PÁIRC UÍ Chaoimh is keen to host more concerts – and other sporting events – because this is the fastest way to pay off the stadium’s debt, Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan says.
In recent weeks, Cork GAA chiefs suffered a backlash when it was announced that two Munster senior championship matches would be moved to accommodate Ed Sheeran concerts in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the end of April. The knock-on effect is that the Cork hurlers’ Munster SHC clash with Clare will now be played in Thurles on May 1st, while the Cork footballers’ home semi-final against Kerry in the Munster SFC will be held in Páirc Uí Rinn on May 7th.
Cork GAA CEO O’Donovan admits that it’s not the ideal scenario to move championship games from Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but he told this week’s Star Sport Podcast the finance from concerts is a huge help in paying off the stadium's sizable debt.
In 2020 GAA Director General Tom Ryan revealed that the stadium has ‘an underlying long-term debt in the region of €20 million’.
‘The Páirc Uí Chaoimh debt is for a generation,’ O’Donovan said.
‘I think ten to 15 (years) would be reasonable (to pay off the debt). Twenty would be an outside number. We need to get clear of it by then. Concerts allow you to make sudden leaps.
‘There is day-to-day business in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, in meetings and events, albeit limited. There is income from matches, albeit limited. The concerts – or possibly in the future other sporting events – allow you to take a leap, allow you to take a bite out of the mortgage, because if you are just going to pay it back in installments, then it’s 20 years. That’s what concerts allow. It was built in that way, the stadium was paid for in the 70s from that and you need sudden shocks and injections of cash into the business – and that’s what concerts give.’
Given the debt Páirc Uí Chaoimh has, O’Donovan explains that tough decisions must be made. It’s short-term pain for long-term gain and a debt-free stadium.
‘Those are the decisions that we are faced with here: commercial reality versus our games,’ O’Donovan said.
‘My passion is always for the games and that is my modus operandi but in the short-term we have to consider what is the best for our games in the long-term.
‘If we want to put more GDAs on the ground and if we want to invest in more primary schools’ coaching and if we want to invest in Rebel Óg, we need to clear the stadium debt as soon as possible. Ed Sheeran and others are the route to clearing that debt.
‘Unfortunately in the short-term you have to put concerts over games, not to my liking and not done easily, done in discussion with the stadium board and the county executive and there are pros and cons. It is a decision made with a heavy heart and it’s one that we would accept that people are not happy with, but that's’ what it is to be in government, you’re the one that has to make those calls. Some days I have misgivings about it, then I look at the bank repayments and it brings back a cold dose of reality.
‘Our clubs approved the decision to build this stadium, we are where we are and it’s time to fight our way out. We did the best deals for our teams, in context.
‘In this game you are juggling politics, Munster Council, bank debt, our teams, winning games, our supporters and in the end we need to make judgment calls.’
Given how hosting concerts can help pay off Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s debt, it’s understandable that the stadium is open for business, but O’Donovan explained that Cork GAA is not in a position to dictate dates to promoters as the venues work around an artist’s tour schedule.
‘There are competitors in the market and we have a special niche where we can fit outside of Croke Park, in that Croke Park has a different game schedule. They’ll be busy in July with the All-Ireland finals and we’ll be busy in May with the Munster championship, and that’s why these late April concerts are always going to be a challenge,’ he said.
‘We are definitely open for business and have a good relationship with promoters, and those conversations are already happening about 2023 and beyond. It’s an ongoing conversation.
‘The acts go on tours so we don’t get to dictate dates to acts. They are on their tour, they will be coming to London, Europe and so on, and Ireland, so when people say why don’t you put the concert on a week later, it’s not that simple. They are the ones on the schedule, we get offered and then we can pitch up. We have a great tradition here for concerts as well, and it’s a much better facility.’