Ireland's TV audience drops by more than one third

The television audience for competitive Republic of Ireland (Men’s) football matches has fallen by 35% on last year.
Ireland's TV audience drops by more than one third

11 June 2022; Former Republic of Ireland internationals and RTÉ analysts Shay Given, right, and Ray Houghton before the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match between Republic of Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The television audience for competitive Republic of Ireland (Men’s) football matches has fallen by 35% on last year.

The Pitch has analysed that the average audience for this year’s Uefa Nations League campaign is 307k viewers per game, against 467k viewers for last year’s Fifa World Cup campaign.

The side’s opening match on June 4 against Armenia was viewed by just 180k viewers – the lowest figure to watch a competitive Irish fixture over the last two competitions.

One-and-a-half times more people watched Ireland’s home defeat to Luxembourg in March of last year, placing Armenia at the bottom of Ireland’s 12 competitive fixtures across 2021/22.

Using ‘Average’ only numbers – the most valuable figure for advertisers and sponsors – we’ve assessed that Ireland’s recent four Nations League games come in the bottom six of the 12 most viewed’ over the past 15 months.

Two of the bottom three games were fixtures from last year’s World Cup campaign against Azerbaijan.

Despite the low Armenia numbers on June 4, Ireland’s next three games enjoyed improved visibility, reaching the mid 300k numbers.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the side’s single victory out of four – the comprehensive 3-0 win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday - failed to encourage big numbers with just 345k tuning into RTÉ.

The Scotland number is all the more extraordinary given that the Aviva Stadium was almost full for the match, with 47,000 fans in the ground – some of whom paid €100 for premium level tickets.

The data will cause some concern to the FAI’s commercial department which has spent two years searching for a team sponsor – Value: €1.6m per year - and who now must determine why such an anomaly exists between the live matchday audience and the television viewer.

The sheer difference in numbers from this year to last year – also begs questions about whether the wider public is disinterested in the Nations League, or has it lost interest in this Irish team?

If we look at both competitions, individually, obviously the FIFA World Cup is king, and for a short period last year Irish fans had measured hopes for qualification.

However, even after those ambitions took a tumble after a defeat to Luxembourg, the audience data stayed stable, excluding the two games against Azerbaijan.

The draw against Serbia last September, when any chance of qualification had all but ended, still drew a more substantial viewership than Scotland and Tuesday night’s game against Ukraine, when there may have been an expectation of renewed mass interest.

It must be noted that two of those games which drew the strongest audience in recent years came against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal – in matches that went to the wire.

If it comes down to a lack of interest in the Nations League, then you have to go back to March when the FAI announced a record 17,000 season ticket sales for a package in which the only competitive games were in that competition.

Whatever the answer, the FAI will have to work out a solution as the clock ticks on the longest sponsorship vacancy in mass-interest sport.

Why links golf courses are off the Irish Open roster 

BY THE time the Ryder Cup rolls into Adare Manor in 2027, it’s likely that the Irish Open will have been played exclusively on parkland courses for the preceding eight years.

For a country which boasts more than a quarter of the world’s golf links, and for a tournament which was held on the seaside courses for 16 consecutive years - from 1976 to 1990 – this marks a significant evolution for the professional game here.

With Mount Juliet (2022) and the K-Club (2023, ’25, ’27) locked in for four of the next six tournaments – and with Lough Erne a favourite for one of the outstanding final two slots – links golf is now a novelty on the Open roster.

Up to now, and since the Irish Open returned to the sporting calendar after a two-decade hiatus in 1975, Links v Parkland are all square, with 24 Opens each taking place on both types of grass.

But is the lack of seaside courses over the coming years – for an event that is beamed into 350m homes worldwide – harming Ireland’s reputation as a links powerbase?

Most definitely not – and here’s why.

Going by current business trends - and Irish golf is a €300m tourism business – the (links) sector is as strong as it ever was, with courses reporting exceptional interest from abroad and filling up fast.

The current wave of fortune comes on the back of a perfect storm for the golf industry – where you have three years' business (two locked-down to Covid and 2022) bundled into one.

Links golf is so well marketed in the US and further afield that it doesn’t need the visibility that the Irish Open can bring, not to mention it doesn’t need to pay multi-million euro fees and hand over its courses to the DP World Tour at peak tourism periods.

“We are very lucky to have world-class links and parkland courses throughout the country,” explains Danny Brassil, general manager of the Old Head Golf Links, albeit a clifftop rather than traditional links course.

“We’re extremely fortunate for the size of the country and for the amount of quality links courses here – well over 50% of the world’s golf links are in Ireland and Scotland – so demand is always high.

“As an international members club, we have built up a large volume of American visitors, and of course European and even further afield – so we’re pretty much booked for this year, and we’re extremely busy.” 

The Old Head’s experience is echoed by links and tourism sources across the country – and you have to go back to 2019 when a links (Lahinch) presented itself enthusiastically as a host venue for the Irish Open.

That leaves the way for parkland to pretty much own the Horizon Irish Open for the foreseeable – and that’s just the way links likes it.

Why ‘sustainability’ is Irish sport’s dirty word 

BY 2030 ‘Sustainability’ will be the most important non-sporting commercial activation across all Irish sports bodies.

But for now it’s sport's dirty word, with very little action and very few strategies outside a small number of trendsetters.

Munster Rugby, Aviva Stadium and Bohemian FC are signatories to the United Nation’s Sport for Climate Action Framework – with Munster and the Aviva the only Irish sporting entities to have committed to the COP Race to Zero, UN-backed global zero carbon campaign.

But does the small number of signees demonstrate sheer disinterest by the rest of Irish sport, or is there a greater cause?

Leadership may be the issue, and Sport Ireland has no sustainability strategy in place – think about that for a moment.

If direction at statutory level is so muted then what chance have NGBs of getting their houses in order, and all well in advance of 2030 when the Government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 31% as part of its own Climate Action Plan.

There are a number of bodies making progress in this area – even if they haven’t signed up to the various UN-supported policies.

The FAI, Croke Park and Volleyball Ireland have taken lead roles in various activations, but hundreds of NGBs, Local Sports Partnerships, Clubs and other organisations are receiving little direction.

According to Patrick Haslett, Managing Partners at sustainability agency Impact 3 Zero the question may be more down to a feeling of helplessness.

Why are Irish NGBs not in that space? I think there’s a danger that we might feel overwhelmed about the challenge that we face,” Haslett told The Pitch.

“As a people and a population we care about the climate crisis, but it is human to feel slightly helpless. We need to change that challenge into opportunity, starting by taking small steps and developing these into bigger actions and commitments.”  

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