National League may get more money from Sky television


REPRESENTATIVES of the Harps Lager National League hope to sit down with their counterparts from the Football Association in England to discuss the impact of Sky television's new football deal on the game here.

The talks may mean that clubs here will come in for a windfall similar to the one received in recent years when money paid by Sky helped to pay for the installation of floodlights in almost all of the National League's grounds at a cost of around one and a half million pounds.

Under UEFA rules a country's football association when agreeing television coverage must have the permission of associations potentially affected by that coverage. With matches from the Premiership being widely seen here, the FAI are entitled to compensation for lost crowds at games here. The payments may not be made in the form of cash, though, and so the League will be looking at ways that the money from English television can once again be used to improve facilities at grounds around the country.

The FAI will be hoping to complete negotiations with RTE regarding coverage of Ireland's home international fixtures as well as the station's coverage of the National League and, according to League President Michael Hyland, they are hoping to conclude a deal that will run up to the year 2002.

Hyland says that the FAI will look for further improvements in the way that the game is covered here with the recent agreement between the IFA in Northern Ireland and the two main television stations there appearing an attractive model.

Under the terms of the Irish League deal, every Premier division game and at least two first division games each week will be covered by cameras from one or other of the stations. This will mean that both organisations will have considerably more footage of games available to them for use in news programmes and other sports programmes.

Initially the contract is worth £250,000 to Northern Irish clubs over a four year period, although this might grow considerably if one or other of the stations was to introduce a programme devoted specifically to the domestic game UTV say that they are considering this and other options at the moment.

"The coverage of the game here was a big improvement on what we had been used to before that, but we'd be hoping that it can continue to improve," said Hyland. "What we would like to see most is better production on the games that RTE do cover, more cameras and things like that. We would like to see them package the game in a more positive way.

The greatest reshuffle in terms of coverage, however, has been in England, where Sky has added coverage of the Nationwide League and the Coca Cola Cup to its already heavy schedule of football programming.

Live coverage of the game between Manchester City and Ipswich Town on Friday night will mark the start of the company's Nationwide League coverage and its scheduling of the games is likely to worry Irish clubs, many of whom have gradually shifted their matches to Fridays over the past couple of years.

"It might be a problem, but so far the clubs that have moved to Fridays have tended to get better crowds and we will just have to wait and see what happens when these games start," says Hyland.

As it stands only Sligo Rovers and Home Farm, who play their matches on a Saturday evening will not find themselves competing with televised football. With at least two matches scheduled to be played each Friday night this season, Dublin clubs, in particular, may find it difficult to maintain the recent improvement in attendances.

Overall, Sky plan to show around 175 live games over the coming season, 60 more than last year, with, in addition to the Friday matches, first division games on at lunchtime on Sundays before the day's Premiership game. The League Cup and some Scottish games will be shown in midweek.

The company plan to show English League matches, excluding those from the Premiership, on their new Sky Sports 3 channel and this will be available to all existing Sky Sports subscribers, as well as those subscribing via Cablelink, at no extra cost.

Cablelink, however, has not yet decided whether those subscribers who are served through the Multilink system will receive the new station at first, as they are suffering from capacity problems on the system and may have to drop a channel to free up space.

In addition to the live action itself, the new channel will, say Sky, enable them to devote even more time to support programming for its coverage. There will now be an average of two programmes each day on their channels about the game.

All of which pretty may well rob a great many local supporters of the motivation to head off to the likes of The Showgrounds, Tolka Park or St Mel's Park. The drinking habits of the population at large may save the day, though, with the growing amount of coverage posing problems of its own for publicans who may not wish to have games on televisions in their bars on evenings that are traditionally busy anyway.

Except for those prepared to fork out for the decoder and those determined never to witness the game in the flesh that might mean that, come Friday night at least, the National League might get a look in after all.