Tuesday 22 October 2019

GAA faces backlash over Sky Sports deal

Clare’s Shane O'Donnell is lifted by team-mates after last year’s hugely exciting All-Ireland hurling final against Cork. Sky will hope its debut season televising Ireland’s national games will be equally dramatic. Photo: Sportsfile
Clare’s Shane O'Donnell is lifted by team-mates after last year’s hugely exciting All-Ireland hurling final against Cork. Sky will hope its debut season televising Ireland’s national games will be equally dramatic. Photo: Sportsfile
GAA director general Paraic Duffy and JD Buckley, managing director of Sky Ireland.

Colm Keys, GAA Correspondent

The GAA remained adamant last night that a historic three-year deal with Sky Sports was not driven by financial gain.

For the first time ever, some GAA Championship matches will become pay-for-view.

GAA supporters weighing up a move to Sky Sports will need to pay out €64 per month, or €36 for existing Sky customers who do not have a Sky Sports package already. For customers who want to get the GAA action on their phone or tablet device, Sky Sports Mobile is available from €13.99. All games will be televised on Sky Sports 3.

As the association faced a backlash from elements of its membership over its link-up with the subscription channel, it emerged that the additional revenue generated from the new deal would be only "marginal" compared to the previous broadcast rights issue in 2011.

The GAA has taken in around €10m a year for all media rights over the course of the last three-year deal and it is understood that figure will show only a small increase, between €1.5m and €2m, on the back of the Sky Sports deal.

The deal will see the channel show 14 matches exclusively, including two All-Ireland football quarter-finals involving the Leinster and Ulster champions.

GAA sources indicated last night that there were superior offers on the table which they could have taken if they wanted to prioritise revenue but the package agreed will project the games to the greatest possible overseas audience and that was their chief consideration.

RTE remains the primary rights holder, retaining the rights to 31 live matches, including all six provincial finals in football and hurling.

But Sky Sports will also show the All-Ireland hurling and football semi-finals and finals simultaneously, on top of four provincial games, eight qualifier games and two All-Ireland quarter-finals, bringing the number of games they will broadcast to 20.

In addition they will broadcast a midweek highlights package.

A desire to enhance the coverage for overseas viewers in the UK, America and Australia has been reflected in the latest agreement.

Sky Sports has some 10 million subscribers in the UK and the GAA are excited by the exposure of their games to that size of audience.

All 45 live matches will be shown free to air by Channel 7 in Australia as part of the new deal, opening up a potential audience of 22 million people, while the RTE Digital platform, in a new departure with the GAA, will make all games available to subscribers worldwide.

GAA director general Paraic Duffy stressed last night that money was not at the heart of the decision to put championship games behind a pay wall for the first time.

"Financial considerations were far from being the guiding criterion in our negotiations, and were of lesser importance than the issue of making our games more widely available to Irish people living abroad," said Mr Duffy.

Mr Duffy accepted that a balance had to be struck between the domestic and international to fulfil their international obligations and that inevitably meant a reduction in the number of free-to-air games shown here.

Sky Sports had spoken with the GAA on numerous occasions before, going back as far as the mid-2000s.

Inevitably there has been an adverse reaction among some to the prospect of having to pay to watch GAA championship matches for the first time.

TV3's director of broadcasting Niall Cogley issued a statement last night outlining how "TV3 made a very commercial bid for the next three years but this appears to have been superseded by the GAA's preference for a pay television strategy".

But the GAA wanted to strike a balance that allowed them to cater better for a widening overseas audience. Leaps of faith like this are not new to the association in the last three decades.

From allowing sponsors logos on jerseys for the first time in 1991 to the acceptance of Guinness as hurling championship sponsors in 1995 and the opening of Croke Park to international rugby and soccer in 2007, moral arguments have tugged at the heart of an association that retains a presence in every community across Ireland.

But each time the GAA has enhanced its reputation and product on the back of such decisions.

Above all, there is a curiosity among GAA officials to see how the marriage with a broadcasting company like Sky Sports, who have transformed the delivery of so many other sports to television in this part of the world, will work.

Jarlath Burns, a former Armagh footballer and a member of the GAA's Management Committee that gave the seal of approval for this decision, admitted there was an element of that curiosity behind the decision.

"We are interested to see what way a 100pc sporting broadcasting company would interpret our games, in terms of presentation and analysis," said Mr Burns.

Meanwhile, GAA fans in the UK will also be able to view the games on Premier Sports, on SKY channel 428 and Virgin 551. They have signed a three-year deal which will see them screen 26 games each season for £9.99 per month.

Irish Independent

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