I heard last week of the discussion held at the Mayo County Board meeting regarding the appointment of a much needed Commercial Manager for Mayo GAA and I despaired.
After reading Daniel Carey’s excellent report in the Mayo News that despair deepened. To read that several delegates raised the issue is heartening but the responses from the top table and those who previously sat on the top table of Mayo GAA I found demoralising.
Chairman Mike Connelly said he would “really love” a Commercial Manager but now is not the time because it’s not affordable. But if now – when we are already in debt- is not the time, then when is? Do we continue hoping for the best and muddling through for another twenty years or do we strike now when on the pitch we are at an all time high in terms of marketability and competitiveness? Why wait?
It’s over five years since Liam Horan and a steering committee of 19 other individuals drew up an impressive and worthy blueprint for the future of Mayo football with the Strategic Action Plan. The plan, despite it’s clear value, was ignored by the County Board. They came up with their own which – and I stand to be corrected – has not been fully carried through on. Regardless of that however, the members of the group tasked with finding a vision for the future of Mayo GAA – 86 in total, all passionate and devoted Mayo GAA supporters, including the future senior football manager Stephen Rochford – disassociated themselves from the ‘official plan’. You can read the full reasons for that here , but the most damning part, written in May 2011 remember, is the following:
The final plan now produced ticks a box, but does no more than that. Somewhere, an entry can now be made: “Yes, Mayo now has a strategic plan.” But it is a dry document without any soul or heart. The plan produced does not provide for Mayo doing something dramatic, something bold, something truly innovative. It is hard to disagree with any of the proposals in it, but it certainly will not inspire. If adopted, it means that Mayo GAA is happy to keep doing what it has always done, thereby continuing to fail to realise its vast potential as a GAA force. A strategic plan should have vision, creativity and passion – the very traits that should be synonymous with our county, and the very traits our people have displayed here in Mayo, throughout Ireland, and all over the world. This is a plan that could be produced by any county, anywhere – any county simply aspiring to tick a box.
I was reminded of that passage when I read the comments from the County Board meeting this week. Something dramatic. Something bold. Appointing a Commercial Director is not exactly any of those things, but for Mayo to truly compete at every level, in all codes, it is what is needed. We need our executive to stop fretting and take the plunge. Even Kildare County Board, a by-word for financial issues in recent years (a board that saw fit to have a Church Gate collection as one of their main sources of income in the not so distant past) have now appointed an Operations Manager to take on the responsibility of finding new sponsors. They are taking the onus and burden off the County Board who can go about their main business of keeping the game alive in the county.
And yet, and yet, here in Mayo, we are afraid to do this. In the words of JP Lambe, former County Board Treasurer “We found out that the commercial manager, before he would do anything, his fee would be roughly €50,000 a year. So that kinda knocked the commercial manager on the head.”
Let this then sink in for a moment – the Mayo GAA Strategic Plan forecast that a Commercial Manager could bring in between “€500,000 and €850,000 A YEAR” (capitals my own).
Surely the position is created with the intention of it paying for itself – targets included in the contract, bonuses related to ensure that targets are met or exceeded. It’s how the business world works, it’s not a mystery.
So we are afraid to spend €50,000 to create multiples of that? (As an aside, do the Mayo County Board intend handing a suitcase full of cash over as a salary right off the bat? Is everything paid upfront or what’s the story there?)
Why is there such opposition and such fear? Are the executive afraid to let go of all the power? This is surely not it as these are good, passionate and committed Mayo people, but they need to see the light. We are already behind our greatest rivals in Dublin, and but for the will and talent of the players and management of the last five years we would be even further behind. Imagine the players took the same attitude as the County Board? “We found out Dublin have more money than us so that knocked the idea of beating them on the head?”
Current treasurer Kevin O’Toole had the following to say at the meeting. “Mayo is a brand name, but don’t assume that there’s a huge pile of money out there … We have cowboy operators and they are raising money on the backs of the Mayo team … It would be dangerous to assume that there’s a huge amount of money out there … We do not get the same grants as Dublin, we do not get the same sponsors as Dublin. But we do maximise what we can.”
Well Kevin, do you know how to stop these ‘cowboys’? You start by owning fundraising for Mayo GAA. You start by not making the silly mistakes that were made in 2014 when Mayo were in New York. If Roscommon can go to the States and come back with €300k, and Kerry can raise €1million there, what is stopping a Commercial Manager from Mayo doing exactly that? Why were the County Board distancing themselves from fundraisers this year (in New York & London), becoming embroiled in unnecessary controversy.
Put an official Mayo stamp on fundraising, make sure that in the future every single person in the world knows that if it’s a Mayo fundraiser being organised then it is organised right and it has the seal of approval and is overseen by our CM. Make sure that they are done right and maximised. We have an amazing diaspora, and even more amazing ambassadors who should be brought to the fore – other counties with less profile can do it and Mayo can’t? I don’t think so.
What Kevin O’Toole did get right though is that Mayo is a brand. And it’s one of the greatest brands in the GAA, and in Irish sport. It’s a marketer’s dream – and at a time when people in the United States are turning off in their droves from the NFL and watching the amateur college football games instead, can Mayo GAA not look at this and realise that we have something that could potentially become world renowned? Everyone loves an underdog story – no one cheers for the Empire over the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars do they? Mayo are an amazing story, and when you throw in the amateur ethos of the games, well then…
Imagine a Mayo GAA shop at Ireland West Airport? Imagine a list of club and intercounty games, football and hurling, alongside Mayo GAA gear at an airport where almost 700,000 people annually arrive and depart? Sky Sports beam the GAA to Britain – Ireland West are looking to increase numbers from Britain…. anyone see a correlation?
And even those ideas are down the line, after we look inwards or to bigger commercial businesses for income. Look at the talent in this country that has been imported abroad. How much are we losing out on by not having a structure in place to try and work with those who have left these shores and long to return, or those who have moved outside the county but still want to be part of something bigger, something communal, something to be proud – something like Mayo GAA?
Local Streaming have shown the way in recent years, but it is something that has been blindingly obvious for over five years now. Why have the County Board not incorporated Local Streaming to beam live games via the Mayo GAA website? Charge a small annual subscription, or one-off fees for club championship games and ensure that the many thousands of Mayo supporters around the world can have a chance to watch their local team play, stay connected to their club and to Mayo GAA, all the while contributing a small amount to the cause. Get a sponsor for the broadcast as Armagh have with Linwoods, and it pays for itself. Imagine also how easy it would be to sell advertising on the Mayo GAA website if you knew that people all over the world would be clicking on it regularly to watch matches? It just seems so simple that perhaps I’m missing something….
(Side-note: I understand the brilliant Tg4 coverage has to be accounted for, but that is only at the SF final stage, and a deal could be hammered out to show the game via the website in regions that Tg4 wouldn’t reach.)
We can look at Dublin and crib about their wealth and their numerous sponsorships but why not just take them on at their own game? Why not go after an official airline, an official training kit sponsor, an official drinks company, an official bloody thumbtack if it comes to it? Why stay tied to one sponsor? That’s not the way of modern sport so why do we do it? When you stop navel-gazing it’s amazing what you can see in front of you.
There are hundreds and hundreds of reasons to do appoint a Commercial manager. There is a Mayo GAA brand that could become one of the biggest in Ireland, the biggest in the world if marketed right – and yes that is hyperbole, but what are we in Mayo if not dreamers? Why not shoot for the moon? Why not look to go beyond what others have done in the past? Why not create our own blueprint for what success in the GAA is?
Why not speculate to accumulate so that one day we don’t have to burden our clubs with extra charges for All Ireland final tickets, so that we can ensure that hurling grows in the county so we’re not waiting decades to produce the next Keith Higgins or Kenny Feeney? Why not harness the good-will of the public, why not create a Former Players Association under the wing of the Co Board to harness the talents of our players once they hang up their boots?
Why don’t we dream off the pitch as well as on it to create something bigger than is already there?
To paraphrase the great John Healy – Isn’t it time we shouted it’s time to start?