‘If you think GAA is for everybody everywhere, then the criticism is unfair’
The controversial GAA broadcast deal is good for emigrants, according to GAA director-general Paraic Duffy
Páraic Duffy, director general of the GAA Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
Páraic Duffy, the GAA’s director general, and Liam O’Neill, its president, were quite the double act at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications this week.
Duffy took a factual approach, explaining in robust terms the organisation’s controversial deal with Sky Sports. O’Neill appealed lyrically to the guilt so many at home feel for the Irish abroad. Being able to watch GAA matches while abroad will be like a “Band-Aid on a homesick heart,” he said, quoting one Irish nurse he had met in Bahrain.
O’Neill also told the story of a fan who, after being thrown out of a pub at closing time in Australia while watching the All-Ireland hurling final, was forced to try to watch through the window. “Can the committee picture our emigrants, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews or grandchildren, standing outside the window of a pub in Australia seeking to watch our games?” he asked.
Under the deal, the Sky Sports subscription channel will broadcast 14 matches exclusively; it will also have nonexclusive rights to the All-Ireland hurling and football semi-finals and finals.
By this week much of the indignation that had greeted the original announcement had dissipated, and the message from the representatives was clear: the GAA is not for turning on the Sky deal.
The association needed a television provider for the UK and the only interested party was Sky Sports. It was “Sky or nothing,” Duffy said.
Speaking in Croke Park this week the morning after the committee hearing, Duffy shows The Irish Times a text from a prominent individual whose elderly father lives in London. It reads: “Well done to the GAA for making Gaelic games available to the Irish abroad. My 85-year-old father in London and others like him will no longer have to go to the pub to watch any championship game. Contrasts with RTÉ’s shameful negligence of the Irish in Britain. All the talk about children having to go to pubs; one would think that nobody in the country had a Sky subscription.”
Duffy says: “If you think of the GAA as being only for Irish people living in Ireland then the criticism is valid, because they have lost a number of games. If you think the GAA is for everybody, irrespective of where they [are], then the criticism is unfair.”
There are now 399 GAA clubs outside Ireland. Will this deal make Brad in Baltimore or Dave in Dagenham take up Gaelic games? “I wouldn’t overstate it, but I really believe if the games are available in Britain and Australia you’ll see a lot of people take them up that didn’t take them up before. It will be a small minority, but it will be significant for us.”
Amid the chatter over the Sky deal, the significance of the internet aspect – a paid service from the GAA and RTÉ Digital – was underplayed. It means that for the first time all GAA games televised live in Ireland will be available in homes with broadband around the world. Duffy says the increasing prevalance of internet-enabled televisions means that in practice GAA games will also be available on television in many homes around the world.
Duffy describes himself as a “sport nut” and a sporting ecumenist. He is a fan of the Premier League and has a Sky Sports subscription. He also has an internet subscription to the Boston Bruins ice hockey team costing about €120 a year.
Will an annual subscription to the RTÉ Digital-GAA internet service cost about the same amount? “I don’t want to put figures on it. It’s as much RTÉ’s decision as ours, but we want to make it affordable.” A range of options is likely to be made available, from a single match to a season ticket.
There will be one notable exception. None of the games covered by the Sky Sports deal – the 14 exclusive games and the six simulcasts of the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals – will not be to British viewers on the internet.
“Nearly every pub in Britain has Sky Sports. It will be very easy for people to access the games. I don’t see that being a problem in the UK. I honestly don’t believe it will be an issue at all,” he says.
Sky Sports will show a highlights programme during the week. Duffy says he is also hopeful that RTÉ’s The Sunday Game will be made available to internet subscribers. “ The Sunday Game would be a huge thing. I want to make this happen.”