Monday 19 February 2018

Comment: Antrim versus Fermanagh will be absent from our TV screens for a third year

Fermanagh's Tomas Corrigan grapples with Antrim's Niall Delargy in last year's Ulster Championship clash
Fermanagh's Tomas Corrigan grapples with Antrim's Niall Delargy in last year's Ulster Championship clash

Declan Bogue

ANYONE in Antrim or Fermanagh might be forgiven for thinking it was becoming personal at this stage.

For the third year in a row, both teams are meeting in the Ulster Championship. And for the third consecutive time, BBC NI will not be broadcasting live.

Perhaps it is particularly unfortunate that these two keep meeting, but they can legitimately point out that every other Championship game in the northern province has been given the full Hollywood treatment.

BBC NI's hands are tied by the agreement they have with RTÉ; they cannot broadcast any games that RTÉ are not. While The Sunday Game will be on air on Sunday night, the decision was made that this weekend's game in Ulster is not worthy of further study.

There is a sense that after this season, we might have to get used to this scenario arising more frequently. Television contracts are up for renewal and there have been whispers that when all the agreements are put in place, there will be a lot less football and hurling available on the television.

Back in 2007, RTÉ began the season with a live broadcast of Down against Cavan on May 7th, at Casement Park. That summer, they made over 50 broadcasts.

At that point, there were reservations expressed that perhaps too many games were broadcast, leading to a culture of armchair fans and attendances slowly decreasing.

While the English Premier League is being propped up by people worldwide paying for Satellite TV subscriptions, this route is not truly viable for the GAA, with a very limited crossover appeal to sports fans worldwide.

At one point, the coverage of live games had shrunk to 40 broadcasts. When Sky came in and picked up TV3's slack, they were also granted exclusive access to the odd game here and there. The current figure sits at around 45.

The current leadership of the GAA are, as much as is permitted in an overly-democratic operation, modernisers. In recent years, they have recognised the potential and future in the digital age.

With this in mind, they recruited RTÉ as partners for their part-owned service for the international market; GAAGO.

For the 2016 season, fans overseas can use the GAAGO service to access over 100 games across Championship and leagues.

Since it was launched in June 2014, games have been streamed in over 180 countries. Last year alone, the number of users increased by 55%. The season pass, for outside Ireland and the UK, is a mere £126 per year.

Now that Allianz are on board as a sponsor, we are inching ever slowly to our own version of GAA TV.

An uncomfortable truth for some in RTÉ is that the GAA can see that traditional television channels will, like many other media organs, fall out of fashion, it's range and scope increasingly limited in a world of hand-held devices.

Relations between Montrose and the GAA have had a frosty feel to them. RTÉ have never struggled with a lack of regard for what they do, while the GAA can rightfully point to a number of examples when they feel pundits and lines of questioning have been especially unfair to amateur sportsmen.

While the talking heads on the Sunday Game have taken to sneering at the editorial policy of the Sky TV crew along with faux-outrage for the plain people of Ireland, the GAA are said to enjoy a much warmer relationship with the newcomers.

Eventually, the GAA might outgrow RTÉ and their agreement around GAAGO, striking out on their own.

And if that happens, bad news for RTÉ and by extension, BBC NI.

Belfast Telegraph

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