Sky can be the limit to latest GAA broadcast negotiations
Exclusive championship rights for satellite broadcaster mightn’t be on the cards but some partnership would be possible
GAA commercial director Peter McKenna and GAA director general Páraic Duffy. Photograph: Cathal Noonan
The graceful taking of positions for the GAA’s triennial broadcasting dance has begun with association commercial director Peter McKenna sending up the signal that there is “an open agenda” on the issue of Sky Sports securing rights.
For many years the idea of Sky as a sort of forbidden solution to the GAA’s concerns about television coverage flourished. The station’s breathless hyping of Premier League soccer and in time European Cup rugby was portrayed as precisely the injection of razzmatazz that Gaelic games coverage needed.
There was insufficient attention paid to contemporary shortcomings in the GAA product: knock-out competition from which big teams could be unexpectedly eliminated and, even in the era of the qualifiers, a relatively restricted schedule of big events.
In his annual report 18 years ago then GAA director general Liam Mulvihill prophetically warned: “We must also seriously examine our competition structures to see if we are organising a package, which allows us to promote our games to the maximum extent possible.”
Whereas those structures began to evolve immediately with the addition of fixtures to both the hurling and football calendars, it would be hard even these days for Sky to light that many fireworks on a sustained basis for the unwieldy competitive structures of the All-Ireland championship.
More significantly there was what has always been seen as the political impossibility of allocating significant, exclusive rights to a subscription channel. Although the GAA greatly coveted the idea of a rival broadcaster with deep pockets to compete with RTÉ, that dream has never been realised even if TV3 has made a belated arrival at the dance in the last two rights issues.
The GAA always insisted that subscription channels were an option and complained with other sporting organisations about the ring-fencing of certain events for terrestrial television but the realpolitik of the situation was that such a move would be a hard sell.
Congress used to hear regular complaints about the door charge of $20 people had to pay if they wanted to watch matches in bars in the US so it can be imagined what the uproar would be were the same events to disappear from terrestrial screens in Ireland.
Earlier this year current director general Páraic Duffy explicitly accepted this in an interview for Michael Moynihan’s GAAconomics The Secret Life of Money in the GAA, telling the author:
“With our TV rights we’re constrained, rightly, because we wouldn’t get away with selling the rights to the championship to Sky Sports or somebody like that, even though those organisations have expressed an interest. With us, we start from this point – how can we best promote the games and make them available to the maximum number of people? It’s after those criteria are addressed that we think about maximising the revenue from those.”