No harm in the GAA blowing its own trumpet when the occasion demands it
The GAA faces a bit of competition on Saturday night so why not take it on?
Dublin taking on Tyrone under lights at Croke Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Marketing occupies a specific space within the GAA, somewhere between the dismissive point on the spectrum where putting the best foot forward or trying to promote yourself is regarded as suspiciously boastful and the other extreme, where the practice is seen as black arts, a means of convincing people that sows’ ears are silk purses regardless of the plain evidence.
The former can be seen whenever a disciplinary outrage takes place and the delinquent party or parties ascribe the fuss to the malign appetites of the media. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of individual incidents, the idea that misbehaviour adversely affects the GAA’s reputation – to however limited an extent – is ignored.
The latter tendency is frequently seen in relation to the Railway Cup: if only it was marketed properly people would clamour to see it. The reduced state of the inter-provincials have been contrasted with the booming attendances at International Rules tests – regardless of spectators’ inclination to watch one and not the other. The marketing myth in this respect evaporated only comparatively recently and then, ironically because despite the usual level of marketing, the quality of International Rules matches became poorer and less competitive with the inevitable result that people stopped attending in large numbers.
Marketing pops up this week because unusually the GAA has a bit of competition for hearts and minds this Saturday with the rerun of last year’s All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo taking place in Croke Park at the same time as the top-of-the-table Celtic League rugby fixture between Leinster and Munster across the city.
Irish rugby’s in buoyant shape at the moment in the aftermath of a Six Nations championship victory and the abiding friction between the two provinces lends added edge to the encounter. Yet the match has still been vigorously promoted until it sold out the venue.
By contrast the meeting of Dublin and Mayo – a rivalry that has encompassed four knock-out matches (including the recent club final between St Vincent’s and Castlebar) in national competition with the past 18 months or so – has had a muted drum roll. A modest radio campaign this week is the extent of it.
Dublin rent Croke Park and any promotional work is really up to the county although the ads for Saturday have come out of the league’s national marketing budget as support for one of the competition’s most attractive fixtures.
But overall the national budget is stretched because 32 counties are in action and 16 fixtures are taking place each weekend.
Within the GAA, marketing is marketing but not always as we know it. That’s because as an amateur sports association it lacks the clarity that commercial imperatives bring to the promotion of big events. It’s not that the GAA is incapable of marketing something. Peter McKenna, the association’s commercial and stadium director won the Marketer of the Year award last December in recognition of campaigns for both on-field events and Croke Park.
But it isn’t always obvious what the GAA needs to sell. When there is a singularity of purpose – the prioritising of attendances at championship matches in recent years is a good example – the results are positive.
Since the recession the crowds at summer events have held steady but that outcome had to be worked on with promotional pricing of tickets and more advertising.
Yet this is not the priority all of the time. Inter-county competition may be the biggest platform the GAA has at its disposal but it’s not the sum total of the association’s activities. Television exposure was cut back in recent years because the impact on local club matches was becoming a problem. There is an ongoing battle within counties between the needs of ordinary recreational players and the elite level of senior inter-county competition.
Multi-eligibility of players means that club championship activity has to wait on the availability of players involved with the inter-county panel.
The GAA oversee a chaotic calendar in which players of a particular age can end up on numbers of teams that go into double figures. This weekend the hurling quarter-finals have crashed into the penultimate series of football league matches and a number of counties are double booked in venues far removed from each other.
Cork and Dublin, who would have been able to design attractive double bills, ended up being drawn away from home in the hurling.
It is however possible to appreciate the difficulties involved in promoting stand-alone fixtures and at the same time believe that a fixture like Saturday evening’s, which has been set in stone since the start of the year could have been made a special case, particularly given the competition in Ballsbridge.
In 2007 and ’09, the GAA filled Croke Park for Dublin-Tyrone league matches because a marketing campaign went into the first night of respectively, the stadium floodlights and the GAA’s 125th anniversary. Sometimes it’s a good idea to boast.