Countdown to the GAA's next TV rights deal has already started

There is another year remaining on the majority of the GAA’s media rights packages but the countdown to the next set of agreements, shaping up to be the most lucrative yet, has already begun.

Countdown to the GAA's next TV rights deal has already started

The votes in recent weeks by Clare, Dublin and Kerry to back motions calling for all championship games to be made free-to-air indicates unrest about pay-per-view games is not going away. In fact, it’s intensifying. All three are likely to be ruled out of order for Congress as they don’t require a rule change but there’s only so much the GAA hierarchy can ignore before they realise they must address the fact that many of their members have been discommoded.

Two seasons in, Sky Sports are known to be satisfied with their slice of the cake. With more Saturday championship matches than ever before next summer, their portion is likely to be richer but are the GAA as certain as they were about the promotional virtues of the deal when the viewing figures in the UK have been so low?

Sky’s rivals will come to the negotiations table wiser and wealthier than before. RTÉ will have more change in their pocket having lost the Six Nations to TV3 from 2018 and may hope to silence their critics who highlight the fact that they show no live GAA from October to April. TG4, as consistently brilliant as they have been for the GAA, will come under unprecedented pressure to retain their rights to the league.

TV3 are believed to be interested in both championship and league packages having come away empty-handed last year even if TV3 head of sport Niall Cogley’s “GAA’s preference for a pay television strategy” remark last year was viewed dimly in Croke Park. On the other hand, in those same corridors RTÉ are still not flavour of the month following Prime Time’s treatment of the Sky Sports deal.

Setanta Sports’ long-standing Saturday evening league agreement is interesting from the point of view that they have been taken over by Eir, associate sponsors of the All-Ireland senior football championship. That synergy is sure to make them more formidable but like Sky Sports they may have to settle with what they have if the rate of pay-per-view disaffection among the grassroots is to be believed.

Eir’s takeover represents a further shift in their business model from mobile telecommunications to TV. Live TV too. Apart from soaps, the only true communal TV experience now is live sport and news. They seem to be the only entities for which viewers nowadays are prepared to sit through ad breaks. Little else engages people in a synchronised fashion as sport. Consequently, little else provides as potentially captivating a market as sport.

Increment by increment, the GAA appear to be realising the true worth of their product. Before the last round of media rights, they let it be known they had undervalued it in the past so much so that on one occasion one deal was sold onto a third party. It seemed they had learned their lesson but again they are announcing they still haven’t got it quite right just yet.

“The small fish that we are, when you look at the recent deal made for Premier League rights, the average per game for the next contract is £11 million,” said GAA director general Páraic Duffy at Congress back in February.

“That is roughly equivalent to what we are bringing in, in terms of TV rights. I actually believe we are probably not getting full value for our TV rights and that is something we have to work on.”

The amount of competition angling for 2017-2020 contracts means there should be problem there. However, it may just be that they will have to pay more for less. Also in Cavan earlier this year, Duffy suggested there will be fewer matches shown live on TV than the 100 that are shown presently. “Do we actually want to show so many games on TV as we do?” he asked delegates. “Our championship attendances now, and we have done well over the past three years, are less than they were 10 years ago, significantly less. You have to ask the question: is the fact we broadcast so many live games each year impacting on our attendances. And what about the impact it has on our club games?”

Offering an update on the GAA’s policy earlier this month, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail said the balance in the number of live matches at the moment is “fairly right”. However, on the basis of the discord in counties there isn’t as much equilibrium between the GAA people get for their licence fee and the GAA they have to shell out to watch. If bringing Sky Sports into the stable was an indirect means of increasing attendances by compelling those without subscriptions to go to games at the same time promoting the games in the UK and earning a few million euro, it hasn’t really worked.

More money for less games is shaping up to be the theme of the next round of media rights but can the GAA run the risk of being seen to short-change their members a second time in three years?

Frugality required at all levels

Amid all the figures quoted in county secretary reports these past few weeks, for us one number has stood out more than most — €10,000, the amount of money it takes to clean the Gaelic Grounds and its environs after a league game.

You don’t believe us?

Here’s Limerick secretary Mike O’Riordan: “There are steep costs that come with hosting a league game; you have to have medical cover, catering for referees, you have to have the field in tip-top shape, there is the cost of electricity because you have lights running for five to six hours. There are preparation costs. The clean-up alone costs €10,000. There is also the cost of gardaí, the cost of the clean up on the streets afterwards.”

Last spring, Limerick entertained Waterford and Offaly, attracting reported attendances of 3,502 and 2,673. It seems staggering, almost counter-productive that the price of tidying up equates to approximately €3 per person.

Last week, the county board executive came in for some heat from delegates about the amount of money spent on the inter-county teams. The sum of €10,000 is small change compared to €1 million spent on the teams but frugality is required at all levels.

Ryan addition a shrewd move by Healy

Underachieving players often cite the lack of All-Ireland winners on the sideline. Men who have been there and done that. Still, it’s a flimsy, almost ready-made excuse: Jack O’Connor and Mickey Harte have belied it although O’Connor was sure to have Celtic Cross bearers beside him.

Eamonn Ryan mightn’t have won the ultimate medal on the field of play but the pedigree he will bring to Peadar Healy’s set-up is such a boon. The godfather of Cork ladies football, his humility and winning mentality should make him a highly valuable asset to a set-up that has lacked belief in itself this last while.

That most of his greatest achievements as manager have come in the female game shouldn’t matter a jot. The fortunes of Wexford’s JJ Doyle this past season in making the inter-county switch from camogie to U21 hurling illustrate the transfer isn’t so much a leap as a skip. A winner stays a winner.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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