Early this spring, the Gaelic Athletic Association’s North American County Board released a report that maps out its plans to continue its expansion into America and Canada.
The GAA, of course, is the governing body for hurling, camogie, gaelic football and a few other sports that were created in Ireland. Those sports are actively supported by the organization around the world. The North American County Board is the division of the GAA that covers all of the U.S. and Canada, with the exception of the New York City area, which has its own division of the GAA.
It’s no secret that hurling and gaelic football have exploded in popularity in the U.S. And by “exploded”, I don’t mean that they’re booting football, soccer and baseball off the field, but instead, I’m saying the gaelic sports are gaining major footholds across the nation. At this point, most major cities have some sort of GAA club in operation and those that don’t have a club within 100 miles or so.
That’s certainly a positive, and the NACB’s strategic plan is the organization’s effort to continue to foster that growth.
Overall, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with what I read. There are a few good ideas here and there, but much of the plan is ridiculously vague. Other parts read as lip service to keep dues-paying members from complaining too loud. And other parts made me think “I believe it when I see it.”
While it starts off with a dynamic, star-spangled cover and snapshot of the NACB affliates, the 17-page report then spends 9 pages on comments from key board members, most of whom waste space saying how much potential the North American clubs have, why it’s important to read the report, offering “thank yous” and explaining about how excited they are for the plan.
Yeah, that’s great and all, but really, couldn’t you all have combined this into one cohesive statement? Bureaucracy at it’s finest, I guess.
The basics of the plan: Once you get past all those needless page fillers, readers get into the heart of the plan wherein the fundamental plan is laid out.
According to the report, the NACB wants to allow players in North America to play meaningful and safe gaelic games. To do so, the board has opted to focus on:
- Coach and referee education
- Schools of excellence and development of squad programs,
- Providing coaching backup and assistance to our clubs, schools and colleges
- Roll out and delivery of training, camps and awards for youth development programs.
Admirable goals, indeed. Coach and referees are needed to build up the game. Player training is needed for adults just entering into the sports. Supplemental material is always a plus for coaches teaching a game they only just learned and helpful to clubs struggling to survive. Pushing the games to youth players certainly gives strength to the games in the future.
The board, for example, wants to offer special courses to school teachers interested in gaelic sports. These classes could then be used to introduce gaelic games to a whole new generation.
More info please: Other ideas are bandied about: Getting games from Ireland on American TV, assisting new clubs, offering starter packs to new clubs and so on.
All good ideas, but also unfortunately murky.
What kind of TV broadcast is the NACB aiming for? Full games? An edited wrap-up of all the action? Will the broadcasters bother to explain the rules to fresh American eyes?
And the NACB wants to assist new clubs. How will it do that? Send out a few temporary coaches? Give the clubs some space on the NACB website? Pat them on the back and thank them for their dues?
How about this ” starter pack”? Is it a package of 20 hurleys and 100 sliotars? A notebook with the rules inside? Some cones to mark the lines of play? A media kit to help advertise a new club? It’s hard to commit to starting a club when you aren’t offered any substantial support.
How about this? The report says “Increase % of American Players playing hurling/camogie.” Wow. Great goal. Try something like “Add 100 registered hurling/camogie players every six months.” That’s precise. That’s a real goal.
Details, folks! We want details, not just a vague statement.
Marketing: As I said, the report does have some intriguing points.
One says “Establish a National Sponsorship/Marketing Committee.” Now that sounds great, but I wonder what they are referring to exactly? Having Guiness USA sponsor the NACB? I hope not, because I think this is a great goal. The question is how big of a national sponsor can the NACB get? And what company out there wants to aggressively market to Irish immigrants and those of Irish ancestry? (Leave some ideas in the comments, folks!)
The plan also suggests GAA establish a brand in the USA. That’s very interesting. If I read it right, the board wants to establish a name for itself and there’s a lot they can do with this. There’s lots of small-time sports out there with national organizations — from bull riders to skateboarders — and its high time that Irish sports develop their own.
Missing: I think the report also neglected a few areas.
- Every club in North America struggles to raise funds.
- Every player struggles to find equipment.
Addressing these two key problems are vitally important to the growth of hurling and other gaelic sports in America.
Regarding fundraisers, the NACB should develop a few templates for for clubs to follow. Basically some guides that say “Here’s how to do a Poc Fada,” “Here’s how to do a bar patronage” and “Here are some ideas on developing non-Irish financial support.”
Regarding equipment, the NACB should consider setting up a brick-and-mortar store, online presence and/or warehouse for equipment and supplies related to the game. Getting equipment is a big pain in the butt here. After every practice, most teams spend several minutes hunting for lost balls because they cost so much! The NACB should set up a warehouse for supplies to keep those supplies fresh and push the cost of imports from Ireland down.
Positives: Don’t think this review is entirely off-putting, either. It’s clear the NACB plans to address issues almost impossible to do on a club level, such as insurance issues and developing better organization within the board.
It also addresses another issue in that gaelic-friendly facilities are hard to find. The report suggests developing long-term partnerships with municipalities, schools and other sports to use their facilities. This is good planning, but the GAA needs to go one step further.
The board should develop generic landscaping and engineering plans that show how to build a multi-use field that successfully incorporates gaelic game field designs with other American sports’ designs. You know, exactly how baseball diamonds are mapped out in the corner of a many football gridirons. The NACB needs to add hurling fields into that mix.
And that is the key to bringing hurling (and the other gaelic sports) into the limelight here in the U.S: First you adapt to American thinking and then you change it from the inside out.
The NACB has that plan, it just needs to flesh out the details.