Hurlers need to be marketed, says expert

Hurling needs to be marketed more specifically with “stand-alone promotion”, says marketing expert Mick O’Keeffe of PSG Communications, who advocates squad numbers and names on the jersey to help identify players obscured by hurling helmets.

“There’s a sense in the GAA of football and hurling being treated the same,” says O’Keeffe.

“But just as structures and rules have been examined in football, specific promotion of hurling and hurlers is needed.

“There’s probably a concerted effort needed to promote the stars of the game. Some hurlers are well known, but only a handful of them are household names. There’s a requirement to promote them more.

“Hurlers are at a massive disadvantage to begin with as you don’t know who half of them are as they’re wearing helmets. Stand-alone hurling promotion is needed.”

O’Keeffe added that lower player numbers and less media exposure for players doesn’t aid hurling’s profile.

“The other drawback is that hurling’s still a 12-county game. There are large parts of the country where it doesn’t have the same resonance as football — parts of the North, the West, and in Dublin, it’s still only growing in many areas. There’ll be a full house on Sunday for the All-Ireland final, but is it gripping the nation as an event? I’m not so sure.

“Hurling’s probably more popular now than it was 25, 30 years ago, but it’s played at the top level in fewer than half the counties in the GAA.

“I think the modern manager philosophy of less is more for players when it comes to the media doesn’t help either. A lot of the hurlers aren’t unlike the ladies footballers, for instance, in that they’re happy to promote their games, but putting the clamps on players talking during the championship doesn’t help.

“Hurling managers and players need to do more than footballers to promote the game, and allow more media access and more cooperation with broadcast partners and sponsors where possible. Sponsors tend to look at football first and see a wider reach, more stars and more regional spread.

“Also, Kilkenny have been so dominant in hurling that there hasn’t been a romantic story in the championship every year. They’re the best team of all time but in the nineties you had more excitement, with the characters in Offaly, Clare, Wexford coming through in different seasons.

“That created hype in non-hurling areas and the media and public latched onto it. This isn’t Kilkenny’s fault, it’s a reality.

“Hurling might need a magazine TV show, for instance, to generate more excitement and create stars for the wider sporting public to appreciate.

“More innovation is need, like 11-a-side hurling, while the U21 grade, sponsored by Bord Gáis Energy, has benefited hugely from the emergence of Clare, Limerick and now Wexford. Hurling at senior level needs more breakthroughs. It needs to be strong in big urban centres, especially Cork city but also Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Belfast.

“Guinness did a great job to promote hurling in the 90s — that’s not to say the current sponsors don’t do a great job, but I don’t know if the characters are known as well now.

“Has hurling has moved on that much since in terms of profile? Managers are guarded with player access so you don’t know the players. Football managers are guarded too, but there is just so many more of them — Mayo, Donegal and others, the northern teams, Kerry came from nowhere last year and there’s huge interest in Dublin.

“In hurling the pool is smaller, another reason it needs to be promoted more, and in a more creative way. We need to know the stars.”

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