GAA, IRFU and FAI set out 'stark' future without fans

GAA, IRFU and FAI set out 'stark' future without fans

GAA Director General Tom Ryan, left, and President John Horan arriving at Dáil Éireann today. Mr Ryan said in 2020 alone, there will be a €50m hole in the GAA's finances with another €20m lost after. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The GAA, IRFU and FAI have all set out a grim financial future for the associations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The three associations have been working on a plan for the safe return of fans to grounds.

Here is a summary of their predicted financial future if that doesn't happen:

  • The GAA warned of a €50m financial hole in its finances 
  • The association predicts further losses of €20m in 2021 
  • The IRFU said it is likely to continue to "burn" through €5m a month as a result of supporters being locked out of big games 
  • The IRFU said its 2020 losses are forecasted to be in excess of €30m 
  • Philip Browne said Ulster and Munster are probably in greater financial difficulty than Connacht and Leinster
  • The FAI has warned that it will not survive unless supporters can attend matches 
  • The FAI said the national league itself is also in danger.

At today's Special Committee on Covid-19 response, the GAA warned of a €50m hole in its finances and said further losses of €20m are likely into 2021.

GAA Director General Tom Ryan has told the committee that the financial implications are "stark" and will impact into next year.

Mr Ryan told the committee: "Finance and the generation of funds is not the raison d’etre of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael but like every other organisation it is an important element of what we do.

"It has to be. We can only re-invest monies we generate. To say that our financial predicament is stark would not be an overstatement.

"It is our estimation that, in 2020 alone, there will be a €50m hole in our finances. We are working through possible scenarios for 2021 but it seems certain that further losses will follow of at least €20m."

He referred to the incremental return of supporters, albeit in small numbers, to games and said this needed to be built on while adhering to public health advice.

"We have developed plans that show how the GAA can demonstrate that we can continue to be trusted and to act responsibly with the safety of people in mind as regards the return of any numbers of spectators to matches," he said.

"We look forward to working with the other sporting organisations to establish what might be possible for our larger stadia when the bigger games are being staged."

Tom Ryan said when it came to GAA County boards, typically they would be expected to return a collective surplus of around €4m, whereas this year it would be a deficit of €12m.

GAA President John Horan said the association has played a key role in dealing with the initial crisis through its volunteers and use of its facilities.

"It was in fact a very visible GAA response to the fight in flattening the curve and a source of pride for us to see our facilities so prominent," he said.

Mr Horan said now it is time to look at the next phase of games returning.

"While it has been difficult to quantify the loss of games to communities and people across the country, we know from the outpouring of positivity on their return how badly they were missed," he said.

"Nowhere was the absence of games and training more acutely felt than amongst our youngest and most senior members.

"In the absence of classroom schooling, it is an accepted fact that many young people struggled with isolation and being away from their friends."

He said its return to play protocols, which involve people submitting an online questionnaire, had drawn a massive response.

"That questionnaire has been completed more than 7.3m times peaking on a recent Saturday at 120,000 in one day," he said. "At peak times, eight forms are being completed every second."

The IRFU case - key issue facing rugby is the absence of spectators

The IRFU then warned the committee of "catastrophic" financial losses due to supporters being locked out of big games and said the association was likely to continue to "burn" through €5m a month as a result.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said that a negative cash swing of minus €40m to the middle of next year was "very serious and is being kept under constant review".

He said the very existence of professional rugby on the island of Ireland would come under threat unless steps are taken to boost its finances.

"The key issue facing rugby is the absence of spectators at major fixtures," he said. 

"The absence of a clear pathway to the return of spectators, in meaningful numbers, means our perilous financial situation will continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate into 2021, moving to an unsustainable position by third quarter of that year.

"The IRFU is the only sport in the country totally supporting a Professional game which is massively dependent on the men’s national team’s ability to generate funds.

"The men’s national team generates 80% of all revenues, which in turn is fed down to support all other national teams, the provincial teams and clubs across the country.

"Every stakeholder in Irish rugby is already shouldering their share of the economic burden, including salary cuts of up to 20%, redundancies and the elimination of all but the most critical overhead costs."

He said all four rugby provinces were suffering, but Leinster had some cash reserves. Mr Browne added the IRFU had to step in and assist all four, "but two, Ulster and Munster, are probably in greater difficulty than Connacht and Leinster."

Mr Browne said the IRFU balance sheet had been healthy at the onset of the current crisis but net losses in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 are "catastrophic" and are forecasted to be in excess of €30m, despite the implementation of the cuts and initiatives previously mentioned.

This excluded more than €32m of 2020 ten-year ticket renewal monies due.

"We are unable to invoice for these sums in the absence of any visibility of fans attending games," he said. 

"This figure relates solely to 2020, and it is incumbent on me to advise you that the outlook for 2021 is far worse.

"In very broad terms, it is anticipated that the IRFU and the Provinces will continue to 'burn' at least €5m a month, primarily on Professional Game Wages and Costs. 

This is not a sustainable position and will require significant additional actions after December 2020 if there is no sight of spectators returning at that point."

And in a stark warning he said: "The current projected position to the end of June 2021, showing a negative cash swing of almost €40m from a cash surplus of some €28m in June 2020, to borrowings of just over €10m, backed by Union assets, is very serious and is being kept under constant review.

"The IRFU will be forced to commence borrowings in January. If these projections were to materialise, the very existence of professional rugby on the island would be under significant threat in 2021."

Actual recorded financial losses went up ten-fold in just six months and said while the IRFU would continue to follow NPHET and public health guidelines, "that support comes at a significant cost to our sport".

The FAI case - Our Association will not survive financially without fans

Finally, the FAI has warned that it will not survive unless supporters can attend international and League of Ireland matches, with the national league itself also in danger.

Gary Owens, the interim CEO of the Football Association of Ireland, told the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, that the FAI had succeeded in dealing with the challenges of Covid-19 up to now but needed to take the next steps to ensure the association's future.

He also said the FAI had been working with the GAA and the IRFU on a plan for the safe return of fans to grounds and this will shortly be presented to government.

FAI Director of Communications Cathal Dervan, left, FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens and League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon, right, arriving at Dáil Éireann today. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
FAI Director of Communications Cathal Dervan, left, FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens and League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon, right, arriving at Dáil Éireann today. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"As a result of our very successful return to playing football, we are now ready to move to the next stage on our journey to get fans and supporters at all levels back watching live matches in significant numbers," Mr Owens told the Committee.

"The harsh reality is that our Association will not survive financially without fans attending our International and League of Ireland matches."

He referred to a successful protocol which facilitated the return on international and League of Ireland games and said: "We have already demonstrated that - by developing safe, well thought through protocols delivered with experienced and trained personnel - we can reduce any risks for allowing fans back into our stadiums.

"In this regard, I am particularly concerned about the future financial viability of League of Ireland clubs. They almost entirely depend financially on supporters attending games and we are now entering really dangerous territory for them if the current ban on large spectator attendances continues much longer.

"I know these loyal fans would sign up to any spectator code of conduct to attend matches and keep their clubs alive.

He said together with the IRFU and the GAA, the FAI has been working on developing a plan to allow for the safe return of fans to all our stadia, across all codes, which will shortly be presented to Government through the Expert Medical Group.

"We are also working with UEFA and FIFA on this project," Mr Owens said, adding that eyes would be trained on a pilot test at the Super Cup Final in Budapest next Thursday when up to 20,000 spectators will attend a live match as Bayern Munich meet Sevilla.

Alex O’Connell, FAI Finance Director, confirmed that the association has applied for €19.3m in financial assistance via the Government and Sport Ireland’s Covid-19 Grant Schemes.

Mr Owens echoed that and referred to recent past difficulties that have engulfed the FAI.

"We have gone from one crisis to another through no fault of the hundreds of thousands of these important people who devote valuable time and energy to our great game," he told the Committee.

"Unfortunately, the financial cost of Covid-19 to the association is serious and for the second time we need your support."

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