independent

Friday 1 August 2014

Sky could fall in on GAA hierarchy if Croker chiefs go for pay-per-view deal

Published 02/04/2014|05:36

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IT could be you.

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You know the advertising campaign. Granny takes a trip to the shops. Bags of shopping in hand, she approaches the car, unlocks it car and looks perplexed and exasperated to find her brand new dayglo orange Lambo doesn't have a boot.

The message could be – and it certainly wasn't the intention of the National Lottery and their advertising agency – to be careful what you wish for. Money isn't everything. Money can even buy you more troubles than you already had.

What's the point in a Lambo if all you want to do is bring the shopping home from the shops? What's the point in getting €10m from Sky Sports if all you end up doing is alienating the very people you claim will benefit from the deal?

The deal to sell the rights package TV3 has had to Sky hasn't yet been completed or confirmed by either party. That details of it are being leaked, by either or both parties, suggests it's a fait accompli.

The public, the membership of the GAA are being given time to digest the news that for the first time championship games will be on pay-per-view television. As a strategy it's not a bad one.

Governments have been doing it for years, trailing nuggets from the budget softening people up, even deliberately frightening the public with a set of proposals they have no intention of following through on, so that when on budget day we read the headline proposals and think 'gee that wasn't as bad as we thought it would be'.

That could be what the GAA is doing here. There have been noises about going down the pay-per-view route in the past, only for those noises to fade out into a whimper. This time feels a little different though. This time the GAA seem to mean business.

If Sky does get the same exclusive rights deal that TV3 had in previous years that would mean that a handful of provincial finals, at least one football and one hurling quarter-final, would no longer be free-to-air.

Sure the vast majority of games will remain as they always were on RTÉ with Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane and Michael Lyster. The Sunday Game will remain where it always was: at the centre of an Irish summer's evening and, more than likely, at the centre of whatever controversy is convulsing the country at the time.

That doesn't sound too bad does it? Not particularly threatening to the way things have always – and by always we mean the last twenty, maybe thirty years – been done? It doesn't, but remember this: it could be you.

It could be your county that ends up pay-per-view TV next summer. As Kerry and Cork get set to do battle in Pairc Uí Chaoimh in July, there could well be Sky cameras trained on the action, leaving a great many with no other option than to either go to the pub to watch the game or become Sky subscribers.

Not everybody will want to. Not everybody will be able to. There is a real risk of disenfranchising a lot of people, older people in particular, the very people that GAA top brass routinely praise for developing the GAA into the organisation it is today.

And for what, €10m? Are the GAA – with Garth Brooks and One Direction cash coming out their ears – really that hard up for cash?

Of course there are a lot of clubs throughout the country struggling who wouldn't mind a slice of that cash, but would their membership support the sale of certain exclusive rights to Sky?

It's doubtful they would. It's doubtful even if a majority of County Board chairpersons would back the move. It's doubtful you'd find many who were in favour at all. It was always kind of assumed that when the commercial arm of the GAA threatened to do a deal with Sky, it was just a negotiating ploy, a stick with which to beat RTÉ into offering better terms and better coverage.

It's no idle threat this time, which leaves the question does the GAA's decision at central level have the legitimacy most of us would agree it ought to for a move like this. Does it have a sufficient mandate for what is such an epoch defining decision?

Technically there's no doubt they can do what they plan to, but there's a big difference between technically being able to do something and having a mandate to carry it out.

This move will be interpreted by a lot of GAA folk as yet another example of that shower up in Croke Park doing their own thing without due regard to the views of the membership, let alone Joe public. A lot of the time that's not really fair on the GAA, in this instance, however, it's on the money.

It could be you.

Kerryman

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