When Pat Gallagher was pulled out of a job in an amusement park to become the San Francisco Giants marketing director by the club’s owner, Bob Lurie, he was faced with an almost impossible task — selling tickets to one of the worst baseball franchises in the US in one of the oldest and coldest stadiums.
The natives didn’t like Candlestick Park, the team or the sport. American football was the big show in California back in the 1970s.
Over the course of 40 years, he not only filled the seats but also raised finance to move to a new waterfront stadium on his way to becoming one of the most successful marketers in American sports history.
It wasn’t without a few hitches on the way, though. A World Series game was cancelled when the San Francisco stadium was struck by an earthquake with 68,000 patrons inside; 20 years were wasted trying to get public funding for the big move and he once organised a World Series victory parade with the Giants well ahead only to see them fail spectacularly on the home run.
Yesterday he recounted his tales as the keynote speaker at the inaugural Irish Sports Summit in the Oriel House Hotel, Ballincollig, Co Cork. He was joined by commercial directors for the GAA, Paul Dermody, and IRFU, Pádraig Power, Horse Racing Ireland’s strategy director Michael O’Rourke and the Irish Sports Council’s John Treacy, among others, to discuss the future of Irish sport.
Finance and the potential threat of an alcohol sponsorship cull dominated the agenda but for Gallagher, after hearing the arguments, he felt the people in charge of Irish sport needed to focus on what is possible and called on US companies based in Ireland to support the industry.
“You don’t want people involved in sports to get discouraged by finance. It’s a challenge but one of those that you have to think outside the box differently and solve it,” he said.
“Not that it’s applicable but what could have been further from a possibility than building a Major League Baseball stadium in San Francisco? But we figured out a way to privately finance it. It took 20 years to figure it out but if your idea is good enough, and enough people care about it, it’s possible.
“Even a group like today coming together to talk about some of these issues. Some people may say, ‘Well, you haven’t solved my problem’, but it begins from events like this.
“I think, and I really do believe, some of the American companies that are here in Ireland to avoid paying US taxes ought to be approached to help support sport because you’re talking about the minds and hearts of people in Ireland who care about it. What could be better in terms of becoming part of that community than to pick your spots and figure out what you can do to support sports?”
The IRFU, GAA and Horse Racing Ireland representatives all admitted lowering their ticket prices to save revenue but Gallagher warned against devaluing the product. Instead, he urged them to add more value for money for fans attending their venues.
“I think when someone is saying it’s too expensive, it’s actually a codeword for saying its not good enough value.
“The first instincts marketers have when their product is not selling is to drop the price, and in many cases the price is not the issue. The consumer in sport is saying: ‘It’s not good enough value for me to spend my money on.’”
Using his own experiences, he highlighted the key approaches any sports body or club needs to consider when approaching a potential sponsor, whether it’s for €100 or €1 million.
“It’s not a charitable donation. They’re looking for an investment. You’re selling this to a marketing sponsorship guy whose job it is to sell product.
“You’ve got to figure out a way so their association with what you’re doing will help them sell product and appeal to their affinity group. But you’ve also got to figure out a way to activate it. It’s not just going there and asking people for money and hoping they’ll say yes, you have to find out what it is that’s going to give them good enough value.”
* For more information on the Irish Sports Summit visit www.irishsportssummit.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved