The Belfast Telegraph has a long history of providing Northern Ireland’s best cross-platform sporting content from our team of revered sports journalists. But with increased competition from other news platforms in a small and fiercely competitive marketplace, we are faced each year with the challenge of staying ahead of the pack.

In January 2017, the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards celebrated its 20th year. This was an opportunity for members of the public to come together with the country’s sporting organisations, public bodies, and stars of the sporting world to celebrate success. This event is completely unique in Ireland, as it the only awards programme to reward achievements at the professional and amateur/grassroots levels.

In early autumn, we launch nominations through our print and digital platforms. Fans, sporting bodies, regional councils, schools, and the public all were invited to nominate across 12 categories. An expert panel of judges — including Northern Ireland Olympic gold medalist Mary Peters, local governing body Sport NI, and Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor Jim Gracey for our 20th anniversary year— announced the shortlist and winners during December. A black-tie dinner and gala awards evening was held at Belfast’s prestigious Waterfront Hall. The guest list included local legends Rory McIlroy, Carl Frampton, Mickey Harte, Dennis Taylor, Rory Best, and David Healy.

The Belfast Telegraph's 20th-annual Sports Awards ceremony attracted an unprecedented audience with big names in sport and national sponsors.
The Belfast Telegraph's 20th-annual Sports Awards ceremony attracted an unprecedented audience with big names in sport and national sponsors.

The Sports Awards create revenue by two means: ticket sales and sponsorship of categories. Both streams enable us to give the event the gravitas it deserves, providing an engaging experience for our readers in the run up and an outstanding event where they can meet their sporting idols. For our editorial team and the stars attending, it is a chance to network, trade stories, and forge relationships that continue to give us the very best sporting content.  

The year 2016 was an exciting one for Northern Ireland, and the country was roused to support the Northern Ireland football team, affectionately becoming known in the process as the Green and White Army. Sport had united what could often be a divided nation, as everyone cheered on the team, The Euros, which went further than they had in a major tournament in three decades.

This energy gave our January 2017 Sports Awards event a boost. It attracted more 650 guests, had more reader and online votes registered than in any other year, and attracted prestigious sponsors as diverse as Volvo, Decathlon Sport, McCombs Coach Travel, and Celerion Medical Research.

In monetary terms, the event was highly successful. Success was also demonstrated in traffic and circulation figures with a 12-page souvenir supplement, intensive coverage on BelfastTelegraph.co.uk, Facebook Live video, exclusive interviews with winners, and much more.

The event had a positive impact on the morale of grassroots sports teams across Northern Ireland. One such team was the Slaughtneil GAA club. Hailing from a small, rural parish in South Derrym (which is home to around 300 families), the club was awarded the “Local Heroes” award after a year that will go down in Northern Ireland sporting legend.

Gaelic Games play a huge part in the community, and in 2016 the club’s football, hurling, and camogie teams all won their respective Ulster Championship titles — a feat never achieved before and which some GAA experts say is never likely to happen again. The Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards and the sporting content we provide every day are all about raising the profiles of new talent and celebrating established stars from all fields of sport.