Sky TV deal ‘is damaging to the GAA’s ethos’

Joe Brolly condemns new partnership with Sky while GPA gives a warm welcome

Of the serried ranks of people lined up in opposition to the GAA's new partnership with Sky Sports, it's probably not surprising that Joe Brolly's was the most eloquent voice yesterday. His objection, it hardly needs saying, would be consistent with or without his involvement with RTÉ. For Brolly, talking to The Irish Times there is a wider point at issue.

“It’s so very disappointing. It makes commercial sense and practical sense but it is damaging to the GAA’s ethos. In the end, the GAA is about community and that volunteer spirit and Sky is about business. How much money do we need? People are raging about this. After our juvenile coaching on Sunday, the coaches all stood around for 20 minutes afterwards going, ‘What are we doing here? What’s the point of all of this?’

“This is about principle. If nothing else, the GAA is about principle. The GAA makes no sense in modern terms. It has stood against every pragmatic advance and stood apart from the rest of the world against the lure of the pound. We are what we are because we’ve stood our ground. The people at the bottom – the coaches, the parents, the kids – we’re entitled to expect the hierarchy to stand with us.

“Of course you have to pay the bills – we’re very good at that. Every club in the country takes care of that. We have no issues there. We don’t need the money. There is no doubt that there is an increasing disconnect between the people and the hierarchy. We are now doing different things. The GAA is about nothing if it is not about an ideal and this goes against that ideal. That’s it, simple as that.”


Warm welcome
By contrast, the Gaelic Players Association extended a warm welcome to the new media rights deal, with spokesman Seán Potts rejecting out of hand any suggestion that it represents another step along the road to players eventually being paid.

“The games aren’t going to go professional. By accessing our development programmes, players can make a meaningful difference to their lives off the field through the support of education and career development . . .

“People can make whatever statements they like but they are a red herring. Nobody is going to surrender what the GAA means to this country for the sake of professionalism. It won’t happen.”

Instead, Potts stressed that the international element to the deal – with Sky Sports now showing 20 matches a year in the UK and Channel 7 showing 45 in Australia – in his opinion changes the face of what the GAA and what it can be.

“The way we would see it is that any move that increases the exposure of the games and our players is very welcome. After the hurling championship last year, people were saying, ‘Ah, if you could only bottle it, if you could only expose it to the outside world.’ We believe that’s possible but it will take time and it will take effort and commitment and this is a step in the right direction.

“We don’t see it as exclusionary. We see it as harnessing more platforms for the sport and allowing it to compete with other sports. We actually see it as the opposite of exclusionary. The experience of other sports is that they have grown on the back of this coverage, not shrunk. The GAA is right to safeguard its future with strong broadcasting agreements.”

All sides
Amid the current playing pool, there was a general welcome on social media for the deal. Veteran Monaghan midfielder Dick Clerkin urged people to take a moment to look at the new deal from all sides.

“With deals like this, you need to take a step back and look at it. There are always going to be pockets who it will not suit. If you look at the wider issue – the exposure the games are going to get in terms of the UK and Australia and wherever else – that can only be an overwhelmingly positive thing for the GAA.

“Anything that can potentially come against it – talk of professionalism and pay-for-play – I think that is a total red herring. In the same way that the GAA will never go professional, Sky will never have a huge influence over how it runs its affairs.”

The big losers yesterday were TV3, whose six-year relationship with the GAA has now ended.

"TV3 has been proud to broadcast the GAA Championship free to viewers throughout the country over the past six years," said Niall Cogley, Director of Broadcasting at the station. "TV3 made a very commercial bid for the next three years but this appears to have been superseded by the GAA's preference for a pay television strategy."

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times