THE FAI has dismissed fresh claims that the association has been plunged into financial crisis as a result of weaker than expected 10-year ticket sales for the Aviva Stadium.
And while the association concedes that the controversial Vantage Club scheme has been adversely affected by the recession, it is sticking to its claim that, of an initial 10,000 put on the market, it has less than 4,000 premium seats still available for sale.
In a statement yesterday, the FAI reiterated what delegates had been told at its AGM last month in Wexford – that sales of Vantage seats, including sponsor commitments, have surpassed 6,300.
The FAI were responding to a newspaper report which alleged that the true figure of Vantage Club sales, as of a fortnight ago, was closer to 4,000 and that, furthermore, that total included seats sold at discount, pledges to buy that would not now be followed through and almost a thousand seats which were already accounted for under old Lansdowne Road 10-year scheme.
There has been much media focus on the sight of banks of empty seats in the Aviva Stadium for Ireland’s opening European Championship qualifier on Tuesday, but the FAI yesterday insisted that they were satisfied with the 40,000 turn-out for a game against one of European football’s minnows.
Describing suggestions of “a ticket fiasco” as “unfounded”, the association said: “At the recent match against Andorra the number of Vantage seats occupied on premium level was 6,900 and the overall attendance at the match against Andorra, the bottom seeds in the group, was third highest at all UEFA qualification matches taking place that day in Europe.”
The FAI have also denied claims, initially attributed to comments made by former president David Blood last May, that they had previously turned down an offer from a third-party to buy out the 10,000 seats for €75 million.
Yesterday, the association’s Board of Management said it “confirmed categorically” that it had never rejected any such offer and that Blood acknowledged this to be the case.
The FAI also said that the number of cancellations for Vantage Club purchases was “less than 100 in total”.
What the FAI don’t dispute is that the Vantage Club project failed to realise the original heady expectations which accompanied its launch in September 2008.
With prices for the 10-year premium seats ranging from €12,000 to €32,000, it was originally aimed at the upper end of the market but, with the recession deepening and corporate Ireland failing to bite, talk of an 80% take-up ahead of the stadium’s opening evaporated.
Instead, direct debit payment schemes had to be introduced and the game’s grassroots targeted, as the FAI adjusted its target to the break-even figure of 60%. But, even if the shortfall in projected income from the 10-year tickets sales has increased the association’s indebtedness to the banks, the FAI insist that they will be able to manage their debt while continuing to fund the game in Ireland.
Giving an overview of their financial situation, yesterday’s statement from Abbotstown concluded: “The FAI has met all of its contributions to the Aviva Stadium. In close consultation with its banking partners, the FAI has put in place detailed business plans that will see it debt free by 2020.’’
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