GAA Football

Study: The cost of following football

With another hike in the price for tickets to the All-Ireland final having been imposed by the GAA this year, Cahair O'Kane took a look at exactly how much it costs supporters to follow their county during the championship…

The cost of taking a family to GAA championship matches continues to rise. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.

THE summer of 2019 began with one of the most phenomenal displays of sporting support we’re ever likely to see.

Somewhere between four and five thousand Mayo fans drove up to Shannon airport, hopped on airplanes and looked down at the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Gaelic Park in New York.

On its own, it was a trip that cost an absolute bare minimum of €2,000. But this was just typical Mayo, really.

When they went to Tuam for an FBD League game on a cold January afternoon, there were 3,000 of them headed down the N17.

They landed in Newry in the middle of the summer and outnumbered the home support for a qualifier in Páirc Esler. It was a 7pm throw-in on a Saturday evening, leaving many with two options: shell out to stay, or arrive home when the clocks were well into early Sunday morning.

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WHAT IT ACTUALLY COSTS

Based on a family of two adults, two children
Mileage based on diesel car and current fuel price
Essential overnight stay is defined as supporters not able to be home until at least 11.30pm

Dublin
Cost: £1,194 (€1,290)
With overnight stays: £1,314 (€1,420)
Games played: 8
Tickets: €780 (£720)
Miles travelled: 350 (564km)
Fuel: £60 (€65)
Essential overnight stays: 0
Possible overnight stays: 1
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“Packed bars from early in the afternoon, one bus after another emptying enthusiastic visitors out onto footpaths, and a main stand that more closely resembled MacHale Park by throw-in. There’s a unique kind of mania that Mayo fans bring to the GAA, and on Saturday night Newry got a small window into their world,” wrote Neil Loughran in The Irish News’ match report.

They’ve basically been on the road now for eight seasons, chasing up to Croke Park, one August into the next in their quest to bring what is now a 68-year wait to an end.

Dublin killed their hopes in the most ruthless of ways last weekend, but as winter settles in, the thought of those FBD League games will act like a hot whiskey to their cockles. January can never come soon enough in Mayo.

But to it all, there is a cost that grows with each passing year.

Even excluding the New York trip, to have followed Mayo through the championship alone would have cost a family of two adults and two children around €1,350 (£1,257).

That’s a conservative estimate based on the price of tickets, fuel, food and, only where absolutely essential, an overnight stay.

Mayo footballers were on the road six times this summer, hitting Killarney, Limerick and Croke Park. If a family had decided to take a stay out of those trips, as well as New York, they’re looking at upwards on €4,500 for the championship.

They’d have spent €590 (£545) on match tickets alone. Had they reached the final, you could add €360 to that figure, given that the GAA does not offer any concessions for its All-Ireland deciders.

Rob Murphy – host of the Mayo News’ exceptionally popular weekly GAA podcast – reckons there are around 500 fanatics who have been at every single one of the county’s games this year. Although it counts as work officially, and so he doesn’t bear the same cost as others, he’s missed only one game himself, the league game with Tyrone.

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WHAT IT ACTUALLY COSTS

Mayo
Cost: £1,257 (€1,358)
With overnight stays: £2,007 - £4,250 (€2,166 - €4,500) (inc New York)
Games played: 9
Tickets: €590 (£545)
Miles travelled (minus NYC): 1,490 (2,398km)
Miles travelled (inc NYC): 4,597 (7,398km)
Fuel: £255 (€275)
Essential overnight stays: 1
Possible overnight stays: 6
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No county has brought greater colour, passion and relentlessness around the country. While Murphy believes fatigue won’t set in until such a time as the All-Ireland hopes die away, but that there’s a definite sense in Mayo of being taken for granted.

“The earlier part of this team’s emergence, it was a tricky balance and it did take a lot of money out of the county.

“You’d see it in the businesses, there was a downturn on the weekends Mayo were playing and that money went elsewhere.

“There’s an awareness within Mayo fans that they’re bringing an awful lot of money to the GAA. Look at the Galway-Dublin semi-final last year, or Kerry-Tyrone this year.”

* * * * * * * *

MAYO weren’t even the hardest hit this year. That honour falls, largely on the basis of driving just shy of 2,000 miles around the country this summer, to Tyrone.

The fact that they started in the Ulster preliminary round and fell at the semi-final stage, meaning they had to plough through three qualifier games, left them playing 10 matches in total.

Including the All-Ireland final, Dublin will only have played 8 and Kerry just 7, barring a replay.

To go to all 10 of Tyrone’s games, it would have cost just over £900 for just the match tickets and fuel alone. That’s not taking in any food or the need to stay.

In the space of just eight weeks, they were in Longford, Kildare, Roscommon and down twice to Croke Park. In all, traipsing after them with the two kids for the summer would have cost a minimum of £1,400.

You’d think that Dublin’s relative lack of travel would keep their costs down, and it does, given that their average fuel spend for the championship would have been just £60 (compared to Tyrone’s £328).

But the All-Ireland final has become such a costly business that the €360 it’ll take to take a family of four through the gates of Croke Park on September 1 acts as a complete leveller.

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WHAT IT ACTUALLY COSTS

?Kerry
Cost: £1,381 (€1,491)
With overnight stays: £1,835 (€1,981)
Games played: 7
Tickets: €770 (€713)
Miles travelled: 1,282 (2,063km)
Fuel: £220 (€238)
Essential overnight stays: 0
Possible overnight stays: 5
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Of the four All-Ireland semi-finalists, their estimated outlay of just under £1,200 for the family is the lowest, but the gap between that and Tyrone’s £1,400 isn’t colossal.

But that all depends on overnight stays. Given that the price of the average hotel room in Dublin now costs €150 per night, and usually higher (often significantly so) on big matchdays, it could comfortably sting to the tune of £2,000 by the time all is done.

The GAA hasn’t gone in as heavy on its ‘Nothing Beats Being There’ slogan this year, perhaps realising that fans are arguing the point.

The 33,848 attendance at Tyrone-Kerry on Sunday can be put down to a range of factors.

When the price of tickets is thrown up, the GAA will defend the €50 tax for an All-Ireland semi-final by comparing it against other (usually professional) sports.

But it’s not just about the singular cost. A Tyrone family of four (assuming the kids are U16s) would already have spent £584 on match tickets alone in the space of just over two months. It’s a huge hit on the pocket out of a succession of pay packets.

Since 2012, Mayo have played 54 championship games. That includes four All-Ireland finals (and a replay).

Their fall from provincial grace has sent them off around the back roads of the qualifiers in each of the last four summers.

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WHAT IT ACTUALLY COSTS

Tyrone
Cost: £1,399 (€1,510)
With overnight stays: £1,999 (€2,157)
Games played: 10
Tickets: €630 (£584)
Miles travelled: 1,915 (3,082km)
Fuel: £328 (€354)
Essential overnight stays: 0
Possible overnight stays: 4
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The lack of recognition not just for their supporters, but for the most loyal fans of every county, is something that sticks in the craw.

“The season ticket is great and the access to an All-Ireland ticket that they provide is a major step forward from where we were in the ‘90s and ‘00s,” says Murphy.

“But we live in a world where people can get a season ticket to Borussia Dortmund for €200-odd. We have an amateur sporting organisation here that can’t provide some sort of structure like that for families going to every game.

“It should be encouraged and they should be getting it at a fraction of the price of someone turning up on the day for their first championship game.”

Eddie Brennan had a slap at the GAA on Twitter during the week, calling the €90 price of All-Ireland tickets “shocking” and calling for them to be split into different pricing categories.

That price is up €10 from last year, and it had only been raised from €70 in 2011, representing more than a 25 per cent hike in less than a decade.

Attendances at football have been falling consistently in recent years, and this year’s will have recovered to show a small increase because of one thing and one thing only – Mayo.

Banking on one team being successful enough to uphold the numbers is a loose strategy. They won’t be there forever.

“The Mayo fans have had this great journey, not thanks to the GAA, but to this group of players who are driving them on to keep following.

“If anything happens to this team, the frustrations will grow and they’ll drop away, and the GAA will be sitting scratching their heads going: ‘Jaysus, where’d the Mayo fans go?’”

Rising costs and falling numbers. Something isn’t adding up.

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