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GAA giving with one hand and taking from the other with Sky Sports deal

“Giving  with  one  hand  and  taking  with  the  other”  is  about  the  best  description  of  the  landmark  deal  made  on  Monday  between  Sky  Sports  and  the  GAA. The  decision  by  the  GAA  to  hand  over  television  rights  to  Sky  Sports  will  not  be  received  well  by  the  grassroots  of  the  GAA.

On  the  one  hand , from  the  perspective  of  the  deal  breakers  in  the  GAA , this  deal  has  achieved  a  cherished  ambition  of  spreading  the  coverage  of  live  games  beyond  this  island  and  to  Britain  in  particular , with  Sky  Sports. Against  the  background  of  allowing  subscription  channel  Setanta  Sports  show  pay-per-view  League  games , it  was  always  likely  that  when  it  came  to  the  championships , the  GAA  would  eventually  dance  with  a  subscription  partner. Indeed , many  of  their  top  dogs  in  power  have  been  adoring  Sky  Sports  in-depth  coverage  for  years , hoping  that  the  channel  would  realise  the  commercial  potential  in  the  GAA. That  has  now  come  to  pass  and  starting  on  June  7 , when  Kilkenny  play  Offaly  in  the  Leinster  hurling  championship  , Sky  Sports  will  play  a  very  significant  role  in  the  Irish  sporting  summer. While  there  may  be  a  solid  commercial  and  financial  basis  underpinning  the  GAA’s  decision , they  will  quickly  find  out , just  as  players  have  over  many  years , that  League  and  Championship  are  two  different  ball  games  altogether. The  public  may  not  have  been  overly  maddened  by  being  unable  to  watch  Saturday  night  league  games  on  Setanta  Sports  but  will  press  the  outrage  button  at  the  prospect  of  missing  championship  action.

Anger  against  the  decision  is  set  to  be  further  whipped  up  by  TV3  and  RTE , who  obviously  have  a  vested  interest  in  portraying  the  deal  with  Sky  as  a  cross  between  treason  and  malice. RTE  weighed  in  heavily  on  this  point  on  Monday  night  and  came  out  all  guns  blazing  against  the  decision. RTE  stood  up  gallantly  for  hard-pressed  consumers  and  the  grass  roots  of  the  GAA , but  if  you  take  a  more  measured  view , they  also  probably  don’t  want  Sky  anywhere  near  the  GAA  for  their  own  commercial  reasons. Tv3 also  reacted  angrily  to  being  essentially  ‘shoved  out’  in  favour  of  Sky  Sports  with  their  statement  saying  that  their  bid  to  continue  championship  coverage  “appears  to  have  been  superseded  by  the  GAA’s  preference  for  a  pay  television  strategy”. This  could  be  seen  as  whinging  from  bad  losers , but  can  you  really  blame  RTE  and  TV3  for  fighting  their  corner?

It  wont  take  long  though  to  gauge  how  successful  the  new  deal  is  in  television  terms. Will  Sky  Sports  bring  a  new , innovative  approach?  And  if  so , how  will  RTE , who  it  must  be  said  have  done  an  excellent  job  on  the  championship  over  many  years , react? Competition  is  good  in  every  walk  of  life  and  a  challenge  from  Sky  could  be  exactly  what  RTE  needs  to  take  its  coverage  to  another  level. If  that’s  the  case  then  us,  the  people  will  gain,  and  it  may  force  the  GAA’s  hand  not  to  grant  any  more  coverage  to  Sky. However , many  opponents  of  this  deal  understandably  argue  that  this  deal  may  well  be  the  start  of  something  slow  and  sinister  and  that  if  the  arrangement  works  well , it  could  lead  to  the  subscription  channel  demanding  more  and  tightening  its  grip  in  the  next  deal. This  is  a  very  relevant  point , especially  when  you  look  at  how  Sky  Sports  and  Rupert  Murdoch  commercialised  the  English  football  brand  into  what  it  is  today  as  the  Barclays  Premier  League , in  1993.

At  the  same  time,  as  new  viewers  all  around  the  world  and  especially  the  Irish  diaspora  are  being  well  facilitated  by  this  deal  and  deserve  to  be , Sky  will  be  closing  the  door  on  thousands  of  people  all  over  Ireland  who  do  not  have  Sky  and  many  of  whom  who  will  be  unwilling  or  unable  financially  to  buy  a  Sky  subscription. Many  devoted  and  passionate  GAA  members  at  the  grassroots  level  of  the  organisation  are  heartbroken  that  they  may  not  be  able  to  see  14  games  in  this  years  championship  because  they  have  never  had  Sky  and  have  absolutely  no  intention  of  spending  their  scarce  money  on  a  subscription  as  other  sports  do  not  interest  them. And , so  this  is  the  major  downside  of  the  deal , all  those  men  that  line  the  pitches , the  men  that  voluntarily  go  down  to  coach  at  the  local  club , the  members  on  the  club  boards  feel  like  they  have  been  ‘sold-out’  by  the  GAA  and  no  doubt  the  GAA  are  painfully  aware  of  this.

They  in  their  own  wisdom  felt  that  this  was  a  sacrifice  worth  bearing  for  the  greater  good  of  the  GAA , to  push  GAA  coverage  onto  many  more  television  sets  around  the  world. Channel  7  in  Australia , for  instance , will  show  all  the  televised  games  live  in  2014  including  Sky  Sports  games , which  will  certainly  appeal  to  the  recent  droves  of  Irish  who  have  emigrated  to  the  country. But  won’t  it  be  ironic  when  the  grandson  of  a  recent  Irish  emigrant  phones  his  grandad  in  Ireland  half  a  world  away  about  a  game  that  has  just  ended  on  Channel  7  in  Australia. How  do  you  think  the  grandad  will  feel  about  the  fact  that  he  cannot  watch  the  same  match  in  his  own  kitchen? As  for  the  youth  of  Ireland , the  GAA  has  carefully  cultivated  this  market  with  great  success  in  recent  years. Once  again  though , you  would  wonder  how  the  young  people  (the  future  of  the  organisation) will  feel  if  and  when  they  are  unable  to  watch  big  games  live  this  summer  as  it  will  certainly  not  be  well  received.

On  a  more  broad  note , the  history  of  amateur  sports  that  became  subject  to  pay-per-view  usually  sees  them  going  professional  as  a  sport , with  rugby  union  being  the  best  example. It  is  too  soon  for  these  horror  stories  about  GAA  games  falling  into  that  mire , but , as  historian  Paul  Rouse  claimed  on  Monday , this  Sky  venture  “is  not  just  the  thin  edge  of  the  wedge , it  is  the  whole  edge”  and  in  future  years  we  can  be  sure  Sky’s  presence  and  influence  on  our  national  games  will  increase – for  better  or  worse. Surely  though , a  broad  discussion  and  even  a  vote  by  Congress  should  take  place  before  the  next  deal  is  struck  so  that  negotiators  know  the  views  of  the  GAA  membership  and  not  just  their  own. In  the  meantime  however , the  GAA  faces  a  big  challenge  in  selling  the  Sky  Sports  deal  to  its  membership.

 

Pundit  Arena, Tadhg Creedon.

 

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.