Matt Hulsizer says he still has “high hopes” for the future of Dundalk despite being left disillusioned by what he describes as the “bureaucracy” of trying to do business in Ireland.
In a rare interview from his Illinois base, Peak6’s founder admits he and his partners “misunderstood the market” after taking control of the League of Ireland club in 2018, and that they are “re-assessing the league we are in because it’s not in great financial straits.”
Hulsizer has also revealed that they have a wage bill twice the size of any of their rivals, and that he would be willing to share some of the estimated €4m revenue the club are due to collect for qualifying for this season’s Europa League group stages if it meant benefitting clubs and the league as a whole.
Just days after the IRFU hit back at his father, Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer, following his criticism of Irish rugby’s chiefs for not allowing the Lilywhites use Aviva Stadium for their opening Europa League fixture with FK Molde next week, Hulsizer Jnr has dismissed the IRFU’s claims that it would not be operationally possible to hold two games in different sports 48 hours apart as having “zero credibility.”
Hulsizer also confirmed that Peak6 offered the FAI and IRFU “a number between €20-30m” earlier this year to run the management company that operates the Dublin 4 venue, and that Dundalk’s owners were prepared to absolve the two associations of their losses relating to the Aviva, with the suggestion of a 50/50 split on any future profits they were able to deliver.
As part of that plan, Hulsizer admitted that Dundalk were looking to move up to 10 games each season from Oriel Park to the Aviva.
Sources have also confirmed that Louth County Council previously rejected an approach from the American owners to be equal partners in a new stadium.
Instead, Louth GAA last month confirmed that it had been granted planning permission for a new 14,000 venue in the county.
“Has it been tough? Yeah, it’s been tough as the owner of the club to try and do what we want to do. Maybe we misunderstood the market. We’re going to do our best going forward,” Hulsizer began.
“I think we still have high hopes. I am worried about the league.
“We love Ireland, we love the Irish people. The Irish bureaucracy is confusing to us. There are some things that have been done a certain way that isn’t clear to us why.
“It certainly makes it hard for us to plan to invest when the league and bureaucracy are against investment. We are definitely not going to get full value for our investment, we know that. It could be great. The question is can we get enough value?
Hulsizer added: “The one big thing that is hanging over sport in Ireland, at least in the FAI’s case, is the Aviva. They have a big bill that they don’t have enough events to pay for. We thought we had a good solution.
“It’s tough to succeed without a successful league. Gary Owens [the outgoing interim FAI chief executive] asked if we would be willing to share [Europa League revenue]. We don’t have an issue with that.
“We understand the league has to be successful. This was also similar to our Aviva talks. We can help, we just don’t want to donate it so you can keep misspending. That’s the issue. We’re happy to contribute, we just want some say how it’s spent.
“The Aviva is a problem. You can’t have €100m going out the door over the next 30 years for the Aviva.”
This week has seen a spat between the IRFU and Dundalk played out in public, after the Lilywhites hierarchy were left frustrated by Irish rugby chiefs’ refusal to make Aviva Stadium available for next Thursday’s opening Europa League group stage game with FK Molde.
There was a brief suggestion that all three fixtures would be moved to Windsor Park in Belfast, but that opening tie will now take place in Tallaght Stadium with the visits of Arsenal and Rapid Vienna being staged at the Aviva.
The IRFU refuted Hulsizer Snr’s claims of any bad blood and said it was purely for operational reasons that the Aviva could not undergo stadium rebranding and maintenance in time ahead of the Six Nations clash with Italy two days later.
“Look, I think, we tried to be helpful to the FAI and IRFU. I don’t think they took it that way. We’ve tried to be helpful over there, it doesn’t seem wanted. That’s fine. It’s confusing to my father, not upsetting to him,” Hulsizer Jnr explained.
“What isn’t believable is that they can’t turn the stadium around. Come on. Peak6 have done this.
“You and your countrymen own that stadium and if you guys just want it to not be used, that’s OK. We don’t own it, we were just going to use it. If that’s the case, OK. It’s just surprising we couldn’t use it.”
Amid this unrest at boardroom level, there has also been upheaval with the football operation, with Hulsizer Snr accused of meddling in team selection and alienating staff, and supporters, following the departure of head coach Vinny Perth earlier in the season.
While the appointment of Italian coach Filippo Giovagnoli was a major gamble, the man himself described it as a “kamikaze mission”, there is a sense of vindication following Europa League qualification.
“I think my Dad has done a tremendous job. It’s the best revenue the team has ever produced. I still wouldn’t give us high marks because we have struggled with the FAI. We’ve struggled.
“My Dad is unpaid. He does it out of the kindness of his heart. He loves Ireland and loves football. He is trying to help. That’s what is hurtful. He doesn’t have an agenda. He’s not trying to do anything other than help. It’s hurtful.
“The thing that has no truth is that my father picked the team. Vinny picked the players, the squad and put the players on the pitch. My father tried to be helpful and said when the players were not playing for him, he needed to change strategy, get players to play for him, or change the players.
“Vinny picked the players and why they didn’t play for him, I don’t know. But at some point, it’s about results, we expect to win. Our wage bill is double that of anyone in the league so we’ve got to do better.”
Despite a willingness to invest up to €30m in taking control of the management company that operates the Aviva Stadium, Dundalk do not own their home ground at Oriel Park. “We lease it. It’s a tough scenario from an economic perspective.
“If you rent somewhere would you spend a lot of money fixing it? We want to make sure our fans have a great experience. The Aviva just made too much sense. When we play games relevant to the world, we can highlight it. It’s not going to happen so we’ll pivot and try to make the best out of Oriel. We’re trying our best.”