“There’s no show like a no‑show” – stakeholder engagement lessons from ‘GarthGate’ 2014

By Melissa Nugent

As the dust settles on what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the biggest controversies in Irish entertainment history, the Garth Brooks Croke Park “five-in-a-row” saga will become a tale to be told for years to come and will eventually take it’s place in the annals of Irish social and political history.

The unprecedented cancellations of all five come-back shows came after almost three weeks of negotiations, accusations, counter-accusations, talks of matinee performances, moving venues, protests and stand-offs and ultimately resulted in 400,000 disappointed fans and, according to many, a very red-faced “Ireland”. 

Rapidly spiralling from musings on social media, to the front page of every newspaper in the country and beyond, to the intervention by the Irish Government and, more surreally, the Mexican ambassador and the White House – the reputational impact and fallout for Ireland and Croke Park as a prime international entertainment location, remains to be seen.

Irish licensing laws are notoriously challenging, meaning that it has become common practice to announce a show, sell tickets and then get planning approval.  “Subject to license” can be found in very fine print on many event tickets.  Never before however had an event of this size and scale been blocked from going ahead. Amongst the many lessons ‘GarthGate’ has unearthed, if Ireland and in particular Croke Park wants to maintain its position on the world stage as a prime entertainment venue, is that a review these licensing laws is surely well overdue. 

In the opening line of his most famous hit, Garth Brooks sang  “blame it all on my roots…” At this stage the blame game has been played out in every media forum available and everything and everyone from the Croke Park residents, the Dublin City Manager, the licensing process, the event promoter and the venue itself has come under fire.  Regardless if you are a Garth Brooks fan or not, everyone had an opinion and a possible solution.  With so many parties involved and with plans in place for one the year’s biggest music events, one might assume that clear channels of communication between key stakeholders were in place before the shows were ever announced.  This however does not appear to have been the case.

The interests of residents (both those for and against), the City Council, Croke Park, Peter Aiken and Garth Brooks himself never appeared to be aligned and their apparent lack of communication and inability to work together played out in the national and international media for everyone to see.  Unfair blame was shouldered by several parties whilst others got off much lighter, however in the end no one came away feeling satisfied or smelling of roses. 

In the grand scheme of things, five concerts being cancelled in Croke Park may not mean much to those who weren’t directly impacted but, does Ireland need to take lesson from this “incident” in order to move forward? The cost to the Irish economy has been estimated at €50 million not to mention the inconvenience and upset felt by fans and non-fans alike and perhaps most damaging – the perception of Ireland on the International stage as a potential “headache” for future music artists.

Although my personal desire to see Garth Brooks WOW Croke Park again (he last played here 17 years ago when I was only a “very young” teen) remains unsatisfied, I won’t have to wait too long for my next Croke Park visit as my home County Armagh are playing this weekend in the All-Ireland qualifiers…I doubt we’ll raise the roof like Garth would’ve done….but we’ll give it a good go.

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