GAA’s Central Council aims to agree on league and championship structure

Financial considerations include bringing back gate receipts and sponsorship income

The GAA's Central Council will reconvene on December 12th with a view to agreeing on a league and championship structure for the coming year in the face of ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions – and the probable need to bring in at least some gate receipts.

It was expected Central Council might agree such a structure last weekend, only to be told that further consideration and advice was needed on whether or not the GAA could afford to go another full season of league and championship without any gate receipts.

Back in April, when it seemed there was little prospect of the championship being completed before the end of 2020, director general Tom Ryan estimated the potential cost of losing the championship could be in the region of €60 million, which would represent nearly the entire revenue of €73 million from 2019.

The GAA still is facing an overall loss of about €50 million in 2020, even after the Government pledged an extra €15 million to run championships, with the distribution of the €40 million to the three main sports organisations – the GAA, FAI and IRFU – likely to bring in another €15 million.

Pandemic

The GAA’s 2019 gate receipts came in at €36 million, the vast majority of which (€29 million) came from football and hurling championship fixtures, including the round-robin hurling matches in Munster and Leinster, and the Super-8s in football, neither of which will happen in 2021.

The leagues also generated €5.5 million but that will be down this year, with the last two rounds being played without any crowds, plus the absence of standalone finals in both codes.

The GAA's management committee, which earlier this year was granted temporary powers to decide on formats and dates in light of the pandemic, had been proposing the inter-county season resume from the end of February, with the Allianz leagues in football and hurling, and run straight though until the third week in July when the All-Ireland football final will be played, a week after the hurling final.

The April club break would be abandoned and instead, like this season, the club championship would get its own window, from August to October.

The hurling championship would again have no provincial round-robin element, only the qualifiers. The football championship will have the traditional qualifiers, but with the new second-tier competition for the Tailteann Cup which was due to be held for the first time this year for Division Three and Four counties.

There are several other financial considerations for Central Council beyond the need to bring back some gate receipts; last year's media income was €14 million, that figure also likely to be down significantly given the reduced number of matches that went out live on RTÉ and Sky, the GAA's championship partners.

Sponsorship last year was also worth€5 million, and while they are said to be sympathetic to the difficulties facing the GAA but again, in the absence of any activities they can’t be expected to hand over the full amounts.

On Tuesday, the GAA and Gaelic Players’ Association also jointly announced a new four-year extension to their existing agreement, which was approved by Central Council over the weekend; there are, however, some changes to the protocols, expenses incurred by players in preparing for the inter-county game to be covered in a separate players’ charter, which will be negotiated separately in 2021. The player mileage had increased from 50 cent to 62.5 cent per mile, before being cut back to 50 cent for the current inter-county season given the impact of the pandemic.

Step closer

At the most recent meeting of the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force (FCRT), earlier in November, such long-term changes came a step closer in two separate areas: the separation of the club and intercounty seasons and reform of the All-Ireland football championship.

Also among the recommendations are the abandoning of pre-season tournaments, a ring-fenced closed season and All-Ireland finals to be concluded by mid-July.

Feargal McGill, the GAA’s head of games administration and task force secretary, referenced the extraordinary circumstances of the year: “I think it’s fairly well laid out in the report. The short answer is Covid and the positive experience clubs had with that. We’ve had overwhelming feedback from clubs that it’s been positive, even as early as July clubs were contacting us saying ‘this is something you need to look at again’. We’re happy to do that.”

The FCRTF is preparing to conduct road shows to explain the proposals in its report and gather any feedback before placing the finalised recommendations before Central Council, also in December, with a view to securing the go-ahead from congress early next year with the proposals to take effect from 2022.