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Kilkenny’s Super Marketing Gaa: No Corner Shop

by John Knox

CAREFUL management off the park, coupled with unparalleled achievements on the field during the past two decades or so, have helped fortify Kilkenny GAA against the financial challenges of the time.
Gaelic games at the top end are as much about business as pleasure now with all the commercial spin-offs involved – TV money and performance based sponsorship deals agreed with teams.
On a busy year that might include a senior hurling All-Ireland final appearance, Kilkenny could expect to put well in excess of €3.5 million through the books.
The last big figure was €3.4 million for what was a normal, full season in 2019. However, five years earlier the annual accounts for Kilkenny showed the figure was a staggering €3.7 million, a jump of nearly €300,000.
Of course 2014 was an All-Ireland senior final winning year. Therefore the overall figure would be bloated by money taken in by Kilkenny on behalf of the Leinster Council and Croke Park for ticket sales for the big games during the season, which amounted to a significant €1,868,335 that year.

The point is, the business of County Boards like Kilkenny is no ‘corner shop’ affair any more.
During the past 20 years or so Kilkenny enjoyed unprecedented success on the senior inter-county hurling scene.
Under the driving leadership of team manager, Brian Cody, the Cats won 11 All-Ireland titles, 16 Leinster championships and 9 National Leagues.
The League successes were crucial because that is where the money is made. Whereas winning the MacCarthy Cup can incur a serious cost for any County Board, winning a League title can leave a county in the money.
At a time when some counties had a lukewarm attitude to winning the League, Kilkenny went full on in the competition, not necessarily with money matters in mind.
The main objective at any time would be, obviously, to build a team for the championship.

But if a county can turn a victory into a financial bonanza all the better. The last time Kilkenny won the League was in 2018. The considerable returns for Kilkenny from that League success was a cool €258,126.
The League can be a nice little money earner, as the Kilkenny returns would suggest – €232,901 in 2014 (won it); €178,262 in 2015; €201,055 in 2016; €180,654 in 2017; €165,445 in 2019.
Doing good business in the National Hurling League over a sustained period has helped Kilkenny put together a nice little nest egg that now hovers around the €1-million mark.
Hand-in-hand with the players doing well on the field, the County Board ran a good ship off it and carried out a major development at county headquarters, Nowlan Park, among other things.
All the while the county was careful the way it managed its finances. That money accumulated is a business, rainy day fund, call it what you will.

And as we know from the purgatory that was 2020, there were many rainy days during the past year.
County Board treasurer Barry Hickey reported to Convention in December that despite a very testing year financially, Kilkenny still showed a profit in the order of €60,000.
Commercial income held up well at €400,000, and with the debt on Nowlan Park cleared – that was €10,000 per month the previous year – the challenges posed by Covid-19 and so on didn’t impact as badly as they might have.
Of course, such handsome returns from sponsorships/advertisers and grants from Croke Park won’t carry the ’Board forever, but in such trying times you deal with challenges one week, one month, one year at a time.
Kilkenny’s income from gate money in a normal season would be around €180,000. With attendances at club games severely restricted by Covid-19, this figure plummeted to just €1,127 in 2020.

Of course, clubs felt the pinch. Kilkenny is one of the few counties that allows clubs to keep gate money generated from local league matches and matches up to the championship quarter-finals.
Beyond that, all the money from county semi-finals and finals go into the County Board coffers. In normal times, ‘gate money’ can be a decent source of revenue for clubs.
“Were the current situation regarding the Covid-19 virus to continue in 2021, without income from gates, the financial position overall would change dramatically,” was the blunt warning from County Board secretary, Conor Denieffe in his annual report.
However, prudent management over a long number of years has left Kilkenny reasonably armed to face the challenges that lie ahead!

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