Friday 20 October 2017

TV blackout a big own goal

Leaving coverage to Irish language station and subscription channel is a huge mistake

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

TG4 resumed live GAA coverage last Sunday, taking their cameras to Drogheda for the Louth-Wicklow O'Byrne Cup game, and will continue over the coming months with AIB club championship and National League action.

It's an excellent service from a station that has always been good at spotting an opening and been smart enough to negotiate its way through it. The only downside is that since the majority of viewers have only a sketchy knowledge of the Irish language, they can't enjoy the coverage as much as if the commentaries were in English. And in fairness, that's quite a drawback.

Still, it's not TG4's problem since their brief is essentially as an Irish language station. They will share live league coverage with Setanta before RTE, TV3 and BBC take over for the senior provincial and All-Ireland championships.

Croke Park is delighted with the arrangement, as it spreads coverage across several stations, thereby increasing competitiveness and strengthening bargaining power.

So it's a good deal all round then? Absolutely not.

However neat the arrangement might look, the reality is that there are no live GAA games universally available on terrestrial English-speaking stations between the end of September and mid-May. That's almost eight months when the GAA concedes the main TV channels to other sports, principally soccer and rugby.

blitz

Soccer coverage is spread across the entire week while rugby is concentrated on Friday/ Saturday/Sunday. It's a double blitz that dominates the TV sports schedules, leaving the GAA very much in the shadows, with their games shown live on an Irish language station and a subscription channel.

Out of sight is out of mind but, for some inexplicable reason, the GAA seems quite happy to allow its main rivals to dominate mainline TV coverage for two-thirds of the year.

Surely, they should have insisted in their negotiations with RTE that they showed some league games live? The GAA created the packages so they could break them up anyway they wanted, in which case the aim should have been to increase the spread of live coverage on RTE/TV3 beyond the May-September period.

An autumn start to the leagues would have been helpful in that regard.

The championship is the big prize pursued by all channels so it's not as if the GAA have no bargaining power.

Note how domestic soccer has its own Monday night magazine programme on RTE during the League of Ireland season, yet there's nothing similar for GAA, even during the championship. Given that all championship games are played on Saturday/Sunday, there's a clear need for a weekday magazine programme, yet there hasn't been one for a few years.

The GAA appears to be blissfully unconcerned about having no regular GAA programme on RTE television between early October and February; nor do they regard it as important to have any live coverage on the national broadcaster between early October and mid-May. Then, it's into overdrive (probably even overkill) for the summer months before heading back into the drought.

With soccer and rugby available from all parts of the globe on a 52-week basis, it's extraordinary how the GAA are happy to have such long gaps in its coverage.

With a little more imaginative fixture planning, there's no reason why Friday night games couldn't be introduced to the league programme. Even one game per week -- carefully selected between counties who are close to each other -- would suffice for live TV.

Croke Park contends that it's necessary to close down the inter-county scene for several months to leave room for club activity, but there are risks in leaving the landscape clear for rival sports to dominate the TV schedules.

Besides, many players are not involved in club action in October and November but they have no other outlet either unless, of course, they turn to soccer and/or rugby.

RTE showed 5hrs 15mins of soccer and rugby highlights last Saturday and Sunday night, while continuing with live coverage on a regular basis throughout most of the year. Meanwhile, the first live GAA action on RTE isn't until May. As indigenous sports, played in a small country on the western rim of Europe, Gaelic football and hurling need consistent TV exposure to compete with global brands. That should include the GAA insisting in their TV deals that RTE, in particular, spreads the coverage more evenly than their current contracts stipulates.

Instead, they leave the October-May period to an Irish language station and a subscription channel. Big mistake.

Forde joins list of greats who never won big one

SO then, there's another contender for selection on the best football team never to win an All-Ireland medal. Matty Forde is right in there among the leading challengers for a place in the full-forward line. His retirement is not only a substantial loss to Wexford football but also to the wider game as he was one of the best forwards for many years.

In 2004, he became the first Wexford footballer to win an All Star. He ends his inter-county career without an All-Ireland medal -- or even an appearance in the final -- but that doesn't in any way detract from his status as a remarkable talent who, had he been born in a stronger football county, would have amassed a huge title haul.

Irish Independent

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