Subscriber OnlyGaelic GamesOn Gaelic Games

Seán Moran: GAAGo has been turned into a lightning rod for many different agendas

The much reviled streaming service has become vital for showing matches and getting a reasonable return for them

Twenty-six years ago, this very week the GAA was embroiled in controversy over a grant of £20 million towards the redevelopment of Croke Park. It was actually lottery money but then minister for finance Charlie McCreevy took the opportunity anyway to announce it during his budget speech.

As debate flourished in the letters page of this newspaper, people disappointed with other allocations for various projects and interest groups frequently cited the allocation of this money.

One correspondent was moved “to ask the government to give the GAA an ordinary grant and take back the ‘magic £20 million’” that could simultaneously have solved so many other problems.

Judging by reaction to the association’s launch GAAGo’s 2024 schedules, something of the same problem has re-occurred.


So many interests have supposedly been disadvantaged by the joint GAA-RTÉ subscription streaming service: the promotion of hurling – in Cork especially, the ordinary members and volunteers, senior citizens, remote rural communities. Could they not have done a simple media rights deal instead of producing this wrecking ball aimed at so many blameless interests?

Rewind briefly to last year. Sky Sports withdrew from the process of renewing its rights agreement that had been in place since 2014. The GAA was faced with a problem. It had one terrestrial partner and now the complementary subscription partner had walked away.

GAAGo, established as a streaming service for overseas, was hurriedly recast as a domestic rights partner and managed to get up and running in time for this year’s championship.

The idea of a subscription service has never quite settled despite the concept having been around the GAA more than 20 years for league matches and 10 years, for championship.

There are always those who advocate that as a community based organisation the association should be making all of its matches available for free – despite this being commercial nonsense and practically impossible given the number of fixtures, a difficulty compounded by the condensing of the championship season in the past two years.

Running a national sports organisation is expensive between capital expenditure on infrastructure and spending on games development – coaches and facilities.

Media income is by a distance the biggest chunk of the GAA’s commercial earnings. For the last accounting year, 2022, the €15.3 million it brought in constituted 68 per cent of commercial income. For every reduction in that revenue stream, you can knock off some of that developmental investment.

Another problem is RTÉ. As a partner in GAAGo as well as the terrestrial rights holder, the national broadcaster was accused of a conflict of interest – the allegation that it would deliberately choose less box-office fixtures for television in order to maximise the subscription take when higher-profile stuff went behind a paywall.

There is of course no evidence that this has happened. Ill feeling in Cork over the number of fixtures, three, that are to be streamed may be understandable but there’s little to suggest that it was an intentional diverting of fixtures. It was simply decided that more attractive broadcasts were available.

The county’s matches against Waterford and Clare are on a Sunday but weren’t chosen by RTÉ, allowing GAAGo to step in and cover them. Those fixtures that were preferred include Clare-Limerick, a rerun of the epic Munster finals of the past two years and coincidentally the one fixture that caused most uproar earlier this year when streamed.

The GAA’s contention that the matches wouldn’t have been shown at all but for GAAGo was derided by among others Dónal Cusack but where would they be broadcast given the blizzard of fixtures in the new season’s structure?

He would clearly have preferred to ditch the Ulster and Leinster football finals to accommodate the Cork-Limerick match, now on Saturday, but RTÉ has the provincial final rights and anyway would it be what most people above the Dublin-Galway line would necessarily want?

When the controversy was at its height during the summer, RTÉ was also embattled by the Ryan Tubridy payments scandal, which attracted a focus for GAAGo that was correspondingly intense, which showed at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Sport and Media’s July hearings on the “future of sports broadcasting”.

Asked at the launch did he feel the GAA had been collateral damage in wider Montrose issues, president Larry McCarthy said that he “suspected one had impacted the other”.

His suspicion appeared well founded when in a curious Seanad contribution, Senator Timmy Dooley appeared to suggest that RTÉ’s need to rebuild trust and confidence with the public might be facilitated by putting fewer matches behind a paywall as if it was within the broadcaster’s remit to vary the terms of its rights agreement with the GAA.

The media landscape remains quite challenging.

Given how delighted the GAA were in the 1990s when TV3 was established, followed by TG4 and eventually Setanta, which acquired the first subscription rights, the initial promise of all that competition has not been realised.

TV3 came and went. Successors Virgin Media has shown no serious interest in resuming. TG4 has limited resources but does well to show a range of league, club and women’s matches.

Setanta was acquired by eir sport, which in turn folded with its league and club rights picked up by RTÉ.

To understate, this is not a thriving market.

The GAAGo rights deal is due to be reviewed next year. In Croke Park you would imagine the anxiety is less about any continued pressure concerning the partnership with RTÉ but what would happen if the broadcaster, under its current budgetary pressures, had second thoughts.