Setanta deal edges GAA nearer to pay-per-view
FOOTBALL supporters will have to pay extra to watch some Allianz National League games this spring as a form of pay-per-view reaches the GAA.
And while the GAA insists that it remains committed to free-to-air access as a core policy, there's growing concern that with pay-per-view becoming a rapidly-increasing feature of all sports coverage, Gaelic Games will not remain immune.
Five NFL games will be screened 'live' on a Setanta Sports subscription channel in February and March. They will run simultaneously with other 'live' games, also screened by Setanta, on a channel which is much more widely available.
Setanta has a contract with the GAA to show Saturday night League action, while TG4 screens Sunday games.
Setanta Ireland, which is available on basic cable and digital packages, will continue to show games at 7.30 on most Saturdays, but a second game will be shown at the same time on Setanta Sports 1, which is a subscription channel.
The first game on Setanta Sports 1 will be the Division 2 clash between Meath and Armagh in Navan on Saturday night week. Setanta Ireland will show Derry v Tyrone from Celtic Park at the same time. All games shown 'live' on Setanta Sports 1 will have a deferred viewing on Setanta Ireland at 9.0.
The GAA has always insisted that it would not do deals with pay-per-view channels, certainly for its main action and insist that remains the policy. However, criticisms have been raised at Congress over the last few years over the decision to allocate Saturday night League games to Setanta Ireland.
It was argued that Setanta was not available to many people using traditional means of accessing TV channels around the country. However, the GAA backed the Setanta deal as it widened the overall TV base which also includes RTE, TV3, TG4 and BBC.
GAA commercial director Dermot Power said that, in terms of GAA policy on TV coverage, it would be unfair to interpret the Setanta situation as a move towards pay-per-view.
"That can't be read into it. We have a contract with Setanta to screen Saturday night League games. They will not only be doing that, but are now offering two games at the same time on some Saturdays. If people don't want to watch a game on Setanta Sports 1 'live' at 7.30, all they have to do is wait until 9.0 when a deferred viewing will be screened. Meanwhile, they can watch a 'live' game as usual on Setanta Ireland at 7.30. The bottom line is that two games will be available on several Saturday nights," he said.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that some games will be shown 'live' on a subscription channel, leading to fears that the trend could increase over the next few years.
Dublin fans will be worst hit as three of their games in February-March are down for Setanta Sports 1 screening, while only one (v Cork) will be on Setanta Ireland. Their clashes with Derry, Monaghan and Galway will all be on Setanta Sports 1. Cork will have four games on Setanta Ireland and none on Setanta 1.
The GAA's current TV deals are due to end with the 2011 National Leagues, which means that preliminary negotiations will get under way this year.
Meanwhile, the sponsorship contract for the All-Ireland hurling championship ends this year.
RTE will almost certainly not seek a renewal, while the position of Guinness and Etihad, the other two hurling sponsors, is not known.
The football sponsorship, involving Ulster Bank, Toyota and Vodafone, will run until the end of the 2011 season.
Power said the multi-sponsor system had worked well, but it would take at least five years to show maximum benefit for those involved.
"That's the history of this type of sponsorship. It takes time for re-branding to work. The championships were sponsored by Guinness and Bank of Ireland for so long it was inevitable the new system would take time to bed down.
"There's no doubt that there was a far greater brand awareness of our championship sponsors in the second year."
Games 'live' on Setanta
Feb 6 -- NFL: Derry v Tyrone (Setanta Ireland), Meath v Armagh (*Setanta Sports 1)
Feb 13 -- NFL: Cork v Kerry (Setanta Ireland), Dublin v Derry (*Setanta Sports 1)
Feb 20 -- NHL: Tipperary v Kilkenny (Setanta Ireland).
Feb 27 -- NHL: Limerick v Cork (Setanta Ireland)
Mar 6 -- NFL: Cork v Galway (Setanta Ireland)
Mar 13 -- NFL: Tyrone v Cork (Setanta Ireland), Dublin v Monaghan (*Setanta Sports 1)
Mar 20 -- NFL: Cork v Dublin (Setanta Ireland), Down v Armagh (*Setanta Sports 1)
Mar 27 -- NFL: Tyrone v Kerry (Setanta Ireland), Dublin v Galway (*Setanta Sports 1)
* Subscription channel