New FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill has secured his first success by not just enticing SSE Airtricity back to sponsor the League of Ireland but to extend their coverage to the women’s domestic league.
The energy company had signalled their intention to cease its 11-year backing of the league in 2020.
During 2019, as the FAI faced a crisis around their then chief executive John Delaney, the conglomerate said they were monitoring “current developments” and planned to discuss the matter with the Association.
The new board of the FAI finally chose ex-English FA commercial director Hill to fill the role which had been vacant for 14 months since Delaney officially departed with a severance package of €462,000.
One of his major reasons Hill shaded ex-Six Nations chief John Feehan and OCI President Sarah Keane for the position was his stellar record for driving revenues through sponsorship and ticketing streams. He managed a portfolio worth €600m during his senior roles at the English FA and Wembley Stadium.
As he cited during his first address to members at the annual general meeting four weeks ago, retaining a sponsor is generally easier than sourcing a new partner.
SSE, who became flagship sponsors of the English FA Cup in 2015, were understood to have been impressed by Hill’s commitment and enthusiasm to overhaul the FAI's tarnished image during early discussions to revive a deal that seemed lost to Irish football.
Hill also managed to expand the sponsorship to include the Women’s National League in a deal that will last until the end of 2022.
Since its inception in 2011, the league has hopped between three sponsors.
Bus Éireann were the original backers before Continental Tyres and Só Hotels. Last year, the campaign was played without a sponsor.
“We are delighted that not only will SSE Airtricity continue as title sponsor for the League of Ireland for a 12th season but they have also extended their sponsorship deal to include the Women’s National League. The double sponsorship announcement today is testament to the future direction of our domestic game and a significant boost for our League football infrastructure,” said Hill.
“SSE Airtricity’s commitment to women’s football will come as no surprise to those who know how quickly our women’s game is growing and how much growth is still to come, not just at the highest level but at every age group in Ireland.
“SSE Airtricity's sponsorship to date set the standard and now they have raised the bar again with this agreement. We look forward to working with everyone at SSE Airtricity ahead of the new season in March and I thank them for their ongoing and significant support for Irish football.”
Covid-19 restrictions, especially the lack of paying fans at matches, has led to a delay in commencing the 2021 seasons. The FAI are still aiming to start the men’s Premier Division on March 19 but that is contingent on a multimillion package of government support being forthcoming to compensate clubs for the absence of revenue.
The Women’s National League is due to kick off a week later on March 26, the same day as the men’s First Division.