Monday, September 25, 2006

Among the five billion

Last week the Belfast Telegraph repeated the claim that a billion people would watch the Ryder Cup. I missed it all. Was it the big deal that we were led to believe? Is it really "the third biggest sporting event in the world"? (After what? The World Cup & Olympics, but bigger than everything else? I don't think so.)

I can tell you from casual observation that there was no buzz about it the way there is when Ireland has a big soccer game (or a even rugby international or All-Ireland). The pubs around me were not, from what I could see, packed with excited fans. In fact, one pub I walked by on Saturday was advertising that it was showing live football (soccer), not the Ryder Cup. Maybe it depends on where you live?

Anyway, I don't really have a problem with the Ryder Cup. I hope the golf fans enjoyed it. Didn't sound like it was much of a competition in the end, but these things happen. What bothers me is that government agencies buy into the hype around such an event, spend my money to help out those who promote the event and then justify doing so with wild and (I would wager) unsubstantiated claims of big financial returns to the country.

Try this, the "Ryder Cup is expected to generate €10 million in additional revenue for the Irish food and drink sector". First of all €10m doesn't sound like all that much. How much did Bord Bía spend to be a sponsor of the event? Secondly, €2m of the €10m is food sold at the event. Well, how much of that food would have been sold even if the Ryder Cup was not held here? Presumably all those who live in Ireland would have bought some Irish food and drinks regardless of whether they were in Straffan or Miltown Malbay.

This is what annoys me about government figures. They NEVER seem to consider the net returns. It's always what they can easily measure and what can't be easily measured (like the downside) is dismissed as unimportant. Never mind that the proposition that Guinness and Kerrygold need the Irish taxpayer's money to sell their products is almost laughable.

Or what about Bord Fáilte's claims that the Ryder Cup return to the Irish economy will be approximately €130m? I won't hold my breath waiting to read the independent audit on that one.