In a paper entitled “Sports Rights Commercialisation: Sky and the GAA,” UCD’s Dr Paul Rouse has quoted viewership and reach figures which contrast with those supported by the GAA.
In his annual report published yesterday, director general Páraic Duffy states 427,000 people in Britain watched Sky Sports’ coverage of Kilkenny and Tipperary’s drawn All-Ireland hurling final last year.
That figure pertains to the reach of the final in Britain including, most interestingly, Northern Ireland. The reach is the number of viewers exposed to the programme, which includes those who may have only flicked onto the station for a second.
In the industry, average viewership numbers and market share percentages are regarded as more reliable gauges of interest. According to the official TV ratings agencies used by Rouse, the average viewership for the drawn hurling final in the UK was 103,800, representing 0.975% of total market share.
Rouse essentially points out the draw was the only GAA match televised on the more popular Sky Sports 1 and “shown on a weekend in which there were no other live events to compete with”. He adds: “The normal average audience for a Sunday afternoon slot on Sky Sports 1 is between 1 million and 1.8 million.”
On Sky Sports 3, the Kilkenny-Tipperary replay was watched by 54,800 in the UK (0.39% market share), while the Kerry-Donegal football final claimed 50,500 British viewers (0.424% market share).
Analysing the figures for Sky Sports’ live coverage of 22 Championship games last year, Rouse states: “Ultimately, the average viewership of Sky’s GAA coverage of all the people watching television at any given time in Britain, amounted to .25%.”
He also takes issue with Duffy’s claim to the Dáil Committee last April that “there are 11 million households in Britain with access to Sky, which means that people can now watch games in their homes”.
Rouse writes: “The thing is that 11 million households in Britain do not have Sky Sports — that figure may be somewhere around three million; what the 11 million have is Sky TV, a platform like Sky TV or UPC here in Ireland.”
Rouse also establishes viewing figures for major GAA games in Ireland “collapsed” because of the Sky agreement. Allowing for the fact Sky Sports 3 HD figures aren’t measured in Ireland, he compares an average of 59,000 viewers watching the Dublin-Monaghan All-Ireland SFC quarter-final last year to 442,800 on TV3 for Dublin’s equivalent game in 2013.
He also refers to Premier Sports who, prior to Sky Sports’ arrival, had made Championship games which were broadcast live in Ireland available in the UK for a subscription of £10 a month. “The supposed new service for Irish emigrants in Britain, not only already existed, but did so a more extensive way; Irish emigrants wishing to watch Gaelic games in Britain must now pay much more than was previously the case.”
Motions from Clare and Donegal calling on the GAA to make all Championship games free-to-air in 2017 are set to be debated at Congress next month. Speaking to the Irish Examiner last month, GAA president Liam O’Neill insisted “the Sky component of our media rights deal has worked really spectacularly for the organisation”.
However, Rouse argues there is compelling evidence to dispute that statement. “In the aftermath of the reported 104,000 viewership average for the hurling final in the UK, the GAA claimed ‘vindication’ for the deal with Sky. The reality is, at best, much more complex — and one might legitimately arrive at entirely the opposite conclusion.”
Yesterday, Duffy maintained growing an audience in Britain was never an aim of last year’s media rights agreements. “The goal was first of all to make the game available to people abroad. There was access available in Britain in a manner. There is no comparison between what is available not to people in Britain through Sky and what was available in the past. Our primary goal was to make the games available.”
Speaking at the report launch, Duffy referenced an Irish Examiner article last year where British Council chairman Brendan O’Brien revealed clubs had noticed more interest in Gaelic games as a result of Sky Sports’ coverage.
In his report, Duffy also mentioned: “I believe that many members in Ireland are not aware of the extent of the expansion that has taken place abroad, nor of the number of non-Irish who are now playing our games.”
As well, Duffy remarked observers had noticed “a marked improvement in the quality of RTÉ’s coverage of our championships in 2014” and the national broadcasters “are to be commended for their enhanced coverage of our games”. He also praised Sky Sports’ “very high standards” and “very positive presentation of our games as well as its innovative use of technology in match analysis”.