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RTÉ head of sport confirms League of Ireland highlights package 'not feasible'

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Shamrock Rovers captain Ronan Finn and team-mates celebrate after being presented with the 2020 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers captain Ronan Finn and team-mates celebrate after being presented with the 2020 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers captain Ronan Finn and team-mates celebrate after being presented with the 2020 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

RTE's head of sport has confirmed that the Soccer Republic highlights show is no more and has stated that while there is a place for shows such as Match of The Day and The Sunday Game on TV, a similar package for the League of Ireland is "not feasible".

There was no mention of Soccer Republic, which has been on the go since 2008, when details of live TV and streaming coverage for the 2021 season were announced by the FAI last week and while RTE will continue to show live games, the Monday night highlights show has been axed.

Popular on its launch, the idea of the Monday show was under scrutiny in recent years due to the time difference between Friday night games and the Monday evening broadcast RTE maintain that, in an era of social media, viewing figures cannot justify the show.

"The numbers engaging with Soccer Republic had been declining, as is the case of most highlights programmes, for a number of years," Declan McBennett, RTE's head of sport told the RTE soccer podcast.

"When you have to deal with scarce resources and reduced resources, you have decisions to make. RTÉ and I had a decision to make on which is the best way to engage with the fans and the best way to bring soccer to people.

"A highlights programme with a small audience is no longer feasible from a League of Ireland perspective.

"It is essentially for two reasons. We know, and everything points to, since the advent of digital, there are two ways to consume sport.

"There is live which is the preferred option for 90% of the audience and then there is digital through social media which is immediate.

"In the last number of seasons one of the things the clubs wanted was instant access to their goals so they could make them available to supporters and fans immediately. RTÉ made that available and possible. Highlights never do as well and continue to decline in terms of people engaging, with two exceptions.

"They are Match of the Day which has a multi-million following in the UK and The Sunday Game which is a blue-chip product from an RTÉ perspective. In general the overwhelming evidence points to the fact people engage with sport live or digitally.

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"Certainly in a Covid environment, the best way to do it is bring live games. People have made a decision that live is the way they view and their decision influences our decision, not the other way around.

"If the highlights programmes were doing extremely well, we would continue with that. But it isn’t and we have to look at the best use of our resources. The fans undoubtedly across all sports want live and digital access."

McBennett also defended the national broadcaster's role in coverage of the League of Ireland, pointing to their contribution to the WATCHLOI streaming service.

"That is where WATCHLOI came from. RTÉ has consistently backed the League of Ireland," he said.

"There are five broadcasters in the Republic of Ireland. Some of those broadcasters have never engaged with the League of Ireland, certainly in recent times. Others have engaged and diluted their commitment.

"RTÉ has never diluted its commitment to the League of Ireland. It has increased its commitment. We were contracted to do 65 games on WATCHLOI last season and did 81 games in the end. We are back again doing it again this season."


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