Yesterday on this very website, Ben Brosnan of Wexford gave an interview to our 16th Man podcast. During a wide-ranging interview, that is well worth checking out, Brosnan spoke about how Dublin’s outside funding is warping Leinster.
“Dublin are always going to get that sort of thing. Playing for Dublin, you’re nearly professional. For all of them, their jobs are easy enough sort of jobs, they all have cars, they all get everything looked after – meals for example.
“We heard this year that all their meals are paid for, if they bring their receipts and they’re eating healthy food during the day and they bring in their receipts they get their money back from it. It’s very hard to compete with that sort of thing.”
Listen to the full podcast below.
There is truth to this. In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski explored the economics of soccer and its impact on what was happening on the field. Generally, they have found that league tables across the history of sport follows a pattern where the more money you spend on transfer fees and wages, the higher up the table you go. Sporting success, based on their research, is predictable on lines of economic investment.
“But wait Danny,” I hear you cry, “GAA games are amateur! You can’t buy or pay players! That doesn’t apply!”
True, but that doesn’t mean that money doesn’t have an impact on amateur sports.
You might not be able to play the players, but if you want to, you can create the optimum conditions for your athletes so that they can do nothing but excel. Prior to 1986, all Olympic athletes were, in name at least, amateurs (some East German athletes were forced to train underground and/or made take steroids).
The USA and the USSR dominated the medal tables up to that point as, even though they couldn’t (officially) pay their athletes, they could create elite conditions for training and provide the best of equipment and technical expertise to get the most out of their competitors. Cuban success in boxing, the last “amateur” sport in the Olympics, is a brilliant example of this. In a poor nation, the fighters aren’t paid per fight, but their every whim is catered for.
If Dublin are doing this for their players, good for Dublin.
Dublin have a financial advantage that can’t be denied because they are simply the most attractive advertising opportunity in the GAA today. Both of their teams are now playing until late in the year. More Dublin jerseys are sold than any other, turning the centre of Dublin into a giant, walking sky blue billboard for AIG all summer.
Dublin GAA’s website lists thirteen official “partners”. Wexford’s lists seventeen, but they’re much more local sponsors than national brands. The Dublin County Board would be foolish to not monetise their “brand” as best as possible.
It’s not their fault their brand is attractive, and if they’re spending their money to get the best out of their players, brilliant. If this forces everyone else to up their game, great.
On a side note, how is this “worse” than Kerry fundraising like lunatics to raise €650,000 in New York?
However, if the funding is causing a problem, and if it is distorting the game too much, there is a very simple solution: collective bargaining and revenue sharing.
These are the principles upon which American professional sport are built. Essentially, collective bargaining means that you don’t make a deal with one team, you make a deal with the whole league. Revenue sharing means that the rich give to the poor to help them decide.
Let’s take for example the Indiana Pacers of the NBA. Indianapolis, the city they call home, is what’s considered a “small market”. This means that it doesn’t have enough televisions and consumers within its imprint to justify a large local television deal or much investment from national sponsors.
A further problem of being a small market is that it greatly reduced your revenue stream from merchandise sales, as there are less people in your area to buy your products. Unless you have a transcendent star, like Indiana had with Reggie Miller in the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s very hard for a small market team to sell their merchandise on a national level.
To combat this, in an effort that teams remain viable and profitable, the two systems of collective bargaining and revenue sharing are used. This year Nike signed an estimated $1 billion deal with the NBA to produce kits and apparel from 2017 on.
Note that the deal is with the NBA, not with an individual team like Adidas’ £750 million agreement with Manchester United. Collective Bargaining means that for national sponsorship deals, companies have to deal with the league itself. This means that instead of getting a below market value deal from a lesser-known brand, the Indiana Pacers get a slice of that Nike money and they get to market Nike gear, which should be an easier sell than kit made by Kappa or Dunlop.
Revenue sharing is the second part of the equation. Teams from big markets with large local TV deals, or teams who sell plenty of apparel, for example the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers, give up part of their profits to be shared among the weaker teams. So Indiana receive money from the big teams to make sure that they are profitable moving forward into the next season. Combined with factors such as salary caps, this helps to keep teams competitive and the league interesting as it means that all teams have the means to put a quality team on the floor.
So how does this apply to the GAA? Well it’s quite simple.
- Create collective bargaining on any product that is used on the field. Eliminate rule 1.4 (d), mandating that the GAA support Irish business, and allow international sportswear giants to bid to produce GAA kit, with victory to the one with the largest cheque. Allow Gatorade to compete to be the official drink of the GAA. Whatever money is raised from the initial sponsorship deal, split it evenly among the 32 counties. Any additional profit that the counties then raise through sales of the jerseys can be kept by the counties themselves, allowing a cost benefit to being successful.
- Any additional sponsorship deals that the top eight, most financially successful counties receive, they give 20-30% of revenue raised to the eight financially weakest counties. It’d be vital that the money is given to the counties with the lowest capacity to raise revenue, not those with massive financial debts. The top eight counties have an incentive to maximise their revenue streams as insurance against that given up, and the lower eight get funding that can be ring-fenced for youth development and capital investment.
The strong will always be strong, and the weak will always be with us. If Dublin’s finances are warping the tenor of the GAA to the extent that some people say it is (and I’m not sure that it is), instead of punishing Dublin for being able to make as much money as possible, use them as a magnet for cash that can then be re-distributed to those who need it.
Danny Ryan, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Tom Marsh from Yorkshire (What a Game! Uploaded by Armbrust) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.