By Liam Gaskin

As we face into one of the most important games in Irish football next Sunday when Ireland plays Poland in the Aviva Stadium, how fares the FAI with its sponsorship?

In a recent conversation with Max Hamilton, the former Commercial and Marketing Director, of the FAI and the man responsible for sponsorship and ticketing, I asked how easy was it to convince existing sponsors to continue supporting the national team when, up until recently, their form was pretty miserable. His response was that “the sponsors on board were always in it for the long run and not for instant success”.

It is obvious that the top tier sponsors such as 3, UMBRO and Carlsberg, have taken a long term strategic view and it obviously works for them. The interest in the international side is such that any newspaper circulation manager will tell you that the day after an Irish game there is always a spike in sales. And if they get to a major tournament it is gold dust in terms of circulation and advertising revenue.

The sponsors of the FAI are not just buying into the Irish Team but a conduit to the fans and when one considers that more people in Ireland play soccer than any other sport you can understand why.

Over the years I have negotiated a number of sponsorships with Max and would consider him to be a tough negotiator but with a very clear understanding of what my clients need from the relationship. Rarely would we argue over assets in the contract – it would always be the cost. Unfortunately, this is rare as in most instances property owners almost see providing the correct commercial assets for a sponsor to fully exploit their investment as giving up their children. The sponsorship team, unlike others, are very proactive and responsive to reasonable requests. They constantly challenge a sponsor to do things differently and with imagination.

I also feel a great asset of the FAI is their ability to not only sense the financial pressure their fans are under but to respond to it with innovative plans and ticket prices.  “ I recognise the fact that we don’t have a God given right to expect a fan or a company to support the FAI. From my early days as an advertising exec I knew if we don’t make it work for our stakeholders then it doesn’t work for us,” says Max.

“We have just introduced a new ticket, the “FAI Hat-Trick” it covers  ROI v Poland/Scotland/England and it sold well in the run up to Christmas. We expect to add 3,000 to 12,000 full Season Ticket holders on the back of it. That’s good for soccer, the fans and our sponsors “

Other innovations over the last couple of years which added value to sponsors and opened the door to new ones was the introduction of Summer matches which brought teams such as Liverpool and Celtic to the AVIVA. These were very important to maintain the grass roots interest in the game at a time when the International performances were pretty dismal.

With the dream team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane on board and a renewed optimism in the Irish Team, what does 2015 and beyond look like for the FAI?

“Well we are delighted to have successfully renewed our relationship with SSE Airtricity as title sponsor of the League of Ireland for another two years and Lucozade as official sports drink. Also several new FAI sponsorship deals in key categories are done or just about done and key new sponsors in the Financial Services and Retail categories”

So soccer sponsorships and the FAI appear to be going from strength to strength, despite minor hiccups on and off the pitch and I would suggest it is down to the FAI’s ability to listen to and respond to their fans and their sponsors.

NOTE. Max Hamilton departed the FAI to return to the UK for family reasons in December. I wish him good fortune and continued success.

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