Fans set for five more years of Sky with GAA on the brink of €55m rights deal
The GAA looks set to enter an agreement on its principal broadcast rights with RTÉ and Sky Sports for a further five years in a deal worth an estimated €55m.
Negotiations are close to a conclusion which will see the broadcast rights for championship hurling and football games carved up between the same partners until the 2021 championship.
TV3 and eir Sport, formerly Setanta Sports, are not thought to be part of the championship package, though eir Sport looks set to continue broadcasting Saturday night league matches.
Media rights were worth €11.2m to the GAA in 2015, one-fifth of the total income of €55.7m.
The extension of a new deal to five years will represent a new departure for the GAA, which has sold off its broadcast rights in three-year deals in the recent past.
It is a big mutual commitment between the GAA and Sky Sports given the controversy that surrounded the initial deal in April 2014, when broadcast rights for championship games were put behind a paywall for the first time.
It is expected that Sky Sports will again have a similar 14-match exclusive package that will focus on Saturday evening coverage but will also be able to show All-Ireland semi-finals and finals simultaneously with RTÉ on Sunday afternoons.
RTÉ had exclusive coverage for 25 games and that's not expected to change.
Average viewership in Ireland has been small for Sky Sports.
BBC Northern Ireland is also set to renew its agreement with the GAA to show Ulster Championship matches live. This season, it showed nine games, with two of those deferred.
Radio rights negotiations are also close to a conclusion - with speculation that RTÉ could get back all of the live broadcast rights this time.
The GAA/Sky deal, announced in early April 2014, continues to draw criticism, with even local county councillors in Kerry and Galway tabling motions requesting the GAA to discontinue the link.
Concerns have been expressed over large portions of communities who do not have the means to purchase access to subscription channels.
Significantly, however, attempts to derail the deal within the association failed at Congress in February, when just 15 per cent of delegates, among them Dublin, Kerry and Cork, voted to oppose any future deal with a pay-per-view channel.
Writing in his annual report to Congress in February, GAA director-general Páraic Duffy outlined the case for a competitive broadcast rights market.
"Any restriction that prohibits the GAA from engaging with all interested parties, including subscription TV providers, would seriously reduce our negotiating power and thus our ability to achieve the true worth of our assets, and would inevitably lead to a greatly reduced media-rights income," he wrote.
"In what is already a small pool of potential broadcast partners, we must ensure the existence of a genuine market for our games and maintain the option of engaging with all interested parties, regardless of whether they are free-to-air or subscription providers.
"This flexibility and freedom is crucial if we are to nurture a competitive tender process and thus ensure that the GAA achieves the proper value for its rights."
The GAA has repeatedly stressed the need for a competitive market for the association's prized assets.
With TV3 being taken over by Virgin Media during the summer, the expectation was that it would become a big player again after losing out to Sky Sports in 2014.
But it looks like RTÉ will not be getting a slice of the national league action, with eir Sport and TG4 remaining rights holders for this particular package.
It effectively means that RTÉ will not show any live league action from October through to April.