Sponsorship cash is the real game-changer hiding in plain sight

Sponsorship cash is the real game-changer hiding in plain sight
Dublin footballer Jonny Cooper launching AIG's try before you buy SmartLane driving app. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I always get a little uneasy when my thinking is too aligned with the majority. Especially in this social media-driven cyclone we’re living in. We tend to operate much like sheep in a field and just stumble along blindly after the flock to the next green patch of grass.

Take Dublin GAA as a case in point. Most people recognise a runaway train when they see it, with very few confident of predicting when it might slow down, nevermind come to a stop. So what are the solutions being bandied about?

Divide the county in two? Use the Liffey as a natural separation and have a Dublin North and South. But I’m lost as to how exactly that is going to generate any improvement in Longford, Waterford or Antrim?

Would Dublin South not still hammer each of them if they met next June?

Most of the attention has focused on the money, and specifically on cutting their games development funding. We know the eye-watering disparity in the figures used to employ an army of Games Promotion Officers in the capital compared to only a handful in every other county.

Most Dublin urban clubs have at least one full-time GPO working within just that one club as well as coaching in the feeder schools in the vicinity. Those people are creating a very tangible and sustainable link between the club, the schools, and the GAA and are ensuring the continued growth of the association at a participation level by actively competing with the other shows in town, like rugby and soccer.

In every county outside Dublin, most coaching and games development would involve a GPO having at least 10 clubs to service (many more in some cases), 20-30 national schools and 3-4 secondary schools thrown into the mix for good measure.

Add in working with development squads, running blitzes, managing Cúl camps, coach education and you start to get a picture of just how thinly spread games development resources are in most counties.

At times, I feel the water is being muddied between games development funding, a swelling population, and a professional organisation with the pulling power to demand colossal sponsorship. Games development funding is about winning hearts and minds and exposing kids to GAA from a young age. It’s about helping clubs to organise themselves, attract players and volunteers, so they can provide enough games and hang on to what they have.

Those coaches working in the primary schools in Dublin have about as much direct impact with Jim Gavin’s senior crew as the bottom rung of the ladder has with the top one. Games development funding is about participation and very little to do with high performance. There should always be clear distinction made between the two.

Now, the long-term impact of investment in the area means you are more likely to keep onto more players through the crucial years of high drop out. Dublin dominating every year is a problem for the senior championship, but having thousands of children, youths and adults making up a vibrant playing population within the capital county is a great thing for the association as a whole.

Dublin’s games development funding doesn’t represent some obscure pot of gold hidden in the bowels of Parnell Park, used to buy jewellery and hair gel for their senior footballers. That money directly employs an army of coaches – people with mortgages and families who are doing their job as best they can.

Anthony Daly reviews the hurling weekend with Brian Hogan, TJ Ryan and Ger Cunningham. In association with Renault - car partners of the GAA.

But we’re left with the same problem… how can everybody else get their train moving at least in the same direction, if not at the same pace as Dublin?

Simply throwing money at county boards alone won’t be the solution many think it would be. Putting more coaches into Laois, for example, isn’t going to make them contenders in next year. Gaining 10 extra games development staff to work with their schools and clubs will start a long-term process, but it isn’t going to hugely strengthen John Sugrue’s hand in the short term.

I had a conversation with the Second Captains boys last week and Ciaran Murphy brought up the whole area of Dublin’s sponsorship money. I’ve made the point previously that AIG and a host of other ‘partners’ are contributing a vast financial sum for the specific purpose of being associated with their flagship teams and that money goes directly towards preparing their county teams.

No other county has the marketable product or wherewithal to attract such investment. They have the biggest fan base in the association, most TV and media exposure, extraordinary jersey and merchandise sales… sponsors are getting plenty of bang for their buck. Then again, no other county is operating in the biggest commercial market in the country.

Murph was making the point that it is this financial tap which causes the real inequity in terms of team preparation at senior level, not the games development funding, and it’s an argument that makes sense.

In professional sport in the US, all the major organisations operate under the confines of a salary cap. Teams who exceed the cap and pay more than they’re supposed to are hit with a hugely punitive ‘luxury tax’.

Dublin feed their players after training and provide the gear and boots the same as every county board is supposed to.

They must be one of the few teams who don’t have many players working outside the county. Travel expenses surely can’t be that significant, which is a huge drain on the coffers of other boards who have players traveling like Phileas Fogg to get to training.

Jim Gavin regularly extolls the voluntary effort of his back-room people involved with coaching and managing this Dublin team so where is the need for such ostentatious wealth?

The way I see it, the association needs to introduce a Robin Hood model where Dublin are challenged to either sustain their coaching and games workforce through their own substantial stream of commercial income, and have their games development funding redistributed to those counties that desperately need it and cannot attract significant commercial revenue themselves.

Or how about imposing a max spending cap on all senior county teams? I’m sure that would garner plenty of support at Congress.

Or alternatively, somebody needs to be brave enough to grasp the briar wrapped around sponsorship money to attempt to level the financial playing field. Devising a mechanism of pooling commercial income would enable weaker counties to at least prepare their senior side to a similar level as everybody else but should also enable them to invest more of their own money into a sustainable coaching and games structures to target more long-term improvements.

Instead of focusing on cutting down the Dubs, the conversation needs to be on finding alternatives to provide more help for the rest. Increased finance without a specific framework with which to use it could see it squandered by too many county boards who may lack the vision and expertise to develop an ambitious and sustainable long-term strategy.

Games development funding is a part of it, but the sponsorship money is the real financial game-changer hiding in plain sight.

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