Ian Mallon: Making history – IRFU sets narrative with All Blacks series win film

Ian Mallon: Making history – IRFU sets narrative with All Blacks series win film

Ireland’s historic series win against the All Blacks in New Zealand is being produced into a major RTÉ programme for the Christmas schedule.

The one-hour special is directed by award-winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker and will feature never-before seen footage from inside the Irish Camp from the four-week tour last summer.

In that time Ireland played three unforgettable July games against the All Blacks, coming from one down to win the series 2-1, in what ranks as a hugely significant Irish sporting achievement.

The 52-minute production was the brainchild of John Sherwin, whose company Videos On The Net — produces the IRFU’s content, and which allowed him unprecedented access behind-the-scenes during the team’s journey. After reviewing reams of footage upon returning from New Zealand, Sherwin approached the IRFU who greenlit the project, with Whitaker and RTÉ quickly brought on board.

The commissioning of Ross Whitaker was a significant landmark for the as yet unnamed production, given the filmmaker’s pedigree in handling sports documentaries.

Whitaker directed the Katie Taylor film Katie, as well as Rachael Blackmore: A Grand Year and Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, amongst his significant bank of successes.

In an interview with The Pitch, John Sherwin put it simply as to why such a project had to be produced, given its historic importance as a first-time achievement. “I realised looking back at all of the footage that this cannot be done again,” he explained.

While the documentary will certainly celebrate this milestone, Sherwin was sensitive to the IRFU’s desire that this was just one piece in an “ongoing journey, and not just beating the All Blacks”.

Sherwin likened the tour to New Zealand as a “Six Nations Championship in four weeks” due to the schedule — including two games v the Maori All Blacks.

The travelling party consisted of up to 60 players and staff, led by Andy Farrell and his coaching team, physios, medics, media officers, communications, and support staff.

While Sherwin and his team captures content for the IRFU’s digital, marketing and social media, he says that everything that is recorded is done with “an eye to making something better at the end”.

“It could be a 10-minute piece or a tour review, but with this one, it cannot be done again and it occurred to me to ask the IRFU if they wanted to do more, which they agreed should be done and RTÉ were very interested from there,” said Sherwin.

Despite the Christmas showtime and the relatively quick turnaround from concept to finished production, Whitaker is set to have final edits completed in the coming days with a final cut ready to roll in time for the premium holiday period. The only issue for RTÉ to decide is when to broadcast the documentary, which will become clearer next week when they decide their Christmas schedule.

World Cup opener not quite the lowest watched

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the tv audience for the opening match of Qatar 2022, between the hosts and Ecuador, was the lowest on record.

While just 283,000 viewers tuned in to watch arguably the worst team in World Cup history, it still beat the opening game for Russia 2018, when an average audience of 260,000 watched the match on RTÉ.

Despite the lower numbers for the Russia opener, that game enjoyed a 39% share of audience, while Sunday’s match experienced just 30% of viewers watching television at that time.

Certainly this World Cup is not one that will encourage large numbers for the group stages, due to much of that potential audience being in school or work for many of the opening games.

That is echoed in the figures for the first full day of fixtures, compared to 2018, which again saw a larger television audience for Qatar across all three games on day two, compared to the equivalent fixtures in Russia.

England’s 6-2 win over Iran experienced just 156,000 viewers, while the numbers went up as the day progressed, with Senegal v Netherlands having an average of 265,000 with Wales v USA on Monday night watched by 408,000.

The 2018 tournament’s second game day opened with Egypt v Uruguay, which was watched by a paltry 129,000, while the second game, Morocco v Iran, reached 191,000, with the Portugal v Spain clash rounding off the day with 388,000 viewers.

The numbers don’t account for those who chose to watch World Cup matches on BBC or ITV, but as a comparison they show that Qatar is just about more popular than Russia.

Lowry sponsorship set to cruise through Wayflyer turbulence

Wayflyer — one of the biggest individual sponsors in Irish sport — pitched it perfectly in its recent corporate branding: ‘Sometimes to create something new you need to shake things up first.’

Shake things up it has, by almost halving its global workforce — just hours after it announced it had doubled its staff numbers (comments unfortunately timed to reflect the release of its 2021 Irish Financial Statement).

Globally the eCommerce funding facility has suffered through the current climate of uncertainty, which has seen more established beasts — Meta, Stripe, and Amazon — cut costs and reduce staffing resources. Twitter’s recent cost-cutting is another story.

However, by its own admission, Wayflyer’s growth was too aggressive, too quickly, resulting in the laying off of 200 staff from a once-500 strong global workforce — a significant setback for a company reaching Unicorn status this year by securing more than $1bn of private investment.

Among those who invested in the Aidan Corbett and Jack Pierse-founded fintech was Shane Lowry, who last April saw that favour returned with an associate sponsorship by the firm, ahead of the Augusta Masters. The commercial contract runs until April 2025 and is complex due to Lowry’s own investment, but a deal that Pierse said made the golfer an “incredibly valuable” company asset.

Such heavyweight sports sponsorships are legally bomb-proof — hence no amount of company restructure will affect the watertight terms and conditions.

Lowry’s deal is likely a hybrid of investment options, marketing fees and bonus payments. The fees for the year so far are comfortably worth $2m, based on the considerable visibility that Lowry has already brought the brand, particularly during an ever present display on US and global sports feeds from Augusta, where he finished tied for third. Even greater benefits came for the corporate brand — which sits on the left chest of the Offaly golfer, with a stunning win at the BMW Championship at Wentworth.

Lowry’s subsequent “one for the good guys” jab at the LIV Series, during his post tournament live interview, was once again gold standard for the accompanying Wayflyer tornado swish. It’ll come as no surprise that despite sizeable restructuring at the funding facility, there will be no downgrading of the Lowry deal, or that of its only other sporting asset — DP World Tour player Niall Kearney.

A Wayflyer source confirmed to The Pitch that its sponsorship arrangements will remain “unaffected” by the current financial turbulence, and its commercial and overall business “are two separate issues. The partnership is still in place and will remain so, unaffected,” said the insider.

Kingdom lands a priceless sponsorship for player welfare

Kerry GAA has secured a major services sponsorship with Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee, which will deliver a range of medical care facilities for elite players through its state-of-the-art technologies.

The deal — which has been agreed through a Memorandum of Understanding between the county board and the hospital — will include access to physiotherapy, diagnostics, and scans. The initial agreement is a lengthy tie-in between both sides until 2027, with Kerry GAA “keen to see the partnership develop into a longer term arrangement”.

Chairman of Kerry GAA Patrick O’Sullivan welcomed the partnership as “an imperative in the modern game”.

“Quick access to diagnostic testing and scanning plays a critical role in facilitating early diagnosis, rehabilitation and return to play,” he said.

“Having this speedy access to these services and the range of specialist (options) at the Bon Secours Hospital Tralee will ensure that our players receive the best possible care and are back on the pitch as soon as possible.”

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