FAI postpone publishing of accounts as Three end deal

Long-awaited publication of 2018 accounts now to take place on Friday instead of Thursday

The long awaited publication of the FAI’s accounts for 2018 will now take place on Friday with the association postponing the press conference at which the figures are to be revealed in order, it said, to complete the formalities required and ensure its entire board can be present.

Its announcement was made a matter of hours after Three, one of the association's two largest backers over the last 10 years, said that it will not be renewing its sponsorship when it expires next summer.

With eight months or so, to find a new taker for one of the most prominent promotional platforms that sport in this country has to offer, the front of Ireland team shirts are unlikely to be left blank at any stage but as the association's commercial team starts to work on its pitch, there will be a sense that the Euro 2020 qualification stakes just got even higher.

Only a couple of months ago, Three's telecoms rival Vodafone signed a new four-year deal with the IRFU understood to be worth a total of €16 million, a slight increase on the previous terms.

But industry insiders expect that the FAI will have to accept significantly less than the basic €1.8 million Three paid each year given the reputational damage it has suffered over the course of what has been a traumatic year with the cost quite possibly amounting to a couple of million euro over the course of a new five-year deal.

There was no mention of former chief executive John Delaney or the "shock" Paul Cooke predicted the 2018 accounts will generate or the association's ongoing battle of wills with the Minister for Sport in the firm's statement announcing the decision with its chief commercial officer, Elaine Carey, simply suggesting that Three "have decided to consolidate our sponsorship investment in the area of music". It is clear, however, that an association that was in better shape would be that little bit harder to walk away from.

It is not known when the FAI learned of Three's departure but speaking only last week to The Irish Times as he prepared to return to Uefa, then FAI general manager Noel Mooney had listed the retention of major backers like the firm as one of the successes of his six month spell back at the association.

The company’s profile and reach would have been attractive to the organisation and it had the resources to spend heavily to promote the sponsorship with its claim that it had invested €30 million over the past decade suggesting that around €10 million had been expended on various forms of marketing.

There will be no shortage of companies that see Three’s departure as a potential opportunity but the starting point in quite of few of the resulting approaches is likely to be a blunt reminder that the FAI’s own brand is not exactly what it should be right now. The timing, in other words, could not have been much worse.

Better news

There was slightly better news for the association on the Government funding front with the Department of Sport announcing that it is to allow payment of the €195,000 due to the association as part of its support for the women’s senior national team. The money is not, however, going to be paid to the association itself with the funds going instead to the accountancy firm BDO who will ensure that they are spent for the purpose intended without ever finding their way into one of the FAI’s actual bank accounts.

The terms are another embarrassment for an organisation that has suffered its fair share of them this year but it might also be seen as an important first step towards a wider restoration of Government funding.

In the Department's statement, Minister for Sport Shane Ross says that: "There is no reason why the mistakes of the FAI top brass should be borne by innocent players," and the hope among the association's affiliates and staff will be that that reasoning is ultimately extended to the various other programmes whose funding has been hit.

Uefa, meanwhile, has revealed the pots for the next Nations League, the draw for which will take place in March.

The Republic of Ireland are ranked 27th of 55 teams, one above Northern Ireland and so the two will not be able to be drawn together.

Instead each will be end up in a group with one side from Russia, Austria, Wales or the Czech Republic, one from Scotland, Norway, Serbia or Finland and one from Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary or Romania.

Once again the competition will form part of a back door qualification route to a major tournament, this time the 2022 World Cup.

There will be 13 places for European sides at the competition, which is to be staged in Qatar with 10 group winners progressing automatically after which the 10 runner-up will be joined by the two best Nations League group winners not in one of the previous two categories and these will be drawn into three “paths” involving four teams each. One leg semi-finals and finals will then be played to decide the other three European qualifiers.