THE League of Ireland will now be officially called the Airtricity League after the independent energy supplier was yesterday confirmed as title sponsor for the senior Irish domestic game for the next three years.
Welcoming the deal, FAI chief executive John Delaney said: “It’s a positive for the league as we’ve had issues over Cork City and Derry City at the end of the season. To have a positive announcement with a company of this strength is very important and gives clubs a boost at the right time.”
Airtricity MD Kevin Greenhorn admitted that his company did have some concerns about getting involved in a league which has recently lost two of its biggest clubs from the top-flight but he said that he was confident the game here had turned a corner.
“To be honest, yes, we had some concerns but when we sat down with John and the FAI and had a look at the blueprint for the future it was promising,” he said. “We have got in at a fantastic time. The league is only going in one direction and that’s up. We are delighted.”
While securing a title sponsor in the current economic climate represents a significant commercial coup for the FAI, there was a suggestion that the ongoing recession could yet be reflected in lower prize money compared to last season when, as winners, Bohemians collected €280,000.
Said John Delaney: “We’ll see about that, obviously clubs’ budgets have dropped and the board of the FAI will discuss that next week. We’ve put a lot of money into it over the last few years. We’ll look at our overall budget in terms of what it costs to run the league next week and then we’ll let you know.”
Despite the much publicised problems which have beset the league in recent times, the FAI boss insists the game is in healthier state than before.
“The clubs had losses of €7m a few years ago, these are now down to €2.7 and they will be less next season. The biggest success that we have to bring to bear is on the culture of the owners. Most of the clubs have adapted to that cultural change, others haven’t.”
Asked if he felt satisfied that the FAI had done all in its power to prevent Cork City going under, Delaney replied: “Remember that Tom Coughlan was appointed by the courts. When Tom Coughlan comes in, like any owner, you support him. Then came a chain of events and, at the end of the season, we brought the disrepute charge. I’m disappointed that the club wasn’t taken over in that period, I think a deal could have done, I think a deal should have been done.
“There seemed to be an extraordinary period of time when there was procrastination. Michael O’Connell, Peter Gray and FORAS were around for a considerable period of time looking to get involved. It’s disappointing that Cork aren’t in the Premier Division but it is positive that Foras have a club in the First Division.”
Delaney added that the FAI would examine the idea of introducing a ‘fit and proper person’ test to the domestic game but warned that it would be hard to police. And on the organisation’s overall running of the league, he said: “I think the steps we took a number of years ago – like bringing in the salary cap and the participation agreement – will be seen as a positive thing. When we took over, it was in a real mess and it’s in a better place now.”
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