ATTENDANCE AT INTER-COUNTY SENIOR FOOTBALL AND HURLING GAA GAMES IN THE 21 ST CENTURY

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1 ATTENDANCE AT INTER-COUNTY SENIOR FOOTBALL AND HURLING GAA GAMES IN THE 21 ST CENTURY John Considine Department of Economics University College Cork Abstract: An analysis of the attendance figure for inter-county championship games provides useful information for two of the burning issues in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Recent increases in the real estate values of GAA assets have presented decision makers with an incentive to exchange their prime real estate for facilities elsewhere. The analysis in this paper suggests that large stadium capacity should not be one of those facilities. The analysis also highlights the lack of appeal of the All- Ireland Qualifier series. Given the knock-on effects on the club season, consideration might be given to the structure and timing of inter-county competitions. JEL Classification: D71, D78 Correspondence: Address: Department of Economics, University College Cork, Ireland. Telephone: Fax:

2 1. Introduction In 2006 two important issues facing the decision makers within the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). One issue concerns the disruptive effect of inter-county competitions on club activity. The second issue concerns the appropriate use of the real estate they use for playing facilities. The information and analysis provided in this paper aims to aid this decision making process. In particular, it will suggest that the exchange for prime property location for larger stadium capacity is not a good decision while also raising issues about the value of the Qualifier series. Over the last decade a construction boom has resulted in the value of GAA real estate rising in line with house prices. Property developers see the potential in the GAA sites and are willing to pay what seems like enormous sums in return for many of these prime locations. Club and county units within the GAA are faced with the decision about whether or not to cash in assets and move to a new location. In the case of clubs, it usually means trading a central location for extra ground and newer facilities at the outer edge of urban sprawl. An additional variable enters the decision making when it comes to county units the potential to develop a new larger stadium with the property developer s cash. At the end of 2006 this debate is beginning to gain some traction in the printed media. On December 10 th, two national Sunday newspapers addressed the issue. This paper seeks to inform this debate by providing some summary statistics on the attendances at senior inter-county GAA games because these games determine the need for stadium capacity. In doing so this paper follows previous work by Considine and Coffey (2003). It seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that county units would be better advised to direct their resources towards facilities for players and clubs rather than towards large stadium capacity for inter-county games. On December 6 th, 2006, the Minister for Finance announced a reduction in stamp duty for lands purchased by the sporting organisations in his budget speech. This change reduces the transaction costs on any potential move. In the rush to take advantage of the change decision makers should be mindful of the composition of their new facilities. 2

3 The next section presents the structure of GAA competitions and the rational for focusing on senior inter-county football and hurling games. The data and analysis of attendances for 2000 to 2005 are presented in Section 3. Section 4 briefly presents the figures for 2005 and directs attention to the attendance figures for the All-Ireland Qualifier series. One feature of the figure is Section 4 is the importance of Dublin footballers for larger attendance figures. Section 5 presents the attendance figures in terms the counties involved. Because these figure are likely to be distorted by a county s successful championship run the figures in this section are for the slightly longer period The Structure of GAA Competitions The Gaelic Athletic Association organises two field games: hurling/camogie and gaelic football. The basic unit of the association is the club that represents, and draws players from, a particular geographical area. The club team participates in club competitions. Players from club teams also participate on representative teams comprising clubs from larger geographical areas, e.g. divisional, county and provincial teams. Not surprisingly, given the population size from which they draw their support, it is the county games that attract the larger attendances. The GAA organises competitions for teams based on gender, age and playing standards. Like most sporting organisations, the GAA organises league and knockout competitions. Uniquely among sports organisations, the knockout competition is seen as the most prestigious competition at all levels of competition. This fact has important implications for the number of games offered by the GAA and the demand for these games by spectators. Attendances for knockout games (called championship from here on) far outstrip those for league games with the exception of the knockout sections of the League competitions. While there may be rare occasions where a league game will attract a large attendance (e.g. in the immediate aftermath of a county making a breakthrough in the championship) these attendances are not maintained. Although there had been an improvement in attendances with the rescheduling of the league games to take place in the months immediately preceding the championship this improvement was reversed recently. The attendances at league 3

4 games rarely exceed 10,000 spectators (although some of the league finals attract sizable attendances). Therefore, in what follows the focus is on championship games between senior county teams in hurling and football because they attract the largest attendances. Although it should be noted that other games also attract sizable attendances. In 2005 the Club finals on St. Patrick s Day in Croke Park were attended by 31,326. The National Football League Final attracted 46,445 spectators while the Ladies All-Ireland Football final and the All-Ireland Camogie final attracted crowds of 22,358 and 14,350 respectively. Recent changes in the senior inter-county competitions are important to note. Before 1997 each County competed in their provincial championship competition. Provincial winners then competed for the All-Ireland. Between 1997 and 2001, this format was altered in hurling to allow defeated provincial finalists in Munster and Leinster compete in the All-Ireland series. In 2001, a more radical change occurred in football. This change effectively separated the All-Ireland Championship from the Provincial Championships. Under the new format, counties compete in both Provincial and All- Ireland Championship competitions. The stage at which a county enters the All- Ireland competition is determined by their success in the Provincial competition. Those teams that win their Provincial competitions do not enter the competition until the quarter-final stage where they play one of four teams from those previously knocked out of their Provincial competitions. In 2002 the hurling format changed to follow the football format with effectively two distinct competitions a provincial championship and an all-ireland championship. In 2005 the hurling qualifier changed format again. For 2005 the quarter-finalists comprised the four teams that contested the Munster and Leinster finals and the top two teams from two groups of four teams. These two groups of four teams comprised Galway, the Ulster final winners, and three defeated teams from both Munster and Leinster. One final feature of the nature of GAA competitions is worth noting in the context of attendance distribution is that championship games tend to take place within the geographical area for which the Championship is taking place, e.g. Ulster Championship games are played in Ulster. In exceptional circumstances games might 4

5 be played outside the province, e.g. Leinster hurling semi-finals 2002 were played in Semple Stadium while the Croke Park pitch was revamped. The default option for Championship games is a neutral venue. However, many counties enter into bi-lateral home-&-away agreements at provincial level. Under these agreements, Championship games alternate between the teams county grounds. These home-&- away agreements are limited in some cases by stadia capacity of one or other of the Counties. 3. Where do the games and the spectators go? For the six years 2000 to 2005, there were 544 senior inter-county games. Because of double-headers, these 544 games translated into 491 events where patrons paid in to see games. Attendances figures for these 544 games or 491 events totalled just under 10.5 million. The distribution of attendances sizes is presented in Table 1. With the exception of 2000, the majority of these events attracted attendances of less than 20,000 spectators. In 2002, 2003 and 2005 over 60% of events attracted less than 20,000 spectators. More that 85% of events attract less than 50,000 spectators. While it is difficult to say if overall attendance figures would have increased or decreased if double-headers where staged as single games, it is fairly certain that the individual games would have had smaller attendances. There are three important points to be made about these results. First, the demand for these events have a very defined distribution in that there are only a small proportion of events that will attract crowds in excess of 50,000 spectators. Second, the addition of the qualifier competitions increased the number of games with small to medium sized attendances. This would suggest that the potential for large attendances from new competitions is very limited. Third, the attendances at a small proportion of events are constrained by capacity limits. This is illustrated by the increase in the number of events at the top end of the scale as the capacity of Croke Park increased. It is important to note that this had the effect of stretching-out the distribution at the upper end of the scale rather than increasing the percentage of games over 50,000 as can be seen from the figures for 2003 to

6 Table 1: Distribution of Attendances Sizes of Senior Inter-County Games, Total More than 80, ,000 to 80, ,000 to 75, ,000 to 70, ,000 to 65, ,000 to 60, ,000 to 55, ,000 to 50, ,000 to 45, ,000 to 40, ,000 to 35, ,000 to 30, ,000 to 25, ,000 to 20, ,000 to 15, ,000 to 10, Less than 5, Total Number of Events Source: GAA Annual Reports 2000 to 2005 Note: These 491 spectator events included 53 double headers. The above figures clearly demonstrate there is virtually no need for the majority of counties to build stadia with capacity above 20,000. When one considers the frequency with which these grounds would be used then the construction of any form of stadium must be questioned in the vast majority of cases. Table 2 presents the total number of games played in the ten grounds that attracted the largest number of games. Over the six year period , only three grounds attracted an average of more than 5 games per year. Croke Park held 25 games per year on average. Two Ulster venues held approximately seven games each per annum. Even Semple Stadium in Thurles held less than five games per year on average. It is interesting to examine the case of Cusack Park in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Recently, Westmeath County Board has sanctioned a 26,000 stadium outside the town (The Sunday Times, 10 th December 2006). However, Cusack Park held only 13 intercounty games over the 6 years an average of just over two games per annum. There 6

7 were 43,119 spectators at these games an average of 3,317. The three games with the largest attendances attracted 11,600, 10,487 and 6128 spectators. The move cannot be justified on attendance figures unless it is part of a wider consolidation scheme with the GAA. This is especially so when one considers that the ground is not within the top ten grounds in terms of attendances as presented in Table 3. Therefore, it is crucial that the exchange of old facilities for new facilities there is much more to it than stadium capacity. Table 2: The Ten Grounds with the Largest Number of Games, Venue Number % Croke Park St Tiernach's Park, Clones Casement Park, Belfast Semple Stadium, Thurles O'Moore Park, Portlaoise Dr Cullen Park, Carlow Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork Gaelic Grounds, Limerick Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon Cusack Park, Mullingar Source: GAA Annual Reports 2000 to 2005 The skewed nature of attendance figures is even more apparent in Table 3. Table 3 presents the ten venues that attracted the largest attendance total attendance figures for the period A startling 75% of all spectators view senior inter-county games in four venues: Croke Park; St. Tiernach s Park, Clones; Semple Stadium, Thurles; and, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork. Croke Park accounts for a massive 55% of the total attendance figures, even though it holds only 28% of the games. To a large extent this is unsurprising because of its capacity and the fact that it holds the concluding stages of the All-Ireland series and the Leinster championships. The GAA s Strategic Review Committee of 2002 suggested that there needed to be a consolidation of GAA stadium capacity. In an analysis of 10 years of attendance figures from 1993 to 2002, Considine and Coffey (2003) supported these findings. This paper suggests that recent trends confirm these views. 7

8 Table 3: The Ten Grounds with the Largest Attendance Figures, Venue Total % Croke Park 5,759, St Tiernach's Park, Clones 914, Semple Stadium, Thurlas 674, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork 583, Casement Park, Belfast 317, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick 229, Fitzgerald's Stadium, Killarney 226, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon 184, McHale Park, Castlebar 181, O'Moore Park, Portlaoise 147, Source: GAA Annual Reports 2000 to The Qualifier Series In what follows qualifier games are defined as all non-provincial games up to and including All-Ireland quarter-finals. The period 2001 to 2005 is chosen because it marks the introduction of the qualifiers as used in the football championship for the full period. The hurling qualifiers have change over this period. In 2001 the only beaten teams allowed compete in the All-Ireland series were the beaten Munster and Leinster finalist. These teams entered at the quarter-final stage they played one of the two quarter finals against the Ulster winners or Galway. For 2002, 2003 and 2004, the hurling qualifiers followed the football format. There remained only two quarter final. In 2005, the hurling qualifier system changed in two ways. First, there were four quarter-finals. Second, there was a round-robin league format with the top two teams from each of the four teams groups contesting the quarter-finals with the Munster and Leinster finalists. Table 4 presents the distribution of attendances at the All-Ireland Qualifier Series for the period Over the period there were 166 events that spectators attended of which 28 were double-headers 4 of these 28 double headers were qualifier games combined with provincial championship games. 8

9 Table 4: Distribution of Attendances Sizes of Qualifier Series, Total More than 80, ,000 to 80, ,000 to 75, ,000 to 70, ,000 to 65, ,000 to 60, ,000 to 55, ,000 to 50, ,000 to 45, ,000 to 40, ,000 to 35, ,000 to 30, ,000 to 25, ,000 to 20, ,000 to 15, ,000 to 10, Less than 5, Total Number of Events Sources: GAA Annual Reports 2001 to 2005 Note: Four of the 28 double headers involved qualifier games being played with provincial championships. One qualifier was played with a Munster football final, one with a Munster hurling replay, one with an Leinster football championship game involving Dublin, and one with an Ulster football replay. All attendances were attributed to the provincial championship games. A number of extra information should be used to read Table 4. First, a total of 80% of the 166 events attracted attendances of less than 20,000. Second, only five of the nineteen games above 40,000 were not double headers and all five involved Dublin footballers. Third, of the nine games with attendances above 60,000 only one of these did not involve Dublin footballers a football quarter-final double header in 2003 where All-Ireland Champions Armagh played Laois and Tyrone played Fermanagh. Fourth, the only events attracting more than 40,000 that took place outside Croke Park were the two games between Dublin and Kerry footballers in 2002 at Semple Stadium. Fifth, the largest stand alone hurling qualifier took place in Fitzgerald s Stadium, Killarney between Cork and Tipperary in 2004 when it attracted an attendance of 34,760. 9

10 The figures in Table 4 might also raise questions about the value of the qualifiers given the impact on club fixtures. The purpose of these games was to provide more games for inter-county players. The primary purpose was not to generate revenue. However, if one is to judge the value of these games by the numbers willing to turn up to these games (particularly those not involving Dublin footballers) and pay for the product then they are of questionable value. This is particularly so for an organisation where the core unit is the club. 5. Following the County Teams The importance of Dublin footballers to attendance figures is obvious from Table 4. This should be not too surprising given the population of the county and their participation in the latter stages of the football championship during the period concerned. The location and size of Croke Park also plays an important part. This can be illustrated by the fact that when the Dublin footballers went to Pairc Sean MacDiarmada in Carraig-on-Shannon in early July 2004 the attendance was 8,714. Regardless, the fact remains that games involving the Dublin footballers attract the highest attendances. The attendances at games involving various counties are presented in Tables 6 and 7. Table 6 presents the attendances at games in football. Table 7 presents the attendances at games in hurling. It is important to note how these tables were constructed. All the attendance at any given game is attributed to all competing teams. It is probably easiest to illustrate this by examples. Consider the following two-game example. Croke Park, Dublin v. Kerry 60,000 O Moore Park, Laois v. Kerry 20,000 If we were to construct Table 6 for this example then Dublin would have an average following of 60,000, Kerry would have an average following of 40,000 [(60,000+20,000)/2] and Laois would have an average following of 20,000. The situation is complicated by double-headers. Consider the following example Croke Park, Dublin v. Kerry Offaly v. Galway 60,000 O Moore Park, Laois v. Kerry 20,000 10

11 If we were to construct Table 6 for this example then Dublin, Offaly and Galway would have an average following of 60,000, Kerry would have an average following of 40,000 [(60,000+20,000)/2] and Laois would have an average following of 20,000. Because the figures will be distorted by unusual championship success or failures, ground capacity constraints, participation in the round-robin hurling qualifiers, and other factors, then the longer the period for which the averages are calculated the better. Tables 6 and 7 are constructed for the period Averages are presented for single games, double-headers and the both types of games. Examining the figures in Table 6 and Table 7 one can see that the figures for doubleheaders can distort the level of county support. Roscommon being a prime example where its footballer attracted attendances of 13,154 when playing single games but they were involved in two double-headers with an average attendance of 59,833. Ranking the football support by either the single column or the both columns shows Dublin footballers are the most supported team. Cork is the hurling team attracting the largest support with Kilkenny is a close second. 11

12 Table 6: Average Championship Football Game Attendances by County, Single Double Both Dublin 45,893 52,979 49,024 Meath 40,234 43,358 41,015 Kildare 36,901 42,755 38,800 Armagh 34,622 46,288 36,397 Kerry 35,275 46,465 36,351 Tyrone 31,668 49,722 33,972 Laois 22,670 42,570 30,864 Mayo 27,520 43,358 29,722 Cork 24,276 46,957 27,934 Galway 22,983 45,945 25,978 Donegal 22,757 51,829 25,552 Westmeath 14,723 39,165 22,442 Offaly 16,952 33,718 21,667 Fermanagh 18,072 43,670 21,272 Derry 19,391 36,597 20,564 Cavan 17, ,663 Down 17,662 14,500 17,545 Roscommon 13,154 59,833 16,072 Monaghan 14,488 24,147 15,366 Wexford 5,155 48,729 15,210 Sligo 9,725 42,152 14,792 Louth 8,031 56,136 13,488 Wicklow 3,547 36,153 12,440 Clare 8,676 30,897 12,095 Antrim 10,957 14,500 11,134 Limerick 10,152 9,044 10,064 Tipperary 6,269 34,590 9,810 Leitrim 9,522 14,500 9,759 Carlow 3,845 29,166 9,472 London 2,872 18,227 6,725 Longford 4,159 32,587 4,053 New York 3, ,600 Waterford 2, ,145 12

13 Table 7: Average Championship Hurling Game Attendances by County, Single Double Both Cork 44,256 33,337 42,933 Kilkenny 44,227 31,289 39,446 Wexford 40,344 33,541 36,942 Tipperary 35,985 41,138 36,721 Clare 34,384 46,085 35,308 Waterford 33,870 30,286 33,376 Limerick 29,773 40,573 31,933 Offaly 27,914 35,324 31,788 Galway 21,990 42,216 29,406 Antrim 2,759 34,052 14,795 Laois 2,051 25,985 11,316 Dublin 3,800 25,014 11,115 Kerry 5,386 17,189 8, Concluding Remarks Given the analysis presented in this paper, larger stadium capacity is a very poor investment for GAA units. The quantity and quality of facilities for players of all levels would provide better value. The analysis here supports earlier work by Considine and Coffey (2003). It would also seem to be in line with GAA thinking given the findings of the Strategic Review Committee of 2002 and the establishment of a National Infrastructure and safety Committee by the GAA. Current decision makers in the GAA find themselves in a dilemma about the appropriate facilities for their members (including location). At least they are making these decisions with some valuable assets to their back. This is the result of wise decisions and hard work of previous generations. Current decisions makers must ensure they leave as strong a legacy. 13

14 References John Considine and Seamus Coffey Demand for Larger Stadium Capacity by the Gaelic Athletic Association. University College Cork: Department of Economics, Working Paper Series. Irish Times. 21 st December Austin Stack to be sold. Sunday Business Post. 17 th December Ian Kehoe. Government pushes for 100m mini-bertie Bowl at Abbotstown. Sunday Times. 10 th December Christy O Connor. GAA keep building but the fans won t be coming. 14

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