BBC NI to lose most of their Ulster championship games
RTÉ’s coverage of condensed hurling championships to have a knock-on effect in North
Michael Murphy: his Donegal side are in action in the preliminary round clash against Cavan in the Ulster championship on May 13th. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
BBC Northern Ireland viewers are set to lose the vast majority of their Ulster football championship games in 2018, as a consequence of RTÉ choosing to screen more games in the Super 8 series than early provincial rounds.
At present, BBCNI are locked into an arrangement with RTÉ whereby they pay them for rights, while also providing the live camera feed for Ulster matches.
Last year, RTÉ screened seven Ulster championship games, with six in 2016 and five in 2015. With the advent of the condensed championship season, RTÉ have decided a number of games in the Munster and Leinster hurling Championships may be a more attractive proposition.
Negotiations are reported to be ongoing but it is highly likely the only games available to watch on BBCNI will be one Ulster semi-final and the final, a huge drop from previous years when it was the norm for seven out of eight games to be shown live on BBCNI.
This is only the second year of a five-year rights arrangement, with BBCNI appearing to be squeezed out by the new championship structures in football and hurling.
Ulster Council spokesman Michael Geoghegan stated, “There are negotiations going on between BBC and RTÉ as to what they are actually going to show. I know RTÉ are only going to be showing two games in Ulster. It’s really a matter between them as to what they are going to show and it is still ongoing.”
That echoed a comment from the BBC Press Office, which stated, “Discussions about our GAA coverage are ongoing with relevant stakeholders. We remain committed to maximising the range, impact and volume of BBC programming in this area and understand its importance to local audiences.
“Sports rights are highly competitive and much of what we are able to do depends on partnership agreements with other broadcasters. Details of our plans for championship coverage on the BBC’s radio, television, online and digital platforms will be announced shortly.”
This follows the news in early March that the BBC failed to secure broadcast rights for the rugby PRO14 competition, leaving BBCNI with a fraction of the live sport that they have enjoyed until recently.
The preliminary round in Ulster is between Donegal and Cavan on May 13th, and it has been confirmed that RTÉ will focus on the Galway versus Mayo Connacht football Championship tie with the same throw-in time of 4pm, while earlier that day, round one of the Leinster hurling championship will feature Dublin versus Kilkenny.
It is believed the BBC are attempting to convince RTÉ they could show some of these games as deferred coverage, or even be able to host them on the BBC iPlayer.
As things stand, Down versus Antrim, the winners of Donegal/Cavan versus Derry, and the tie between Tyrone and Monaghan will not be shown live on BBC, which will cause annoyance among GAA fans in Northern Ireland, who pay their BBC licence fee.
The other unknown however, is whether Sky TV will cover these games but, like RTÉ, they have yet to formally announce their schedule of games. They have 14 exclusive matches, as well as the All-Ireland final and semi-finals, but they are known to be keen to focus heavily on the Super 8 series as well.
This turn of events could leave Ulster GAA with its least amount of games screened live since 1990, when the BBC introduced its’ highly-popular Championship programme for the first time with a Monaghan win over Antrim in Castleblayney, with former Armagh captain Jimmy Smyth on commentary.