Spending on county teams ‘unsustainable’, says Savage
Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon for Westmeath GAA’s finances and indeed those of many county boards, a delegate warned at last night’s county convention in the Mullingar Park Hotel.
Barry Kelly (Mullingar Shamrocks) spoke of a “runaway train” of expenditure, after it was revealed that spending on county teams in Westmeath had more than doubled in 2022, breaking the million euro mark – a total of €1,072,411, as opposed to €528,313 in 2021.
Audited accounts published by the county committee showed that income from gate receipts and provincial/Croke Park grants were up substantially, but these were swallowed up by the level of expenditure on county football and hurling teams.
As a result, Westmeath GAA ended up spending €66,643 more than it took in for the financial year which ended on September 30.
Between player entitlements negotiated by the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA), including increased remuneration for mileage, and the increased costs of accommodation, equipment, petrol/diesel and goods in general, spending was up across the board, and was intensified by Westmeath’s run to Tailteann Cup success.
The extra €500,000 plus spent on county teams included a nearly €43,000 hike in the cost of playing equipment, an extra €27k on medical expenses, and more than double the bill for catering (€164,028 in 2022; €76,370 in 2021).
Spending on players’ travel more than trebled (from €79,149 in 2021 to €258,104 in 2022), while team administration saw just under €87,500 extra spent in 2022. The cost of using training facilities nearly quadrupled from €28,095 in 2021 to €104,660 in 2022.
Encouragingly, Westmeath GAA generated nearly €500,000 in additional income in 2022. Income from Iarmhí TV game streaming quadrupled; gate receipts were up to €512,526 from €190,414 in 2021; nearly €170k in additional Leinster/Central Council grants were recorded, and over €67,000 in extra sponsorship revenue was secured in 2022.
However, this was not enough to cover the full cost of the ballooning expenditure, and outgoing treasurer James Savage admitted that the county committee will be put to the pin of its collar to increase revenue and meet costs in the coming years.
“At what stage does this runaway train stop?” Mr Kelly asked, speaking up amid a generally quiet reaction from delegates to the figures.
He said that he read recently that spending on county teams in Limerick, the current All-Ireland senior hurling champions, had exceeded €2 million. Now Westmeath was spending in excess of €1 million.
“We’ve enjoyed a fair degree of success. I’m not doubting it. But players’ expenses are going to increase again. They’re now entitled to 70c a mile, or €1 per mile if they’re sharing,” the experienced referee told the meeting.
“Surely there’s a concern at the top table about the fact that we’re now spending in excess of €1 million. It seems to be increasing exponentially. I mean, €2 million would have been seen as a ludicrous a few years ago.”
Mr Kelly said that expenditure had risen sharply in the split season despite the fact that no county team was in action or on the road after July.
He argued that the GPA appears to have “got its teeth” into the GAA. While he had “the height of respect” for what the players’ representative body was doing, he wondered if it is “sustainable”.
Mr Kelly added that he was aware that inflation had kicked in, but the sort of spending being talked about far outstripped any expected impact of rising prices for goods and services.
He said that some counties will be “in danger of bankruptcy” in the coming years at this rate.
Mr Savage agreed that the rate of spending increases is “unsustainable going forward”.
“We can’t spend more than we’re taking in,” he said, adding that the county board is exploring various cost cutting measures. One of these already being explored in the context of environmental sustainability is a more strict regime of carpooling for players travelling to games.
“But you’re right,” he told Mr Kelly. “It is a runaway train, and we can’t keep adding carriages.
“It looks like that next year, if we can’t decrease expenditure, we’re going to have increase our income, and both are going to be very difficult to achieve.”
However, he counselled that delegates wait until 2023, “when Covid has washed out completely and we adjust to the new financial year”, for a more “balanced and true” picture.
On a positive note, Mr Savage, responding to a query from Ballycomoyle’s Gerry Farrelly, said that the amount of legacy affiliation debt owed to the county board by clubs had been further reduced by nearly €5,000 in 2022.
This means that the total amount of debt owed by clubs now stands at €30,388.
“It was over €350,000 at one stage, and €166,000 in 2018,” the cisteoir added. “Clubs really need to be complimented for helping us to get that down. Thanks also to Frank [Mescall] and all those who helped to get that figure down over the years.
“That remaining €30,000 will be down to zero in the coming years, and credit is due to every club for coming on board and working with us on payment plans.”