It has without doubt been a summer where hurling has stood tall and the sense of it’s holding sway over football at present is backed up by TV viewing figures which we published this week on Sport for Business.

In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post we wrote about how the small ball GAA game has dominated the domestic summer of sport.

The aggregate audience for the two Hurling Semi-Finals hit 997,000 while the equivalent two games in the Football Championship came in 100,000 less at 896,000.

Ten of the games so far this summer that have attracted an audience of over 300,000 have been with the small ball, with only five in Football doing likewise.

The revised format of the provincial championships in hurling can also be seen to be a winner with three matches each from Munster and Leinster making the Top 15 while the only one to do so at that stage in Football was the Connacht Football Final between Galway and Mayo.

Dublin Footballers pursuit of Four All Ireland’s in a row produced two games in this top echelon while Galway’s search for back to back titles has so far been seen by just shy of 2 million across five games that have breached an average viewership of 300,000.

Traditionally the All Ireland Football final has produced around a 20 percent higher viewership and it may yet do so again this year but hurling has been the story of the mainstream sporting summer.

The TV viewing figures were already showing a marked bias before RTÉ released their ambitious and stirring three-part documentary on The Game.

It drew very strong lines between the sport and our very identity as a nation, using a blend of history and emotion to make the hairs stand up on the backs of necks from Wexford to Clare, Cork to Tipp and in the counties that go into battle this afternoon – Galway and Limerick.

The surge of interest has been facilitated by a change to the programme which many traditionalists believed was a step too far.  In Waterford and Tipperary, they will doubtless still hold that view but with a bit less certainty.

They departed early and May at times felt like a rollercoaster that was barely clinging to the tracks.

There was high scoring, unexpected results and all adding up in a summer heat that made everything feel different.

The beauty of the Championship from a commercial partnership perspective is that it stretches over time, allowing campaigns to breathe and in an era where content is king for sponsors the shorter window might have posed a challenge.

Very much not the case though for Littlewoods Ireland and Bord Gais Energy.  Both in only their second year as sponsors they both told me this week that the excitement of the competition through the early stages and all the way to today has had a marked positive value for them.

“The 2018 Championship has been unmissable and we are all about giving customers unmissable experiences Sorcha Fennel Sheehan from Bord Gais Energy told me.

The feeling was echoed by Pippa Doyle of Littlewoods Ireland who revealed higher engagement on social media and through competitions run by the brand.

What makes the Hurling ‘feelgood’ factor doubly impressive is that in a year of a Fifa World Cup all other sporting pursuits tend to get pushed to the sidelines.

Even without an Irish team to follow and cheer, the sporting passions tend to flare at their brightest in support of the biggest international sporting event there is.

And so it boils down to the warriors of the west from Limerick and Galway.  They will look to crown a magical season in front of a sell out crowd of 82,300, bigger than any gathering that will take place across the continent this weekend, including the Premier League.

They will take to the field with the Supermac and Sporting Limerick brands afront their jerseys, local names that have been long-term backers.  President Michael D Higgins will wear his Galway heritage with pride.  From the commercial world, JP McManus will doubtless be hoping that the Treaty City will be hosting a homecoming to remember come Monday.
It will be a day for hurling, it has been a summer for hurling.  As a nation, we can hardly wait.
This article first appeared in the print and digital editions of the Sunday Business Post

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