Of all the reasons cited for the disappointing 54,716 crowd that attended last year’s Dublin-Galway All-Ireland SFC semi-final, not much heed was paid to the fact both teams had been in action on three of the previous four weekends.
Football had a year to forget and there was an undeniable sense of inevitability about how the fixture was going to go but there were other issues that resulted in this being the worst attendance for an All-Ireland semi-final involving Dublin in 23 years.
By wedging in two extra quarter-final games for each team, the last of those coming just a week before the All-Ireland semi-finals, the GAA had taken away the promotional build-up commonly associated with such fixtures and, in turn, deprived supporters of the chance to save for them.
In 2016, it cost €30 (full price stand ticket) to see your team try and reach an All-Ireland semi-final, which included another last-eight game as part of a double-header. Last year, the price rose to €75.
The day after Dublin beat Galway, Monaghan (in a first last-four game in 30 years) against Tyrone failed to break the 50,000 mark (49,696).
But then both counties had each been out eight times that summer. Following them carried a huge cost.
The absence of Mayo undoubtedly had a negative effect on the Championship’s gate receipts — 2018 was the first time since 2009 (104,262) that the combined semi-final attendances didn’t break the 130,000 mark. And this decade Mayo have been involved in the semi-finals in all but two seasons.
However, the dilution of the All-Ireland series was always going to have an effect. GAA director general Tom Ryan said as much in his final report as director of finance 12 months ago.
Even the most committed of patrons will have a job to get to every game once it gets to the quarter-final stage of things.
Ryan was saying this on the back of the GAA’s gate receipts in 2017 coming close to hitting the €35m mark, which represented almost 53% of the organisation’s total revenue and close to €5m more than their 2016 take.
Impressive figures indeed, so the news now that they want to improve or at least consolidate those numbers by raising their prices warrants scrutiny.
It will be an unpopular view but there are elements of the hike that shouldn’t be dismissed as greed (and, no, ticket prices have not been increased to reflect the funds required to address the over-run in Páirc Uí Chaoimh).
The rise in league ticket prices is not excessive.
An extra €2 on a pre-purchased ticket for the bigger football and hurling matches is small and clearly aimed at incentivising supporters to buy early instead of facing the additional €5 at the stile. In essence, the pre-purchase figure of €15 is what existed for regular stand admission for the league before the cut in 2011.
It should be stressed that at the time the decrease followed the downturn in the economy at the time while it was offset by an increase on the All-Ireland final ticket.
There will be quibbles, some justified, about the new €90 stand and €45 terrace admissions on the two biggest days of the year, the second final ticket increases in 13 years.
The GAA won’t say it but it is their opportunity to seize on demand outstripping supply. To soften the blow, a more stratified ticketing plan for Croke Park should be considered or a recognition that not all stand tickets are the same.
Hurling is a different matter entirely from Gaelic Football yet it would be a tad rich for the GAA to claim the spectacle of the big ball code at the moment is undervalued especially as authorities are so keen to try and improve what they acknowledge are worrying issues about the aesthetic appeal of the game.
However, it is football which is most impacted by these new ticket prices as entry to SFC qualifiers rises in price.
The decision to bump up All-Ireland semi-final tickets by €5 is the second such increase in two years.
It was explained that the last one (in 2017) was a “value for money” call. Now the jump is being reasoned as a means of increasing funds for the development of clubs and counties, which would be fair enough but many of the customers being hit will be GAA members already.
Large swathes of the country, large swathes of Irish society haven’t felt anything close to the much-heralded economic recovery that has provided the background for these higher prices and there’s a danger football has been overvalued.
The GAA walks another tightrope.