By Jim O'Sullivan
THE GAA has been compelled to open all stiles in Croke Park for Sunday's Allianz NFL finals, even though there is little likelihood of the two games attracting more than 30,000 supporters.
It follows a Garda review of arrangements after crowd problems experienced on the occasion of the All-Ireland club finals on St Patrick's Day when a combination of factors resulted in a big delay before the hurling final.
Subsequently a gate was opened on the Hogan Stand and several thousand people gained free admission.
The games are all-ticket, with Down and Offaly meeting in the Division Two final at 2pm and Kerry and Galway clashing in the Division One decider at 3.40. And, following a recent decision of the Central Council, the stadium has been designated as smoke-free!
The directive from the safety authorities that all the stiles (70 approximately) should be open, means that operating costs on the day will be significantly higher than what would normally be expected when only half the capacity of the stadium would be used.
Last year, there was a crowd of 30,293 for the finals, 25,129 the previous year (in Clones) and 22,623 in 2001.
While different figures have been quoted in relation to 'break-even' costs, the fact is that there is no definitive figure. It all depends on the number of games in the stadium over the course of the year the more that are played, the more operating costs are reduced. This is explained by the fact that about half the costs (such as insurance), are 'fixed' and the other half (ie., special Gardaí and stilesmen) are variable. Clearly, fixed costs have to be met, regardless of whether there is a game played or not.
Depending on the attendance, there is every possibility that the GAA will lose money on the game. However, Director-General Liam Mulvihill points out that financial considerations should not determine whether or not a game is played in Croke Park. "Over the years, we have often had loss-making fixtures. There's no reason why every game played in the stadium has to pay for itself. The 'more successful' games can help subsidise those which make a loss,''
Tickets are available from County Boards, Ticketmaster outlets, the GAA website (www.gaa.ie) and from the ticket office in the Cusack Stand from 10am to 7pm today and from 11am until 5pm tomorrow.