Sport for Business Interview: Alan Esslemont of TG4

This is the 19th year of TG4’s sponsorship of the All Ireland Ladies Football Championship.  It has been some journey from crowds of 15,000 for Laois’s one point victory over Mayo back in 2001 through to 50,411 watching Dublin beat Cork last September.

At the launch of this season’s Championship this week we caught up with TG4 Ard Stiúrthóir Alan Esslemont for a chat about how and why the partnership has been a winner for both sides.

Sport for Business: How does it feel to have seen the rapid growth in recent years?

Alan Esslemont: In many ways, we were a perfect partnership.  Neither of was the biggest in our field 20 years ago and in some quarters we were dismissed as unimportant.  By working together we have grown together and now the LGFA is performing at a world-class level.

Part of that is how we have worked together in creating something that has made a really big impact on Irish society.

When Lidl came on board that could have been seen as a challenge. How did that relationship form?

Honestly, I thought when I looked at it that this could be a perfect triangle.  We are in every living room, the LGFA is in so many communities and Lidl is likewise in a very complementary fashion.

The growth in popularity across all of Women’s sport has been driven by all of us together and a rising tide will lift all.  The Women’s World Cup, which we were delighted to bring free to air in partnership with RTÉ, will give a huge boost to soccer and that will get more girls involved.

It’s still the case though that the stand out sport for girls and women in a team environment remains Ladies football and we are really looking forward to driving on interest with our coverage throughout the next eight weekends of live coverage.

How important do you see the social importance of Ladies Football?

Well, I’m Scottish so I can look at it in comparison to sport outside of Ireland and the level of engagement here is incredibly strong. The LGFA and all the clubs do a wonderful job in terms of welcoming girls and keeping them playing.

How did you feel the Women’s World Cup went?

It was something we were very keen to do.  We have a very good relationship with RTÉ and we felt that working together we could deliver something very special.

I felt that we would surprise people and that has proven to be the case.  The quality of performance on the field of play was really high and it was great to be able to bring that to as wide an audience as possible as public service broadcasters working with the European Broadcasting Union.

What were your viewing numbers like?

We were very pleased.  In the early stages, games were producing our best figures of the week and because of the way it dovetailed so well with our All Ireland Championship coverage starting the week after the final we were able to give it the space it needed.

We will never get to the same high numbers as an English language broadcaster but once people began to tune in to the fact that all the games were live and that the quality of play was so high it really did take off.

RTÉ had almost a quarter of a million people watching the Final and we are pleased to have been a part in building that growth.

Audiences are better served by public service broadcasters being independent but working closely together.

We did that on the recent elections doing a joint exit poll and the World Cup was another example of working together and being seen to be working together.

We are pleased that the semi Finals are on here at Croke Park.  It’s a big statement. Up until now, the focus has been very much on the Final and we realise that this needs to come forward and get people more engaged in the Championships at an earlier stage.

We will show 17 games live over eight weekends and having the Semi-Finals as a big staging point on the way to September 15th is important.

How much are you looking to do away from the Live games themselves?

Building the story of the Championship is important.  Two years ago we worked with you at Sport for Business in creating a Facebook live show on the eve of the Final.  We had Lynsey Peat, Kelli Harrington, Rachael Blackmore and Valerie Mulcahy on with Gráinne McElwain and it was a great success.

Last year we made that into a main live event on TG4 from Dublin’s Mansion House and we have already begun to plan for what this year will be like as well.

Phenomenal Women was a great success last year from Ciara Ní É, will there be something similar this year?

It was a wonderful production alright.  Strong short-form content is an area we are very interested in developing and we hope that something similar will emerge from this year’s programme.

How important is sport in the wider remit of TG4?

It has always been very important in reaching to a wider audience than natural Irish speakers.  Sport helps place us in the national context of covering things that we are all interested in.

Our sport, music and documentaries are the things that help us speak in Irish to the nation in areas that they are interested in.

TG4’s live coverage of the TG4 All Ireland Championship gets under way this weekend with a double header from Portlaoise of Galway against Kerry followed by Dublin against Waterford.

Image Credit: Eoin Noonan, Sportsfile

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