Sunday 26 October 2014

GAA's Sky deal will shake RTE out of its complacency and be a godsend for fans

Published 10/04/2014 | 02:30

Clare’s Shane O'Donnell is lifted by team-mates after last year’s hugely exciting All-Ireland hurling final against Cork. The Sky deal is good for the GAA.. Photo: Sportsfile
Clare’s Shane O'Donnell is lifted by team-mates after last year’s hugely exciting All-Ireland hurling final against Cork. The Sky deal is good for the GAA. Photo: Sportsfile
GAA President Liam Ó Néill
GAA President Liam Ó Néill

Three cheers for the GAA leadership of president Liam O'Neill, director-general Paraic Duffy and commercial mastermind Peter McKenna. The Sky Sports deal, which will see the satellite channel televise Gaelic games for the next three years, is great news for regular sports fans, Irish people abroad and local GAA clubs and players.

The deal will improve the televised product, stimulate long-term revenue growth and widen GAA audiences. In every business and voluntary organisation, there are two types of people: those who resist change and those who embrace it. The GAA is fortunate to have high-calibre leaders who are the latter.

They have the bottle to stand up to naysayers and vested interests. RTE engaged in public dis-service broadcasting in its analysis of the controversy, barely concealing their own agenda – whilst pandering to knee-jerk emotion.

The GAA top brass are regularly depicted as greedy grab all associates. Five Garth Brooks and three One Direction concerts are deemed to be insensitive to neighbours. Amending Rule 42 (open access of rugby and soccer) was also furiously resisted initially. It generated cash for grassroots GAA.

One could be forgiven for thinking the GAA wasn't a 'not-for-profit' organisation. All of the €55m revenue is for its own benefit, with 80pc seeping down to local levels. The television income of €11m represents the most important future platform, given the possible ban on alcohol sponsorship and the inevitable long-term decline of attendances.

The economics of including Sky Sports is a no-brainer, given every other sport's dependence on subscription channels. Enhanced sponsorship is now more likely for the organisation overall and for inter-county teams.

I'm not surprised Pat Spillane, Joe Brolly and Colm O'Rourke urinated on the Sky deal in their print columns. All dedicated sports channels, including Setanta, BTsport, RacingUK, AtTheRaces and Eurosport have revolutionised viewing experiences.

Over the past week, all sides derided armchair punters as some form of despicable couch potato, compared to 'real' club members. I am unapologetic about the fact that my most enjoyable dozen hours a week are spent watching sport on telly.

I would rather live in lesser accommodation, have a smaller car or do without foreign holidays than forego superb pay-per-view premium sports channels. I addictively flick between horse racing, football, rugby, Gaelic games, cricket, snooker, tennis, darts, Formula One, greyhound racing, golf, athletics and even cycling.

Quality and the extent of analysis, punditry, technology, HD, replays and constant innovation is vastly superior on satellite stations. Their content is indisputably preferable.

References to the diaspora's viewing needs have been rubbished by opponents of Sky. It's been argued that emigrants wanting to watch hurling or football matches can readily do so in pubs and clubs, particularly in the UK.

While living in Wales for 18 months, I missed not being able to access GAA games on television. I could only get radio coverage on the Sky TV network, as RTE and TV3 were excluded to householders in Britain. I was unable to get video services on my iPad. No pubs in Wales advertise or promote Sunday matches from Ireland. Even if they had coverage, most customers would prefer other sports.

Outside of London, Liverpool or Manchester, there is little awareness of our national sport. GAA coverage on Sky will be a godsend to those abroad. Inclusion of Australia Seven and the RTE player/GAA GO are all welcome digital remedies to those living beyond the UK. This will only promote the popularity of the GAA.

The amateur ethos of the Association is allegedly imperilled by including the evil Rupert Murdoch as a business partner. Nonsense has gone unchallenged about the nature of volunteers' work in clubs as mentors, sandwich makers and committee members etc.

The point was made that rugby and soccer are professional sports. However, it seems to have been entirely missed that at grassroots level the very same commitment is given to local soccer and rugby clubs. The vast majority of participants at community level in all sports see no remuneration.

It's an identical amateur culture in every parish across the country. Just because Brian O'Driscoll or Robbie Keane get rewarded handsomely doesn't butter any parsnips on the ground. Personally, I'd prefer if elite players/coaches were transparently rewarded with expenses and perks due to the exceptional nature of their commitment.

In 2017, when the next round of televised rights are negotiated, the involvement of premium channels will shake RTE from its cosy complacency in assuming that they will always have the lion's share of match coverage. They must raise their game in terms of quality output and resource commitment.

Assumptions they could always swat away TV3 by having all of the TV licence fee income, greater household penetration on the island and a heritage audience is now jeopardised. A bigger fish is swimming in their pond. GAA authorities would be stupid not to leverage such a game-changer.

By then, savvy Croke Park executives will have brokered sweetheart deals for clubs to sign up Sky packages at heavy discounts. Notions that this will drive young kids into alcohol dependency smacks of far-fetched desperation. What better way to watch inter-county matches than in your local club?

This TV deal merely amounts to the GAA joining the 21st-century. Parallel coverage of the top six matches on final road to Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy means the best of both worlds. The Government can always legislate under EU broadcasting directives to curb excessive televising of Gaelic games behind a pay wall. It won't happen.

So references to Heineken Cup rugby, exclusively on Sky, are utterly irrelevant. Technology is revolutionising new viewing habits of drama on Netflix; sport can't operate in a time-warp.

Transfer deadline days teach us how Sky extends sport beyond the pitch side. Well done, the GAA. Ignore the begrudgers on Joe Duffy's whingefest, you ensure that kids' sporting idols are Gaelic players.

Irish Independent

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