Declining football crowds may continue under new format
GAA director of finance says 2019 will clarify impact of round-robins on attendances
Clare and Galway in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final replay last year. Overall attendances were down 14 per cent on last year. Photograph: Inpho
The GAA’s top finance officer believes that last year’s major decline in gate receipts for the All-Ireland football championship may become the norm under the formats introduced for a three-year trial last year.
Ger Mulryan, who in his first annual report as director of finance described the year as “stable and solid”, was commenting on a precipitous 18 per cent decline in attendances in 2018 with a knock-on impact on gate receipts, which fell by 23 per cent.
Overall attendances were down 14 per cent on last year and although 2017 featured two All-Ireland football replays in the quarter- and semi-finals, the experimental format of round-robin quarter-finals meant that there were six more matches last year than the previous season.
Speaking about whether the format meant that the GAA would have to get used to lower attendances, Mulryan replied: “2019 will educate us and establish what the new norm is on that trend.
“We are on a three-year trial and this is year one. We will look at it annually and I suppose give it three years and if it needs fixing we will try to fix it at that point.”
Strong commercial revenues, up 13 per cent, (including media earnings) and hurling numbers that kept more or less in line with the previous year meant that the fall in revenues for the year was just 1 per cent, €847,943 , less than in 2017 although this is the first time in three years that the association’s income has registered a fall.
Asked had they expected such a shortfall in the new All-Ireland football championship, Mulryan said: “I suppose we budgeted at a level. We don’t over-aggressively target significant growth annually, especially on gate receipts. There were two key replays in 2017 and that accounted for over €2 million of the discrepancy between the football championship revenues.
“The extra games were ordinarily always going to be outside of Croke Park with the smaller venues, smaller attendances so the level of growth was never going to be as excessive as maybe anticipated.”
The slight drop in hurling championship revenues of 4 per cent has to be judged in the context of the round-robin provincial championships showing a significant rise in income for Leinster and Munster Councils.
This had an impact on Central Council income, as the new experimental format (also running for three years) meant the elimination of the All-Ireland qualifier series. The association also missed out on a replay in the Limerick-Cork All-Ireland semi-final, as new rules mean that extra time has to be played if the teams are level after 70 minutes the first day.
The other semi-final between Galway and Clare survived that provision to go to a replay even after extra time and the year saw the largest aggregate attendance at the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals on record.
Overall, though, Central Council’s competition revenues were all down in 2018 with the exception of the hurling league, which registered a 1 per cent increase. The football league declined by 7 per cent, from €3.2 million to €3 million.
Central Council income for 2018 consisted of gate receipts at 46 per cent, commercial revenue at 31 per cent, other streams – largely the Croke Park dividend – providing 15 per cent and Government grants, 8 per cent.
Mulryan also reported that the distribution figure of what goes back to GAA units was at €13,900,000 – up from €13,600,000.
On the subject of games development grants, Dublin’s allocation at €1,303,630 was slightly down on 2017 but continues to dwarf other counties with Meath a distant second on €367,400.
Games development is just one heading under payments to counties and accounts for 23 per cent of the overall figure but it is the one under which the imbalance towards Dublin is most pronounced.
Mulryan said that the challenge was to expand the scheme elsewhere rather than significantly to cut Dublin’s allocation. He added that he hoped to roll out the 50-50 funding model (which provides for clubs to receive half of the funding for a coach) elsewhere and that the East Leinster project had extended that model to a number of other counties.
“Rather than try and dismantle something that’s working, really, really well, I think the investment of an extra €600,000 last year in the East Leinster project has delivered 35 extra coaches along a similar Dublin model across five new counties.
He expressed concern at the insurance premium costs of €6.5 million but added that the fund was marginally in profit. Over the past five years, claims totalling €20 million have been made, including €7 million from third-party claimants from outside the association.
2018: €29.5 million
2017: €34.3 million
2016: €30 million
2015: €26.7 million
2014: €29.4 million
2013: €29.3 million
2012: €26.8 million
2011: €24.2 million
2010: €25.8 million
2009: €25.5 million