Belfast Telegraph

Casual fans need to be enticed in

By Declan Bogue

When it comes to launching competition or coverage, the GAA and their partners generally get it right.

If the purpose is to secure space in newspapers, along with airtime on radio and screentime on television, then they achieve those objectives.

Last week, members of the local press were camped in the salubrious surroundings of the Merchant Hotel, Belfast at the Setanta launch of their National League coverage.

Three journalists were present along with members of Setanta and Pembroke communications. Fish and chips, chicken and chips, steak ciabattas and a whole range of fancy desserts were laid out to tempt us. Apron-clad waiters remained at the trestle tables to serve us coffee. It really was no expense-spared stuff.

Somewhere else in the hotel, Derry's Mark Lynch and Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly were experiencing a rooftop jacuzzi, overlooking Belfast, mugging for camera poses. There might have been a few moments of embarrassment but the generous sum they took home – which is a standard fee negotiated by the GPA for events of this kind – would have proved some consolation.

Both men talked to reporters for 20 minutes and proved brilliant a courteous company. Setanta got name-checked in the articles. Everybody was happy.

Something similar will happen today at Barnett Demesne, Belfast, where Sean Cavanagh and James Kielt will be present ahead of their league game on Saturday night. Expect to see them on these pages tomorrow.

Last week, the GAA revealed their marketing tag-line for the National League would be 'Seeing Is Believing.' It also happens to be a phrase that is plastered all over the website of Leinster rugby. Join the dots yourself.

It would be tough to top the intriguing 'Nothing Beats Being There.'

Last year, the catchphrase was the rather clunky 'Unexpect the Expected.' All three slogans were conceived by some D4 Don Draper in Ballsbridge-based advertising agency, Target McConnells.

2013 was the creative equivalent of hitting a brick wall and it failed to capture the imagination, curdling the brain of anyone to consider the notion.

Croke Park have a dedicated marketing department, but oftentimes it is slightly baffling that they cannot generate this kind of vague, cliché-driven copy themselves. It's not exactly a high-minded pursuit.

Although no promotion would be akin to neglect, we even wonder if something as keenly-anticipated as the National League needs a big promotional push, or if it is self-propelling.

Part of that is that the league is a strange beast. People's habits when it comes to getting along to league games can be even stranger still.

In relentlessly pushing the season ticket, the GAA know they are rewarding loyalty.

Just to briefly outline the benefits; you can attend all your county's league games, any other game in that code, the league semi-finals and final, the All-Ireland club finals and your county's first Championship match. All for €85. Not bad at all.

A friend bought his father a season ticket for Christmas and sees it as a smart bit of business.

Daddy can get along to the match this Saturday in Celtic Park. On Sunday, sonny will take a loan of it and get to a game. There is no photo ID on the cards, so the practise of using other people's cards is widespread.

Yet for the majority, the habit of attending games is a spur of the moment thing.

And by pointing this out, we have to note the press release at the end of last week that boasted of a 23% reduction in ticket prices for Division One and Two league matches.

Last year, it was €13 to pay at the gate. This year, it is €15. Should you buy your ticket at a participating Centra or Supervalu store, then it costs €10.

Those deciding on Sunday morning to go along and cheer their team pay the greatest price. The casual fan is less-inclined to go online and print off tickets, or go out of their way and drive miles to their nearest Centra or Supervalu.

Some casual fans know the system. They are the ones who will arrive just before half-time, when the gates are flung open for anyone to leave or enter. They will stroll in, note the scoreline and get a brief synopsis of the first half from a witness.

Then they settle into a seat for the second half. These people know who they are and they have nothing to learn.

The smokescreen of reduced ticket prices does not fool them. But perhaps the GAA might be better trying to convert them from gate-hoppers to paying punters.

Would a simple price reduction, to €11 or £10 achieve that? Offset that against the next time you shell out money to Target McConnells for recycled corny catchphrases.

You might be surprised.

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