Soaring ladies football attendances will lead to increased coverage
The difference between reasons and excuses is the difference between reality and dreaming – but sometimes dreams become reality. KTA Archer.
Newspapers are businesses, often very hard-nosed businesses. They exist to sell: sell themselves, and sell goods and services on behalf of those who advertise in their pages. You get your hands dirty with newsprint, figuratively as well as literally.
Papers may promote particular political agendas – that's always been the way – but they don't exist to promote any particular sport.
The reason The Irish News largely reports on Gaelic games is because that's what its/our readership has long, probably always, mostly been interested in.
The reason we've mostly reported on MEN'S Gaelic games is because that's what our readership has been, and is, mostly interested in.
Happily, and I genuinely mean that, times change, and people change.
I can't recall whether or not I committed my opinion to print before, but I certainly have told the occasional annoyed/ irate telephone caller that our level of coverage of female Gaelic games – camogie and ladies football – is largely dictated by our readership.
Obviously some people wanted more coverage of those games – but many more people preferred us to provide coverage of (men's) football and hurling. Readership surveys and sales figures tell us that; or told us that
The same applies to coverage of hurling compared to football, and of coverage of certain counties compared to others.
It would have made no sense for us to devote the same time and space to Cavan hurling as to Antrim hurling, or to Fermanagh football compared to Tyrone football.
Not excuses, reasons.
In the real world, more people are interested in reading about Antrim hurling than about Cavan hurling, so the former will sell more copies of this paper than the latter. Likewise when you consider Tyrone football (county or club) and Fermanagh football, for example. Population is a factor, success comes into it too.
In an ideal world we would have enough reporters and photographers to cover many more games, in many more sports, and sufficient sub-editors to put all the extra pages together – but how many more copies of these mythical bumper editions would we sell? Not enough to cover all the extra cost of paying all those extra salaries.
Yet obviously if you cover less, report on fewer sports and fewer games, there'll be less interest in buying the paper.
It's all about balance, about deploying the available resources effectively.
It's also about responding to public demand and interest.
Clearly, public demand in ladies football is increasing rapidly, given the excellent attendance of 46,268 at Sunday's All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park .
The average TV audience was 303,800, with a peak of 409,700, and a total audience reach of 563,000, accounting for 40 per cent of viewership.
That compares favourably to the men's Dublin-Mayo All-Ireland SFC final, which had an average audience of 1,137,500, a peak of more than 1.3m, and viewership of 80 per cent.
The viewing figures for the women's games might have been even higher had they been on RTE rather than TG4, but that's an argument for another column; besides, wider TV coverage can adversely affect attendances, as the Donegal SFC is finding out.
The always excellent Mary Hannigan of The Irish Times put it very well on Monday, writing: 'When demands for increased coverage of women's sport were habitually countered with arguments about meagre attendances, arguments that weren't entirely unreasonable, it was up to the respective sporting bodies to show a little imagination and energy to promote what they had to offer. The crew behind women's Gaelic football, then, deserve a standing ovation.'
Ladies football has definitely been promoted very well recently.
That attendance at Croke Park was, apparently, more than the ENTIRE attendance for the recent Women's Rugby World Cup, held in Ireland , although that didn't entirely surprise me.
This paper, bizarrely, was declined accreditation for the WRWC; I certainly won't be listening long to any complaints about lack of coverage from us for women's rugby.
The Irish Football Association is working to promote its women's game, with a well-organised media conference ahead of the recent World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland .
I called into that game on my way back up from Dublin, but even with free admission the attendance has a long way to go to reach ladies (gaelic) football levels; Sunday's games should act as an inspiration to other sports, however.
Even so, the reality is that the men's Gaelic games still attract much more interest, but the balance is shifting, and that's genuinely great to see.
Perhaps bringing the Ladies Gaelic Football and the Camogie Associations under the GAA umbrella will help avoid fixture clashes. Double-headers of men's and women's games would help promote the latter – but not for All-Ireland Finals now, of course.
The next few years will be very interesting for women's sport.
Increasing demand for tickets will inevitably lead to increasing ticket prices.
It will be a bittersweet moment for long-time backers of ladies football when tickets to All-Ireland Finals become hard-to-get.
This paper's coverage of ladies football has been consistent and consistently good, thanks largely in recent years to our correspondent Louise Gunn.
Yet I was delighted that we also 'staffed' one of those finals on Sunday, the Intermediate decider between Tyrone and Tipperary, by sending Andy Watters to cover that game.
The priorities for this paper will continue to be men's football, but there may be harder decisions to make about deployment of resources.
Ladies football is certainly going to get mentioned more.
It's a pet hate of mine when radio reporters start talking about a certain sport without actually stating which sport it is, leaving the listener to work out from some clue – the score-line, the names of players or managers, certain terminology – which particular game it is they're talking about.
Mostly the names tell us whether it's men's or women's sport we're hearing about - but perhaps in a few years we'll hear as many references to 'men's football' as to 'ladies football'.