The poll that I ran on this site a few weeks back about naming rights at McHale Park produced an interesting outcome. The result proved to be surprisingly even, in that each of the three options listed attracted a roughly equivalent amount of support. On a first-past-the-post basis, the No camp – with 36% of the vote – carried the day but 32% were in favour of selling the naming rights while a further 33% said they might consider doing so if the price was right.
The outcome of the poll got me thinking as to whether or not this is just another indicator of the very changed economic climate in which we now find ourselves. As supporters, we tend towards idealism and the fact that Gaelic games are still largely an amateur activity means that idealism is something that us GAA supporters can often wear on our sleeves, making it all the easier to wave around at supporters of professional codes such as soccer and rugby. I had expected to see evidence of this idealism in the poll on naming rights and so wouldn’t have been surprised to see 90% of the vote going to the ‘No’ camp. Instead, close to two-thirds of voters expressed at least conditional support for the notion of accepting cash in exchange for allowing McHale Park to take on the moniker of a commercial sponsor.
It’s certainly the case that most people’s views about the Irish economy have been turned on their head since the summer. Over the past six months or so, we’ve had a truckload of ever more depressing economic news dumped on us, with the likes of RTÉ and the Irish Times almost tripping over themselves with glee as they try to outdo each other with the number of times they can mention the ‘R’ word on any given day. Mind you, recent developments can’t have left many of us with much optimism as regards where the Irish economy is headed or the ability of those in government to do anything other than make a catastrophic situation worse.
In this context, it’s worth noting that the McHale Park redevelopment was planned during that sunny era when most of the country still believed that continued national prosperity could be achieved through the pouring of ever larger amounts of concrete. When the County Board lodged their planning application for the redevelopment in late 2006, the cost of the project – which then was set to include a museum and a gym under the pitch – was put at €10 million. At that time, County Board Chairman James Waldron said that funding for the redevelopment would come from “the Government, GAA, corporate and fundraising efforts”.
The latest estimate I’ve seen mentioned talks about a cost of €16 million but there no longer appears to be any mention of the subterranean gym – a new stand, a few new bogs and a bit of general spit and polish seems to be what’s on the agenda now. But it’s still a major project and the major question I have is how is it being funded and what does the cost mean in terms of the County Board having sufficient ready cash to fund other activities, notably the training of our county teams?
If you look again at that 2006 statement, it’s fairly obvious that three of the four avenues identified for the funding of the project no longer look so hot. The Government is well on its way to bankrupting the nation so I can’t see them spending any more public money on a project such as this (unless there’s any spare Lotto cash lying around), the corporate sector is now focused on cost-cutting and general survival so there’s unlikely to be any big wad of cash there either (and, by extension, there’s unlikely to be anyone offering large sums for naming rights) and the climate for fundraising is the harshest it’s been in a generation.
As regards the latter, the County Board – bless ‘em! – recently launched a sponsorship scheme relating to the redevelopment, which has both an individual supporter and a corporate element. But they did so with precious little fanfare – I only stumbled across it by accident on their godawful website and I’ve yet to see it mentioned anywhere else – and they’re asking punters to come up with cash not just in the month of January (the worst month of the year to be coming looking for money off anyone) but in the month of January 2009, where most people are sure to be far more focused on keeping their jobs and ensuring that outgoings are kept to the absolute minimum. In this climate, I cannot see how the County Board’s offer can hope to pull in the kind of money they’re envisaging it will.
That leaves the GAA’s own coffers and I’m not informed or qualified enough to pass comment on the GAA’s ability to fund a project of this kind out of its own resources. What I will say, though, is that the GAA’s revenues are unlikely to prove immune to the downturn and I would be surprised if we didn’t see a sharp downturn in gate receipts this year. The man running Croke Park has already gone on record to say that he expects to see less money coming in this year. If he’s right and the GAA does experience falling revenues then this will obviously limit the amount the organisation is able to dish out. Under such a scenario, it’s easy to imagine that projects such as the McHale Park one could come under pressure.
How much our own County Board will be expected to stump up is also relevant in this context, in particular how much they’re having to borrow to fund the project. A report in the Mayo News back in October put this figure at a whopping €9 million, at which point the County Board Treasurer admitted that they were “very strapped for cash”. I doubt if Mr Lambe is any less sanguine about their bank balance three months on.
I hope the County Board does have the necessary funds to see this project through and that it can be completed without anyone being saddled with large debts. Whether it should have been started at all is another day’s work – underused stadia is an issue for the GAA right around the country – but I for one wouldn’t care to see an unfinished stand at McHale Park become, like all those abandoned, half-completed housing schemes that now pock-mark the country, yet another totem of Ireland’s 21st century economic collapse. I’d care even less, however, to see the project become such a strain on County Board finances that it was unable to provide adequate funding for team training. Seen in this light, it could well be that naming rights at McHale Park are, in these troubled times, the least of our worries.