The new Sky broadcasting deal has been one of the most discussed and debated issues involving the GAA since the opening of Croke Park to non-association sports eight years ago.
The sale of the broadcast rights of a proportion of championship games to a non-Irish television company has sparked huge debate, with those in favour seeing it as a means of spreading the popularity of our national games, and those against seeing it as the GAA selling out and taking the first step down a dangerous route which may one day lead to all matches being pay per view. That is a debate for another day.
The furore has somewhat overshadowed the GAA’s other major recent announcement; the launch of their new online streaming service GAAGO, which has the potential to be of even greater significance to the association’s future. And while the Sky deal has been quite divisive, with both sides having valid arguments, it is my opinion that the GAAGO service can only be seen as a positive move for the future of both Gaelic football and hurling.
GAAGO, due to launch mid June, is a subscription based online streaming service, being run conjunctively between RTE and the GAA, and will see users pay a fee of €110 for all 45 live championship matches which will be shown this season (this figure will be €60 for those based in Ireland and Britain as those matches exclusive to Sky will not be available through the app in these areas). The launch of this app is a hugely progressive one, with benefits for all involved including the Irish diaspora as well as the GAA itself.
The most obvious beneficiary of the GAAGO service is undoubtedly the thousands of Irish living abroad. It is no secret that mass emigration has greatly affected our country with so many of our young people moving to the likes of Australia, Canada, USA and the Middle East. Though there are many bars in these areas which now show live GAA matches, the reality for the majority of local punters is that they usually will have to pay a cover charge and more often than not these games are on at ungodly hours locally.
Coming from a personal perspective, I am currently living in Calgary, Canada and while there are a few pubs which do show live matches these pubs inevitably have a cover charge of about $20. On top of this the time difference means that the majority of matches will be on at between 7am and 9 am local time.
While this might not seem that big a deal if the match in question is Kerry vs Dublin or Kilkenny vs Tipp, a Connacht final or All-Ireland qualifier may be less tempting to get out of bed for. This app will allow those living in areas which do not have ease of access to live Championship matches to watch these matches from the comfort of their own home.
Also, considering the previously discussed time difference, GAAGO is going to make all matches available for viewing for up to 24 hours following its live showing. All in all, it promises to be a fantastic upgrade from the current situation of dodgy streams, and over the top prices which many of the Irish abroad have had to suffer for so many years.
The second biggest winner from this launch is of course the GAA itself. First and foremost, this deal is going to bring in money and potentially a lot of money, depending on how successful the app turns out to be. But the GAA’s gains don’t end simply with this financial boost. By ensuring that more and more of those who have moved abroad will now have greater possibilities of watching live championship matches, the GAA is going to go some lengths in preventing an inevitable distancing of people from our national games.
It can at times be difficult for those living in foreign countries to keep up to date with the news and current affairs from home. Sport is no different to this, and when the latest GAA news isn’t plastered on the back pages of every newspaper, or being discussed every fifteen minutes on every radio station, it is quite easy to become disassociated with such events.
With GAAGO, the GAA will hopefully maintain a high level of interest while also laying the foundations for further interest to grow. Exposure is the only way sports can grow. If the GAA wants hurling and football to become more internationally recognised and popular sports, which of course they do, then they must ensure that as many people as possible can view them on a regular basis. We all know just how exciting these sports can be, and I guarantee if you show any self respecting sports fan a decent game of hurling, whether they be from Toronto or Timbuktu, they will be hooked also.
Finally, the launch of GAAGO is a positive for the GAA because it shows a progressive attitude and a willingness to move with the times. The GAA has now joined major international professional sporting associations such as the NBA, MLB and NFL in having their own exclusive, subscription-based online streaming service.
Even the harshest critic of the GAA would have to admit that this shows a massive level of forward thinking. For the GAA, showing live championship matches is only the beginning as the potential for online programming is absolutely huge. Even considering the most obvious areas for expansion, there is the National Leagues, All-Ireland Club Championships and International Rules series.
On top of these, there is the potential for various highlights/preview programmes; documentary programming and the GAA’s massive archive of matches from previous years which all could help garner an even larger amount of subscriptions and viewers. These additions may lay quite a long way down the line, but the first and most important step has been made.
There is no doubt that, despite these positives, there will be plenty of punters who will steer well away from this service. Some may balk at the prices, which they may deem excessive, others may be happy to use other, less legitimate streaming services and some may simply be happy to continue paying the cover charge to watch matches in the pub.
What the GAA and RTE must ensure however, is that no punters are put off by the quality of the service. The public will be paying good money to use the app, and if the service is not up to a very high standard, then the GAAGO app will be simply heading for failure from the get go.
That being said, if the service does reach a high standard, and avoids any major streaming or connection complications then this launch could prove to be a major step in the right direction for the future of the GAA, both in Ireland and abroad.
Brian Bowler, Pundit Arena.