One of the central tenets of sports economics is that, all else equal, spectators want greater competitive balance or outcome uncertainty. While the data to support this hypothesis is far from conclusive, there is little doubt that a situation where one team has a monopoly on titles does damage spectator interest. This is why today's defeat of a Kilkenny team that won 6 of the last 7 All-Ireland titles should be good for spectator interest.
The relatively early provincial defeats of Kilkenny and Tipperary, combined with their meeting in the early stages of
the All-Ireland, boosted attendances in the earlier rounds. In the Irish Independent 10 days ago Martin Breheny said attendances were up by 39%. This is a welcome boost for the GAA who have been battling against the tide during the current financial crisis.
While the 2013 quarter-finals attendance figures have been at the lower end of those since 2002 there was still a respectable 33,000 plus in Semple Stadium today. Since the introduction of the qualifier series in 2002, the largest quarter-finals attendance when the games were in Semple Stadium as a double-header was in 2008. That day 38,916 spectators watched Cork beat Clare and Waterford beat Wexford. The largest attendance at a single game quarter-final was in 2004 when 37,134 paid to see Kilkenny and Clare draw.
The largest attendance at a quarter-final was for the double-header in 2007 where Cork played Waterford in one game and Limerick played Clare in the second game. There were 72,426 in Croke Park on the day. Cork and Waterford were also involved in the only other quarter-final to attract over 50,000 spectators. The 2006 game was a double-header with Clare and Wexford playing in the other game. Over 55,000 people paid in through the turnstiles in Croke Park on that day in 2006.
It would be fair to say that a combination of the financial crisis and Kilkenny’s dominance contributed to the decline in numbers.
It is not surprising that the games with larger attendances involve Cork. In addition to being one of the top-3 hurling counties in terms of titles, it is the second most populous county in the country. As of the 2011 population Census, Cork has a population of 519,032. In the All-Ireland semi-final Cork play Dublin – the most populous county with a population of 1,273,069.
Limerick is the 5th most populous county. Therefore, three of the semi-finalists come from the largest “markets” for support.
We will watch the attendances at the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals with interest.
PS. Cork’s defeat of Kilkenny by 0-19 to 0-14 was the fourth lowest aggregate score in an All-Ireland quarter-final since the introduction of the qualifier series in 2002. Interestingly the other three also involve Kilkenny. There were the two games with Clare in 2004 and the game with Limerick in 2005. We all know what happened after that.