Wednesday 21 March 2018

Game on for RTE's new sports chief

RYLE Nugent is probably best known to the general public as the "voice" of RTE's rugby coverage.

Most people won't realise, however, that Mr Nugent is also the new group head of RTE Sport.

Since joining the national broadcaster in 1994, Nugent's rise has been steady, culminating in his taking over the top sports job from Glen Killane last June.

The summer may be the "silly season" for a lot of businesses, but for RTE Sport, it's one of the busiest times of the year, with the Gaelic championships and the World Cup to name just two of the major events the national broadcaster had to cover this year. Needless to say, it's been a challenge for the new boss.

Now, with the summer coming to an end, Mr Nugent has to deal with a growing portfolio of events like the Champions League and Premier League, as well as taking over the broadcast rights to rugby's Magners League in partnership with TG4. For Mr Nugent the Magners League is crucial to Montrose.

"Obviously we can provide a very significant audience so in that regard it's good for us and the competition."

Unlike a lot of events, the Magners League is now on six free-to-air channels around Europe so it stands out from the crowd in that respect.

Gaining the rights to the Magners League has been a fillip to RTE but there is a much bigger issue on the horizon. Next summer the broadcast rights for the GAA championships are up for bidding, and this time Setanta and TV3 are just two of several broadcasters looking to either expand or gain a piece of the pie.

Newstalk are also making a concerted effort to break RTE's near monopoly on radio commentaries for the tournaments. On this subject, Mr Nugent is a bit more coy.

"It's a process that's ongoing, but it's too early to say where it is going to go," he says.

Away from home, RTE has been criticised in the past for sinking money into rights for European football that has little relevance to Ireland. What's the point in a public service broadcaster showing a Champions League qualifier between two teams that nobody has heard of at the expense of an Airtricity League match?

"That's a simplistic argument. Those lower profile games come with the package. In order for us to be able to broadcast, say Manchester United versus Real Madrid, we are required to broadcast the lesser games. I don't think anyone could argue that games involving United or Liverpool are not relevant to the public here.

"You just need to get on a flight to Manchester on a Saturday morning to see the number of fans who go over every week."

Nevertheless, with an economy in the trouble it is in, accusations of waste at any public sector company will always carry weight.

Mr Nugent, though, sees it from the other side.

"In a difficult time for the country, sport almost becomes more important. People need a lift, and sport can help provide that."

Irish Independent

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