Rights deal set to usher in a whole new ball game

Sky deal raises questions over long term future of television rights

 Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy, left, and JD Buckley, managing director, Sky Ireland at the announcment of the new broadcasting rights agreement. Photograph: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy, left, and JD Buckley, managing director, Sky Ireland at the announcment of the new broadcasting rights agreement. Photograph: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 01:00

The GAA yesterday confirmed details of the new broadcasting rights agreement to cover the next three years. As had been widely speculated the deal includes the first allocation of exclusive broadcast rights to a subscription channel with Sky’s 14-match package supplemented by a further six matches, the latter stages of both All-Irelands, to be shown non-exclusively.

This means that the satellite station, which starts its coverage with the Leinster hurling quarter-final between Kilkenny and Offaly on 7th June, will have a presence for over three months on the GAA schedules.

The highest profile fixture is likely to be the All-Ireland football quarter-final involving the Leinster champions on August 9th. All-Ireland champions Dublin, the county with the biggest potential audience, have won the last three titles and are favourites to win a fourth later this year

Again as expected TV3, the first station outside of RTÉ to be given exclusive access to championship matches over the past six years, loses out completely with its matches going completely to Sky, who also benefit from the additional five fixtures which made up this year’s offer – a rise from 40 to 45.

There were few surprises in the remaining allocations. RTÉ retain the lion’s share with 31 live championship matches, the same as last year, plus the Sunday Game highlights programme rights whereas TG4 and Setanta keep their league rights for Sunday afternoon and Saturday evenings, respectively.

TG4 have also been given the rights to broadcast the All-Ireland minor finals, which were allocated to TV3. RTÉ also take over the internet rights, which will be jointly administered by the GAA and RTÉ Digital.

Increase in revenue
As is customary there has been no disclosure of the sale price for the rights but unusually a statement by GAA director general Páraic Duffy declared that the increase in revenue on the previous three-year deal was “marginal”. That agreement, which expires at the end of the national leagues later this month was worth in the region of €10 million per annum.

Both Duffy and association president Liam O’Neill as well as commercial director Peter McKenna, who negotiated the deal, laid particular emphasis on the improved coverage overseas.

The most striking aspect of the international coverage is the terrestrial broadcast of all championship matches in Australia on Channel 7. This creates the slightly unusual situation that audiences in Australia will have access to all matches on free-to-air while domestic audiences in Ireland can view only 31.

Former GAA president and Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly raised reservations that may occur to others about the long-term future of television rights. Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, he asked: “When it comes up for renewal in three years’ time will a package from Sky be so attractive that RTÉ will lose out as well as TV3? I think it’s something that’s a delicate situation and I’ve no doubt that the motivation of the negotiators is beyond question but I’m just wondering about thinking out the implication and how it will be viewed at grass roots level.

“I’d have liked to have seen it discussed at grass roots level and at county board level and then maybe a decision made based on that . . .”

One industry observer made the point about Sky: “Normally with them, agreements go one of two ways. Either they lose interest if the targets aren’t hit or else they come back for more.”

All of the variety within the market currently comes at RTÉ’s expense and the state broadcaster may well face intensified competition in three years’ time.

Outside of Australia, the other global markets don’t feature specifically in the released details although there will be online coverage available in the US.

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