Insight on the business of Irish sport

Some of the key elements of the business behind the biggest sports in Ireland were laid out before a 100 strong audience of MBA Graduates in Dublin last night.

Peter McKenna of the GAA revealed that 86% of revenues that come into the Association are ploughed back into grassroots sport.

Philip Browne of the IRFU outlined the ‘professional game dividend’ that arises from 91% of income for the union coming from the international and provincial teams but their only accounting for 61% of expenditure.

John Delaney spoke of the critical importance of centralised TV rights.  This was an idea presented by Ireland and others some years ago and now generates €10 million of the FAI’s €45 million annual income.  It also removed the double edged sword that used to exist whereby the most lucrative draw in qualifying tournaments was always that which would make it harder to qualify through playing the major nations of Germany, Italy or England.

Warren Deutrom, CEO of Cricket Ireland highlighted the benefit of being at the top of the associate countries in International cricket.  The International Cricket Council distributes 25% of its revenues to the ‘smaller’ countries and this means an income of around €1 million a year to develop the sport here.

That together with the major sponsorship of RSA has transformed the administrative capacity of cricket so that it can match the performance of players on the pitch that started in earnest with the St Patricks Day defeat of Pakistan in 2007.

John Foley of Athletics Ireland recognised that the bulk of its funding still comes centrally from the taxpayer via the Irish Sports Council but spoke of the move towards greater involvement in mass participation events.


This was yielding an improvement in standards through consistent management; in income through registration fees; and in participation which was also rising considerably in the post Olympics ‘bloom’.

He rued the fact that Rob Heffernan’s excellent fourth place finish in London was not one position higher as the importance of a medal at the games in terms of perception of the sport at home could not be underestimated.

Damian McDonald was in similarly reflective mood about the fact that some of the structures around international show jumping had not adapted to suit the demands of modern audiences.

This year’s Nations Cup at the RDS was a missed opportunity as despite Ireland’s great win, the fourth rider was not required to jump so the 25,000 strong crowd did not get to see Olympic medallist Cian O’Connor in action.

There was a sense of excitement in the sport though over yesterday’s announcement of the development of new facilities at the National Sports Campus for Horse Sport Ireland and Pentathlon Ireland.

The panel agreed on a need for greater recognition within government of the role played by sport in different strands of policy, particularly those of public health, tourism and social cohesion.  It was though noted that improvements were being made in this area.

The importance of seeing the positives in Irish sport was highlighted by John Delaney who spoke of the impact on UEFA President Michel Platini of visiting the 2006 All Ireland Hurling Final at Croke Park.  “He was especially taken with the parade of the teams which brought all sections of the huge crowd into the event before the start, comparing it to the more static lining up of teams in other sports.”

“He also noted the presence of umpires behind the goals and perhaps this was the inspiration for the extra referees in that same position that are now being used in European club competitions.”


One of the main challenges posed to sports administrators was the complexity of governance of sport.  The massive contribution of volunteers, and associated economic value, meant that administrators had to be seen in attendance at a host of local and regional events that international colleagues would be amazed at.

“You have to deal with every communication from the grass roots,” said Delaney.  “It is not acceptable not to return a phone call though obviously when you are dealing with 2,600 clubs and 400,000 players that can be very challenging.”

The biggest threat to the ability to lead effectively was where there was instability within the sport, sometimes caused by well meaning and well intentioned volunteers but who were unable or reluctant to take on accountability for ensuring that the long chain of management was as strong as it could be.

Peter McKenna also highlighted emigration as a major problem to be addressed within local and sporting communities while Philip Browne revealed that a consultancy had been appointed to look at the feasibility of hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 or 2027.

Both Browne and Delaney commented on the greater levels of cooperation across the main sports that had arisen from the opening up of Croke Park.


The final question asked by Chair Sean McKeon of the MBA Association of Ireland was to identify any overseas sporting bodies that were of particular merit, and there was no hesitation in highlighting British Cycling whose appointment of a Director of Marginal Gain was indicative of the fine detail that went into the building of a world class sporting infrastructure.

The evening was hosted at Beauchamp’s Solicitors offices on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

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