Marketing and promotion is an annual affair, but there is no doubt the process tends to be ramped up more as championship gets underway.
That is certainly in evidence in the largest province, despite the grumbling about the official launches of the senior championships taking place after the commencement of hurling’s round-robin section.
That glitch notwithstanding, there is no questioning the progress has been made in this area in recent years throughout the GAA. John Cotter is the man responsible for Leinster marketing and has overseen significant advances, as the Association is challenged like never before in the battle for hearts and minds, with more options available to the public in terms of participation and pastime, and a vice-like squeeze on household budgets reducing the money available for non-essentials.
Needless to say, the games themselves are the most obvious tools available to Cotter and his team. But the time is long past where the GAA can afford to take bums-on-seats and a conveyor belt of players for granted.
Promotion for the championship will generally focus on traditional avenues such as advertising games and ticket competitions in the media that is local to participating counties. This invariably generates a good response, but the real success when it comes to encouraging the public to attend games comes in the form of the Super Six package of discounted ticket offers.
The family ticket (two children) was instituted in the ’90s by Leinster GAA and has been copied by the other councils since.
“We will continue to do that because it promotes attendance at the games but it also encourages parents and makes it easier to them to bring the kids along, which means we’re promoting our games to the future generation, which is also part of our job,” explains Cotter.
There was a special group rate for the aforementioned round-robin games, while there are also senior citizen and student discounts, as well as reductions for U16 club groups and adult club groups (15-50 discounted tickets for terrace or stand).
“We did a number-crunching on it and last year, across all our hurling and football championship games, the average take-up was 25% of our total attendance came in one package or another. At some of our games, this can reach close to 30%.
“You take the attendance in Croke Park at the Leinster senior football final. Most of the Lower Cusack, a lot of the Upper Cusack and the Davin End were all on offers. That’s a huge proportion of our attendance.”
Coupled with the price freeze on ticket prices that is now in its eighth year, this represents value that is appreciated by public, as evidenced by an increase in attendances last year. But an eye must be kept on revenue too.
“We’re walking a line the whole time between match revenue and attendance. We see the discounts and ticket offerings as an investment in the future. Last year our attendance figures overall in senior hurling and football championships together rose by 6%, which under the circumstances we feel was very good. And you had at least 25% of those attendances were on discounted packages. So it’s working very well for us and for the supporters.
“I can, with hand on heart say, that nobody needs to pay full ticket value for a Leinster senior championship match unless they want to. Everybody can apply to be part of one ticket package or another.
“If you want to sit in the middle of the stand, fair enough, you’ll pay full price, at Croke Park particularly. But if you’re prepared to take an offer, you’ll get to see the game at a discount.”
Cotter reports that in excess of €4m flows from provincial headquarters throughout the member counties to support games development, so revenue cannot be ignored. But he is happy with the balance at the moment.
He cites the improvement in venues as a considerable help to the marketing of games, with people happy to return to the likes of Páirc Tailteann, O’Connor Park, O’Moore Park and Pearse Park. Croke Park is the jewel in the crown and if the debate is ongoing as to whether or not it represents a significant advantage to the Dubs, Cotter is in no doubt that it is a considerable string to Leinster’s bow.
The growth in corporate sponsorship has been one of the major changes in games promotion over the years and Cotter invariably works in tandem with them, at national inter-county level, but also with the likes of Kelloggs for their school camps. The availability of tickets in Centra and SuperValu as a result of their association with the championships has improved accessibility to the games for punters and that is a huge positive.
Of course the social media explosion could not be ignored any longer.
“We’ve made a big push this year in social media. We’re aware of the importance of it for a good number of years but have a social media coordinator [Niall Murphy] working with us this summer and we’re making a huge effort to get to a whole new audience. So we’re using Facebook, Twitter and our website.
“Niall is pumping it out. The increase in our followers, our retweets, our likes on Facebook are fantastic. He’s very creative in the way he uses social media to promote our games. But we’re doing that as well as — not instead of — traditional methods of promotion.
“Twitter is a very powerful promotional tool. It’s instant. We have a team of people tweeting from all our games. It keeps people interested, keeps them involved and informed, and is more likely to keep them interested in the follow-up games.”
The much-improved website is now generating its own content and boasts the likes of Michael Duignan and Bernard Flynn as guest columnists. That content is getting to a wider range of people thanks to Murphy.
One area that hasn’t worked is web TV. Cotter got the go-ahead to try Leinster GAA TV last year on a trial basis but feels it probably needed more time to bed-in, rather than launching it just before the championship. It didn’t attract viewers but expect the lessons learned to be put into practice in future.
Ultimately, it is Cotter’s job to keep the level of interest in Gaelic games alive and that involves the current generation and the next one. Games development is an important arm of that too, as coaches are working on the frontline with the stars of tomorrow.
“We always have competition from other sports but we promote ours to the best of our ability. Sports people that come to our games go to soccer, rugby and watch those games on TV. That’s always going to be the case. But we promote our games. So our challenge is to keep our numbers, to keep revenue flowing to clubs and counties so they can keep increasing their offering to GAA people in their localities. I don’t see too many negatives down the road.”
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