Sky’s the limit
It didn’t take the most acute foresight for the Gaelic Athletic Association to anticipate the uproar in some quarters by the decision to sell to Sky Sports exclusive broadcasting rights to a number of championship matches. Yet the reactions and accompanying media coverage appear to have startled the association, judging by the intemperate response from GAA president Liam O’Neill to RTÉ’s Prime Time programme on the issue.
For a public and GAA membership used to accessing summer football and hurling at no charge, grievances range from the decision to remove nine of last year’s free-to-air matches and sell them to a subscription broadcaster, to the commercial ambitions of the Sky Sports brand. Neither of these perspectives is too surprising but there was little public reaction three years ago when the GAA decided to reduce by 10 the number of matches available for live broadcast. It is hard to understand fully the anger expressed at the Sky deal when primary rights holder RTÉ has retained the same number of matches, 31, as previously. It is more than 10 years since domestic matches went behind a paywall when Setanta agreed rights to show national league fixtures.
According to the GAA the motivation behind the new rights issue was to improve the reach of Gaelic games overseas rather than to prioritise commercial return – an argument hard to refute given a modest increase in rights value believed to be roughly 10 per cent of the previous three-year agreement. There may well be a promotional cost if a big match ends up on Sky and is available to only a fraction of the potential terrestrial audience but it will be up to the GAA to evaluate the overall cost-benefit of the arrangement before another rights issue is negotiated in three years’ time.
Through the years the association has been generally well served by its commercial dealings and its national administrators have earned the right to be trusted by the membership. It is a bit early to suggest that that trust should be forfeited.