Friday 20 September 2019

RTE hysteria fails to spark Sky backlash

New poll proves public have not been taken in by overblown reaction to landmark TV deal

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The most surprising aspect of public reaction to the GAA's link-up with Sky Sports, outlined in the graphic above, is that a little over half of those surveyed in the Millward Brown poll believe it was a bad call.

Granted, twice as many (56pc) oppose the decision as support it (28pc), while 13pc are in the "don't know" category. Three per cent replied "it depends", which presumably means they are waiting to see how it all works out.

Since this is the first year that part of the championship TV coverage has gone to a subscription channel, one would have expected far more than 56pc to oppose it.


After all, the championships were previously available on free-to-air channels, so for the many people in Ireland who haven't bought Sky Sports, this is a fresh – and unwelcome – experience since they will have to either subscribe, go elsewhere or make do with the radio if they want access to the 14 live games the channel will carry this year.

The fact that 44pc – fractured and all as it might be – don't think the GAA made a bad decision is very interesting because the campaign against Sky's involvement, including numerous diatribes across several platforms on RTE, led relentlessly and disgracefully by RTE, might have been expected to influence public opinion much more than it has.

Maybe RTE isn't as powerful as it thinks it is in shaping the public mood after all.

From the day that Sky's involvement was announced, sad stories of elderly and young people in rural Ireland, with no access to Sky, being left in sorrowful isolation while their county played a championship game were repeatedly trotted out.

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Naturally, the reality that many games aren't on TV anyway (Westmeath v Louth, Longford v Offaly, Wicklow v Laois, Roscommon v Leitrim weren't shown live last weekend) was ignored. How did young and old – plus everyone in between – from those counties manage?

Also, RTE has ignored the Allianz League for years, allowing it to go to TG4 and Setanta (a subscription channel) when they could have flexed their considerable muscles and taken part of the action.

Instead, RTE are content to leave the station free of live GAA action for almost eight months after the All-Ireland football final.

Happily for RTE, some of their 'Sunday Game' analysts, who have columns in national newspapers, were truly outraged by the Sky deal.

It really was a lucky break for the RTE hierarchy to have the corporate viewpoint articulated so stridently in the written media.

It seemed to escape both RTE and many external columnists, that the number of live games shown under the previous TV deal (2011-2013) was down by 10 on the 2008-2010 package.

There was no outcry when that reduction was announced in early 2011, no "think of the children and the old folk" hysteria and no accusations that the GAA had lost its soul.

But TV3, rather than Sky, were RTE's junior rights partners back then.

Our poll figures today suggest, however, that the Sky deal hasn't caused the outcry one might have imagined in the days after it was originally announced.

Yes, 56pc think it's a bad decision but then you would expect an even bigger majority to be opposed, given that fewer games are available for free in Ireland this year.

However, more Irish people in Britain will see the games under the Sky deal, something that should not be forgotten about a deal that broadens GAA horizons considerably.

Predictably, opposition to the new arrangement is more pronounced among the over-55s where 62pc deem it a bad decision, while the highest support among those who consider it a good call comes from in the 18-24 age bracket, where 39pc approve.

Rarely has a relatively small adjustment of TV scheduling attracted so much attention. Whether that's down to media fascination with its own general area or a full-blown public interest issue is difficult to decide although, personally, I suspect the former to be the case.

Either way, it's good for RTE and Sky, both of whom have skilfully succeeded in turning their coverage plans into almost as big a story as the actual games.

Me? I'll take the players and the games before the pundits and the contrivances every time.


Laois shooting themselves in foot by sidelining Begley over club clash

IT seems that peace and harmony are wafting gently across Laois following the win over Wicklow last Sunday – a win that was achieved without one of the county's best footballers, who had committed the unforgivable sin of playing for his club four days earlier.

Colm Begley not only plays for Parnells in Dublin, he also works as a coach with the club, so he was under a clear obligation to line out for them in the Dublin championship last Wednesday.

That obligation led to him being omitted from the Laois team last Sunday.

Manager Tomas O Flatharta explained that after discussing the situation with the player, "he understood where we were coming from and I fully understood the awkward situation that he was in".

It's good that there's so much understanding, because the rest of us can't quite figure out why Begley's inter-county 'cap' haul has been cut by one because he played for his club, when he had no other real option.


Harte right to highlight rules inconsistency

Mickey Harte argued that last Sunday's Tyrone-Down game was refereed under rules "that didn't remotely resemble the rules used in the National League".

Now, where have we heard that before? Actually, it's always a common theme in the early rounds of the championship. And guess why? Because it's true.

However hard the GAA's refereeing gurus attempt to claim otherwise, there's always a different emphasis between what applies in the league and the early rounds of the championship before things gradually settle down.

It's not the fault of individual referees, and we're told that's not the case, but surely our eyes aren't deceiving us year after year?

Irish Independent

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