Park would generate around €3m in gate money alone with extra revenue accruing to the organisers through TV rights and advertising.

Apart from that, major international occasions are extremely lucrative for Dublin businesses. The Ireland-Brazil game could have been worth as much as €5m to the capital's economy. That's a serious injection of cash at a time when it's very definitely needed.

The GAA would also have done well out of the deal as would the FAI. Instead, the only Irish beneficiaries are the FAI while the loyal Irish soccer supporters, the Dublin economy and the GAA all lose out which is a terrible pity, especially in the current climate.

MARTIN BREHENY

Irish Independent

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