The League of Ireland (LOI) has been largely ignored by Ireland’s top broadcasters resulting in concern over the future of the game in this country.
RTÉ Group Head of Sport Declan McBennett spoke on the Republic of Irelands domestic league in an interview on The LOI Central Podcast. His reasoning for broadcasting just 15 out of 360 LOI games last season and only one of the 22 games in European runs this season is the lack of interest and fans.
“You need competitive title races; it has got to be competitive. You can’t have a scenario whereby Cork are winning [every season] then fading away, Dundalk are winning, then fade away, Rovers winning, then fade away,” he said.
He goes on to admit that Shamrock Rovers may not fade away as others have done. Tallaght-based Rovers claimed their 18th league title this season, more than any other team.
Domination in Irish soccer may be turning many Irish fans to the too-close-to-call English Premier League as one team typically dominates on Irish shores for the season.
Competition from other sports for viewership may justify the lack of domestic football from our national broadcaster. Rugby has a large following in Ireland, perhaps due to our rugby team’s large presence on the world stage, RTÉ tends to show more games.
This is understandable but still does not justify broadcasting just 15 league games and one European game.
There were some spectacular ties in Europe. Bohemians played host to Stjarnan F.C from Iceland in the Aviva stadium in front of 7,000 home fans who enjoyed brilliant entertaining football.
A Georgie Kelly brace saw the Dublin team knock Iceland’s champions out of the Europa Conference League. The game was a great advertisement for the LOI yet RTÉ let it slip through their fingers.
Soccer in Ireland also faces fierce competition from our indigenous GAA games, hurling, camogie, and football. Monaghan-born McBennett has faced criticism from fans over a supposed preference for GAA, but he disagrees.
“The reality of it is I am not the head of the GAA, I am the head of sport [at RTÉ] and there’s an onus on us to reflect that across the board”.
The League of Ireland has a strong, noisy and passionate army of fans. These fans go to great effort travelling the length and width of the country to watch the games live instead of being stuck in front of the TV on a Friday night.
The fans know the quality they are getting. That’s why they turn up every week.
Facilities, funding, and prize money are poor. The title winner receives just €110,000. The prize money does not do the league’s talent justice and this must be overcome.
To put this into perspective, when Bohemians inserted a clever sell-on clause of 10% in the transfer of Matt Doherty to Wolves, they received a €1.8m windfall when Jose Mourinho’s Spurs purchased the Irish star. It would take Bohemians 17 seasons of winning the league undisputed to win the same amount through prize money.
A large overhaul of the FAI and its rewarding system is more beneficial than RTÉs broadcasting of games, although this is still important to the future of the game here. John Delaney’s tenure as FAI Chief Executive saw him take home a salary of €360,000 at its height, over three times what the league winners receive as a reward for being the best club team in Ireland.
It has been confirmed since Delaney’s departure from the role in 2019 that the former head of the FAI clocked up personal spending of just under €1 million, €50,000 of which was spent sole a birthday party of his.
If this can be stopped from happening again and transparency between Irish football’s governing body and its clubs and fans is increased, the sky is the limit for the LOI. It could prove to be Irish football’s hidden gem.