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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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Lessons the League of Ireland could learn from the circus

In his latest column, John O’Sullivan looks at what he League of Ireland could learn from clowns.

Not actual League of Ireland clowns.
Not actual League of Ireland clowns.
Image: Empics Entertainment/PA Images

I WAS LUCKY enough to catch two games in the last week, I was at Turner’s Cross on Friday to see Cork City beat Shamrock Rovers and then, on Tuesday, I saw Shamrock Rovers beat Bray at Tallaght.

On Saturday, between the two games, my wife and I took the kids to the circus.

Now, bear with me. I’m actually writing about the circus. I’m a League of Ireland nerd and as such, whenever I go anywhere, I look at everything through League tinted glasses.

We sometimes refer to the League of Ireland as a circus, and mean it in a derogatory way, but I have to say, we could learn a lot from Fossett’s, Ireland’s National Circus who will be celebrating their 130th Anniversary next year.

130 years, there must be something we can learn, right?

The first thing I learned was that they know how to promote themselves, they know their audience and they went straight for pester power, getting the kids interested and letting the kids pester the adults into bringing them.

Bright posters featuring Otto the Clown were on every lamp post, the dates clearly highlighted, branded cars with speakers attached drove through town dropping flyers into every shop, free tickets were distributed to children (valid only if accompanied by an adult).

I thought their marketing department must be huge, but no. What surprised me was that the circus was run by a skeleton crew. Like staff and volunteers at a league match, the ‘all hands on deck’ activity I saw at the circus was great.

The man handing out free tickets was juggling on the night of the show, the man who showed us to our seats was throwing knives past the lady who sold me candy floss. The man organising the harness for the high-flying acrobat was running the pony ride before and during the show.

The acrobat was painting kids faces.

And that was the second thing I learned, the circus had the spend inside the tent nailed down. The kids might have gotten free tickets, but they weren’t leaving empty-handed.

Kids were enthralled by fidget spinners with LED lights – if you don’t have kids, google fidget spinners, they’re all the rage.

Candy floss and popcorn were flying out. There was a half-time interval, there was a raffle among the crowd to maximise their revenue.

It wasn’t the static programme selling location you’d see in the League, it was closer to the food merchandising you see in US sports where the popcorn, drinks and hot dogs are brought to you.

arl Sheppard celebrates scoring their third goal with Sean Maguire and Stephen Dooley Cork City are proving no clowns this year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The third thing I learned was that you put your stars front and centre. The circus Saturday was carried in many ways by Otto the Clown, a consummate pro with ridiculous hair.

His face was on the posters, his face was on the bunting around the tent and on the lorries bringing the equipment around. Before entering the circus, you knew who the star was going to be.

Some of our players might be clowns, but they’re also our stars, we don’t do nearly enough to push them front and centre, to realise that a Seanie Maguire or a Ronan Finn can be a huge promotional push for kids who view them as heroes.

The most important thing I learned is the area where the League leaves the circus in the ha’penny place. My kids left the circus and within an hour, they’d stopped talking about it.

It was a great experience while we were there but like the candy floss we consumed, it left no lasting satisfaction.

Even as we walked out of the tent, my wife remarked that it felt like a box ticked, you wondered if you’d see exactly the same thing the next time they passed through town. Would you go back?

Walking away from Turner’s Cross on Friday night with my kids, I bumped into friends with whom I’d shared terraces for decades, with whom I sat on the board of the club seven years ago.

They know my kids because, ultimately, Cork City is an extended family of sorts. Even at a young age, kids see the shared experience at Cork City and the sense of belonging. They want to go back, every game is different.

Sure, it has the sweets and chips and noise and crowds and excitement in common with the circus, but it also has the emotion – the tears, the cheers and the hope that kills you.

When asked “who do you support?”

My son answers “Cork City”. And while he’s already getting the “no, but who do you REALLY support?”

The answer doesn’t change.

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