At this September’s Ryder Cup, the European and US players will emerge from a tunnel into the amphitheatre of the first tee. Before a ball is struck, it will make for great TV.
Europe captain Paul McGinley has had his part to play in it, the idea appealing to his GAA background, but it has just as much to do with Sky Sports.
When it comes to framing a competition, they are the masters. As they have shown in the negotiations for a new European competition in rugby, they have incredible and often scary levels of influence. The Premier League isn’t anything close to what it’s cracked up to be but eskimos and snow come to mind when thinking of Sky.
How they will cope with the reluctance of amateur sportsmen to cooperate fully with interviews will be intriguing to watch. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not at the top of the list but there are several idiosyncrasies about the GAA that they will have to accept more than quibble about, appreciate rather than coerce.
But the hilariousness of Today FM’s Gift Grub sketch about them and their couple of on-screen boo-boos in making yesterday’s announcement will soon be replaced by an ultra-professional entity that will strive to get their money’s worth from their new acquisition.
A trade-off is how GAA president Liam O’Neill has described the deal with the pay-per-view merchants, Sky’s 10 million subscribers in the UK being a huge pull, and the term is right, even if it doesn’t necessarily refer to what he was talking about.
O’Neill explained the sacrifice of 14 Championship games in each of the next three seasons is worth it to extend the worldwide profile of Gaelic games.
But what the GAA might see for courting such an able suitor as Sky Sports is supporters become subscribers. Those previously not used to paying will surely demand more and they will get more from the leaders of the pack in their field. Others, meanwhile, will resort to dodgy, illegal streams to watch games. O’Neill has made the argument that people don’t have to pay a subscription to go to a Championship game to see or visit a pub. But try telling that to those who wanted to watch the Kilkenny-Tipperary qualifier last July when Nowlan Park’s capacity meant not everyone who desired to see the match in the flesh could attend.
Such situations are bound to arise as RTÉ have shown time and time again with first choice options they will plum for Dublin games because of demographics over more attractive clashes.
The same happened when Donegal’s All-Ireland quarter-finals in the last two seasons were jettisoned for Dublin ones. TV3 gladly picked them up but they’re no longer there now.
The point about worldwide exposure is a moot one when, thanks to Australia’s terrestrial Channel 7, all 45 Championship games can be watched free of charge there. The time zones might suit the station as the games will be in the early hours but why do Irish people there have gratis coverage when those at home don’t?
We’ve heard the US is important to the GAA in promoting Gaelic football but they must pay a subscription as part of the deal with RTÉ. As the Manhattan Gaels GAA club tweeted yesterday: “Love to know why our games can’t be free to air in the US.”
Surely the States is just as significant as Australia? The reasons might be perfectly understandable but they weren’t given yesterday.
With such a volume of information to disseminate yesterday, it would have been in the GAA’s interests to stage a general media briefing as much as changing the date of the announcement and avoiding the April Fool’s lampoonery in some quarters.
Sky, as industry observers we contacted told us yesterday, are most certainly here to stay. For RTÉ, the stakes in quality, as generally good as they have been, have got higher. As Donal O’Neill says elsewhere on this page, they have to be.
See, there’s a new kid in town. He’s bigger, he wants you to believe he’s better and more often than not, he is. But he can be a brute too. Overplay his enthusiastic hard sell and the grassroots won’t take too kindly.
Best for everyone to treat these games of ours kindly, Sky. Tread softly.
Broadcast battles: what the GAA deal means
Good news for....
The financial details haven’t been released but there is little doubt that the GAA drove a hard bargain before taking the gigantic leap down the pay-per-view route.
Finance aside, the money that Sky are likely to pump into promoting the games, and also spreading the GAA gospel to new audiences in the UK and beyond, must be considered a good thing.
At long last, the British sports broadcasting giant has gained their much coveted foothold in the Irish market.
The timing couldn’t be better, given the way that BT Sports are hoovering up broadcast rights here, there and everywhere, Sky Sports are desperate to lock in new and existing customers who may be tempted to jump ship.
Buried in the details is the news that the GAA and RTÉ are to launch an online international paid-for service offering Gaelic games to audiences worldwide. Beginning during the All-Ireland senior championships, this new service will enable fans around the world to experience the excitement of the Championships on their personal device live or later, whenever and wherever they want.
Bad news for....
Station chiefs didn’t attempt to hide their disappointment with the announcement, firing off a press release noting that they had “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”. It is a massive blow to the Ballymount organisation, especially with the arrival of UTV into the Republic of Ireland marketplace next year.
First of all you have to subscribe to Sky, and then add in the Sky Sports package... it will be a costly exercise.
Yes we know we mentioned all the good points above but Croke Park bosses must be prepared for an avalanche of criticism for putting finance front and centre in their reasoning. Expect the politicians to have a field day in the days and weeks ahead. Joe Duffy can expect a few calls also.
Words: Colm O’Connor
WHO GOT WHAT
* Four live TV Championship packages — over 31 games — including all All-Ireland finals, semi-finals and the six provincial finals.
* Three live radio packages, first choice of Championship games on both Saturdays and Sundays as well as exclusive radio coverage of the Allianz Leagues.
* Sunday night TV highlights package.
* Rights to make all games televised live in Ireland and The Sunday Game available worldwide via high definition online streaming on a subscription basis.
* Sharing with RTÉ live coverage of All-Ireland hurling and football semi-finals and finals; two All-Ireland football quarter-finals.
* Eight Saturday evening All-Ireland qualifiers; four provincial championship games: June 7 — Kilkenny v Offaly (Leinster SHC quarter-final); June 14 — Dublin v Wexford (Leinster SHC semi-final); June 21 — Sligo v Galway/London (Connacht SFC semi-final); June 28 — Armagh/Cavan v Down/Tyrone/Monaghan (Ulster SFC semi-final).
As well as their long-standing Allianz League Sunday game deal, they have been awarded live coverage of the All-Ireland minor finals. They will continue to have the rights to the All-Ireland club championships, the U21 football and hurling championships, county finals and post-primary and third-level competitions. They’re expected to again show 62 live and 22 deferred games per year.
Retain rights to broadcast Saturday evening Allianz League games.
BBC Northern Ireland
Will broadcast all Ulster matches shown live by RTÉ, including senior football final. Also inked a new radio deal including Ulster SFC, club SFC and Championship games involving Ulster counties.
Another three-year agreement with exclusive live coverage of 11 Championship games.
Channel 7, Australia
Live coverage of all 45 Championship games.
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