Roy Keane may be in the headlines this week for the second instalment of his new autobiography, but Brian O’Driscoll has hit a new high at the Top of Ireland’s most admired sports personality list, gaining an extra 290,000 avid fans this year, according to the latest Onside Star Monitor 2014, by consultants Onside Sponsorship.
Peaking just in time, over 1 in 4 Irish adults singled out the rugby supremo as the sports personality they admire most, up 5% year on year, and converted by Onside in real terms into over 900,000 Irish public fans and prospective readers of O’Driscoll’s new book ‘The Test: My Autobiography`, which goes on sale from October 23rd.
Encouragingly for the FAI, and also for Irish bookshops, the other sports personality showing positive momentum in terms of public support in the latest edition of the Onside tracker was Roy Keane – ranked 3rd behind Katie Taylor – at 9%.
Meanwhile Rory McIlroy`s return to success on the course is translating to a resurgence of support from the Irish public he earlier this year declared his allegiance to in the run into Olympics 2016. The Ryder Cup star returns to Top 4 rank, following a dip to 7th place in 2013. Hurling star `King Henry Shefflin the 10th also played his way into the Onside Top 5 in this wave of the market study, proving the stand alone GAA star in the Top 10 of the overall sports category.
Commenting on O`Driscoll`s results this year, John Trainor, Founder and Managing Director of Onside notes: “BOD has gained nearly 300,000 extra fans in the final year of his playing career, and has united a nation in terms of his broad appeal. As an indicator of his future potential, our research found one of the highest admiration levels for BOD among Ireland`s 18-24 year olds, suggesting the longer term potential that he will feature high in our research for some years to come.”
Meanwhile, in an interesting parallel with his recent drop from the Top 5 highest earners in the MLS to 7th place with a salary of $4.5m-a-year, Robbie Keane also lost some ground in the 2014 Onside Star Monitor survey, dipping from 4th to 7th position year on year. Rugby stars Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell remain in the Irish public`s Top 10 of 2014 (ranked 6th and 8th respectively).
Trainor observes that: “A striking dynamic at play in the public votes for most admired is the amount of personalities identified that are toward the end or completed the active participation phase of their careers. BOD, Keane and Sonia O’Sullivan – the other female sports star that made it into the Top 10 this year – all retain powerful connections with Irish public, despite their growing absence from their respective playing fields. As the basic reality of a changing dynamic of their personal time availability to refocus the nature of how they maintain their familiarity and trust comes into play, these Irish stars are in strong positions to contend for the multi-million Euro endorsement market that exists in Irish sponsorship in 2015. ”
And early indications from the Onside consultants are that 2015 may see a return to positive growth in spend by brands in the personality endorsement arena. Trainor points to a number of factors at play that will stimulate such growth, including “interest in rugby stars in the run into Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, the rise of new super-stars in new arenas like Conor McGregor, and new brands building whole pillars of ambassador programmes that are outside the obvious sporting apparel categories.”
However Trainor shoots a warning shot to brands that see personality endorsement as an easy win to build brand appeal and conversion to business growth. “An association with a top athlete can be a highly effective way to engage with fans, but without a well developed plan, it easily gets lost in the noise. Low single digit outcomes are the results for many brands that fail to use this channel built on sound plans.”