Allianz get the 27th year of their sponsorship of the Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues underway next weekend. It’s the headline element of a deep and wide-ranging partnership with the GAA that has stood a longer test of time than many sponsorships could only aspire to.
Sport for Business caught up with Allianz Ireland Group Head of Marketing, Damien O’Neill to discover just how much it means and how this year’s relationship will be activated.
Sport for Business: Good morning Damien, 27 years is a lifetime for many of those who will play in the Allianz Leagues over the next two months. How much of a challenge is it to keep it fresh?
Damien O’Neill: It’s an amazing partnership. We never get tired of the buzz that comes with the launches and the energy and expectation that accompanies this time of the season.
There is a huge amount of planning that goes in and we are continually looking at ways of engagement and making the most of the latest technologies.
The games are always fit for purpose and of their time. Every year brings new players, new dreams and new styles, all of it layered onto the wonderful tradition that is at the heart of the GAA.
We are committed to that tradition and to be part of that living culture, that dynamic force within society is exhilarating at a personal and a corportae level.
The quality of what the GAA does is sublime, always astonishing when it comes to the fact that this is an amateur and volunteer led organisation.
We have colleagues from the US over this week who are very familiar with Stateside sport and they say this is a match for anything they have seen over there. That’s a great testment to what we have and it is very exciting to be the partner on the first major compatition of the year.
Sport for Business: It is a special competition which has grown enormously in importance. Division One effectively has every combination of potential All Ireland Final and it is a tournament with purpose. What is the value of having that as a single sponsor.
Damien O’Neill: It is very important. And to have that across both football and hurling makes it doubly so.
There is a privilege for us a commercial entity to be involved and we never lose sight of the fact of how important they are to players and fans.
We have a responsibility to treat that privilege with respect and to work with the GAA to make sure that things are done in the right way.
It is continually developing. The biggest change came when we moved to a tightly knit competition post Christmas. Having the tournament gather momentum week by week leading up to the Finals, over a period of two months, gives it a real momentum.
So much can change so quickly and it is now in a position that is stronger than ever before. That took courage from the organisation and previous Director General Paraic Duffy to implement change when there was resistance. The proof of what a good decision that was is now before us.
Sport for Business: What are the most important ways in which the GAA has developed over the time of Allianz’ partnership?
Damien O’Neill: Oh in so may ways. We are standing here in Croke Park which is now one of the finest sporting venues in the world. Again all built to accomodate interest in a sport still played for the love of it.
The growth of interest from the media and the public has driven advances in the way the games are played, the way they are broadcast, the way that they have stood up in the face of immense global change in sport.
Sport for Business: This is the first time that a single competition in the GAA will be televised live by three different broadcasters with RTÉ joining eir Sport and TG4 in covering the live action. How important is that to you as a sponsor?
Damien O’Neill: It’s a great development. Being ata match is very special and whenever I go to a game it is always special.
In the modern era though we are time poor and getting to a game is not always possible. We are keen to let people watch in whatever way suits them best.
If this is live then great but if it is on TV or in a digital context that is just as important. We absolutely welcome the fact of RTÉ coming on board with Saturday night games. The spectacle of matches under lights will really add to the way in which the games are consumed by the wider community of sporting fans.
Sport for Business: You are the broadcast partner of eir Sport and TG4, would you take up a similar opportunity with RTÉ were that to be available?
Damien O’Neill: Yes absolutely. We really value what the broadcasters bring. TG4’s coverage is exceptional regardl;ess of whetehr you are an Irish speaker.
eir Sport are focused on the digital media with their access to cliop rights and that is very important to always be where people are watching.
RTÉ have a massive mainstrteam audeince and are a conversation starter so it is great to have that full range of broadcast opportunities covering the Allianz Leagues.
Sport for Business: You go head to head with the Six Nations year after year. The first big double header here clashes directly with Ireland against England at the Aviva Stadium. Is that something you wish was not the case.
Damien O’Neill: I never played sport to any great degree but I have always understood just how important it is to people and to us as a society.
It comes in many shapes and cuts across all ages and genders. Sport is probabaly the greatest inclusive activity that mankind has ever created and that is so clear at this time of year.
Perhaps especially in Ireland we are fans of everything. It would be nice to have absolute exclusivity on every weekend but to be honest we are well capable of standing up against the very biggest of events.
Allianz is involved in Rugby sponsorship with Saracens in the UK and we say bring it on for February 2nd.
We are involved in raising sport to a level of appearance, accessibility and connection that makes it work across so many ways. It’s a big commitment but it works well for us in terms of brand loyalty and especially a willingness of customers to reccomend us to family and friends.
Sport for Business: Tell us a little about the coverage you are doing as well with GAA Now.
Damien O’Neill: Over the last number of years the GAA has worked hard and smart to develop different channels of communication and we are happy to be part of that with special programming shot in studio and which will be a feature throughout the year.
Sport for Business: You have a history of enabling advances in coverage. You brought Paralympic Sport from a two minute showreel in Beijing to almost full coverage from London and Rio as a Broadcast partner. Could you see something similar develop with the GAA?
Damien O’Neill: We support broadcast across the board. Whatever happens will be GAA led and they do have great ambitions in this area. We are very happy to partner with them as we have done wit GAAGo since it was brought to life.
It is one of the ways in which we work with the GAA. The Allianz Leagues are backed up by our longstanding support of Cumman na mBunscoil at schools level.
We have so many shared objectives that it makes sense to work closely together on what happens today as well as what might be coming tomorrow.
Allianz are one of Sport for Business’ Partner members and work closely with us on our Sport for Social Good conference, report and coverage.
Image Credit: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile