Is the Sky about to fall in on the GAA?
A new TV deal for the GAA’s summer games means another outing for the end-of-the-world merchants
You’d the full spectrum of opinions on last night’s Prime Time TV show when the talk turned to the GAA’s new 14 match deal with Sky. There was informed opinion from GAA economics pundit Michael Moynihan (who was talking about this very thing at The Back Page over the weekend), a stout wing-back performance from former GAA prez Nickey Brennan who was letting nothing past without a slap and a surprisingly nervy display from the organisation’s current big kahoona Páraic Duffy (who has, after all, to sell this one to the masses).
There were pleas for the poor aul’ fellas living down country boreens from Eugene McGee and some interesting (in every sense of the word) words from the audience. We particularly liked the Dub with the notes who sadly stopped just short of saying Sky would bring a plague of locusts to Hill 16. Luckily for presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, the topic of how exactly that particular plague of locusts would find space on the Hill when the Dubs were playing was not broached.
Let’s stop it right there. We’re dealing with change and no-one likes change. But as one audience member put it, we’ve been here before. The GAA is a conservative organisation and every single change to the status quo has been challenged. Be it allowing players to play other codes (as Brian McEniff noted on last night’s show) or opening the gates of Croker to music fans (which has turned out to be a very lucrative business at a million euro a pop for pop gigs), each has caused much wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth and assorted ruaille buaille.
This Sky thing is no different. I’m sure there was also end-of-day scenarios applied in some quarters when RTÉ started broadcasting games in the first place. The same thing happened when Setanta got some of the rights. There was, as we all remember, much consternation when rugby turned up on Jones Road. And yet, the games and the organisation survived. There will be those who will say yes and those who will say no, as Malachy Clerkin’s round-up of opinions shows.
It’s easy to see why Sky are getting involved. They’re probably looking at last summer’s hurling championship, for instance, and seeing an opportunity to flog subscription packages home and away on the back of a repeat of that kind of magic. They’re paying a pretty penny for that and a good part of that cash which will find its way, one way or another, back to the grassroots. As Moynihan noted last night, it would be helpful if the GAA actually published or explained what part of this money would flow back to the clubs, but that would probably require an extraordinary meeting of Congress and no-one bar Frank Murphy could handle that class of thing.
Of course, there’s a range of other sides to it. There’s the fact that many homes don’t have or want Sky packages no matter how attractive a Kilkenny-Offaly game in June might be. Pubs will do a roaring trade, no doubt, with the Sunday games, but there are many who will simply wait for the highlights on The Sunday Game. Obviously, there will be a report produced within 12 months showing how the GAA decision to go with Sky has contributed to a huge spurt in youth alcoholism.
Sky are here for the glamour and the big draws so you’re unlikely to see them covering the leagues, for instance. That’s not where the mass eyeballs are and an organisation like Sky initially want those eyeballs to get a return on investment which means we’re (thankfully) left with TG4′s brilliant coverage.
Then, there’s the whole thing about the GAA’s voluntary ethos and the thousands of people who give their time free of charge (usually) to promote and play the games up and down the country. Will they now have to buy a package from a foreign broadcaster to see the national games? You can expect some give and take here such as Sky doing some sort of deal with the clubs to give them cheap Sky Sports’ packages for their clubhouses (if they don’t have them already) to head this one off at the pass. And it’s unlikely that the thousands who tog out every week for their clubs will stop doing so because 14 games a year are on SKy.
There will be a lot of lip-service paid to some high-falutin’ notions about new markets and the diaspora, but that’s just lip-service. Sky got the games because they’re paying good cash and it gives the GAA a chip to use over RTÉ in any future negotiations. It could, naturally, go all wrong. As noted in today’s piece by Seán Moran, agreements with Sky tend to go one of two ways: “either they lose interest if the targets aren’t hit or else they come back for more.” And “more” will mean pulling out the chequebook or credit card to compete with the national broadcaster for bigger games and exclusive rights. Expect this one to get a re-run in three years’ time. Game most definitely on.