TV ratings a matter of concern for the GAA

Croke Park will be disappointed with just three matches in the top 20 sports broadcasts

The All-Ireland hurling final between Limerick and Galway attracted more viewers than the Dublin v Tyrone football decider. Photograph: Cathal Noonan

The All-Ireland hurling final between Limerick and Galway attracted more viewers than the Dublin v Tyrone football decider. Photograph: Cathal Noonan

 

There are too many special circumstances surrounding the television ratings for sport in 2018 to extrapolate hard and fast trends but the figures contain plenty of reasons for concern in the GAA.

The fact that only three fixtures – two hurling and one football – make it into the top 20 sports broadcasts for last year indicates historically low audience interaction.

It was a perfect storm in terms of international sport with Ireland winning a rugby Grand Slam and the Fifa World Cup featuring a strong run by England – second in attracting viewers only to Ireland competing in a major soccer tournament – whereas the GAA season was the first in an experimental three years with a compressed calendar of fixtures.

The continuing rise of rugby as a major television sport has clearly been driven by the success of the national team under Joe Schmidt and, for comparative purposes, it’s interesting to compare Ireland’s previous Grand Slam decider against England, 15 years previously.

Then coverage placed only sixth in the top 10 sports broadcasts with 504,000 – only just greater than half last year’s audience of 975,500, which was the most-watched sports programme of the year – and lagging behind both All-Ireland finals and the hurling semi-final between Tipperary and Kilkenny.

Soccer showed strongly with 15 of the 26 sports broadcasts to appear in the 50 most watched in 2018. Rugby had the remaining eight, including the top two, the England and New Zealand matches, whose figures were exceeded only by perennial ratings topper The Late, Late Toy Show.

From a GAA perspective, however, a decent comparison could be made with 2014 when Ireland also won the rugby Six Nations and there was a Fifa World Cup. That year, there were seven GAA broadcasts in the top 20.

Mitigating factors

There are mitigating factors in that Dublin’s domination of the football championship is clearly one issue in the declining audiences just as it is in the falling attendances at matches. That’s not to blame the champions because when they are challenged the crowds follow.

For instance in the previous year’s ratings Dublin’s All-Ireland final against Mayo was easily the most watched sports broadcast, with an audience of 1,137,500 – exceeding for instance the Irish rugby team’s Grand Slam numbers in 2018.

Unsurprisingly the 2018 All-Ireland football final, with 841,000, came in behind the hurling final but only just – at 854,000 – which is surprising in one way because the hurling championship attracted great publicity with a series of terrific matches, culminating in an historic and dramatic win for Limerick but it was also the first year of an August final.

The decision to bring forward the All-Ireland finals and tighten the championship schedules in general may have compromised the audiences given the traditional September timing and the enhanced promotion opportunities of a longer lead-in.

It will be interesting to see if Croke Park holds fast to the view that the sacrifice of that traditional profile is worth the consequent benefit to club fixtures. 

TOP SPORTS BROADCASTS 2018

1.     England v Ireland Six Nations, 17th Match, 975,600 [Virgin Media 1]

2.     Ireland v New Zealand, 17th Nov, 926,600 RTÉ2]

3.     Croatia v England, World Cup semi-final, 11th July, 924,400 RTÉ2]

4.     Limerick v Galway, All-Ireland (H) final, 19th August, 854,400 RTÉ2]

5.     Dublin v Tyrone, All-Ireland (F) final, 2nd September, 841,100 RTÉ2]

6.     Ireland v Scotland, Six Nations, 10th March, 729,400 [Virgin Media 1]

7.     Ireland v Wales, Six Nations, 24th February, 663,300 [Virgin Media 1]

8.     France v Croatia, Fifa World Cup final, 15th July, 654,400 RTÉ2]

9.     England v Colombia, Fifa World Cup, 3rd July, 638,600 [RTÉ2]

10.    France v Belgium, Fifa World Cup, 10th July, 612,400 RTÉ2]

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