BT deal has potentially big implications for top Irish clubs
Last year’s Europa League run could’ve been worth additional €2 million to Dundalk
Dundalk and Legia Warsaw players join the match officials before the start of their Champions League play-off last August. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images
It might seem a world away from a league where the lights go out at Maginn Park - and Derry City having to offer free admission to their rescheduled game against Limerick because they have no way of establishing who paid in the first time around - but BT’s willingness to pay substantially more for Champions League rights from 2018 on has potentially big ramifications for the leading clubs here.
Prize money for Uefa’s two big club competitions is, for the most part, related to income generated. The 32 per cent increase (to almost €1.4 billion) BT has agreed to pay for exclusive rights to both over the three seasons leading up to the summer of 2021 gives an idea of where club revenues from the Champions and Europa Leagues can be expected to go for the cycle that begins next year.
There is more involved here than just broadcast rights deals, but taking Monday’s announcement as the most basic of yardsticks, Real Madrid might anticipate something in the region of €27 million more from Uefa than the €80 million they got for winning the Champions League last season if they repeat the trick in a couple of years time.
In terms of a proportion of turnover, though, that’s still minor enough compared to what the increases might mean to Irish clubs.
Last year’s Europa League run, for instance, could have been worth an additional €2 million or so to Dundalk which, in a rather more mundane year, would almost certainly exceed total revenues up at Oriel Park.
It certainly dwarfs the €110,000 a club gets for winning the league here or, for that matter, the €475,500 that all 20 clubs will split between them this season. By English standards, of course, the figures are decidedly modest. But the fact is that for all the talk of how critical it is for a leading Premier League club to finish in the top four, European qualification is, in relative terms, at least as important to sides here.
The three Irish clubs going straight into this season’s Europa League are guaranteed more than €200,000. If they make it to the play-off round they will earn close to €1 million, a figure that should also rise substantially from 2018 onwards. Former Sligo Rovers chairman Dermot Kelly wrote in The Irish Times a couple of weeks back about how earning even the lower figure had been almost a matter of survival for that club a few years back.
With many of the costs associated with participating at that level relatively constant, the profit made by the clubs involved on a European run has gone up hugely since then and future increases are likely to be even more beneficial. It is no wonder that there is a growing sense of pressure on the league’s most prominent managers with the measure of success or failure no longer hinging to anything like the same extent of whether a trophy is actually won.
So, from a board’s point of view Derry’s third place finish last year must look like a triumph. But for others, gaining access to the European cash has become a fairly central element to planning. Shamrock Rovers look to be a case in point.
Having failed to capitalise to the extent expected after their own Europa League group stage appearance in 2011, the club is now attempting to transform the way it is structured and funded.
In the long term, there is clearly the hope of generating substantial revenues from the sale of young players. But the establishment of the academy and related emphasis on youth development has been accompanied by a renewed determination that the first team be in Europe each year.
For Stephen Bradley that inevitably brings pressure, although the sense on Friday night was that he is a manager being given an opportunity to operate in an environment that most clubs can only dream of creating. Certainly Bohemians, for all their misery at being beaten by their most bitter rivals, might be forgiven for feeling they were getting a glimpse of an exciting future in a modern, council backed stadium of their own.
Tallaght looked as though it had come into its own the other night with Rovers attracting its largest home crowd for a league game since 2011. Among the 5,322 were 200 sponsors and their guests and fans who came for a sit down meal at a hospitality event that no other club would currently be in a position to match on-site.
That might not sound like a big deal to anyone whose experience of live sport is limited to the very top end events. But for the league it is certainly significant and the club points to the contribution these sort of add-ons can make to improving the return for sponsors and attracting non-core supporters
With Derry to visit this Friday, then Cork City due on St Patrick’s Day, there looks to be potential to build on last Friday but winning against Bohemians, it is acknowledged, was of critical importance with the victory delivering momentum that should help with crowds and commercial revenues during the weeks ahead. That is why one club official described the Friday’s game as “more than a six pointer”.
On the pitch, the team is clearly still gelling but to judge by their opening two games, it is still some way off possessing the quality required to actually win a title. In the short term, though, just improving on last year’s first round Europa League exit would be worth at least twice as much money to Bradley’s employers as a league crown.
It is clearly open to question whether that is as it should be or, for that matter, if this is really the most progressive way for Uefa to distribute some its enormous wealth to the continent’s peripheral leagues. It is not going to change anytime soon, though, and so deals like BT’s will ensure that despite the lack of increased funds from the FAI and the lights going out here on an apparently weekly basis, for a few clubs at least, the game here is an increasingly high stakes affair.