The Allianz Football League starts this weekend and may well return record gate receipts for the season.
Last year’s revenues for the competition, due to be published next week, show them coming within €29 of equalling the current high mark of €3,604,868, set in the last year of the economic boom in 2007.
That figure (before deductions) from 16 years ago is all the more remarkable when you add to the calculations that there have been a number of ticket price rises during that time.
There may have been an impact from the 2007 opening weekend fixture between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park, the first match played under floodlights at the ground and which attracted a capacity attendance.
Nonetheless, there was the identical pairing two years later, also with a full house, which didn’t prevent lower gate receipts for the 2009 season but by then the economy was in freefall.
It is well acknowledged at this stage that the league as a competition is more meaningful for many counties than the championship.
Perhaps the Tier 2 Tailteann Cup will change that if it becomes a priority for counties unlikely to encounter success in provincial championships. At present the league provides that outlet with its possibility of progress and divisional silverware.
That process of engagement is likely to be intensified given the now tangible link between league performance and championship allocation.
Unsurprisingly the revenues are tilted significantly towards Division One. Last year’s figures show the top flight taking twice as much as the other three divisions combined.
Given the robust nature of last season’s gate receipts, it is likely that the 2023 football league will set a new record.
One potential problem may be the presence of Dublin in Division Two for the first time in 15 years. Although the ‘Spring Series’ of league fixtures at Croke Park had receded from the enthusiastic early levels of a decade ago, there were still better attendances than would be expected at the county ground, Parnell Park.
Whereas this weekend’s opening match between Dublin and Kildare should draw a good crowd, other opponents may not be as box office.
The league is an unusual competition in that it gathers revenues centrally and redistributes partly on the basis of need rather than the strict size of a county’s attendances. This helps to raise the income of lower-division teams, who wouldn’t attract big crowds.
The 2022 distributions from the football league ranged from Division One champions Kerry and finalists Mayo with €185,001 and €157,405 to half of the counties receiving between €28,000 and €40,000.
This upbeat return will come as a relief to Croke Park after a couple of years of economic shock, caused by the pandemic and its lockdowns. Two years ago, it was revealed to general gloom that revenues had fallen from the record high of 2019′s €74 million to €31 million – a plunge of €42.5 million after a year of empty venues in a championship kept going by Government subvention.
Last year, the consolidated losses for both 2020 and 2021 were announced as €25.2 million, a sum that GAA finance director Ger Mulryan suggested might take up to 15 years to pay off in such a manner that the association’s activities didn’t suffer.
With the exception of those two years, football league attendances and revenue have been generally buoyant over the past decade. Even in 2020, the figure taken at turnstiles wasn’t too far down at €2,006,392, as most of the matches were played in the weeks before lockdown even if the remainder had to go ahead behind closed doors the following October.
As part of the record-breaking revenues in 2019 – driven by big overall gate receipts, greatly assisted by the estimated €3 million additional income, brought about by that year’s All-Ireland football replay, which saw Dublin win the five-in-a-row against Kerry – €3,479,138 was taken during the football league, just marginally behind 2022.