Jonathan Hill says rebuilding FAI’s reputation will take time

CEO said national team still without a sponsor and deal with Paddy Power was opted against

FAI CEO Jonathan Hill says that will take time to rebuild the reputation of the association and so attract the sort of new sponsorship deals that the organisation requires in the wake of Three’s departure at the end of last year.

In his first press conference since taking up the role four months ago, Hill expressed satisfaction that Aitrtricity had been persuaded to renew their backing for the League of Ireland and said Bank of Ireland was a welcome addition to the association’s list of sponsors although he acknowledged that finding a replacement for Three may take some time.

“I’ve been involved with the commercial side of the sport for a long time but I inherited that situation,” he said. “Normally getting a deal of that magnitude and complexity would take between six and 12 months door to door, if you like, to be consummated.

“So to find a national team sponsor in a Covid scenario, where brands and business are under extreme pressure for very understandable reasons, was always going to be a challenge.

“That does not mean that we are not out there in the marketplace, talking about the platforms on which we think we can deliver to a national team sponsor and I completely believe in the platform we can provide because we are the number one sport in the world.

“It is certainly our intention to find a partner (but) I know we have some work to do so that brands want to be a part of the story of Irish football moving forward and I am confident that we will get to that point.”

The association did have discussions towards the end of last year with Paddy Power about a deal but in the end, Hill says, the organisation’s board decided that it preferred not even to have a “betting partner”.

“I was asked to look at the pros and cons of that and we debated the issue openly and in the end the board decided that it wasn’t something that the association wanted to pursue going forward. I was respectful of that decision and indeed I was supportive of that decision.”

The association remains interested, he said however, in the possibility of receiving a portion of the current betting tax that would be in line with the percentage of the revenue that is derived from money actually wagered on the game. Board chair, Roy Barrett, he said, is “passionate” about having a wider debate on that issue.

Hill said that that he remains hopeful that some spectators will be allowed back into international and Airtricity League games before the end of the year but, he admitted, “we have to be realistic,” and he seemed to suggest that 10,000 at international games towards the end of Ireland’s qualification campaign is about as much as the association could really hope for.

“Broadly speaking, I always want to see stadiums full for our games but we will continue to be guided by the health authorities. And if get the point where we have even 5,000 or 9,000 or 10,000 fans in the Aviva I am sure they would make a lot of noise.”

He characterised the experience of Stephen Kenny in the autumn as “tough” on a number of fronts but said that he has had a positive meeting with the Ireland manager in recent weeks and that the association’s focus is “now on giving Stephen and the team all of the support that they need for the forthcoming World Cup campaign.”

He also said that he had spoken with Damien Duff who, he said, remains supportive of the team and its manager.

“He reminded me of his passion for Irish football and for the Irish national teams, he is completely supportive of Stephen and the team and I don’t think there would be any Irish man or woman more proud that Damien should Ireland qualify for the World Cup in 2022.

“I want to harness that passion and we agreed that we would keep in touch and I have no reason to disbelieve that Damien will play a major part in Irish football moving forward.”

Hill said that he has not spoken up until now to Robbie Keane, who continues to be paid a substantial salary by the association while not having a role, but that he intends to do so.

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