Friday 30 September 2016

Martin Breheny: Pay-for-play looms on horizon

GPA/GAA deal could whet appetite for shot at move to paid ranks

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

The GPA is likely to cash in when the GAA finalises its next TV rights deal. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
The GPA is likely to cash in when the GAA finalises its next TV rights deal. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The pay-for-play train has left the station and is gathering speed. Driven automatically and with a full fuel tank, it can cover very long distances.

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Passenger numbers are relatively small at present but are there lots of pick-up points ahead. As the journey continues, stations are likely to become busier so that by the end of the journey, the arrival platform at GAA Professional could be packed.

By far the most significant aspect in the latest GAA/GPA deal is the stipulation that 15pc or €2.5m - whichever is the greater - of the Association's commercial income will go to the players' group.

It's a dramatic alteration to the dynamic as, for the first time, funding of the GPA is linked to GAA income on a percentage basis. In a sense, it's an upward-only rent arrangement for the GPA as a €2.5m base is guaranteed even if commercial incomes dropped below current levels.

That's unlikely to happen, especially with the GAA currently negotiating a new media rights deal for TV and radio coverage of its games. In fact, a sizeable increase is far more probable.

The GPA will receive a minimum of €6.2m per annum for the next three years. At face value, there's little to suggest that the deal brings a formal pay-for-play deal any closer.

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That's because such a concept is anathema to GAA policy at present. And in fairness to the present GPA leadership, they are not actively pursuing a pay-for-play agenda, opting instead to get the best possible arrangement within rules as they stand.

Indeed, the GPA will feel they have done a good job while the GAA are happy at having ensured peace up until the end of 2019 at least.

However, the trend here is very much one way, with the GAA greatly increasing its contribution to GPA activities.

The relationship between Croke Park and the GPA has greatly improved since the first financial deal was struck six years ago. Prior to that, there had been regular outbreaks of hostilities, with the threat of a player strike always looming in the background.

The climate of conflict disappeared in recent years as the GAA diverted considerable funds to the GPA to spend on its various programmes.

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That the latest deal is as much as €6.2 million per annum underlines Croke Park's determination to keep the GPA inside the tent.

But for how long more will that remain the case, unless there's a further loosening of the purse strings in the players' direction?

The current GPA leadership is, no doubt, totally genuine in its assurances that any form of professionalism is not on the agenda but times change quite quickly.

Who would have thought 15 years ago when the GAA reacted with open hostility to the GPA's launch that inside 10 years, they would have struck a financial deal with them and that by 2017, it would have reached €6.2m per annum?

Younger GAA players, some of whom will become the new GPA leaders in due course, will have noted the evolution of their group and been especially taken by the percentage clause included in the new deal.

In five or six years' time, will there be a demand for a similar percentage of gate money to be allocated directly to players?

Changing

Frankly, nobody knows but in a rapidly-changing sporting world, it's very difficult to see how the GAA can hold the amateur line indefinitely.

Some players from the more successful counties already enjoy considerable financial perks through media and endorsement deals and as they see GAA revenues soar to heights that nobody would have envisaged 10 or 20 years ago, demands for a greater share of the cake can be expected.

Total Central Council income last year reached €55.7m, an increase of €20m on 2005 and a whopping €49m more than 1995.

It would be naive to think that players won't eventually demand a slice of that action in direct payments. This week's deal may have delayed that day, yet at the same time made it inevitable that it will come.

After all, if the GPA can squeeze €6.2m from central coffers, can a new generation not look for more, only this time as direct payments?

Peace in our time may have been bought but our time passes quite quickly.

Irish Independent

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