The idea of an All-Island League for domestic football is getting closer with advocates at a meeting of potential sponsors and broadcast partners yesterday painting a compelling picture of what it could look like.
In order to get where you are going, you have to start from where you are.
Dutch football consultancy Hypercube were brought on board by Kieran Lucid to run numbers based on club revenues, attendance, population density and propensity to spend as well as a host of other factors.
They have done it across Europe and around the world and the numbers tend not to lie.
They suggest that the domestic game in Ireland is massively underperforming and where that is the case there is huge upside potential.
Comparisons were drawn to Scotland where the prize money for winning the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland would put last year’s winners Dundalk in third place of the third tier of Scottish football.
Winning the Danske Bank League in Northern Ireland would deliver less than the 42nd team in Scotland, at the very foot of the organised League structure.
As a comparison, Motherwell, who finished eighth overall last season, and with a population of 30,000, earned €1.8 million, nine times more than Dundalk.
There is an easy narrative that Scottish success is only down to Glasgow Celtic and Rangers but the story is true all across Europe.
In Denmark, with less of a population than Ireland, the TV deal alone for Danish football is north of €50 million. In Ireland, the figure is zero.
If that is knocked down, the next stop for naysayers is that Ireland is unique because of the strength of Gaelic Games.
We always think that we are different and unique but in Austria, Skiing stars earn more than the entire club of Red Bull Salzburg playing in the Champions’ League.
In the Netherlands Formula One holds sway and across Europe Basketball, Handball, Ice Hockey and others are as ingrained with domestic populations as Football and Hurling are here.
Hypercube presented image after image of where Ireland is underperforming, in terms of revenue, facilities, performance at European level and retention of players.
The virtuous circle of money and winning leading to more money and more winning. That is currently stalled here which means that the occasional triumph in Europe is becoming ever more unlikely.
Lucid suggested yesterday that there had already been indicative offers from Pay TV channels that would generate immediate revenue for a new League. We were part of a room of sponsors and agencies who were scribbling notes to bring back into what is a changing environment for football.
The numbers are still big with a revenue target of €8 million giving rise to distribution among clubs of €6.25 million based on performance.
One model aimed at rising all boats sees a distribution from 8.08 per cent for winning the Premier League down to 3.6 per cent for coming bottom.
Even at the foot of the table that would generate more than 50 per cent over and above what this season’s winners will get.
It will not happen overnight but the clear message is that it can over time. In Scotland, the new TV deal is worth £32 million a year and sponsorship generate £3 million. In Ireland, the plan works well with only one-fifth of that level.
€1 A Day
And if you work back the numbers from a pay per view perspective, with a notional TV deal that generates €2.4 million, the money is recouped by getting 6,600 people to subscribe paying €1 per day. That’s 0.1 per cent of the population of the island of Ireland. Pay-TV subscription is expected to reach 70 per cent in Ireland within the next year according to forecasts made by PwC.
Once you take the time to look and understand the market, the numbers begin to make a lot of sense.
Holding onto more players leads to a rising level of income from transfer fees, another area we underperform in despite having players scattered across the leagues of Europe.
A mix of pay-TV to provide the money, and free to air highlights to give exposure for sponsors is the most likely outcome of where this will end up.
It was a meeting with a real sense of the possible. Lucid also revealed that they had held further discussions with the FAI and IFA over the previous 24 hours and that there was support from the former and less scepticism from the latter in terms of following the story through to a decision.
Hypercube will be back every two weeks over the next two months. Today they are meeting with clubs and media in Dundalk. Fans and coaches had a chance to hear the story last night.
Lucid has set a deadline of the end of March to have a format that is acceptable to all, acceptance from the clubs and the support of both associations.
The job now is to add more data, listen to more potential suggestions and make a model that can work. It’s a tight timeframe but deadlines always focus the mind.
The loss of what we have in place at the moment might be mourned in places but the prospect of a genuine League with crowds that stay here for weekend matches rather than bring €180 million of value to the Premier League in England and Scotland has to be worth hearing out.
Ciaran Medlar from BDO was in the room as part of the group, as was Brian Kerr and Brendan Dillon. None of them are time wasters. All of them have a belief that this can happen.
In ten years time when we have Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers or Dundalk entertaining Barcelona in the Group stage of the Champions’ League we will look back at where it all started to go right.
Image Credit: Sam Barnes, Sportsfile