Thursday 29 September 2016

GAA bonanza as phone firms join the race for TV rights

Greg Harkin

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

Live Saturday night games, alongside highlights edited for mobile phone providers, are among the range of packages on offer from the GAA for the next three years (Stock picture)
Live Saturday night games, alongside highlights edited for mobile phone providers, are among the range of packages on offer from the GAA for the next three years (Stock picture)

Mobile phone companies are set to join the race for the broadcast rights to Gaelic games, which will pour millions of extra euro into the coffers of the GAA.

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Record new American-style deals between the GAA and a host of different - and new - broadcast and digital companies will see revenues increase substantially on the €11m that was earned by the association last year.

Live Saturday night games, alongside highlights edited for mobile phone providers, are among the range of packages on offer from the GAA for the next three years.

One of the men responsible for maximising those revenues and coverage for the GAA has described the multi-platform options available as a "game-changer" for our national sports.

Noel Quinn, the GAA's Media Rights Manager, said the organisation remained committed to doing the best deal in terms of both revenue and expanding the appeal of football and hurling at home and abroad.

The current three-year deal with a host of broadcasters including RTÉ, Sky Sports, Eir (formerly Setanta), BBC Northern Ireland and TG4 expires next May.

EirSports coverage of the Allianz National League next Spring will be the last games broadcast under the current deals.

Mr Quinn says he expected the partnership with RTÉ and the overseas offering of games through GAAGO to continue following "remarkable" growth since its launch two years ago.

None of the companies currently broadcasting Gaelic games - or TV3 - would comment on their plans ahead of intense negotiations expected over the next couple of months.

But the man to whom they will be talking says the media landscape has changed.

"The difference between what can be done now and back in 2011 or even 2014 is incredible," said Mr Quinn, a native of Donegal.

"The options available to expand coverage of the GAA and broadcast that to a phone or a laptop directly to the fan have grown.

"Up until 2014, we had been very insular with our national games. We didn't share them with the world and now, through Sky in the British market and GAAGO worldwide, we are doing that and that's an important part of what we are trying to do, promote our games overseas.

"In terms of domestic rights, Sunday's All-Ireland final will be the last championship game to be broadcast under the current rights agreements.

"We have never seen as much interest in Gaelic games as there is now at a time when there are so many new players in the market."

Mr Quinn defended the entry of Sky into the market in 2014, saying its coverage of football and hurling had won new audiences and set new broadcasting standards.

"The production and presentation (on Sky Sports) have been excellent, which has meant others have upped their game and everyone benefits from that," he said.

Deals will be done to include club football and hurling games, minor and U21 county matches, as well as the national leagues and an expanded championship.

More matches and more highlights packages will be available than ever before.

"Rights will be available, for example, to mobile phone companies to broadcast game highlights in, for example, three-minute clips," said the GAA negotiator.

"We will aim for maximum exposure with those who will promote our games the best, while we drive value for our rights.

"We will be seeking to package each competition to the maximum benefit of our games, both in terms of exposure and revenue, but the priority remains exposure.

"We have learned a lot from other sports around the world, for example, with the AFL and NFL, organisations we have a relationship with."

He cited the success of GAAGO, which will have drawn in more than a million viewers this year.

None of the companies from either the traditional media in radio or television or those in the digital arena are prepared to discuss what they are interested in or how much they are prepared to bid. Mobile phone operators will be keen too to get their hands on packaged highlights as an enticement to new subscribers.

Eir, with its newly acquired TV stations, looks to be in the best position to combine broadcasts on TV and packages to its mobile phone subscribers.

But sources have not ruled out competition from operators such as Vodafone and Three.

Irish Independent

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