Somebody has to shout stop as English Premier League stranglehold in Ireland strengthens
It might be worth it for League of Ireland clubs to hand out fliers outside events like the Dublin Decider encouraging barstool fans to take a chance on their own domestic league
Liverpool and Celtic in the Dublin Decider which filled the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It will not have escaped the attention of sports fans in Ireland that the fastest-selling football match since the Aviva Stadium opened in 2010 did not involve the national team.
All 51,000 tickets for the match between Liverpool and Celtic sold out within an hour of going on sale, while the Republic of Ireland cannot sell out even critical qualification games against world-class opposition such as Germany.
The Irish public is so accustomed to this phenomenon of support for foreign teams that they simply regard it as a benign curiosity, a harmless indulgence or a collective case of arrested development.
It is none of these things. Irish support for the English Premier League costs this country dearly and is a lingering manifestation of our national inferiority complex.
Most critically, it has led to a perennially impoverished League of Ireland because generations of Irish football fans have turned their backs on their own domestic league like the Celtic fans did while doing the ‘Poznan’ at the Aviva Stadium.
So many Irish football grounds lack the facilities because they don’t have the money. Because they don’t have the money, the public don’t come and so the cycle continues from one decade to the next.
Two years ago I came across statistics from VisitBritain about the number of foreign visitors to Premier League and Scottish Premier League grounds. In the 2010-2011 season there were 164,000 visits by Irish fans to British grounds.
The average spend for foreign fans was €776 (€884.64). Multiplying 164,000 by €884.65 gives a figure of €145 million. I ran the numbers many times. Surely, Irish fans couldn’t spend that amount of money in a year? Surely the decimal point was in the wrong place?
It must be €14.5 million, but the decimal point was in the right place.
Last season the number of Irish visits increased to 174,000 despite the recession and the average spend for foreign visitors to the Premier League was £785 (€962) per fan.
That average figure is inflated by those who come from the Middle East and Asia and spend a lot of money.
Even that figure is dwarfed by the money that comes from subscriptions to Sky, Setanta and now the newest kid on the block, BT Sports.
It has gone largely unnoticed that Sky, a foreign broadcaster, is by far the biggest player in the Irish television market. According to a report compiled by Oliver & Ohlbaum, Sky’s revenues in Ireland in 2011 was €382 million.
Subscription revenue has increased massively even since the recession started, going from €383 million in 2007 to €515 million in 2011 while advertising revenue has collapsed in the same time frame, hurting the domestic broadcasters most.
Sky’s founder, Rupert Murdoch, built his Sky television empire on the back of Premier League rights.
Sky Sports charges a hefty premium of €35 a month for the privilege of hearing their presenting teams hyperventilating over Fulham v Norwich City.
Setanta too has based its own business model on securing its share of Premier League matches.
Merchandising is another way in which hard-earned Irish cash is transferred to British clubs.
Observe the ranks of Irish Liverpool and Celtic fans at last Saturday’s match and count the replica shirts. At a conservative estimate, half the fans were wearing replica shirts. At €60 each that equates to €15 million worth of merchandising at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and that’s just two clubs and one match.