AIB’s Sheep Dipping Winner with the GAA

AIB’s engagement with the GAA spans twelve months of the year and encompasses the Club Championships and the All Ireland Senior Football Championship.

The campaigns that back up the partnership have been among the most highly praised sports marketing initiatives ever to have come out of Ireland and featured this year as part of the prestigious European Sponsorship Awards and as the main stage presentation at the world’s leading sponsorship forum IEG in Chicago.

The motif behind the Club campaign is The Toughest while that translates into Club Fuels County in the high summer of the Championship season. How though, when you’ve consistently been recognised as a winner in the battle for hearts and minds through sporting sponsorship, do you keep stepping it up?

Sport for Business sat down with Mark Doyle, Group Brands Director at AIB to pose that question, and a few more…

“Being involved with the GAA is exactly where we want to be at the very top of Irish sport but with a reach into every community on the island.”

“There is though, as a result of its popularity, a constant barrage of noise from sponsors across football, hurling, ladies football and camogie, at Championship level and with every county team.”

“Our challenge is to cut through the noise and our differentiation is that we are supporting the sport at every level and in sight of both the die-hard GAA fans out on pitches in the dead of winter as well as those in Croke Park for the high days of Summer.”

“We have our ‘GAA Gang’ made up of members of our own brand teams and the agencies we work with Rothco, Radical and Wilson Hartnell. This is the start point for whatever our next creative execution is going to be.”

“Before we even write a formal brief to the agencies we come together for a blank canvas roundtable session where we look at what we have done before, what worked and what didn’t and what our challenges as a business are likely to be over the next twelve months.”

“That involves throwing out some ‘what if’ ideas which we can begin to think about as we enter the more formal process of turning creativity into campaigns.”

“We’ve had great success with The Toughest Trade over the past three years and that was perhaps the original spark for this year’s Jeff and Kammy special.”

“The idea of ‘sheep dipping’ people with no experience of what the GAA is all about had proven to be a winner and when the possibility was aired of Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara coming over and taking a journey along the road from club to county, it seemed a really natural fit.”

“There was a sense very early in the filming that we were on a winner.”

“We knew the lads had recognition here but neither we nor they were aware of just how popular they are. Honestly, there were times along the highways and by-ways of the West of Ireland when they were being mobbed by fans of all ages.”

“We chose to go down the route of the mini-documentary series this year, breaking up the story into bite-size chunks of six to seven minutes in the main and the reaction was staggering.”

“In the first six weeks of the campaign, we had surpassed last years record number of engagements achieved over six months.”

“While we are still calculating the final numbers it is likely that we will be in the region of beyond 13 million in 2017.”

“We do not do these partnerships for the good of our health but building affinity with GAA fans, a large number of whom are existing customers, is a key priority and the scores we get through the GAA partnership could never be achieved in other areas of our marketing of the business.”

“The comments and the support of the campaign from regular fans, players and across the country was off the charts through all our social media channels and on YouTube where we hosted the content.”

“We worked closely with the channels as well and YouTube and Google brought insights from the US and Europe that really helped us in the final delivery.”

Speaking about Finals one of the most critical points was making sure that Chris Kamara made it to Croke Park on time to complete the commentary to which they had been building over the course of the journey.

“He had to be in London for his Sky Sports commitments on Sunday morning, continued Doyle.

“We had set up police and Garda escorts on both sides and the team at Croke Park were brilliant, on what is after all their biggest day of the year for 1,000 reasons.”

There were no delays but he still didn’t get to his seat until ten minutes past three, twenty minutes before throw in. It was that much on a knife-edge.”

The planning process for 2018 began well before the end of this year’s campaign and that first gathering of the GAA Gang has already taken place.

We cannot reveal yet what the next season of transition from Club to County will bring or where the campaign goes next. That will have to remain in the anticipation part of our collective brain.

What we can be sure of though is that it will be good, it will touch on the very elemental appeal of the GAA and that it will be borne of the latest insight and understanding of what makes us smile, enjoy and share.

This is what a real partnership between sport and business can be all about. It is not cheap but the value of what you spend should alsways be measured in what it returns rather than its absolute cost and the return here has proven to be a winner for AIB, the GAA and for us as fans.


AIB and the GAA are among the more than 230 organisations that play an active part of the Sport for Business community.

Sport for Business features regular interviews with our members provinding exclusive insight on the relationships that work best between sport and business.

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