Describing the €3.5m-plus five-year contract as “great” for AIG “because Dublin are the only national brand in Gaelic games”, the Down man fears it will cause envy among other counties.
Five years ago, O’Neill predicted that if the GPA weren’t going to guide the GAA towards professionalism, then a team would be responsible.
He sees Dublin’s bit of business as further polarising the organisation and edging closer towards pay for play, whether the demand for it comes from inside the capital or elsewhere.
“What I was referring to (in 2008) was one team could very quickly and almost overnight change the direction of the association at the elite level.
“The more deals like this happen, the more the GAA becomes exposed to pay for play becoming an event.
“It (the AIG deal) will create jealousy among counties, which is only a natural human reaction, and lend itself to a two-tier society, which is very much there already at administrative, county and playing level.
“The possibility of players deciding they want more is never going to go away. There will be a certain realisation of how strong they actually are and it might even be something like unemployment among them that convinces them. So there could be a perfect storm. I’m convinced there will be a move towards payment in some way.”
O’Neill is currently in South Africa putting the finishing touches to his movie Cereal Killers, in which he features. It is set to be released before Christmas.
The GPA’s former commercial director said Dublin were the only suitable side in the GAA for the US insurance multinational, who also sponsor the New Zealand rugby team and formerly backed Manchester United.
“They are the only team that would fit the objectives of a company of AIG’s stature. If I were advising AIG, the conversation would have only been about Dublin, with all due respect to the other counties. Dublin appear to have taken a good long term strategy.”
From next year, counties and clubs will be permitted to have two sponsors on their jerseys in what is generally accepted to be a measure in helping county boards struggling to find backers.
O’Neill said Dublin “could and should accommodate more than one sponsor” although there were concerns Vodafone, who had signed a six-year deal with Dublin in 2010, were unhappy with the number of associate sponsors the footballers have picked up in recent times.
On paper, he would believe the new rule will aid the more needy county boards but his experiences with them tells him otherwise.
“About 10 years ago, I offered to put in place a full educational structure for counties on commercial ventures because, God help them, they had no idea what they were doing and how could they? They weren’t capable of speaking to big companies. I’m not as worried by what’s happening as by what’s not happening. The GAA have a responsibility at a central level to assist in these type of conversations.”
O’Neill proposes Croke Park make deals on behalf of several counties whereby some would wear the same sponsor. Although the deals were negotiated separately, Hunky Dorys crisps feature on both the Meath and Tyrone jerseys.
“You could have 10 of the weaker counties who struggle to find sponsors and together they would be stronger than the sum of their parts from a commercial perspective. I’m out of it quite awhile now but it still strikes me not enough is being done for them. It makes sense on paper but not in practice for the very reasons I have outlined. Counties don’t know what they’re doing. There needs to be a rationalisation of the commercial profile of Gaelic games that should come from a central level. Adding another name to the jersey is patchwork business, literally. The GAA needs to take a long strategy and maybe make 15 or 20 counties available to five or six major sponsors. Nobody gets left out that way. Sure, the bigger counties will get more but that’s the type of structure that would maximise their commercial value for everyone. Big companies are not interested in speaking to county boards because they’re not getting the exposure. The good thing is I think the GAA are in a strong position to take the leadership needed.”
Meanwhile sponsorship expert John Trainor has warned AIG may find it more difficult to gain as much out of their deal with Dublin as predecessors Vodafone.
The Onside Sponsorship managing director said: “Obviously, Dublin is a strong property in the Irish sporting landscape but the challenge for AIG as a relatively new brand within the market with no heritage of GAA sponsorship will be the building process. It will be a slower build than Vodafone who had a rich heritage in GAA sponsorship with the All Stars, Clare GAA and the All-Ireland football championship. They had the benefit of not coming from scratch whereas it will be different for AIG. The sector’s quite competitive now. They have bought into a good platform but the challenge for them is to activate it in a way which will really deliver.”