Monday 26 September 2016

Sky insist competition for coverage is good for GAA

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

Sky Sports insist they can help Gaelic Games blossom in the United Kingdom
Sky Sports insist they can help Gaelic Games blossom in the United Kingdom

Sky Sports is in pole position to help the GAA grow in the United Kingdom, according to one of its top executives.

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Responding to criticism levelled against the GAA and Sky in the last 12 months after the two agreed a three-year deal to show 42 exclusive football and hurling championship games, head of production at Sky Sports, Steve Smith, said he is "excited about the opportunity" of showing more games to UK viewers.

"As you saw as the season went on longer and longer last year, the more sports fans who sampled GAA, and especially hurling, for the first time really enjoyed it," Smith told the Sunday Independent.

"Increasingly, we are seeing that huge amounts of people are consuming video on mobile - now that's not live video we're talking about, but what we want to do is raise the profile of the GAA through the clever positioning of video clips that we can get. Certainly hurling has a huge part to play in that - the skills and techniques, and the beautiful camera angles that you see are very interesting for the sports fan."

The GAA came under heavy fire last year after it announced that Sky would be taking over from TV3 in showing live games, although RTE remains the principal partner with the Association, with 31 live games this summer. However, there was widespread condemnation of the fact that, for the first time in its history, not all championship games broadcast live would be free to air. There were also claims that fewer people abroad would have access to live games, claims rejected by the GAA.

Smith refused to confirm if Sky intended to attempt to secure the rights again when the current deal expires at the end of the next year, although he admitted that the "GAA on the Sky Sports platform has been very powerful for the Sky Sports brand in Ireland". He added: "I hope that continues.

"We're very happy with what we did in the first year. Coming from a standing start two months before the season started, I think the important thing was that we built credibility and that we built trust in the organisation.

"We provided a Sky Sports product that people when they saw it felt was in keeping with the rest of our sports coverage, comparable with the Premier League, English cricket, the way we approach rugby union, formula one.

"I'm aware of the politics, I'm aware of the history," he added, "but. the important thing that we concentrate on is the product that we provide for our subscribers. As with any sport's governing body or rights organisation, it's up to them to determine what they want to put to the rights market and how they want to sell their rights, it's up to Sky and Sky Sports to determine whether we want to bid for those rights, and whether we see value in those rights and what the value is. So that's where I think that, with Sky in Ireland a big business and a big employer and a clear area of priority for Sky, it's important to serve our customers well and we knew that the profile of the GAA would be something that would be very attractive to our Sky subscribers in Ireland."

Sky's GAA producer, Ciaran O'Hara, said competition among rival broadcasters for rights to show live games will ultimately benefit viewers.

"They [the GAA] are charged with the responsibility of running an Association that caters for close to one million people," he said.

"Commercially, that maybe sometimes means that they make decisions that all of the membership might not be happy with, but ultimately those decisions benefit the membership as a whole and I think that given that's their responsibility, they'll look to have a competitive tender process the next time which will deliver that result again for them. And that relies entirely on competition in the market place, and that's what Sky brought to it - competition at a time which has brought a number of benefits. Obviously the commercial side is one, but the second is production values.

"I mean RTE's coverage was much better last year. So competition has been good for the GAA fan in general and for that reason I hope everyone can see the benefit of letting competition continue."

Sky announced last week that former Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, and former Kilkenny hurler, JJ Delaney, will be part of their championship coverage this summer.

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