Belfast tribute to boxer Carl Frampton cost £20,000, only 1,500 turned up on day
Exclusive: Carl crowd in contrast to the 75,000 who feted McGuigan
Carl Frampton's poorly-attended homecoming event cost Belfast City Council over £20,000, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The widely-publicised reception for the new world featherweight champion was expected to attract 6,000-plus well-wishers to the City Hall grounds on August 12, but only a fraction of that number showed up.
Some estimates put the crowd as low as 1,500.
The disappointing turnout was a major surprise for the council, considering the free admission and refreshments, the popularity of the 29-year-old Tigers Bay boxer who had become the first local man to win world titles at two different weights, and the favourable weather on the night.
By contrast, when Barry McGuigan - now Frampton's manager - won his world featherweight title 31 years ago more than 75,000 thronged the streets of Belfast city centre to welcome the Monaghan-born champion back.
The £20,000 figure supplied by City Hall sources is understood to have been spent on security for the expected large crowd, the welcome platform, the one-off broadcasting of the event on a big screen, and food and drink in both the Lord Mayor's parlour and banqueting hall.
First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sports Minister Paul Givan attended the event, which was compered by veteran broadcaster Jackie Fullerton.
Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston - who described it as a fitting tribute to a "unique achievement" - was there, but only a handful of Belfast City councillors are understood to have shown up.
Frampton, making his first appearance in his home city since returning from his epic 12-round majority decision victory over highly-fancied Mexican Leo Santa Cruz, brought his children Carla (5) and Rossa (21 months) with him. His wife Christine (28) was not present.
It's thought the scheduling of the event - nearly two weeks after the victory and at a time when the fortunes of our Olympic boxers in Rio were perhaps uppermost in sports fans' minds - may have been a factor; McGuigan's homecoming in 1985 came just two days after his memorable victory over defending champion Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road in London.
Frampton's welcome party could not, however, have been scheduled any earlier because the boxer opted to stay on in the Big Apple for a break after his victory.
Former world champion Dave 'Boy' McAuley said the fact that most people here didn't actually get to see the transatlantic fight - which happened in the early hours of Sunday morning and was only available on the specialist, pay-per-view BoxNation TV channel - may also have had a significant effect on the turnout.
"The fight wasn't well publicised; more people would've seen it if it had been broadcast on BBC1 or ITV," said the 55-year-old, adding: "Carl's decision not to come home immediately may also have taken the buzz out of it."
If Frampton was disappointed by the size of the crowd he certainly didn't show it, spending a considerable amount of time signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans and well-wishers.
Some council sources also believe that it might have been better to have held the homecoming on a Sunday.
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said the event was a success.
"The recent homecoming for Carl Frampton, hosted jointly by the council and the Department for Communities, was an opportunity for fans to congratulate Carl on his recent achievements and to acknowledge the contribution he has made to Belfast, both at home and on a global stage," she said.
"The date, location and format of the event were all organised in conjunction with Carl's management team, given his busy schedule, and, once confirmed, the event was promoted widely via our usual communications channels, in order to give as many people as possible the chance to attend."