Financial issues for Cork GAA show how tough it is for all sports to compete in a crowded market

Financial issues for Cork GAA show how tough it is for all sports to compete in a crowded market
Páirc Uí Chaoimh was packed for Rod Stewart last summer and Cork GAA needs to keep attracting big acts to boost their coffers. Picture: Larry Cummins

WAY back around the time Shelbourne football club were collapsing into ruin despite, and perhaps because of, winning the league, I remember ringing around a batch of people running League of Ireland clubs for a piece on finances in football here.

One question about the chances of making a profit from the club scene in Ireland at the time prompted guffaws and many fits of coughing at the thought as various stories were repeated of living day-to-day, on the hardship of multiple weeks where no home games took place especially and the reliance on tiny income from match-day receipts was emphasised time and again.

One commercial manager spoke confidently of growing revenue streams and ground development; he was out of work less than a year later as his club went off the rails. Those conversations came to mind again this past week or two as various financial problems made it very obvious the continuing trickiness of trying to run a successful sporting organisation even here in Cork, on what defines success of course (making money is not priority number one but it has to be there) and the balances in this kind of business where expectation of winning doesn’t always match available resources.

The Cork GAA deficit that came to light this week was the most shocking of course, a very much unneeded sting at the end of a year that started desperately but looked to have come out the other side with a bunch of feelgood stories and appointments that suggested things were falling nicely into place for a proper structure to develop.

A belter of a €500k loss stalls that idea of progress on first glance, a reality check of sorts. All the five-year plans and pathways are great but financial crisis isn’t a good or sustainable look and it’s another little reminder that there’s a long way to go here in moving Cork GAA in the direction it wants to move in (and possibly deciding what direction that is exactly).

Still some thoughts jump out. Kevin O’Donovan made a decent point when he referenced these nagging moans from the stands about Cork teams not being conditioned or lacking resources and then complaining about money being spent when efforts are made at catch-up.

It might be a hard sell but there is a certain element of making up for lost time here, a possibility that short-term pain on behind-the-scenes appointments which have been needed will have longer-term benefits. Man Utd have stagnated since Alex Ferguson left either through ignorance or not caring so long as they’re making money but they’re having to invest in players now that ought have been done ages ago. Cork GAA don’t have Amazon TV deals or official partners for every imaginable service but there is an awareness that funds are simply a must now if they want to compete with the likes of Dublin or Kerry. Mayo of course have their own issues with funding.

The detail of the commercial sponsorship deal were interesting, the difference in revenue between reaching All-Ireland semi-finals or not for senior hurlers and footballers. Successful teams mean more spending on training and games but also more interest and more awareness and if the Cork GAA brand (we know this term is horrible but needs must) has been fairly toxic for an age, there is some sense of this evolving to mean something else. Cork doesn’t have Dublin’s reach or backing but there is an awareness now of the potential corporate investment out there and Cairde Chorcaí should offer real access to those markets (alignment of both boards is crucial of course).

The notion of the stadium being there for the use of the people and the necessity of it becoming a generator of money aren’t necessarily at odds.

It’s not just GAA that’s grasping for funds here by the way. Cork City had a meeting last week where losses and revenue bills were discussed, their budget has been blown to pieces with the lack of European football and attendances were down to an average of 2.5k from 4.5k two seasons before. Munster rugby, which doesn’t have the attendance problem of the other sports, had heavy losses in their most recent accounts and though there was expectation that the next year might head more towards breakeven, that was still dependent on results and no unforeseen problems.

There’s a startling difference in where Cork City and Munster stand in the European grand scheme of things but they both share that absolute reliance on achieving certain results to maintain budgets and that real problem of trying to compete with rivals who just have deeper pockets and/or more natural advantages in location/ access to players/ national organisations. Cork City have to deal with the fallout from the FAI at a time they need help in funding and structures at underage. Munster have to deal with the realisation that Irish rugby must look at its place again.

The game is changing in other ways too though, with the decline in gate receipts both an underlying cause and symptom of the issues here. The club game suffers from the calendar. Weekends in September/October are stacked with matches all over the county and all the same core of people are playing or coaching or involved with clubs at all levels and ages and can’t go everywhere. The only one who could seem to manage this was the late John Corcoran, who seemed to be in the crowd or sideline at every local game I ever went to.

Inclination to make that effort suffers with lack of momentum or occasion apart from the odd West Cork derby that still draws a crowd. Falling attendances are hardly a surprise. It’s not that people don’t have the interest in the games anymore.

Think the crowds who were drawn to Harty Cup and U20 hurling games in Páirc Uí Rinn earlier this year.

People will come out if they’re given reason and hope and time and games that mean something to them. It’d be difficult to find a person in Cork GAA more aware and positive towards the needs of the clubs than the current CEO and this mentality will be needed as the pulls of being a modern, progressive organisation that competes and wins at inter-county level clashes with the more basic desires of the grassroots game. The financial demands will only grow. The gap in focus on what’s more important may get wider.

Cork GAA must find ways to balance as many books and needs as possible.

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