Off the Ball

Tuesday 22 July 2014

GAA must be cautious after reaching for Sky

Satellite broadcaster unlikely to settle for bit part as public becomes dependent on output

Diarmuid Lyng

Published 02/04/2014|02:30

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1 April 2014; SKY SPORTS will show the All-Ireland Gaelic Football and Hurling Championships after securing a three-year deal to show live matches from June 2014. For the first time, Sky viewers can enjoy the excitement, passion and drama of both Gaelic Football and Hurling on Sky Sports, with weekly live coverage plus the Semi-Finals and Finals from each sport. The agreement comprises:
LIVE  20 matches including the Semi-Finals and Finals. 14 matches will be exclusively live in Ireland, with the Semi-Finals and Final also on free-to-air TV. All 20 matches exclusively live in Great Britain. SKY SPORTS NEWS  Midweek highlights as well as news, interviews and results on 24-hour news channel Sky Sports News. ONLINE  Match reports, fixtures and interviews as well as news, blogs, videos and galleries on skysports.com. ON THE GO  Live GAA matches available to watch on mobile for the first time at no extra cost to Sky Sports subscribers via Sky Go. All 20 games, beginning in Nowlan Park with Kilkenny v Offaly in the All Ireland Leinster Hurling Championship on 7th June, will be broadcast in standard definition and High Definition. In attendance at the launch are Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy, left, and JD Buckley, Managing Director, Sky Ireland. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
A winning team? Ard Stiúrthóir Paraic Duffy and managing director at Sky Ireland, JD Buckley, at Croke Park for the launch of the new Sky TV GAA package

So, BSkyB come riding into town with their neon lights and their bottomless wallets and the potential is limitless. The Irish on foreign shores. The benefits to the coaching structures. The increased professionalism TV demands. Shaking up the RTE monopoly. Extra expenses for players. Tactics explained. More games shown. People paying, as they should, to watch the things they want to watch.

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My lazy head that thinks at times in terms of success in our society, of the bottom line, of all things shiny.

However, when I really think about these first, tentative steps by BSkyB, they don't sit so well.

Now it's hardly MacMurrough inviting Strongbow to set up shop, but there's a danger there when I think about the direction in which these things can go.

BSkyB need to mine smaller markets, given BT's investment in soccer and now rugby. So, will they be happy to just dip in their toes? Maybe, on this contract, throw a few million into the pot for RTE's scraps.

Players are already at breaking point in terms of the time they commit to hurling and football. The man who demands that commitment is, more often than not, getting paid.

Is it any wonder that as soon as Sky are mentioned, payment for players isn't far behind. This isn't about pay-for-play, though. It's about dependency. Whatever the viewers financially commit to, on the basis of Sky's involvement, strengthens the broadcaster's hand at the negotiating table and it makes the public more dependent on their output.

What will Sky do when we become dependent? Allow us to continue our games as they are – totally unimpeded?

This, for the GAA, is a small part of greater plan to develop foreign markets and to cater for the swathes of players that have left Ireland over the past six years. So we need to widen exposure and we use Sky to do that. So they obediently help us for comparably little in return?

I'm not sure that fits with BSkyB's business model.

Decisions like these don't work on straight-up questions in newspapers about what you value and what you don't. They happen behind closed doors and in dark corridors. Where voices of reason can often be locked outside.

Cynical, for sure. But as a 32-year-old in Ireland I seem to have developed a natural lean towards distrust when it comes to institutional decision-making on issues that are important for our cultural development.

The head and the heart.

Only one for sale.

Irish Independent

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