Conán Doherty: Inter-county sponsorship money should be pooled and divided equally 3 months ago

Conán Doherty: Inter-county sponsorship money should be pooled and divided equally

Dublin have not won the last three All-Ireland football championships because they have a lucrative sponsor logo on their jerseys.

They have the best team and that has long since been in the making. They have the best team - it's that simple.

The revenue helps, of course it does, but nothing should be taken away from the Dubs' performances and achievements over the last seven years because they've earned their success and that group of players deserve our respect.

However, whilst the hazard lights were on long ago and the rest of the country were screaming out for acknowledgement if they weren't going to get any help, the GAA buried their heads in the sand and Dublin went and signed another five-year deal with AIG.

That will be 10 years with a global powerhouse by 2023 whilst Leitrim are still operating on a shoestring €20,000 from their main sponsor.

Things shouldn't have been allowed to keep going the way they were going but the fear is now that it's going to be too late to ease the consequences for the rest of the country.

This is not Dublin's fault. It makes perfect sense. But the GAA's inaction means everyone else could suffer and, once again, the Dubs will feel the brunt of the scorn from 31 other counties.

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The county already boasts over 1.3 million people - almost 30 per cent of the entire population of the Republic, over 20 per cent of the population of the whole island - but that's alright, it's the capital and there wasn't a whole lot of crying done about splitting them in two throughout their relatively barren years. There are big and small counties all over Ireland - cities and countryside. There are big and small clubs - towns and hamlets.

The problem is when that population begins to directly attract finance. Big finance. Incomparable finance. The sort that leaves others in this amateur sport hopelessly in their trail.

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Dublin's first five-year deal was reported to garner €4m of AIG sponsorship and they didn't just stumble across that without their numbers, their fan base and their even bigger potential being looked at. They haven't been fortunate to just suddenly be backed by American International Group for 10 years without someone noticing that the county is responsible for one in every five replica GAA shirts sold in Ireland. Or that they'd fill Croke Park on championship day at a canter.

Leitrim could not have secured that sponsorship deal.

So what are we going to do about it?

When one county can pull in revenue from the sponsors of the Rugby World Cup champions, ones that had their name on the Manchester United kit, and another is relying on the backing from the Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon, that imbalance needs addressing urgently.

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It was never going to be United, All Blacks, Leitrim. That's fine, that's AIG's prerogative. It's their money.

But is it really fair that that money should be exclusively Dublin's?

How can we call ourselves an amateur organisation and then have some counties reaping the financial benefits from national and international car companies, mobile phone networks, department stores and the like, while the rest are desperately sounding out the generosity of local businesses?

When Dublin secured their first bumper AIG deal at the tail end of 2013, then county board chairman Andy Kettle said:

"The sponsorship revenue is critical in helping towards our expenditure on club coaching programmes and inter-county teams at all levels."

Money might not buy you happiness or players in this game, but it will certainly buy you coaches, programmes, and all the best squad support systems it can afford.

With the sort of figures being bandied about for such deals, Dublin could dwarf the backroom teams of other counties, their holidays, gear and training methods too. They had 23 members on their management team two years ago - Christ knows what that number is now.

They can bring a very professional edge to a non-professional environment and if they're doing that in clubs and right the way through their age-grade county teams, then that advantage is magnified and the momentum is unstoppable.

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Look at the list of jerseys of every inter-county team and look at the differences between some of their sponsors.

Bush Hotel, Arklow Hotel, all sorts of local businesses whose money couldn't be more appreciated in their counties but the reality of it is that they're going head-to-head with the like of AIG.

They're pitting their financial power against multi-billion, multinational organisations and, when it comes down to it, their unbelievable generosity just is not stretching anywhere near as far. It couldn't.

 

And it isn't just money. It's promotion. It's campaigning. It's indoctrination. It's gigs for the players, perks and lifestyle alterations.

It's endless in comparison to what other counties can work off.

If success or population or TV time is determining who sponsors who, that is absolutely fine. But teams like Dublin shouldn't be the sole beneficiaries of that money.

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Let the sponsors fight it out for rights on the jerseys. The biggest spenders will want to spend and sponsor Dublin and that shouldn't change but an independent body should decide whose name goes where and how much they pay for the privilege and then that money should be divided between 34 counties, in 34 equal ways.

It's great that Dublin can bring so much money to the games and that they can attract so much interest. But, let's get real. These millions from AIG are just the tip of the iceberg. Jim Gavin and Pat Girloy's teams have also benefitted from official energy drinks partners, official non-alcoholic beer partners, official water partners, official airline partners and official car suppliers.

These companies don't come on board just because their team is so good. They're getting that support because they're based in a European capital city, there's a population base there and it makes financial sense for international investors to back them.

If this isn't a professional organisation, they shouldn't be enjoying those monetary rewards themselves.

Share it around and even the playing field. Let the amateurs focus on playing the game.

But by 2023, it will be a long way back.

Fair play to Dublin, they've done nothing wrong. But shame on the GAA for just doing nothing at all.