At least that’s the gospel according to some.
But the argument doesn’t stack up.
Before being swept away by clichés and emotion, it’s worth considering a few pertinent facts.
Those who point to the demise at grassroots level of sports like cricket, which is broadcast exclusively by Sky Sports, are not comparing like for like.
Under the GAA’s new TV rights deal, RTÉ’s coverage is unaffected. During last year’s Championship, RTÉ showed 31 games. For the next three years, RTÉ will continue to show 31 games.
The big losers are TV3, the station which showed nine games in last year’s Championship. TV3 are no longer part of the equation.
Sky are the new players in town. In return for losing nine games on TV3, the GAA has secured a subscription channel that can broadcast 20 Championship games into every home in Britain.
For the first time ever, the Irish diaspora in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and London will no longer have to head to the pub to watch the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals. If they are willing to sign up to Sky, they can watch the games from the comfort of their homes.
In their efforts to retain the market value of Gaelic Games while servicing the needs of the Irish abroad, the GAA is being criticised.
Sky Sports now have exclusive rights to 14 Championship games, including two All-Ireland football quarter-finals. What about the pensioners and the working class who can’t afford Sky? What about the GAA die-hard who supports his club and county? Why is he being forced to shell out again? It’s a fair point, and a certain amount of sympathy must be extended to those individuals. They have a valid complaint.
But what about the Irishman who emigrated to London 40 years ago? Is he not entitled to watch the All-Ireland final in his home? Is he any less of a Gael than the man who was able to stay at home?
Why invest €5m into the redevelopment of Ruislip but not have Gaelic games available on television? When GAA dignitaries travel abroad, they are met with one constant complaint, ‘Why can’t we see games on television?’ Thankfully, Croke Park is addressing this oversight. Those who believe the deal with Sky is financially driven are mistaken. The GAA’s agreement with Channel 7 in Australia underlines the fact that Croke Park’s motives are genuine. This year Channel 7 will broadcast 45 Championship games. That contract hasn’t netted a significant amount of cash. The GAA simply wants their games to be available to the Irish in Australia.
Not that this development will appease former Kerry footballer Tommy Walsh. Even before the Sky deal was confirmed, Walsh had outlined his disappointment via Twitter.
Walsh, who joined the Sydney Swans five years ago, wrote: “So our ‘amateur’ game is now being sold to Sky? There is no other sport in the world where players and supporters are taken advantage of more!”
Derry County Board chairman John Keenan has also voiced his opposition to games being broadcast on pay-to-view channels.
“I would not favour asking our patrons to pay to watch Gaelic games (on TV). I am in favour of having all our games being available to all classes and creeds,” said Keenan.
Keenan’s view is understandable. For the continued promotion of Gaelic Games, it remains extremely important that matches are aired on free-to-air television.
But let’s consider the amount of fixtures which are available on RTÉ and TG4. Under the new deal, RTÉ will show 31 Championship games. TG4 will show 62 live and 22 deferred games. That’s 93 live games.
Now, let’s examine the identity of your stereotypical armchair viewer. John Keenan’s native county Derry represents an excellent case study. The county has a population of roughly 250,000. Sunday’s home game against Kildare attracted a crowd of 2,429. That’s equates to less than 1% of the population.
Using this formula, Dublin don’t fare much better. Saturday night’s attendance of approximately 22,000 in Croke Park might sound good. But Dublin is a city of nearly 1.5 million. That crowd represents about 2% of the population. The bottom line is the vast majority of television viewers never darken the turnstile of a GAA ground. They don’t pay into county games. They don’t support their clubs. They don’t pay club memberships. They contribute nothing.
Why are these people automatically entitled to watch every GAA game free-of-charge? Where is it written that all Gaelic football and hurling matches must be broadcast on terrestrial channels? Let’s not forget that, for the purpose of this debate, we are talking about the loss of nine games from a station, which wasn’t even available nationwide.
Naturally, once Sky enters the arena, the GAA will be accused of succumbing to corporate greed. But this is just a lazy sound bite, which is normally flung around by people who know nothing about the GAA.
Just look at Croke Park’s two leading figures. The director-general is Páraic Duffy, a dyed-in-the-wool GAA man, who never misses a Monaghan game. As a character, Duffy is about as far removed from a corporate fat cat as you can get. He is the former principal of St Macartan’s in Co. Monaghan.
The GAA president is Liam O’Neill. Cut from much the same cloth as Duffy, the Laois man is the principal of a primary school.
While the GAA’s commercial director Peter McKenna might have headed the negotiations with Sky, he would have taken his direction from Duffy and O’Neill.
The GAA will not make a huge amount of money from Sky. Duffy has stated that the new contract will net only a marginally larger figure than the last deal.
Croke Park’s main motivation for allowing Sky to join the table goes back to the primary purpose of the GAA — they believe it’s the best way for the Association to promote its games.
As a worldwide organisation, the GAA’s responsibility now extends beyond our small island.
Those bemoaning the loss of nine Championship games from our screens should try to be happy for the Irishman in England who can now watch 20 games at home.
There is no doubt that Tommy Walsh will have voiced the sentiments of many people. But the GAA has no need to apologise for this deal. The GAA is perfectly entitled to sell their games to whomever they please.
It’s hardly corporate greed when 80% of all revenue is redistributed to the provincial councils and county boards.
Besides, there are plenty of games on terrestrial television — 93 of them, to be exact.
The armchair viewers who want to see more, but who don’t want to subscribe to Sky, have always the option of getting off their backsides and going to one.
‘I can be yere Ron Burgundy’ - Twitter reaction
Generally, the reaction among current and former inter-county players on Twitter was to welcome the new development.
Clare hurler Darach Honan (@TheDuck90) made a subtle reference to the financial benefits:
while former Cork hurling goalkeeper Dónal Óg Cusack (@DonalOgC) pinpointed the international showcasing:
I welcome anything that increases the exposure of our games/players...courageous move by Páraic Duffy...credit deserved...#skygaa— Dónal Óg Cusack (@DonalOgC) April 1, 2014
Meath’s Brian Farrell (@Farlo84) made a valid point against those who feel they are being deprived of live action:
Over 50 games are going to be streamed on terrestrial television compared to less than 40 three years ago.— Brian Farrell (@Farlo84) April 2, 2014
Some players did have misgivings with the foreign involvement, however, such as former Dublin star Johnny Magee (@JohnyMagee06):
Tipperary’s Paddy Stapleton (@pasaint) wasn’t too happy either:
Is it right that an Irish person has to pay for a foreign broadcaster to watch their own championsip games? #aprilfoolsplease— Paddy Stapleton (@pasaint) April 1, 2014
Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan (@darransull86) spotted a job opportunity, even if it was directed at the Italian version of Sky:
I'm just throwing it out there @SkySport if you like it you can keep, it if you don't throw it right back... But I can be yere Ron Burgundy!— Darran O'Sullivan (@Darransull86) April 1, 2014
The final word has to go Galway bookmaker John Mulholland (@johnmulhollands), who highlighted Sky Sports News’ erroneous description of Mayo as All-Ireland champions: