Few brands can resist the lure of a sport that connects on such an emotional level

19th September 2016
By James Brogan

@James_Brogan1 / @Legacy_Consult 

For Dublin and Mayo, the success of their entire season depends on what happens between the white lines today. Yet away from the rough and tumble of the action, sponsors are also gearing up for the final push in their campaign to capture the hearts and minds of the GAA consumer. It’s a battle in which increasingly more brands are staking a claim and the GAA is in a unique position to capitalise.

The GAA has always been progressive in terms of how it promotes our national games across the country and has for some time seen sponsorship as an important tool in achieving this ambition.

As early as the mid-90s, the GAA was benefiting from the considerable marketing budgets of both Bank of Ireland (All-Ireland football championship sponsor) and Guinness (All-Ireland hurling championship sponsor) in presenting the GAA as a modern, forward-thinking organisation to the Irish consumer.

The collaboration worked and, during this period and into the early 2000s, interest in both national games soared with hurling championship benefiting from the genius of Guinness and their ‘Not Men, But Giants’ advertising campaign.

County’s Annual Spend – see interactive infographics here and here.


The commercial minds in the GAA began to understand the value of this uniquely Irish product and in 2008 they performed a masterstroke by altering the sponsorship structure from a single top-tier format to a ‘Champions League’-style multi-sponsorship model which removed the naming rights for both competitions but instead offered three potential companies the opportunity to become a partner of either competition.

It’s a move that only this year has been replicated by the Premier League in the UK who have moved away from Barclays as the title sponsor to a partner-based approach.

Almost on the eve of the recession – and depite misgivings as to whether the size of the Irish marketing could sustain this type of model – the GAA’s strategy has been tremendously successful in increasing its overall sponsorship income with blue chip companies such as Centra, Etihad and AIB investing significant sums. The success has been reinforced by the duration in which some of the brands have continued their sponsorship with Etihad in the eighth year of its partnership, and Eir having recently re-signed a new five-year deal.

The presence of the heavyweight companies in the GAA sponsorship family has in turn enhanced the overall attractiveness of the GAA as a platform for brands to market their products.

We have seen other brands also lace up their boots for a share of the action with Electric Ireland in as sponsors of the minor championships, and John West having recently inked an agreement to become the official sponsor of the National GAA Feile under-14 competitions, the largest underage sports tournament in Europe in 2016.

To understand why companies continue to invest in the GAA is simple. The GAA has over 2,000 clubs in literally every parish in Ireland, offering brands the chance to be part of these communities in a way that no other sports organisation can. Pride of place, parish, loyalty: these are all powerful emotions. By building campaigns around these passions, brands can drive a much deeper connection with consumers compared to traditional advertising.

It’s the opportunity to create that emotional connection with sports fans that has seen the value of the sponsorship industry in this country rise to over €120m in the last 12 months. This has coincided with a fundamental shift in sponsorship marketing away from more traditional types of activation such as branding and corporate hospitality towards a more innovative approach where brands are utilising the sponsorship assets at their disposal to drive engaging content that fans want to see.

For example, you will see some brands such as AIB focus heavily on giving fans insights around the player (Dublin footballer Paul Flynn and Mayo star Aidan O’Shea being their key focus at the moment); while others such as Eir focus on a more fan-centric approach.

The rise of social media and how people consume live sport will continue to shape how brands seek to maximise their sponsorship. The popularity of GAA player endorsements will continue to grow as they become brands in their own right.

The success of AIG’s sponsorship of Dublin GAA has shown the appeal of GAA at a county level. As Dublin continues to forge a powerful commercial offering of its own, the GAA may look to pool sponsorship income generated at county level to even the playing field. Whatever the direction, there is no doubt that few brands can resist the lure of the GAA.

This article was first seen in The Sunday Independent, written by James Brogan, Managing Director, Legacy Consultants

James Brogan