Five-ish things the GAA can learn from the Sky television deal
Without re-hashing the argument over subscription viewing let’s absorb the lessons
The rationale behind the GAA’s move into subscription broadcasting is it will revolutionise the availability of matches for members of the association in Britain where the games are proving increasingly popular as participation sports. Photograph: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
I’m as excited as anyone by the media trend for self-improvement, embodied in the desire to “learn five things” from various events and incidents. It’s really educational and also a rigorous discipline because something might happen from which we learn only three things but yet the quest for knowledge must continue.
Similarly, we may learn 19 things from a particularly complex development but it’s best to prioritise and reduce the number of meaningful lessons to five.
Five Things the GAA Learned from their Television Deal:
1) The GAA belongs to everyone – regardless.
I forget the author who came up with this memorable description but it ran along the lines of: “A big fat guy came into the room laughing, followed by two little guys helping him to laugh”.
If conversely, you want to complain about the GAA there’ll be no shortage of helpers.
If you’re a Croke Park official it will be part of the discourse that you will take “robust” and even ill informed criticism for your decisions but it’s best not to lapse into the shrill when defending your position.
There will also be measured and valid critiques. It’s a good idea to treat all negativity as if it’s in that category.
2) Insularity sells – you’re not the United Nations.
As a country we’ve made an art form out of surviving by effectively expelling people when things get bad. High emigration rates have been a “safety valve” throughout the State’s history, making it easier to avoid having to work out how to provide a society which caters properly for its citizenry.
The rationale behind the GAA’s move into subscription broadcasting is it will revolutionise the availability of matches for members of the association in Britain where the games are proving increasingly popular as participation sports.
Will it work? We’ll know in time but the engagement hasn’t been on the grounds the broadcasting rights allocation won’t achieve its stated intent; the argument has been to question why should we have to pay more to suit people overseas.
Nothing new in this, of course. There was virtually no complaining – certainly not on the scale we’ve experienced over the past week – when broadcast rights were sold to terrestrial channels not universally available in Northern Ireland despite the fact the territory covers most of one of the GAA’s provinces.
In parts of Ulster the main difference between TV3 and Sky is you can actually get a match on Sky if you want it badly enough.
3) What goes around comes around.
Does this report from the The Irish Times in June 1993 sound familiar? “The GAA says it will make over £300,000 over three years but PRO Danny Lynch said that their main concern in the deal was to obtain maximum exposure for Gaelic games overseas?”
That was a reference to news overseas broadcasting rights holder Chrysalis would be providing Channel 4 in Britain with a highlights programme that summer for broadcast on Saturday mornings.
This would take the place in the schedules of Gazzetta Football Italia , a Serie A highlights package – ironically, as it was the arrival of live broadcasts of Italian soccer in the 1992-93 season that meant live coverage of the All-Ireland final would not be shown. It hasn’t been free-to-air in Britain since.
Chrysalis were the first company to make inroads into RTÉ’s Gaelic games monopoly, which up until then had included the overseas rights. In April 1992, then RTÉ head of sport, the late Tim O’Connor, responded to the loss with equanimity and expressed scepticism about the extent of the commercial loss.
“The head of sport in RTÉ might not be able to survive without Gaelic games but the head of sport in Japanese television, for instance, certainly can”.
O’Connor’s concerns have been vindicated by the difficulty the GAA have had finding terrestrial outlets for its games but this has allowed the provision of live match broadcasts overseas to become feasible through the use of subscription channels.
4) Taking soup from Sky requires a long spoon.
Sky Sports come with a bundle of questionable associations. They have been the main organ of promotion for English soccer over the past 22 years. The breathless style of puffery has reared generations of children to believe there’s never a bad match played in the Premiership.
On one level the GAA follower sees this as dishonest and exaggerating the merits of the game but on another, such an approach has its attractions because of what is characterised as excessive negativity on the part of the RTÉ panel of analysts.
Sky’s commercialism and commoditising of various sports creates unease about what might happen in the future. What if the GAA are mesmerised into handing over more and more rights until the sinister landscape of satellite dishes broodingly dominates the horizon?
Then there is the persona of its owner Rupert Murdoch, which can with a mere mention elicit strong responses in this country. RTÉ pundit Joe Brolly echoed this concern from his racy-of-the soil redoubt in the weekend’s Mail on Sunday .
It’s only just over 20 years since the Ulster Council ordered the removal of pitch-side advertising for another of Murdoch’s media outlets, The Sun newspaper, which had unaccountably made its way into a ground during the Ulster championship.
According to reports it was considered “antagonistic towards Ireland and the ideals of the GAA”.
5) See first paragraph.