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Ire of the Tiger

In the era of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ from the mid-1990s to 2008, there appeared to be little that could get in the way of the Irish economic juggernaut.

For many years, the Republic of Ireland’s economy was one of Europe’s success stories, expanding at a rate of about 10 per cent per year in the late 1990s before rising by about six per cent per year after the turn of the millennium.

However, the 2008 financial crisis was devastating, and the economy unravelled to such an extent that by the end of January the following year, the national debt had become the riskiest in the euro zone. Meanwhile Northern Ireland, part of the struggling UK economy, was experiencing a downturn of its own.

Seven years on, the financial outlook for the entire island is much brighter, although the irrevocable impact of the economic collapse is that the Irish sports sponsorship market has been squeezed.

Scrutiny of sponsorship euros in the Republic is sharper than ever, and although competition for the top-tier deals has remained buoyant, the death of the Celtic Tiger has lingered like a cloud over the non-premium properties.

“The Irish market during the Celtic Tiger was rampant and properties were probably getting values that they will never see again,” Dr Tony Meenaghan, a professor of marketing at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business in University College Dublin, told SportBusiness International.

“The credit crisis had immense consequences for everything, including the availability of corporate money. Some sponsors had to withdraw from programmes or they limped along within them, but with very little activation.

“Right now, the market is on its way back. It’s not fully back and I doubt it will ever get back to where it was during those heady days.

“However, tier-one sponsorships are being competed for vigorously and in some instances there have been significant increases with renewals.

“Below the top-tier sponsorships, there are a lot of properties that can’t find a sponsor and don’t have any prospects of getting any.”

Speculate to Accumulate

Despite the struggles, Ireland has an enviable track record of innovation in the sports sponsorship sector.

Telecommunications company O2’s ‘Be The Difference’ activation of its partnership with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) gave more than 150,000 fans the opportunity to show their support by sending in recorded team talks that were played to the national team before kick-offs. The campaign, which won numerous awards, also enabled fans’ names to be printed on the back of players’ jerseys.

Meanwhile, Allied Irish Banks’ ‘The Toughest’ campaign, in partnership with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), became a social media phenomenon by testing fans’ loyalties, and there have been numerous GAArelated winners at the European Sponsorship Association awards in recent years.

“Irish sponsorship has always been quite progressive,” Meenaghan added. “The IRFU and Irish provinces have done well in rugby and have become prime properties. Soccer is also popular, although the national team isn’t performing as well as a few years ago.

“The GAA is still dominant and sets standards. Even during the financial crisis, attendances at GAA events held up very well thanks to competitive pricing structures. There are very few markets where indigenous sports still dominate like Gaelic sports do, but there is competition from rugby and soccer.”

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