Cahair O’Kane: Just because the GAA can charge €100 for an All-Ireland ticket doesn’t mean it should

€100 for an All-Ireland ticket with no gluten free or vegetarian option promotes a policy of exclusion. It says to parents of children that stream on to pitches at the final whistle every weekend of the year that you have a choice between breaking the bank or breaking hearts. It says ‘you’re too poor for this, sorry’. That shouldn’t be. Not us.

The Uefa Champions League final took place at Wembley Stadium
Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid fans were able to purchase Champions League final tickets for £60 under UEFA's Fan First scheme. The GAA's decision to increase All-Ireland final tickets to €100 a time is not a good look. (Zac Goodwin/PA)

ALMOST one-third of the people inside Wembley Stadium on Saturday night rocked up to the gates and picked a side.

That’s if they even did that.

Of the 86,600 tickets for the game, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund got 25,000 tickets each.

Yet 26,000 seats were set aside for UEFA, its commercial partners.

The Champions League final has become like so many sporting events.

While the fans did a superb job of creating an atmosphere, it has become a corporate night out.

As the second half kicked off, three entire blocks of seats right in the middle of the pitch were completely empty.

It took until the hour mark, a full fifteen minutes, for it to return to capacity.

Those tickets cost £610 a pop.

Anyone that is happy to miss 15 minutes of the game has no business being at a Champions League final.

UEFA offered categories of tickets at £430 and £160 as well.

But even they rewarded the loyalty of the core support base of both teams.

Those 25,000 tickets received by registered fans of the two clubs were sold for £60 a time under UEFA’s Fan First scheme.

A couple of days after news broke of Dortmund’s controversial new partnership with arms manufacturer Rheinmetall, the GAA slipped out its own Friday afternoon bad news press release.

The price of a ticket for this year’s All-Ireland football and hurling finals will increase to €100.

Now, in many ways, the GAA deserves credit for the way it manages the finals.

For last year’s deciders, there were 82,006 tickets available.

57,449 were put out for general distribution and another 10,528 were already paid for on premium or long-term lease.

No matter who is in the All-Ireland finals, every club in the country receives two tickets.

It is unique and ensures that every grass-cutting, jersey-washing, teamsheet-filling, hurl-carrying member of the GAA has a reasonable chance of getting a ticket for a final at some point in their lifetime.

A very modest 1,200 tickets went to GAA sponsors. Nothing unfair about that at all.

All-Ireland finals are a sporting occasion like no other.

The concrete terracing beneath your feet will conduct enough electricity in two hours to power you for months.

The GAA haven’t increased ticket prices for the final since 2019 and the previous time was 2010.

Their press release on Friday referenced discounts during the Allianz Leagues, for which prices actually went up.

The season ticket has been reduced to rubble.

Given how many games of greater significance are still to follow once they are over, the provincial championships can only be seen as overpriced.

A €50 round robin group package seemed like good value but the absence of fixture information before it starts has precluded so many people from buying them.

The reticence to give fans information is crazy. Even if throw-in times need tweaked for TV, there’s no reason why the GAA couldn’t have said a month ago that Dublin-Mayo will be in Limerick next Saturday, and allow people to plan and budget.

All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final tickets will go up by €5 and the final is up from €90 to €100.

It is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The All-Ireland finals would sell out twice over every year. If tickets were €150, they’d sell out. If they were €200, they’d sell out.

But that’s not the point.

In 2011, the Bank of America decided to charge their customers $5 a month to use their debit cards.

They didn’t need to do it. They just wanted to see how far they could push and get away with it.

Writing for Harvard Business Review three months later, after the bank had reversed their decision, entrepreneur Bill Taylor summed up the approach.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

If a once-in-a-generation team like Donegal or Armagh reach a final, it is something you cannot afford to miss.

For many people, that will mean ignoring that they cannot afford to go.

But price increases only march the All-Ireland finals further into the corporate world they clearly wish to inhabit.

Children and OAPs are offered no concessions.

You can purchase a ticket for Hill 16 at €55. You will not find many children or pensioners in there.

So it is €100 for a seat.

That sets a baseline of €400 for a family with two kids, before you start into a day in Dublin.

In terms of the decline in attendances, some of the worst affected counties are those that have enjoyed relative success in recent years.

Tyrone were once the best-supported county in Ireland. They flocked everywhere after minor teams and U21s, never mind the seniors.

Now, Omagh is a ghost-town on matchdays. The seats in the two end blocks in Healy Park’s main stand are rarely ever sat on.

Mayo’s support has dwindled. Dublin’s core of fans is shrinking rather than expanding.

Those fans have taken on serious expense over years and decades.

At some point, you’re bound to weigh it all up and decide that it’s just not worth it.

On the first weekend of March, with rain pelting down in Castlebar, there were 9,160 people at Mayo’s league game with Roscommon.

On Saturday past, for an All-Ireland championship game between the same two rivals, there were 8,597 people in Dr Hyde Park.

That is totally backwards.

But people just cannot afford to go every week, and they’re taking their financial rest now with the games that don’t really matter, creating a massive lull around the entire competition.

The round robin series is the focus of much debate but so much of it comes down to the affordability of the GAA season as a whole for people.

The GAA has forever resisted dynamic pricing for All-Ireland finals, where the better seats cost more and the furthest away cost less.

The AFL’s Grand Final, a comparable indigenous sport, offers its cheapest concession tickets at around €95 (£80).

In total, there are seven categories of tickets, each with concession tickets available, right up to around €270 (£230).

But the average annual wage in Australia is around €82,000 (£70,000).

In the north of Ireland, it is just €38,600 (£32,900).

In the Republic, it’s around €45,000 (£38,000).

For me, the pricing structure is entirely Dublin-centric.

The greater the cost of the tickets, the more it pushes All-Ireland finals down a corporate path, out of reach for people.

€100 for an All-Ireland ticket with no gluten free or vegetarian option promotes a policy of exclusion.

It says to parents of children that stream on to pitches at the final whistle every weekend of the year that you have a choice between breaking the bank or breaking hearts.

It says ‘you’re too poor for this, sorry’.

That shouldn’t be. Not us.

Just because the GAA can charge €100 for a ticket doesn’t mean it should.