Sky Sports investigators to target GAA clubs in subscription crackdown
GAA clubs showing matches on the cheap will be blitzed by Sky Sports investigators within weeks, as angry publicans claim a new 8pc price hike means they will have to sell an extra 90 pints a week to pay the British broadcaster.
Publicans have been bluntly told by the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI) they should analyse their business to see if offering Sky Sports now makes commercial sense.
Paying for satellite now represents a bigger cost for many pubs than commercial rates, water rates or insurance.
More than half the Irish pubs which have subscribed to Sky Sports are on Licence Band 1, with the rate calculated mostly on turnover. If their package includes the 'At The Races' channel, the monthly bill from BSkyB is €453.
However, some larger pubs taking the most expensive business packages will be paying €1,224 a month by the end of the summer, according to figures seen by the Sunday Independent.
The Sunday Independent understands that during talks between the VFI and Sky, the Rupert Murdoch-owned broadcaster said it would be sending investigators to GAA clubs around the country to ensure they have a club subscription, rather than simply buying a home package and showing games in the club bar.
It is understood that fewer than 50 GAA clubs around the country are officially signed up to Sky, but there is strong anecdotal evidence that far more than that are actually showing BSkyB in the club bar.
Publican Wayne Harding, of the Village Inn in Slane, said he has thought long and hard about whether to cancel his subscription.
"Sky is now costing me €600 a month but that will rise to €648 come August. Not only that but they are looking for extra money to show fewer Premier League matches and less European Rugby Champions Cup [the now defunct Heineken Cup] next season."
He calculates he has to sell an extra keg of beer (90 pints) every week of the year to pay for the sports channels. "Any household with a love of sport probably has a Sky package at this stage. The days when a mid-table soccer match brought a crowd out are long gone," he said.
He added it was ironic that GAA clubs and their members will come under increasing pressure to pay to watch the very games they are helping to promote at grassroots level on a voluntary basis.
It is understood that VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben has written to publicans telling them to look carefully at their turnover and calculate if the few big matches a year that attract a large crowd justify the annual charge on their business.
Sky's entry into GAA has been well received for the quality of presentation and analysis, but last Saturday's Connacht football semi-final between Galway and Sligo attracted an average of just 9,000 viewers in Britain, though it was in direct competition with the World Cup.
Under its deal with Croke Park, Sky Sports has exclusive rights to 14 hurling and football championship games.
Sky said that this is its first increase in subscriptions in four years and ensures it will be able to offer top-class content.