Sunday 26 October 2014

Eugene McGee: This is not the thin end of the wedge, it's the whole wedge

Published 02/04/2014 | 02:30

21 September 2008; A general view of a tv camera platform in Croke Park. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Kerry v Tyrone, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
The TV cameras on the Hill 16 gantry will soon be providing live pictures for Sky Sports

Giving with one hand and taking with the other – that is about the best description of the Sky deal worked out in protracted discussions between Sky television and the GAA.

On the one hand, the GAA has achieved a cherished ambition of spreading the coverage of live games far beyond Ireland, particularly to Britain, via Sky, but at the same time as these new viewers are being facilitated, Sky will be closing the doors on thousands of people all over Ireland who do not have Sky and many of whom will be unwilling or unable for financial reasons to buy a Sky subscription.

Over half a million people in Ireland are aged 70 or over and the same number are aged 16 or under.

It is very possible that thousands in those categories will be unable to watch any of the 14 games shown only on Sky.

This scenario was brought to my attention last week when the first leaks about the Sky deal emanated from some of the parties involved in the negotiations.

Two brothers of my acquaintance, aged 72 and 76, who live in a rural part of the country on their own, have always regarded Gaelic football as an integral part of their lives.

They played for the local club for over 20 years, they were on the club committee and they often assisted in preparing young players to become footballers in the local pitch. Days out to watch their own and neighbouring counties play were the highlights of their year, but in recent years, because of their age, that has become something they have been unable to do.

Instead, they watched the live televised games in the championship, regardless of what counties were involved.

They were heartbroken when they heard that they would not see 14 games in this year's championship because they have never had Sky and have absolutely no intention of spending their scarce money on a subscription as other sports do not interest them.

So, this is the downside of the new deal and I have no doubt the leading GAA officials are painfully aware of it.

They in their wisdom felt that this was a sacrifice worth bearing for the greater good of the GAA and, particularly, to push GAA coverage onto many more television sets around the word.

Channel 7 in Australia, for instance, will show all the televised games live in 2014, which will certainly appeal to the recent droves of Irish people who have emigrated to that country.

But won't it be ironic when the grandson of a recent Irish emigrant gets on the phone to discuss a game that has just ended on Channel 7 in Australia to tell his grandad all about it 12,000 miles away?

How will the old man feel about the fact that he cannot watch the same match in his own kitchen? At the other end of the age scale, we have thousands of boys and girls aged 16 and under who also may not be able to see big games because their home does not have Sky television.

The GAA has carefully cultivated the youth GAA market with great success, but we wonder how the young people will feel if and when they are unable to watch big games live this summer and it will certainly not be well-received.

On the broader scene, the history of amateur sports that were subject to pay-to-view usually sees them going professional, with rugby union being the best example.

INFLUENCE

It is too soon for scare stories about GAA games in that regard, but, as historian Paul Rouse said yesterday, this Sky venture is not just the thin edge of the wedge, it is the whole wedge and in future years we can be sure Sky's presence and influence on GAA games will increase – for better or worse.

The concluding stages of the championships will be the most interesting period in the battle for television supremacy because the final six games in football and hurling, including the All-Ireland finals, will be shown by both RTE and Sky which will make for a fascinating comparison between the stations.

Irish Independent

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