Fans want to see the best players playing for their team. In soccer this has reached a point where Radamel Falcao, who came on for 20 minutes on Sunday for his new club, is being paid an estimated €350,000 a week to wear the red shirt of Manchester United. And he is only certain to be there for one year as part of a loan agreement.
In Rugby Union, the professional era has ushered in a greater movement of players as well, but the base of the sport is narrower and even the highest paid players like Jonathan Sexton would earn less in a year than Falcao would pull down in two months.
Newspaper reports over recent days and weeks have highlighted the role played by third parties in securing the higher value players and managers that Ireland and Irish sport is attracting.
Denis O’Brien has been open and honest about his motivation and his backing of the FAI in bringing first Giovanni Trappatoni and then Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to the FAI.
If part of that deal leads to the Irish Independent, signing up as the official newspaper of the FAI, and Today FM and Newstalk securing exclusive set piece interviews then that is part of the cut and thrust of professional sport and business life.
Departure and return
The same relationship is now being hinted at between the IRFU and O’Brien. Jonathan Sexton left Leinster last year with genuine tears at having to leave Ireland to secure a stronger financial future for his wife and young family. We wrote at the time that it was a difficult but sensible choice for him as an individual in a career which is limited by time and potential injury.
If part of the increased deal with Leinster that has brought him home from the start of next season is funded by wealthy individuals then so be it.
Leinster’s home crowds, TV income, and sponsorship potential are growing quickly in an Irish context but they are competing for talent on a world stage and bluntly there is and will continue to be more money in the bigger markets of England and France.
If Newstalk then had first option on ‘the homecoming’ interview what if any real damage is there to his or the the sports integrity?
The big broadcasters Sky Sports, BT Sport, RTÉ Sport and for next year’s World Cup TV3, have invested substantial money in live rights and gain significant advertising revenues from them.
Individual players though are generally outside of those deals and their personal image rights can often lead to seeming conflicts between personal and team kit or boot deals, as well as in the media.
The role of their agents, from Ikon to Ricky Simms, and Johnny O’Shea to Conor Ridge is often looked on with disdain but they are doing a job that keeps the sporting show moving forward.
What matters most to sponsors is keeping fans engaged. That happens though providing a winning team. That in turn is driven by having the best ‘box office’ talent to deliver.
If there is a ‘patron’ who can justify his investment partly through emotional return and partly through helping his own businesses then there is little wrong in embracing that and making sure the fuel of success continues to be pumped into sport.
Personal philanthropy is a powerful force in charity and also in the arts. It is a force for good and one that should be encouraged through sport and it’s great power to bring individuals and communities to a better sense of what they can achieve.
We are fortunate in Ireland that the GAA is based on values other than financial reward for the best players. It would be hard in our island nation to support the structure of the association if the wage bill for players, managers, officials and all other strata of the sport had to be funded first.
We should never take the effort that volunteers make for granted, either on the pitch or in the back rooms.
Neither though should we get high and mighty about what is best and what is needed to keep other sports at the top of their game.
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