Comment: From this Vantage, FAI learned hard 10-year ticket lesson

Back in 2008, as the financial bust loomed, fans were asked to shell out up to €32,00

At the launch of the FAI Vantage Club tickets in September 2008 (left to right) ISG chief executive Andrew Hampel,  Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, FAI chief John Delaney and Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli. Photograph:  Donall Farmer/Inpho

At the launch of the FAI Vantage Club tickets in September 2008 (left to right) ISG chief executive Andrew Hampel, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, FAI chief John Delaney and Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

A couple of the other sporting organisations might contest John Delaney’s claim about FAI’s new 10-year ticket scheme offering “the best value in Irish sport”, but Club Ireland is certainly a much better deal than Vantage Club, the association’s ill-fated boom-time offering that launched on what turned out to be pretty much day one of the bust.

The price of tickets back then – between €12,000 and €32,000 – seemed eye watering to just about everyone confronted with them for the first time as they were made public. But at the launch in 2008 Delaney was adamant: “It [the scheme] is good,” he said. “It’s based on the evidence and we are using top partners to build this.”

It was those ‘top partners’ who were shouldering the blame for the subsequent failure at today’s launch with Delaney acknowledging: “I think in terms of the Vantage Club it’s important to say that mistakes were made 10 years ago. The pricing was based on solid advice from major international bodies at the time. The pricing was wrong, obviously, because the recession began to bite. And I think, to be very clear, lessons have been learned and this time the pricing is realistic.”

The only price for a 10-year ticket this time is €5,000, just over 15 per cent of the sum asked the first time around. And at €12 million (from a projected 4,000 three-, five- and 10-year tickets sold) the target figure is less than 10 per cent of what it was hoped might be raised back in September 2008.

The idea then was that the minimum estimate of 80 per cent of the 10,000 premium level tickets being sold; Andrew Hampel, CEO of ISG who were brought in by the FAI to oversee the process, insisted at the time that despite the sudden downturn there would be plenty of people who “still want to be seen at the front of the aeroplane [and] these seats are the front of the aeroplane”.

FAI chief executive John Delaney at the launch of the Club Ireland premium level ticket scheme at the Aviva stadium on Wednesday. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
FAI chief executive John Delaney at the launch of the Club Ireland premium level ticket scheme at the Aviva stadium on Wednesday. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

His confidence in the face of a great deal of scepticism that day was truly remarkable but it was based, he said, on ISG’s record of achieving, or exceeding, its sales target on all 19 comparable projects it had previously sold. Lansdowne Road, it turned out, would be unlucky number 20.

Delaney’s expressions of belief in the whole enterprise continued long after it had become entirely obvious that it had all been a bit of a disaster. Indeed, his insistence over the next couple of years that all was proceeding according to plan exposed him to growing levels of ridicule. At the original launch he even predicted that the resale, when it eventually came around a decade down the road would provide the association with “a pension”.

Instead, the €12 million raised by this scheme will, if it is achieved, merely put a pretty big dent in the €28 million still outstanding from the original stadium debt.

Asked if the association had taken outside advice on the pricing this time or had any third parties helping with the sales, Delaney said they did not.

“No, we used our own team,” he revealed. “We spoke to sponsors, corporate Ireland and our fans. So we did it directly and I think it’s a good price. It’s good value.”

The association might have saved itself a fair bit of heartache and humiliation by polling those same people last time. It is hard to imagine who, even then, but outside agents chasing a big commission, could really have believed those first figures were anything other than entirely fanciful. The need to shift the tickets at those prices regardless, because of the financial situation within the association, was very real however, and a fair bit of reputational and other damage was done over the course of the attempt.

Delaney did not reveal on Wednesday whose fault any of that was.

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