New Cork GAA jerseys with Sports Direct logo will be unveiled on Thursday

Sponsorship deal will see a change from Chill Insurance on the front of the Rebel geansaí
New Cork GAA jerseys with Sports Direct logo will be unveiled on Thursday

Patrick Horgan of Cork in action against Mike Casey of Limerick at Croke Park in the Chill Insurance sponsored jersey. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

ASSUMING that there are no late hitches, Sports Direct will become the fifth sponsor’s name to grace the Cork jerseys, which are launched on Thursday.

Following the decision by the GAA to allow sponsorship from 1991 onwards, Barry’s Tea (1991-97), Esat Digifone (1997-2002), O2 (2002-13) and Chill Insurance (2013-20) have been partners of Cork County Board. While five sponsors in 30 years is far from the highest tally of any county, it’s still a good bit more than the lowest, with two examples of alliances that have endured for the three decades (answers at the bottom).

The county board’s finances have been the subject of much coverage and the real estate on the front of the jerseys is one of the most lucrative sources of income.

Sports Direct will pay Cork €400,000 a year over five years – in 2020, Chill Insurance paid €260,000, down from €330,000 in 2019. There are performance-related bonuses, too, and the money will be paid up-front at the beginning of each year, providing a sense of security in these times of high costs in terms of running inter-county teams, not to mention repayments on Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Cork footballer Podsie O'Mahony wearing the Esat geansaí. Picture: Aoife Rice/SPORTSFILE
Cork footballer Podsie O'Mahony wearing the Esat geansaí. Picture: Aoife Rice/SPORTSFILE

Sinéad O’Keeffe – daughter of Kerry legend John – was appointed as commercial manager last year and by all accounts she has been a popular and effective hire, as shown by how well Cork have done financially from the Sports Direct deal. Her presence, along with the streamlined One Cork fundraising model, should ensuring that there is a far more positive outlook on the financial front in the coming months and years.

To secure such a financially beneficial deal at a time when things are uncertain generally and Cork haven’t been setting the world on fire on the pitch shows how strong the brand is. Harnessing such an asset is a challenge, certainly, but it’s one with a few inbuilt advantages.

Ultimately, though, the key fact is that jersey sales will be dictated first of all by how well Cork are doing. 

There will always be a core sales level, but if you reach and All-Ireland, interest is heightened and people want to be associated with it. 

Secondly, the aesthetic is important and apparently Sports Direct will be an improvement on Chill in that regard – the insurance firm’s purple and green corporate colours were prominent since 2013 but it is believed that the blue of the Sports Direct logo will be absent and the jersey will only be red and white.

With that box ticked for a five-year period at least, attention will now turn to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the possibility of a sponsor being attracted there.

Some eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that there had been Sports Direct signage around the venue for club games during the summer and autumn and, with the shirt sponsorship deal having gone well, it wouldn’t take a huge leap to imagine that they might be in the market for the naming rights of the stadium. Arsenal and Emirates Airlines or, going further back, Bolton Wanderers and Reebok, are examples of teams doubling up their kit and stadium sponsorship deals with the same firm.

Regardless of who secures the rights, it won’t be Sports Direct Stadium or Vodafone Stadium or whatever-else Stadium, however. 

Former Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy was adamant that ‘Páirc Uí Chaoimh’ would always be part of the name and we have to take such undertakings at face value. Even if the official name were to change, people would still say they were “going down the Páirc”. There are some things that money can’t buy.

Kerry (Kerry Group) and Galway hurlers (Supermac’s, who now sponsor the county footballers, too) are the two longest-serving sponsorship deals.

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