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Sport goes on scoring

Sport goes on scoring

David Coyle

Brian O'Driscoll lifting the cup celebrating Ireland's Six Nations win against Wales marked the end of the recession in Ireland. Leinster's win against Leicester to become Heineken Cup Champions surely marks the beginning of Celtic Tiger Part II? Well, okay, that's a stretch but rugby is going some way to give Irish sports fans a form of escapism they so desperately need when times are tough.  Let's look at why brands are more eager than ever to bask in the glory, whatever the price, whatever the climate.

Where fans go, brands will follow. It's to the sports ground, not the pub, more people are flocking. Thomond Park doubled its capacity to 26,000 despite the current downturn and commands capacity crowds for most games. Leinster's move to the RDS from Donnybrook saw attendances rise from 5,000 to 18,000, generating far more revenue and giving brands access to more fans than before.

Success on the sports field comes with greater commercial success off it. Despite the economic climate,   brands are spending on rubbing shoulders with some of the best sporting teams and individuals in the world. Major deals like Bank of Ireland's sponsorship of Leinster are supplemented with a number of additional off-the-pitch sponsorship deals that stack up to make sport a business to embrace.

It's not just teams that are cashing in.  Ireland's rugby stars are individually benefiting from brands that want to be associated with winners. O'Driscoll has deals with Gillette, Paul O'Connell with O2 while the younger generation of players such as Rob Kearney have deals with brands Nike, Audi and Glanbia.

It's looking reasonably good for GAA too. As ever, GAA has a vice like grip on the nation through its grassroots network of over 2,000 clubs nationwide. The network provides a strong supply of fans to its games and, by association, to the GAA's commercial sponsors, including Ulster Bank and Cadbury's.

While attendances were slightly down last year, 1.5million fans passed through the turnstiles. This year Dublin and Tyrone kicked off the football league in front of 82,000 fans in Croke Park. So, as punters continue to spend on sport, GAA's best supporting brands like Guinness remain loyal.

Soccer's scoring with Hibernian Aviva's recent groundbreaking deal worth €20m for its naming rights on the new stadium at Lansdowne Road. For the business of sport, what's happening in Ireland seems to be echoed globally. UK broadcasting rights for the English Premiership reached a record breaking £1.78 billion at the beginning of this year for three seasons with Sky Sports the central player.

Industry analysts expect Premiership club revenues to reach almost £2 billion. In the US, baseball revenues for 2008 rose from $6bn to $6.5bn. NHL attendance was up was up four per cent, while the NBA is in the middle of a major new media contract negotiations to buffer it from the US recession.

Andrew Zimabalist, professor of economics at Smith College and one of the most prominent sports economists in the world, said that the sports industry is more insulated against the global recession than most Industries and major sports are on long term TV contracts that assure revenue for up to five years.

This is not to say that all sports are hammering the recession. Simon Chadwick, founder and director of the International Business of Sport in Coventry, the sports suffering most are those with limited appeal to fans. In Ireland many specialist sports rely on the Sports Council for funding to merely survive and these monies are under threat. This year, grants have been slashed for Irish athletes and rowers.

Flying High


Rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and the success earned by Ireland and Leinster this year has given the sport a huge boost in terms of revenue stream by allowing brands greater access to more fans.


Getting involved in sports does not necessarily have to cost the earth. Smart brands spend smart bucks backing emerging talent. Hoping that, against all odds, their brand will outshine the ‘big boys' when their ambassador does. Talent spotting pays off. Brands that nurture sports people from unglamorous starts often benefit most.  Local amateur golfer Shane Lowry, the unlikely 3 Irish Open Champion, looked like he was worth a punt for Kartel - long standing supporter of Padraig Harrington. Boy did it pay off. 

Prof Zimabalist said that fans tend to give up other consumption before they cut back on their consumption of sport. Sport gives people a feelgood factor, especially when their team is successful. People need a form of escapism and sport creates a positive mood with which major brands are keen to associate. It provides fans that join ‘the movement' and ultimately become part of the brand.

As the Irish nation saw from Italia ‘90, Ireland's first appearance at the World Cup finals gave the country a psychological and economic boost. Here's hoping another appearance in the World Cup in South Africa next year can have the same desired effect we so need now. Olé Olé Olé.

David Coyle ( is a director of Thinkhouse, specialists in youth communications

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