Fans lose out as FAI signs ?7.5m Sky deal
IRISH soccer fans were abandoned by the FAI and RTE last night.
The football authorities sensationally sold the live TV rights on all the Republic's home internationals over the next four years to Sky in a ?7.5m deal. As part of the deal, TV3 will be able to broadcast the games an hour after they finish.
RTE bid ?400,000 a year for the right to screen the big games live - ?100,000 less than what it paid the FAI last time round.
Last night, Ireland's legion of loyal fans lashed out at the decision, which comes only weeks after the debacle in Saipan in the build-up to Ireland's great World Cup run.
And Sports Minister John O'Donoghue joined in the chorus of criticism, saying he was "disappointed" that Irish soccer internationals were going to Sky.
The new arrangements could have the impact of depriving many of the Irish fans of the opportunity of seeing the national team playing live in international competition.
He said he was sure his sentiments would be shared by fans of "this great Irish team".
Under the new deal, viewers will have to watch Ireland's qualification matches for Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 live on Sky Sports - or wait for a deferred broadcast on TV3.
The deal represents a 350pc increase on the FAI's previous deal with RTE.
FAI spokesman John Delaney defended the organisation's decision, insisting it had done everything possible to keep the games on RTE.
"RTE wanted to pay us less than they had done over the past four years. We were prepared to give it to them for less than what we were offered by Sky and TV3," said Mr Delaney.
"We feel RTE treated us unfairly by their offer and in the end it came down to a business decision which will benefit football at all levels in Ireland."
Mr Delaney also stressed that there was no question of the matches being offered to viewers on a pay-per-view basis.
FAI general secretary Brendan Menton said that not showing the games on RTE wouldn't preclude people from seeing them.
"People are not being stopped from watching the games. All that has changed is the way in which they are shown," he said.
Since 1998, RTE has been paying the FAI around ?635,000 per annum for the rights to show the home internationals, the Eircom League and the FAI Cup.
But when negotiations on a renewal of the four year deal opened last September, RTE was only prepared to offer around ?508,000 per annum which was ?127,000 a year less than the previous contract.
The Sky/TV3 consortium entered the negotiations in February this year and offered ?7.5m over four years which works out at ?1.875m per year to the cash-strapped FAI.
In an effort to keep the games on RTE, the FAI told Montrose chiefs that they would be willing to renew their rights for ?1.5m per year but RTE baulked at that figure.
The deal will also see five matches in the Eircom League being shown live on TV3 together with the screening of a weekly highlights programme.
RTE chiefs said last night they thought they were still involved in negotiations on a new deal.
An RTE spokesman said: "RTE was not paid the courtesy of being advised that the negotiations were in effect terminated."
The station rejected the FAI's suggestion that its bid was not sufficient.
"RTE was in negotiations - the FAI has no way of knowing what RTE's highest bid was as they did not indicate that they were about to terminate the negotiations," he said.
RTE director of television Cathal Goan said: "We are puzzled, angry and disappointed at this news. We are particularly disappointed for the legions of Irish fans who have supported the FAI and the Irish football team - frequently through the medium of live, free to air television."
Eamon Gilmore, Labour's communications spokesman, said it appeared "greed has triumphed once again" in Irish soccer over the interests of the fans.
Fine Gael's Simon Coveney called the move a "short-sighted" commercial decision which would later be regretted.