Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Joe Kernan: High time to consider supporters

There would appear to be no real indication that the economic downturn is nearing an end and that improved conditions are on the horizon.

This being the case, I feel it is incumbent on the GAA fixtures-planners to try and ensure that the convenience, comfort and financial considerations of fans are given priority when it comes to confirming times and venues for major matches.

For some time now, particularly in relation to All Ireland football qualifier matches, both the timing of matches and choice of venues have raised the heckles of fans.

While it has been confirmed that attendances this year have been by and large on a par with previous years, there is a feeling that followers may now become more circumspect in relation to the number of games they attend.

I know many people who like to attend every Ulster senior football championship match if they can and there are many others who would not dream of missing a game in which their own county is involved.

But the central competitions control committee is surely now acutely aware that force of habit will no longer prove the prime motivating factor in helping to bring supporters through turnstiles.

While the GAA, in conjunction with bodies such as Sport Northern Ireland, the Irish Sports Council and departments within the respective governments north and south of the border, has achieved magnificent progress in refurbishing and upgrading county grounds throughout the island, how often are these venues filled to capacity? Very rarely — that’s the answer. It would certainly be prudent for the GAA authorities going into 2010 to pay particular attention to the choice of venues and times for important matches.

The earlier in the day games can be played, the better — why leave visiting fans, many of them perhaps accompanied by young children, to face long journeys home, particularly in unfavourable weather, when earlier throw-in times are an option?

The GAA prides itself on being a family-friendly body — now is the time to underline this in a practical way.

I know that the starting times of some games can be dictated by live television and that’s understandable given that TV companies pay huge sums for their broadcasting rights but in many other instances sensible, logical action can help to make life easier for the paying customers who help to keep the Association afloat.

It has now become quite costly to attend important games — fuel, ticket prices, food, programmes and ancillary expenses are likely to remain high.

In this situation — and who’s to say that prices might not get even higher — the financial welfare of the fans needs to be carefully monitored.

Another factor which helps to determine attendances is the weather.

Last Saturday, for instance, there were some 1,500 fans at the Ulster v Leinster football inter-pro semi-final at Crossmaglen.

I have absolutely no doubt that had we not been hit by what seemed like an eleventh-hour monsoon the crowd would have been doubled.

As it was, the Crossmaglen turn-out dwarfed that at Limerick for the Munster v Connacht semi-final when 350 fans were totally lost in the vast environs of Pairc na nGael.

If we were to be hit by icy conditions for the forthcoming National League and given that the All Ireland qualifiers have lost some of their initial allure, this could mean, assuming the recession is slow to abate, that the GAA’s income will be considerably trimmed.

Prudent choice of venues, sensible starting times and greater emphasis on spectator comforts would certainly go a long way, I feel, towards ensuring that the 2010 campaign overall proves hugely successful both as a spectacle and from a financial perspective.

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