The Irish Women’s Hockey team has been the story of another rollercoaster summer of sport.
In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, Sport for Business CEO Rob Hartnett looked at what their performance in London could mean for the sport…
They overachieved based on any expectation of how they would do being ranked 16 in the world and competing against nations who fund their teams to give them every possible advantage.
They got further than England, a team based on the Olympic Gold Medallists of Team GB from Rio, and one funded out of the £17.1 million granted to the sport through UK Sport in the current Tokyo cycle.
In comparison, the average annual High Performance investment in Hockey in Ireland in the run-up to Rio was €460,000. This rose to €530,000 in 2017, dipped slightly to €520,000 for this year but which will now rise through ‘a significant part’ of the €1.5 million additional funding towards Olympic preparation joyfully announced by Minister Shane Ross as the team returned to Dublin on Monday.
It’s a long way short of the millions lavished on the teams they will face but in terms of the ways in which a team can prepare and play at a big tournament it will be enough to cover the basics of coaching, physiotherapy, training facilities, camps and sports psychology.
The team will have access to the valuable resources assembled at the Sports Ireland National Sports Campus, and while many of the players will remain amateur, that would not necessarily change if there were to be a sum of €810,000 per year to pay 18 players a central contract equivalent to the average full-time wage. And that’s just for the Women. The truth is that team sport has many real benefits but it is expensive.
The greater gain and legacy from the team’s performance will likely lie in the attractiveness of the sport to new young players and to sponsors.
After Gold in Rio, the number of active hockey players in Britain rose by 10,000, or around 7 per cent. Hosting the World Cup will have helped sustain that growth but it is and always will be driven by continued success.
In Ireland that might equate to 1,000 new players across the 168 clubs and 280 schools that are affiliated to Hockey Ireland.
A vibrant playing population already exists and is the bedrock of the team that did the nation so proud.
In Women’s sport though there is intense competition from Ladies Gaelic Football, from Women’s Rugby, Camogie, Basketball and an ever stronger soccer community. For a small nation, we do not lack for choice.
The World Cup team though have given real impetus to fuel the dreams of young girls.
The other area they may have an impact is in sponsorship. SoftCo came on board in what now looks like an inspired decision less than two months ago. They did so stepping up from being a local sponsor of Monkstown Club and seeing the benefit in helping out the team.
It was not a major financial ask and the deal only runs to the end of this year but given the global impact the team has had and the fact that the brand was able to be displayed on shirt and skirt, that may yet be revisited.
It was the first sponsor the women’s team have had at national level since Electric Ireland stepped away in 2014. The sport has failed up to this point to present a compelling case for commercial sponsors to get involved. This is despite an enviable demographic and a substantial reach towards higher levels of business and society through the school’s network.
Now, perhaps it has an opportunity to change that. The players on the women’s team have sketched out a story that could become very attractive, even as the memory of London fades in advance of the next momentous achievement in some other sporting endeavour.
The Men’s team will travel to India in November for their version of the World Cup. They have no commercial sponsor either, despite having played at the Rio Olympic Games, the first Irish team to do so.
This is the moment to strike. The branding in an Olympic setting will be restricted and the value of association is now at its peak. Building a relationship over a longer period of time will allow that peak to return, and indeed better enable it to happen.
It could be that SoftCo will step up again. They have earned the right of first refusal at the very least.
But there will be others tempted by what they experienced over two weeks of glory, from hideaway coverage to RTÉ clearing the schedules. The trick lies in building a package that will be based on hard facts and potential return as well as pure emotion.
Hockey England’s total revenue from sponsorship in 2016 was just over €250,000. Support of Irish Hockey would not be at the same level as that paid by Vodafone to Irish Rugby, by Three to soccer or by AIG to Dublin GAA. It could be a case of hitting the right mark at the right price in what could be a short window of opportunity.
Players and coaches in sport know that it is in the fine detail and the long hours that the golden moments are created.
In an increasingly sophisticated world of sports marketing and sponsorship, commercial backers know that too. The sport has never been in a better place to press its case.
This article first appeared in the print and digital editions of the Sunday Business Post