News Vincent Hogan

Thursday 28 August 2014

No need to panic

GAA smart enough to know that alienating grass-roots core with Sky deal would destroy very principles that make it special

Vincent Hogan

Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30

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12 January 2013; A cameraman, from Armagh TV, streams live footage from the game. Power NI Dr. McKenna Cup, Section B, Round 2, Armagh v Cavan, Athletic Grounds, Armagh. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
GAA continues to flirt with murmurs of a future contaminated by pay-per-view
A general view of a television camera recording the action in a GAA game at Croke Park, Dublin.

You didn't have to belong to the Christian-right of GAA politics to swallow a little hard this week at stories that Sky Sports are at the negotiation table for championship TV rights.

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Rumour holds that Rupert Murdoch may be close to securing a 10-game package, including two All-Ireland quarter-finals, as the GAA continues to flirt with murmurs of a future contaminated by pay-per-view.

It is hard to think of a more inflammatory philosophical leap open to the Association than that of charging its members for the privilege of watching games from their own sofas.

In Pennsylvania last September, Paraic Duffy spoke of making live internet coverage of Gaelic games more internationally accessible, "particularly in North America".

The director general was answering questions about a looming process that has been complicated in recent years by the growing commercial clamour for access to the GAA product.

SUITORS

Where once any negotiation about TV rights could be concluded over a bottle of good wine in Montrose, there are now small multiples of suitors.

So this week's story set a lot of alarm bells ringing, hinting as it did at the prospect of Sky being awarded exclusive access to something on the GAA calendar.

Whether that prospect is actually real, only those privy to the negotiations yet know. I suspect it isn't.

While I would never pretend to know Duffy or president Liam O'Neill well, I have dealt with both often enough to sense that neither needs reminding of the duty of trust they carry towards the broader GAA community.

Both understand that, for all the world of marketing opportunities, the Association is still fundamentally about sense of place and collective self-fulfillment.

When Duffy spoke in America, he didn't sound like a man preoccupied with bleeding the glitz and razzmatazz of big championship days for all he could. He spoke only of simplifying access for the great Irish diaspora.

This may be deemed a naive interpretation, but the real naivety would surely be to imagine that the GAA ecosystem would not be impossibly corrupted by forcing TV subscription charges upon its members, albeit the current Allianz League arrangement with Setanta has thrown up that very issue.

How in all honesty could such an act this summer be reconciled with the code of volunteerism sustaining the Association at grass-roots level? How could it be sold to amateur players?

The trouble, I suspect, is that by even having Sky on the premises right now, the GAA toys with an accusation that they may simply be testing the water for future opportunity.

But what is the alternative? Pushing a crucifix in their faces? The Association would be guilty of rank poor business sense if neglecting the opportunity to explore what Sky can do for them on the basis of some fundamentalist view that dining with them is akin to dining with the devil.

That said, they must know they are toying with the faith of their people here.

Granting Sky exclusive access to anything on the GAA calendar will betray that faith.

Likewise, facilitating the imposition of exorbitant charges on the Irish abroad will speak of a profound failure to understand what it is that sustains the organisation they represent.

Market analysts believe that accessing a much wider overseas audience could fatten the TV kitty significantly beyond the annual €10m reputed to be the current figure.

So would Sky be interested in the international rights for a game being broadcast live at home on RTE, BBC or TV3?

Would they be interested in pursuing a measure of profit from those same rights that falls short of going to the Irish abroad with balaclavas on their heads?

If the answer to neither question is in the affirmative, they should – as a matter of urgency – be handed their coats.

Hard to watch old master Harrington struggle

THERE has been something deeply demoralising about Padraig Harrington's vain scramble to play himself into a starting slot at next month's Masters tournament in Augusta.

When Harrington's game deserts him he looks like someone searching for his shoes in the dark. All the calm majesty that billowed through his play six years ago is now no more than a beautiful memory.

For 18 months of his life, Harrington was arguably the most accomplished golfer in the world. Today, he seems to represent the peril of fixing what isn't broken, of over-analysing what was maybe becoming natural expression.

It would be wonderful to see him tee up at Augusta as a contender, but that was never going to happen this year. He is 42 now, still admittedly four years younger than Jack Nicklaus was when winning his 18th Major there in '86.

But Nicklaus, at the time, had a record of winning one out of every six tournaments entered. He never slipped into the fug of confusion that characterised Harrington's final round of 80 at Bay Hill last weekend.

So better perhaps not to see Padraig at all on Masters weekend than watch him wage so publicly yet another war with himself.

Money not morals curbing golf's prejudices

HOW gloriously civilised of The Royal and Ancient to lift their heads from the sand and recommend the introduction of women members to St Andrews.

You sometimes forget the preposterously stuffy value systems that prop up a few of the game's more revered venues and, accordingly, its marquee events. No doubt the members of St Andrews, Muirfield, Troon and Royal St George's would protest that they are private clubs and, as such, free to mandate their own rules.

Quite right too. But the idea that they can do so whilst hosting a truly global event, attracting commensurate sponsorship, is where their appetite for keeping women at the gate suddenly looks unsafe.

As with almost all of the great moral sea-changes witnessed in professional sport, money is at the root of it. At Muirfield last year, the din of protest was never quite subdued despite Phil Mickelson emerging a hugely popular winner of the Open crown.

That's not a happy sound to sponsors. The men-only signs may be almost three centuries old in Scotland, but commercial imperatives can change history in seconds.

Irish Independent

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