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Cash as much of an incentive as Cup glory for Sligo Rovers

Dundalk semi-final set to yield around €40,000 to be divided between clubs abd FAI

Sligo Rovers’ Kyle McFadden and Jamie McGrath of Dundalk compete for the ball during their recent Airtricity League meeting. Photo: Ciaran Culligan/Inpho

What’s that old line about love leaving through the window, when hardship is coming in through the door? Sure, there’s the romance of the cup and getting to play a part in the final is very much the club’s main priority , but as Sligo Rovers prepare to take on Dundalk at the Showgrounds on Sunday, the money clearly matters too.

Getting this far in the competition, suggests club treasurer David Rowe starkly, “is the difference between us having a very difficult financial end to this season and it just being difficult”.

Kieran Lucid, whose proposal for an all island league is to be discussed again on October 8th, suggested recently that Irish League clubs could not get enough of hearing just how it is Sligo Rovers manage to make ends meet. There are certainly plenty of novel elements to a business plan that must seem a little alien to a man like Rowe, a large part of whose day job involves advising rather more conventional businesses on their financial management.

“We had a beer,” he says, “The Showgrounds; produced by a local brewery, The White Hag, who gave us a euro for each pint they sold and so we got €5,000 from that. We’re doing a fashion show world record attempt, the most models ever, we’re aiming for 430, in a local hotel and we have a concert coming up; they’re the sexy things at the moment.

“The rest is the usual €10 ticket stuff; that and the ‘500 Club’ (the more than 500 fans who give €20 a month). It’s relentless and it shouldn’t be like that.”

Like all of the club’s 15 strong management committee, its other four officers and many ordinary supporters who give their time or expertise, the whole thing is a labour of love for the Dublin-based accountant. Rowe spent his formative years living close to the Showgrounds but was never allowed go to a game because his Church of Ireland family regarded attending football as an inappropriate way to spend a Sunday.

“It was only later I realised that the Dean’s son was going to the games,” he says with a laugh. He was living in Dublin by the time he eventually got to see Rovers play. “My dad brought me to Dalymount, to a Blaxnit Cup match against Glentoran, I have no idea why it was played there. They lost but it was like connecting with my inner being.”

Now, he admits ruefully, he shares the burden of club administrators everywhere whose instinctive support for his team is complicated even as the action continues by the calculations going on in the back of the mind as to the financial implications, good or bad, of what is unfolding out on the pitch.

In terms of the current cup run, the first round win at Glebe North yielded so little by way of funds that there was barely enough to cover the team bus and players’ match bonuses with not even a dent made on Rovers’ weekly running costs (mostly wages) of more than €20,000. But there was at least the prospect of a more lucrative second round tie to come.

A home draw against Limerick wasn’t so bad and when it was won it, in turn, raised the possibility of a bigger quarter-final payday. Some of the good was sucked out of that when UCD brought just a handful of fans but took home €5,000 as their share of the gate receipts.

Rovers expect to have a full house for the semi-final meeting with Dundalk. Photo: Ciaran Culligan/Inpho

Now, though, Rovers are expecting a full house against Dundalk which should yield up to €40,000 in gate receipts and a substantial few bob in additional matchday activities. “There will be people selling programmes and raffle tickets … every supporter who comes into the ground will have to pass through waves of people trying to get them to give more money to the club in one way or another.”

There are significant expenses too, of course, plus the usual battles to be fought with the other parties who are entitled to a portion of the pie.

The visiting club are the obvious ones. Dundalk will be due 45 per cent of the net gate receipts, net that is of the 20 per cent that the FAI takes off the top and tales of the toing and froing between clubs on these occasions are legendary within the game. Rowe, however, is expecting the first battle of the day on Sunday to be whether the 50 cent per ticket commission paid by Rovers to the company that sells its seats online can be subtracted from the gross. His frustration is clear.

The club turns over around €1.3 million per year of which a quarter comes from gate receipts, a fraction more than that comes from commercial activities and over a third is generated by good old fashioned fundraising; a task made much more manageable, he says, by the very special status of the club within its community.

Things may be changing for the better at the FAI, certainly in terms of its view of the league and relationship with its clubs, but last year the association provided just €40,000, or three per cent of revenue, between prize money and subventions but took pretty much exactly as much back in affiliation fees, fines and refereeing expenses. Rovers, of course, get no television income at all.

Rowe is clearly a little bewildered as to how the association can justify taking maybe €8,000 out of Sunday’s game but says he suspects it is just historical. “Their cut in the earlier rounds is not so big and I think it dates back to when the semi-finals were in neutral venues and they were paying the host club and paying for security and all of that. Now we pay for all of that but they still get the money.”

Dealing with them is unlikely, he knows, to get any easier if Sligo win and make it to the final on the first Sunday in November. When the club faced Shamrock Rovers in the 2010 decider nobody knew how many might turn up to the newly built Aviva stadium but the association told the clubs that after all the expenses had been paid, they would split the money taken between the two finalists. The attendance required to cover expenses was put at 25,000.

“In the end, over 36,000 turned up; it was more than they get for a lot of internationals now but the FAI said that it cost more to accommodate the bigger crowd and so there was no surplus at all, neither club got any extra money.”

The financial basics of that day this year will be €50,000 to the winners (half what it was back then) plus a lucrative, potentially very lucrative, place in Europe (“the holy grail for every club,” as Rowe puts it) with €25,000 – a sum that would be chewed up in Sligo’s case by contract extensions and other expenses – to the runners up.

However, he says that just getting there makes for “a very special day for a club like Sligo Rovers and its supporters,”. The opportunity to sample that sense of community and occasion again is what they will all be hoping for when the team takes on the league champions on Sunday afternoon. That, and a bumper sale of half-time raffle tickets.

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