BBC on the GAA Business model.

Sports fans dismayed by a landscape in which leading players command mega-salaries and governing bodies only seem to care about the elite levels should study how business is done at the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

The Dublin-based GAA, which this year celebrates its 125th anniversary, is unique in modern-day sport.

Its players are amateurs, the grass roots are as important as the top echelons, and the majority of big games remain on free-to-air TV.

And unlike football, clubs cannot be bought and sold and there are no private club owners.

The GAA - whose main activities are Gaelic football and hurling - is Ireland's largest sporting organisation, and last year its total revenue was 64m euros, up from 62m euros the year before.

More than 80% of that was recycled back to clubs and counties at the grass-roots level.

Not just business

"The GAA business model is different from other sports in one obvious way - the GAA players are amateur, and that includes the big-name players that generate the sell-out games at Croke Park stadium," says Dr David Hassan of the University of Ulster.

"The clubs and games are based in the community and operate on behalf of those people who are based in the community.

The GAA... is remarkably successful in all aspects of its operations - financially, strategically and in terms of the cultural and sporting opportunities
Dr David Hassan, University of Ulster

"If the grass roots say some policy proposal is a move in the wrong direction, the administrators cannot just say - as may be the case in English soccer - 'This is just business'."

He said amid the commercialisation of football and rugby, it would be easy to dismiss the GAA, with its member democracy, corporate social responsibility and community identity "as something of a romantic irrelevancy".

"But the GAA, far from demonstrating a lack of commercial strategy, is remarkably successful in all aspects of its operations - financially, strategically and in terms of the cultural and sporting opportunities," adds Dr Hassan.

Volunteer workers

In its annual report this week, the GAA said that although gate receipts had fallen by 5.1m euros in 2008, that was offset by commercial revenue from sponsorship, which put 16.8m into the coffers.

The GAA also owns Croke Park, revamped at a cost of 270m euros, one of the biggest and most impressive stadiums in Europe.

Founded in 1884
Over 1 million members
2,600 clubs
Assets in excess of 2.6bn euros
64m euros income in 2008

It has also proved a very successful revenue stream for the association, with Irish rugby and football internationals played there raising 11.7m euros for the GAA in 2008.

On the administrative side, club members elect an executive committee to carry out the running of the club on an annual basis. At the higher echelons of the GAA, such members must vacate their post after four years.

But Dr Hassan denies that running the game with volunteers at grass-roots level means off-field activities are also "amateur".

"At a community level, local competent professional people who are sympathetic to the GAA often do administrative jobs, such as a local accountant becoming club treasurer."


However, there are issues the GAA has to address - the forthcoming loss of revenue from football and rugby games at Croke, the fall in gate receipts and the televising of GAA games.

In its annual report, the GAA said the loss of money generated by rugby and football internationals from 2010 onwards would leave "a big hole" in its finances.

Croke Park
Croke Park has been hosted rugby and football internationals since 2007

In total, the opening-up of Croke Park since 2007 has generated 18.7m euros for the GAA.

Rugby and football internationals are scheduled to return to Lansdowne Road after April 2009.

At present, the GAA is restricted to staging three non-GAA events a year at the stadium, but the association has indicated that it will ask for permission to host more money-spinners, such as concerts.

"It is ironic that the GAA says there is a hole in its revenues because of rugby and football leaving Croke Park, when previously they would have not wanted those sports played there," says Dr Hassan.

One solution may be to hold more concerts, business seminars and corporate events at the stadium.

'Scheduling problems'

Meanwhile, over the past decade, the number of televised games has increased, with satellite broadcaster Setanta, as well as station TV3, joining RTE in showing Gaelic football and hurling matches.

In the annual report, director general Paraic Duffy said the increased number of televised live matches could be responsible for the falling attendances.

There is a full programme of TV fixtures, but there are voices now beginning to question whether there has been too much on TV
Sean Moran, Irish Times

He said: "We'll need to reflect on the proper balance between the benefits of live coverage of our games."

He added: "It may be that less games would ease some of the scheduling problems we faced in 2008, provide more options for counties in scheduling their club championship games and dilute the impact of live TV on attendances."

The 5.1m-euro fall in gate receipts was in National Leagues and All-Ireland series games, not the provincial championships.

Now the GAA is projecting that gate receipts are likely to be reduced by 10% in 2009.


Sean Moran, a sportswriter and Gaelic Games expert at the Irish Times newspaper in Dublin, says the fall in gate money is a worrying trend.

"The number of matches being screened on TV has shot up since the mid-1990s. There is a full programme of TV fixtures, but there are voices now beginning to question whether there has been too much on TV," he says.

"While it has certainly helped raise the money coming in from media sources, the proportion of gate receipts as a share of total income has slid.

Light show at Croke Park in January 2009 to celebrate the GAA's 125th anniversary
The GAA faces challenges to its pre-eminence in Irish sport

"In the 1990s the gate money proportion of annual GAA revenues was 70%, a figure that was thought to be too high.

"Since then, the non-gate revenues have shot up and the proportion of gate receipts is down to 42%. That is quite a slippage over the years, which is only partly explained by the increase in revenue from other streams, such as sponsorship money.

"The GAA would be a bit concerned about these proportions."

Meanwhile, there is the challenge in attracting more people at a time of a global recession, with admission prices being frozen this year.

"Many people have predicted the demise of the GAA model, but it is actually getting stronger as a business," says Dr Hassan.

"The rise of Irish soccer and rugby have presented challenges, yet at every point the GAA has reacted to the challenges.

"There is no evidence to say that as a model it has to alter the way it conducts its business in order to retain its pre-eminence."
The GAA is marvellous from grass roots to September Sundays.

As a soccer head (and always a GAA head) who had the fortune of attending the All Ireland Hurling finals from 82-84 (gutted as a Cork Thurles..still wonderful 25 years on for lots of reasons) and football final of 82 (as a 10 year old Cork kid) and watching Seamie Darby bag a goal to deprive Kerry of 5-in-a-row (I was gutted but you gotta remember I was only a 10 year old kid falling in love with sport) (rubby included) I must admit that you can't compare the GAA with European football (I've seen Champions League all over Europe), Heineken Cup etc.

The GAA will always remain an entity that can't be compared to anything that any of us have experienced at any level of sport on this planet.

All sports people have done great things (a friend of mine once scored a hattrick of free kicks in a local Munster Senior League game...unheard of at any level of World football) which means that anything is possible in sport (take a bow ROG my son!).

The problem is that once money is introduced there is a problem.

No member of the GAA wants to be paid to play but as long as coaches, trainers get paid to coach, train (as addressed in the mejia today) the GAA will struggle to identify itself as an amatuer game seperate from all the vagaries of professional sport.

Eliminate this and only pay certain administrators (Frankeen included) and the GAA will be back on the straight and narrow.

So long as €250 per training sessions exist the GAA will be unable to seperate itself from the madness that exists in modern day professsional sport.

Keep it simple. keep it completely amateur...the players wouldn't want it any other way...and IMHO they Know this best.
Good article, the GAA is an excellent example for other sporting organisations. The way they've built their base, both from a people and infrastructure point of view is mightily impressive.

I once calculated that you could fit over 10% of the population of the island into GAA stadiums over 25k at the same time, there's that many of them.

Rugby has learned a lot of the GAA in Ireland, certainly with regards to organising at a club level, however there's still a lot more to learn in how to bridge the gap between the top tier of players and the next level down. There's too big a gap between the provinces and the AIL teams.

How come it's model has never really translated to other parts of the world?

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