A few weekends ago, a few friends and I ventured up to the Sportsground for the Connacht and Toulouse Heineken Cup game.
None of us would be regular attendees at the venue, but the fact that it was Connacht’s maiden voyage in the competition, and that it was a Saturday night game added to the novelty factor.
Connacht took a good beating by one of the best teams in Europe that night, and while some of the oval ball play was lively, what impressed us most was the razzmatazz and the sense of occasion that was everywhere to be seen.
There was a real buzz around the place - drummers and stilt walkers before the game and live music from a local up-and-coming band Kanyu Tree at half time. People could have a drink from a plastic cup in the stand or on the terraces if they wanted, and the mood and atmosphere was very progressive, positive, and exciting.
Admittedly it was a massive night for Connacht Rugby, but those in charge of organising the event had made a really huge effort to help the fans get into a good mood and create a positive vibe. The focus was not just on the game itself, but on creating a really positive and enjoyable occasion for those in attendance.
The organisers wanted to give the paying punters as the Yanks say - “A bigger bang for their buck”. If that happens, you will get repeat business.
At €30 - €33 if you purchased online - the tickets were not cheap, but at least you felt as if your custom was valued by the effort made to enhance the sporting event.
Coming away from the game we could not help discussing how the GAA, at both a local and national level, could pick up a few tips on how to improve their match day experience for their supporters and perhaps some new ones.
Stark contrast in Kiltoom
The next day we were on the road again and drove to Kiltoom in Roscommon for an afternoon game played with a round ball.
It was the biggest club game in the province for 2011 and the dissimilarity between the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon was manifest.
The lack of hype and promotion of the Connacht club final and the day itself as an occasion was made all the more obvious to us by what we had experienced at the Showgrounds the evening before.
It was €15 to get into the Kiltoom pitch and the archetypical brass band belted out a few tunes on the pitch for 15 minutes prior to the game starting. And that was it. Make your own craic after that.
No other razzmatazz, thank you. Just sit down quietly lads and lassies and wait until the throw-in. Fair play to ye and thanks for coming.
That is what we are accustomed to in the GAA. The demographic of the men - and it is mainly men - organising the games decrees we would want nothing more, or get anything more.
Normally at local GAA venues and at NFL and NHL games you get a bit of diddily music over the speakers to pass the time before throw-in. Belting out a few tunes from the Black Eyed Peas or Rihanna would be frowned on. The traditionalists would not like it.
But that needs to change if the GAA wants to entice new fresh supporters to attend games. With the deep recession we are in, and likely to be in for the foreseeable future, people will not spend their limited disposable income going to live games unless they feel they are going to get good value for their money.
No sport organisation can guarantee its supporters a riveting game every time they attend a fixture, but they should be trying to at least make the day out as attractive as possible for those who do attend.
It is an exceedingly competitive market for people’s discretionary expenditure and, if the GAA want to keep bums on seats in 2012 and beyond, it needs to be constantly looking at what it is offering customers - not just expecting them to turn up as they have done in the past.
People’s spending power is greatly reduced and their expectations of what they should get for their spend has changed too.
GAA supporters now expect to be entertained to some degree before a game and at half time and, if they do not feel that some effort is being made to do so, they will vote with their feet.
Hopefully next season in the national leagues and at local championship games both the Galway hurling and football boards will be proactive and innovative and introduce some new initiatives for all their games. They do not have to be too radical, but there is scope for improvement.
Perhaps a trip up to the Sportsground for a Heineken Cup game would be an eye-opener.