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Rovers’ European Commission

Both Shamrock Rovers and UCD are looking to progress tonight to the quarter final of this year’s FAI Ford Cup with the ultimate aim of reaching and winning this year’s final in Aviva Stadium. The winners, as well as collecting the trophy, will win €50,000 in prize money and gain entry into the Europa League qualification process next season. However, the main prize in Irish football is to win the league, which provides a cheque of €100,000 this season, and a ticket into the lucrative Champions League qualification process. This season Shamrock Rovers have managed to play in both European qualifying competitions bringing valuable experience to the playing squad, publicity for the Hoops and, essentially for the club’s future progression, a significant financial boost.

It is clear from the player’s post match comments that they enjoy the involvement of playing in Europe pitting their skills and stamina against teams from continental Europe. The team spirit fostered on the trips to Estonia, Denmark and Serbia can only help the Hoops as they move into the crucial last two months of the domestic season. A win tonight would increase the possibility of extending the domestic season into a further month with a trip to Lansdowne Road and the cup final in early November.

Aside from the footballing benefits for Rovers, the extended run in Europe has brought a wealth of media publicity to the club and will bring a certain amount of monetary wealth from the large attendances and UEFA prize money. Whilst the club had not budgeted to progress past the first round in Europe, those involved in the club knew the benefits that the win over Flora Tallinn in the second qualifying round brought. Club chairman, Jonathan Roche, noted that the 1-0 aggregate win over the Estonian champions was “good for cash flow which is great for us, but more importantly, it’s the profile for the next month.”

That profile was raised by Rovers playing their six games in Europe to date, while coinciding with most of the close season for all the main European Leagues. As such, the Rovers European odyssey was the main footballing story in Ireland as the English, Scottish, Italian and Spanish leagues were on siesta. Four of Rovers’ games were carried live on Irish television with Setanta picking up the away games in Tallinn and Copenhagen while RTÉ’s cameras carried the live the home games against Copenhagen and Partizan. The coverage showcased Shamrock Rovers competing at his high level in Europe and the exposure of having the live TV cameras here in Tallaght was advertisement that money can’t buy. RTÉ took the opportunity to have Liam Brady in the studio in Tallaght and Kenny Cunningham in the commentary booth under the East Stand roof showing the seriousness that they were taking of the matches. Approximately 170,000 viewers watched RTÉ’s coverage of the Copenhagen game with nearly 7,000 watching online on rte.ie. The viewing figures for the Partizan game were less but were still a healthy six figure mark.

Photo: George Kelly

The Irish newspapers gave extensive coverage to Rovers’ European adventure. Five of the daily newspapers flew staff over to Tallinn and six travelled to Copenhagen with a number also travelling to Belgrade last Thursday. As Rovers supporters know, none of these trips were particularly cheap with independent travel required for two of the three trips. It was a reasonable investment by the newspapers when their industry is not in the most robust of health. For each of the six games, there was a pre-match press briefing the day before the game. This meant on match day there was significant copy given to the preview of the game with Rovers manager Michael O’Neill’s thoughts along with the quotes from a couple of the players. With the good performances and good results, it also meant decent match report coverage the next day and even follow up articles with player quotes in the newspapers two days after the game. Knocking out Flora Tallinn also put Rovers on the front page of the Estonian newspapers!

The story of Shamrock Rovers in Europe got decent radio coverage on RTÉ and even on Newstalk with the Shamrock Rovers website, Facebook page and Twitter feeds getting significant traffic due to the games. The Hoops put up information in Danish and Serbian on their official website to satisfy the large number of fans from their opponents who were logging on to see who Shamrock Rovers were. In the last six weeks, Rovers increased their Twitter followers by 25% due in no small part by the interest in the European fixtures and the club’s Facebook ‘likes’ now stand at over 13,000.

The sold out signs were up in Tallaght Stadium for the Copenhagen game with a 6,000 capacity crowd and there were crowds in excess of 5,000 for both the Flora and Partizan home games. These are excellent attendances considering that between the three opponents there were probably less than 100 away fans at all the games combined. These bumper home attendances are a timely financial boost for the club in the middle of the season netting the club in excess of €150,000 from gate receipts alone. Added to that total is revenue from food sales, match programme purchases and merchandising as well as money from the TV coverage from RTÉ and Danish TV3.

The prize money from UEFA is only paid at the end of the season so the revenue generated from the home games is important in paying the expenses of travelling to the away games. Whilst Rovers didn’t have the massive expense that Saint Patrick’s Athletic had with their trips to Iceland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, none of Rovers’ trips were short haul. A charter flight was only affordable for the trip to Copenhagen with scheduled flights used for the journeys to both Estonia and Belgrade with the Hoops flying back through Frankfurt last Friday. The official travelling party had over 35 people including players, management, back room staff and officials and that is an expensive travel bill when accommodation is included with the flights. A conservative estimate for each trip would be around €50,000.

Of course, these travel expenses will be offset by the prize money for winning the league and also the prize money from UEFA. The cash reward for winning the Airtricity League last year €200,000. On top of the FAI prize money, Rovers will also received €330,000 from UEFA as champions and had over €200,000 at stake when they played and beat FC Flora. Manager Michael O’Neill knew the significance of the win in Estonia when he spoke touchline after the 0-0 draw in Tallinn. “The financial element is huge, it’s double what you get for winning the league,” said O’Neill. “The upside is that it is not money we budgeted for this year so its very positive to have that income stream.”

The aim for Irish clubs in Europe is to qualify for the group stages of the competition. However, the real prize would be to qualify for the Champions League rather than the Europa League as the blue riband event has a staggering amount of money on offer for participation. Rovers fell at the second last hurdle when they were beaten by Copenhagen but if they had overcome the Danish and then Czech champions in the play off round, it would literally have been like winning the Euro Millions lottery. When Partizan qualified for the Champions League group stages last year they netted themselves €7.2m for simply turning up and losing every group game. The Serbian champions would have earned €400,000 if they had drawn one game and if they had managed to win any game by overcoming either Arsenal, Braga or Shaktar Donetsk they would have earned a further €800,000 for each win. This would be massive money for Rovers who currently operate with a turnover in excess of €2m.

The prize money for the Europa League is appreciably less than the Champions League but it still considerable for a League of Ireland club. Rovers would have gained direct entry into the group stages if having lost to Copenhagen they were beaten in the play off round. Last year, it was Juventus who knocked the Hoops out of the Europa League qualification process. The ‘Bianconeri’, like all clubs who qualified for the Europa League group stages, received a cool one million euro for reaching that stage. Juve managed to draw all six of their group games getting €70,000 for each and every draw and would have got double that for each win. There is also additional money depending on the commercial value of the media rights and some additional factors.

So Shamrock Rovers were essentially playing for €1m in last Thursday’s game against Partizan. Not exactly small change. However, after the drama of the last month or so in Europe and Thursday’s encounter in the heat of Belgrade, Rovers need to put all thoughts of Europe, the large press coverage or financial earnings out of their mind tonight and concentrate on making it to the quarter final of the FAI Ford Cup.

Published in Hoops Scene 15 (Shamrock Rovers v UCD AFC, FAI Ford Cup, 29 August 2011)

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