News Analysis

Friday 29 August 2014

GAA's Sky deal exploits the social value that its members built for free

Stephen Kinsella

Published 03/04/2014 | 02:30

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Shane O'Donnell, Clare,pictured here in action against Shane O'Neill during last year’s All-Ireland SHC final replay. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.
Shane O'Donnell, Clare,pictured here in action against Shane O'Neill during last year’s All-Ireland SHC final replay. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.
Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly being consoled by Dublin's Jonny Cooper at the end of the All-Ireland Final. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.
Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly being consoled by Dublin's Jonny Cooper at the end of the All-Ireland Final. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.
Maths teacher Denis Murphy of Mount Leinster Rangers, who returned to work the day after playing in the All Ireland Club Final. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.
Maths teacher Denis Murphy of Mount Leinster Rangers, who returned to work the day after playing in the All Ireland Club Final. The social value the volunteers, and players, within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal.

The new TV deal has a certain toe-in-the-water feel to it.

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If successful, over the longer term, it could very well end up paving the way for a pay-per-view only

All-Ireland Final

Like every other GAA fan in the country, the recent three-year deal between the GAA and Sky Sports had me scratching my head. But not because the move to a paid platform would reduce the amount of the sport I watch. No, I was puzzled because of the similarity the deal has to academics publishing scholarly journal articles.

The problem is exactly the same, and there are many other examples in the real world: people passionate about something giving their time for free to produce that something to a very high standard, which someone else then takes and sells.

Because these somethings were produced, essentially, for free, the person selling the something makes a bomb.

This is called rent extraction in economics. YouTube has a variation of the same business model: you upload your content and YouTube sells ads against it. Two examples of the phenomenon of rent extraction are scholarly publishing and the recent GAA deal.

Here's why. I love economics, and new economic ideas. I read and review other scholars' work in an area I'm familiar with, and I do that work for free. It takes hours to read and review one journal article properly. Along with many other scholars in many other fields, I also edit journals. These journals are then taken by publishers and sold to university libraries.

The publisher has taken the 'value' produced for free by teams of scholars all over the world, and made it their own. Their shareholders benefit directly from the work people like me put into their products. (And we thought academics were the clever ones.)

Compare this to what happens today in the GAA. Volunteers, players, management teams, and clubs all work, essentially for free, to produce the games we love to watch.

The GAA isn't just amateur sport, it is also a socially binding force in Irish society. Like the community of scholars producing articles, everyone involved is basically just there because they love the sport. They give the vast majority of their labour for free.

The GAA describes itself as a "volunteer led, community based organisation" which is a "part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society".

I think that's exactly right, and exactly why the leaders of the GAA are getting such a negative reaction to news of the deal. It's because the social value the volunteers within the GAA have created for free for decades will, to a certain extent, be commodified by the Sky Sports deal and exported.

Who benefits from this transfer? Obviously BSkyB's shareholders, who have been made richer. Those who already have Sky Sports will be happy, but those without won't be.

The GAA will see 14 live championship games annually now, so the extent to which the game is televised has increased. Those GAA fans abroad may have improved access to the matches, but they may still choose to go to the local Irish bar at 6am to watch them.

THE GAA, as I've said, is more about social connection than profit-making for most people. Finally, and importantly in an age of diminished disposable incomes, those who don't, won't, or can't pay for the Sky service have just lost something.

There are a series of positive and negative repercussions from the Sky Sports deal. It could move the GAA's players and management away from amateur sports into paid sports over the medium term. It could increase resources to local clubs through the (undisclosed) fee the GAA is getting for the television rights. The deal has a toe-in-the-water feel to it. If successful, over the longer term it could pave the way for a pay-per-view only All-Ireland final.

From Sky's view, longer term it makes sense to broadcast all of the GAA's big matches. Then monopoly pricing will take place, when there is no other option but to use their service. RTE may be left with Radio only, perhaps not even that.

Publishers of scientific journals are also facing backlashes from academics and cash-strapped libraries, because they are forcing up prices. Last year, Harvard Library's Faculty Advisory Council found that "large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive".

Many academics now boycott a publisher of more than 2,000 titles and are signatories to protests like http://thecostofknowledge.com/.

Could this happen with the GAA?

Irish Independent

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