GAA's media rights announcement was protectionism, not promotion

Thanks to events across the Atlantic this autumn, “normalising” will go down as one of the words of the year. The man who promoted it, New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, deserves praise for providing an essential tool in describing the GUBU US Presidential election.

GAA's media rights announcement was protectionism, not promotion

For most watching from afar, the sheep-like way in which Donald Trump’s preposterous behaviour has been accepted, condoned or downright ignored has been a frightening spectacle.

It has been a monumental sleepwalk but normalisation has many forms, one of which was evident in the reaction to the GAA’s media rights announcement four days ago. The demotion of Newstalk may have bossed the news cycle but let there be no doubt five more years of Sky Sports was the bigger story. Indeed, in a manner of speaking the merited attention to Newstalk’s predicament in contrast to that given to the GAA’s continuing relations with Sky was normalising in its essence.

Speaking in defence of Sky Sports last month, recently-retired Monaghan footballer Dick Clerkin said: “Who cares other than Sky who’s watching them? That’s people’s choices, do you know what I mean? It’s a commercial decision for Sky as it is for RTÉ, as it is for BBC or any of these channels to put on programmes if the numbers watch.”

Except it’s not just a commercial decision — or at least it shouldn’t be. If it was just about money, then GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail and director Páraic Duffy wouldn’t have used words like promotion and profile on Friday. However, those words lose their flavour when you read that the average UK viewership for the Dublin-Laois Leinster quarter-final shown exclusively on Sky Sports was just 14,000. That was almost 3,000 less than those who attended the game in Nowlan Park, which was incidentally boycotted by some Laois supporters.

On Friday, RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey asked Ó Fearghail about Sky Sports’ paltry viewing figures. Ó Fearghail’s response centred around there being over 111 free-to-air matches. Morrissey tried again to get a straight answer, highlighting how some people had been discommoded by games being shown exclusively on Sky’s subscription stations. Ó Fearghail’s answer followed along the same lines as his first one.

Now just as they did when they inked the deal with Sky in 2014, the GAA publicly find it difficult to stand up their bit of business with Sky. The best argument put forward has been their presence at the negotiations table, that with them involved, all bids are honest.

However, there is another, one which the GAA haven’t been so keen to divulge: Sky Sports’ coverage paints the games in a most flattering, nigh on Photoshopped light.

Let there be no doubt, RTÉ analysis team are hardly God’s gift but where they range from vanilla to vicious (the likes of Tomás Ó Sé and Ciaran Whelan two of the exceptions that operate in a happy medium), Sky are mostly plain old vanilla. We’ll listen to Peter Canavan all day but even with the addition of Jim McGuinness, who has not yet shown he is Gaelic football punditry’s answer to Jamie Carragher, they have not advanced enough from what TV3 offered. They seem determined to sell wet blankets. Maybe in time they will realise that, at times, there is more than a game going on but when they are so betrothed to the product, it’s uncertain.

The GAA know Sky offer a safe pair of hands. The most offensive thing they will ever do is mispronounce a name or make a factual mistake. RTÉ are considerably more ballsy but at least Croke Park know they can make a phone-call to Montrose, as they have done about Joe Brolly, for example, in the past, and the slap across the wrists can be administered. Changes to their punditry line-up in the coming years may also be to the GAA’s liking.

Newstalk lost out for a couple of reasons, one of them being money, yet there was also concern in the higher echelons of the GAA that they were loose at times in their criticisms. Their blend of cheek and cleverness has made them a success story but it was too saucy for some.

The latest deal is hardly a version of censorship but protectionism it most certainly is. We may have thought RTÉ would have suffered as a result of their coverage of the Sky Sports deal but instead, their radio arm has annexed Newstalk’s share (can they really live broadcast another 22 games on Radio One?). It’s a case of better the devil you know longest.

One of Sky Sports’ core business principles is to lavish praise on the events they cover. That they give the GAA such an easy ride is obviously hugely appealing to Croke Park but such kindness should be considered carefully. Come 2021 when Sky Sports’ presence standing alongside the GAA is beyond requiring normalisation, they will look for a lot more than 14 exclusive games. It’s not that they have form in this practice: it is their practice. When they want to buy the boat, they are never going to rock it.

Cork can’t tempt fate on Munster venue

Obviously, hosting next year’s Munster senior finals would be an appropriate way for Cork to crack the champagne bottle against the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh; even better if the host teams are involved in both.

It says a lot about how low the hurlers’ stock has plunged that the footballers, no strangers to disappointment these last few years, are the more fancied of the two teams to reach that stage.

Cork have made no secret of their ambition to stage the deciders while at the same time trying to be respectful about their chances of participating in one or both. Waterford and Tipperary’s footballers will be keeping an eagle eye out for any potential motivation in the coming months. Munster Council chairman Jer O’Sullivan yesterday would only be drawn on a potential Cork-Kerry final being played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but will Tipperary be the fly in the ointment? Should they and Kerry progress to a second successive final, it will be interesting to see if Tipperary are open to the idea of playing in Cork when they are owed a home game by Kerry after this year’s game in Fitzgerald Stadium. After all, Tipperary will soon have a rival in stadium as they already have in sport. The chances of the hurling final being played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh look considerably better but all this talk of venues should be banned by Kieran Kingston and Peadar Healy.

Until a decision is made, they daren’t tempt fate.

Clubs not informed enough

Reading through some of this month’s annual county convention booklets, it’s remarkable to see the number of clubs who are proposing changes to playing rules. Clare and Tyrone are just two counties where there are recommendations to make amendments to the laws of Gaelic football and hurling even though, according to rule, the next time they can make such alterations is 2020.

Their anxiety should be considered first but ignorance of the rules has to be acknowledged too. In Clare, O’Callaghan Mills are calling for all championship games to be made available on free-to-air TV even though a similar motion by Dublin was defeated last year. Even if Clare give it the green light it is all but certain to be ruled out of order until 2018. Nobody can admonish clubs for exercising their rights, but when they aren’t aware that their efforts are futile at least in 2017, it is frustrating for them as it must be for the motions committee.

Some have their finger on the pulse. The St Patrick’s club from Cloneen in south Tipperary have this Friday called for the abolishment of two-thirds majority vote at Congress, replacing it with a simple majority. And what will be required for the motion to pass? Yes, two-thirds majority. Turkey and Christmas springs to mind.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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