GAA set to earn up to €10m extra in 2007


The GAA is set to earn up to €10 million of extra revenue in 2007 alone after agreeing terms and conditions with the IRFU and FAI on the use of Croke Park. But the details of yesterday's landmark agreement make it clear there are financial benefits to all three associations.

With Lansdowne Road closing for redevelopment work from early next year until 2009, the GAA is likely to have earned more than €30 million in rental income by the time the temporary arrangement to allow rugby and soccer internationals at Croke Park comes to an end - and assuming Lansdowne Road is finished on time.

Central to the negotiations between the three associations was fixing the GAA's price for each game played at Croke Park, which has been set at a minimum of €1.25 million, or potentially rising to 26 per cent of the gross revenue. A sell-out crowd of 82,500 would thus mean the GAA would get around €1.4 million.

That still represents excellent value for the IRFU and the FAI given the significantly larger crowd capacity of Croke Park compared to Lansdowne Road (49,000 for rugby, with only 24,000 seats, and only 34,500 for soccer). Both bodies also have the right to sell on the premium-level seats and corporate boxes, and also get the stadium "clean", which means they can sell their own perimeter advertising.

So far, however, agreement has only been reached for 2007 - with the GAA's price likely to rise again for 2008 and beyond.

In the meantime, France are poised to become the first outsiders to play at Croke Park for Ireland's opening Six Nations rugby match at home, which is pencilled in for Sunday, February 11th. England will provide Ireland's second and only other home opposition for the season on Saturday, February 24th and the magnitude of that occasion at Croke Park speaks for itself.

At least three soccer internationals will also be staged at Croke Park in 2007, in March, October and November, featuring the Republic of Ireland's home qualifying matches for the 2008 European Championship.

The draw for that campaign takes place on Friday week, although it will be a while longer before the exact dates of the three games and the opposition will be finalised. Applications for any soccer friendly games in 2007 will be made on a separate basis.

Yesterday's agreement is hugely significant, clearing the last hurdle on the long journey towards allowing rugby and soccer be played at Croke Park. But it's equally significant on a financial level, ensuring increased revenue for each of the three associations in 2007.

The IRFU, for example, could be looking at a gross income of over €5.5 million for a sell-out crowd at the Ireland-France match, based on this year's ticket prices of €70. That's around €3 million more than the IRFU would take at Lansdowne Road, so even with the rental fee of up to €1.4 million, it leaves added revenue of about €1.5 million. Those figures would be replicated with the visit of England.

The 2008 Six Nations season will see Ireland host Wales, Italy and Scotland, representing even bigger incomes for the IRFU, and in turn the GAA. Corporate boxes and premium-level seats are certain to be in high demand for such matches, and while current ticket-holders will have first refusal on all events played in Croke Park, the potential for added income there is also significant.

GAA president Seán Kelly said: "This was practical and necessary to ensure Irish sport and Irish sports followers did not have to travel abroad," he said, "and that the Irish economy will still benefit from having access to home games . . ."

The GAA's Central Council last month formally approved the use of Croke Park for soccer and rugby during the time of Lansdowne Road's redevelopment, and in the end it took just four meetings between representatives of the three associations to reach the agreement. The final deal was agreed on Friday, and signed by the representatives in Croke Park yesterday morning.

FAI chief executive John Delaney praised the GAA while welcoming the "historic" agreement: "We are delighted to have reached agreement with the GAA in a very positive, productive and businesslike manner", he said.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne also highlighted the significance of yesterday's move: "It will be a major celebration for Irish sport and indeed for the general public in Ireland."

Negotiating the deal on behalf of the GAA were Peter McKenna, Croke Park stadium director, with Paddy Wright, formerly of Smurfit, Hugh Cawley, formerly of AIB, and the GAA's Brendan Waters and Tommy Moran.