'Off The Ball' team on sidelines as hopes fade of quick RTE transfer
Published 06/03/2013 | 05:00
RTE are not in the position to sign up the entire 'Off The Ball' team, despite intense speculation that they were about to join the state broadcaster.
A senior RTE source told the Irish Independent that the station national broadcaster "cannot afford to make a move for anybody at the moment", let alone a team of sports presenters.
The presenter of the award-winning Newstalk show, Eoin McDevitt, and his four colleagues – Ken Early, Ciaran Murphy, Mark Horgan and Simon Hick – resigned en masse from Newstalk on Sunday.
The decision is being seen as a major miscalculation by media experts.
McDevitt and his team decided to leave Newstalk following a disagreement with management over a request to change the time of their sports slot.
They had wanted to go on air an hour earlier, from 7pm to 6pm, in turn taking time off George Hook's 'The Right Hook' programme. Hook's show boasts 133,000 listeners everyday, while 'Off The Ball' has an audience of 39,000, with only 6,000 of them female.
A Newstalk source told the Irish Independent that a contract clause states that Early, Hick, Murphy and Horgan will work out a four-week notice period at Newstalk. But host McDevitt must adhere to a 12-week notice period before being able to join a rival station.
The source continued: "It's unfortunate that it all came to this and we are extremely regretful of their decision.
"There have been rumours that pay increases were also demanded, but that was never an issue."
They said it was a "purely factual decision" as the station feared it would lose female listeners if 'Off the Ball' moved to the drivetime spot.
In addition, they said that listenership on the show had fallen 20pc year-on-year and it have would be seen as extremely "high risk" to bring it forward.
"We're hopeful we can get some of them back individually, when the dust has settled."
In a statement yesterday, the former 'Off The Ball' team apologised to listeners and promised to return to the airwaves as soon as possible.
"Over the last 18 months we have been in discussions with Newstalk about ways to develop our programme. Unfortunately there are fundamental differences of opinion between management and ourselves about the show's future potential and its ability to grow an audience at an earlier time."
They added: "We're gutted to leave behind something we love but after eight years we feel it's vital that our product continues to evolve and improve. We would like to sincerely thank Newstalk for giving us a chance to put the show together."
Meanwhile, RTE's Head of 2fm John McMahon last month introduced changes to the radio department with the announcement of weekday sports programme, 'Game On'.
Anchored by Damien O'Meara, it airs Monday to Friday from 7pm to 8pm.
O'Meara's previous 30-minute midweek sports slot on Radio One has been replaced with a stronger focus on the arts.
McMahon said providing "an entertaining, informative and expertly assembled" sports coverage show, increased the station's commitment to public service programming for all audiences.