Few of those who gathered for its launch at the Aviva Stadium knew what to expect from the latest report to be undertaken on the League of Ireland but FAI chief executive John Delaney had said a couple of weeks ago that it was "very good" and we were no more than a few minutes into the proceedings when it became clear that its author, JJ Gabay, is also an admirer of Delaney's work.
Under Delaney, he said, as he kicked off a presentation delivered to the association’s top brass, representatives of clubs and a fair few press members, things have been “amazing”. To judge by the songs you hear at games these days, a lot of fans might agree with the term but be surprised by the tone with which it was delivered here.
That Gabay’s League of Ireland Brand Report is rather positive about the organisation that has paid his fee is probably not so surprising but the extent to which he echoes its line in relation to critics is remarkable.
Dissident fans are dismissed as “empty vessels” and those clubs that rejected its “generous” offer of €5,000 towards the compilation of a business plan are accused of a “political hijacking”.
In his presentation, he addressed the objection they and others raised to not even being told what sponsorships of their own league are worth, with Gabay having at one point made the potentially embarrassing assertion that “clear transparent communication” is required and later observing that “You don’t go out and tell people everything, the world doesn’t work that way.”
Helpfully, he qualified that too, adding: “You should have confidential transparency.”
There was, to the lay person, little enough about actual branding, with most of his report – and presentation – focused on the many ways in which the league itself could be better. He later explained that for him this was the brand and the brief; and there were undoubtedly many perfectly valid suggestions amongst the 30, 50, perhaps 100, that he mentions.
Few will exactly startle veterans of the scene with all the standard boxes – better half-time entertainment, cleaner toilets, stronger connections with local communities – getting ticked; but then that is to be expected given that he is an outsider and a large part of his 12-week project was spent talking to those who are all too familiar with the league’s failings.
There were a few new and slightly novel ideas: a bus to be decked out in league and club livery that could be used for touring the country and doing promotional work, as well as walkways with those Hollywood-style stars in the pavement to celebrate greats of times gone by.
But a few too many recommendations could be filed under “The Bleeding Obvious”.
Clubs talking more to each other was one, specifically at “workshops” where they could exchange information and tease out ideas. In truth, a decent one of those would be expected to yield most of what we got here, although it should be noted that recent history suggests the association doesn’t actually like the clubs getting together with the intention of doing any independent thinking.
Perhaps, however, those more familiar with current circumstances would self-censor on the basis that they would assume that without substantially increased support by the FAI a great many of the proposals are simply impractical.
An outsider’s view might have some value and if the association is prepared to pay to have a third party tell the clubs what they should already know, then fine. Although when pressed on some of his suggestions, Gabay’s lack of background knowledge was clear.
He talks, for instance, of clubs at least aspiring to having scoreboards capable of instant replays and dramatically improved social media with great video content; ignoring the financial aspect of the idea, he seemed stunned to learn that clubs are currently prohibited from showing a goal from their games until after Monday night’s highlights programme on RTÉ.
He also floated the notion of playing up managerial rivalries with “a bit of banter” because “it’s fun”, which is probably true. Although he was blissfully unaware, it seems, that almost anything in this league that generates controversy is quickly followed by fines.
Moreover, there was no meaningful comparison with other leagues of similar size and no suggestion whatsoever that the association provide significantly increased funding to clubs.