Rules Series a prime example of how not to do promotion

OUT for dinner in Melbourne the other night a journalistic colleague recalled the night he interviewed Roy Jones Jnr.

At the time, the outrageously gifted American was the most famous boxer in the world. My friend admitted he wasn’t optimistic about his chances of getting a chat with the global megastar, but he gave it a shot.

He rang Roy Jones’s manager. The manager said that Roy was out of town, staying at his ranch. The manager took the Irishman’s telephone number and said he would pass it on. Our humble boxing correspondent thought that he had been politely fobbed off. He reckoned that would be the end of it.

But later that night the telephone rang in his Dublin home. He answered it.

“Hi, is that Martin?

“It is.”

“This is Roy Jones.”

Boxers and their promoters have long understood the importance of the media. The media can sell tickets. The media can put bums on seats.

In New York in the 1930s, reporters spent their days in smoked-filled gyms watching sparring sessions and chatting to trainers. Journalists weren’t just accommodated, they were positively welcomed.

The culture of the GAA is different. At club and county level, the GAA has never felt a huge obligation to engage with the media because as an amateur organisation there is no incentive to sell tickets. Club and counties will continue to survive regardless of how many people watch their matches.

Victory and victory alone is the only thing that matters.

The International Rules Series is a different animal, yet it has been interesting to observe how old GAA habits die hard.

This has not been an easy tour to cover. As per usual, the players are fantastic and are more than happy to talk. It’s just that getting hold of them hasn’t been so easy. The preferred method is to walk to the team hotel in the morning, order a cup of coffee, and wait until someone arrives for breakfast.

Given the exorbitant costs that newspapers have absorbed by sending reporters to Australia , it might be assumed that a concerted effort has been made to maximise the access to players. Sadly not.

Under the original itinerary, the Ireland team and management were to spend three nights at a training base outside Sydney. The travelling Irish journalists were informed in no uncertain terms that their presence would not be appreciated.

The suspicion that the Irish media was only being tolerated further intensified after the first Test on Friday night. The accreditation for the game granted all reporters entry to the changing rooms after the game.

This is standard practice in the AFL. Despite their defeat, it was possible to interview any of the Aussie players.

In contrast, a security guard was posted outside the Irish dressing room.

Even though our accreditation showed that entry was allowed, no journalist was permitted entry.

By the time the official press conference was over, all the Irish players had gone to the post-match function.

This meant that any journalist who wanted reaction from the players had to traipse up to the team hotel the next morning and take his chances at the breakfast buffet.

It must be stressed that no malice is intended by any of the parties involved. Everything that has happened is merely symptomatic of the GAA’s age-old way of doing things.

Ireland manager Anthony Tohill has only one mission and that is to win the Series. A product of the GAA environment, Tohill doesn’t feel under any obligation to promote the International Rules concept. He doesn’t see that as being a part of his brief.

Indeed, Tohill’s opinion on that issue was made very clear when he defended his appointment of Stephen Cluxton, a captain who will not give interviews or speak at press conferences.

But by appointing a player who doesn’t give interviews, Ireland have effectively selected someone who doesn’t want to communicate with the public.

The coverage generated by newspapers, radio and television has a massive bearing on the attendance at games.

In professional sport, governing bodies take media relations and coverage extremely seriously. Australian newspapers can register a complaint to the AFL if they believe a club isn’t complying with its journalists.

A miniscule crowd of 22,921 attended the first Test in Melbourne. If there’s another poor turn-out in the Gold Coast then the Series will be put on life-support.

The GAA’s director-general Páraic Duffy has explained the cold economic principles that govern the existence of the hybrid experiment. It has to be self-sufficient. If the ticket sales don’t cover the expenses, it will be terminated.

If the people are to come, they need to know the game is taking place. That means talking to the media.

And for a struggling entity like the International Rules, it means talking to the media at every chance you get.

Whatever way you dress it up, barring reporters from the Irish changing room, wanting to jet off to Sydney for three nights, and failing to set aside an allocated time for interviews is poor media management and rank bad promotion.

Oh for the days of the smoke-filled gyms.

np.heaney@irishnews.com

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