Declan Bogue: Big Sunday crowd was no coincidence so let’s give some credit where it’s due
‘Nothing beats being there’ is a fine slogan, one dreamt up by the marketing department of the GAA and drummed into the public mindset as the All-Ireland Championships get under way.
It captures the drama and the emotion of the Ulster Championship at least and there was a sense on Sunday that we could be in for an entertaining summer, despite the depressing message commonly trotted out that modern-day football is rubbish.
In Breffni Park last Sunday Ulster Council officials were going about their business wearing contented smiles. The word was that 12,847 fans had clicked through the stadium turnstiles. Children under-16 were given free admission, while ticket prices were cut.
The past year has seen an already bad economical situation turn desperate, but the GAA as a whole are tuning into the concept of elasticity of demand. For the corresponding preliminary round match between Donegal and Antrim last year, a mere 7,385 came through the gates. It took a while for the Donegal public to warm to the team,
with only 9,325 present for the first round game against Cavan.
The low point was the game between Derry and Fermanagh. Fearing a non-contest, crowds stayed well away, with a scattering of only 5,646 in Celtic Park.
If this turnaround sustains throughout the Championship it will not have happened by chance. As well as the price restructuring, a massive emphasis has been put into the promotion of the games at both local and national level. Perhaps the GAA felt the breath of an Olympic year and Euro 2012 on their necks, but their pro-activeness has been welcoming and refreshing.
They now think in terms of having live content on gaa.ie, smartphone apps, open nights for fans to meet their heroes and enhancement of the matchday experience.
A portion of GAA fans will always bristle when they are termed as customers, but when you apply the principles of service to business then coupled with a natural loyalty to your hinterland, it’s a compelling mix.
Praise where it is due, and in this instance, it is.