JOHN FOGARTY: Do not adjust your set: GAA must fill TV gaps

Better late than never. It was RTÉ on Friday and today is Sky Sports’ turn to reveal their live TV coverage of the GAA championships.

File image of TV camera at Croke Park.

After a little uncertainty, Cork and Limerick’s June 2 Munster SHC game will feature on one of their subscription channels as will, you would imagine, Dublin’s Leinster SFC quarter-final against Offaly or Wicklow. If that’s the case, the very best of luck to them selling that one.

Although RTÉ have picked up the Munster SFC final on June 23, Saturday evening matches have almost been the sole preserve of Sky. If they had it their way, the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals would have late Saturday throw-ins.

That way, they wouldn’t clash with their August and September Premier League Sunday afternoon kick-offs.

In Ireland, Gaelic games have been to Sky what cricket is to them in the UK: an attempt to convince Premier League subscribers not to cancel their sports subscription for the summer.

What we may have misinterpreted as a means of attracting new customers is actually a method of retaining existing ones.

Before Sky landed in the GAA, we know of one former inter-county star who annually called the company the Monday after the last game of the Premier League season to close his account only to reopen it come August.

Now that his son features prominently for his county, he retains a 12-month subscription.

Obviously, he’s an exception in that regard but their 14 exclusive games would have been enough to keep some on board.

Now that there is the possibility they could have a major proportion of the Super 8 matches, more will be persuaded to hang on in there until Manchester City start the defence of their crown.

It’s towards the business end of the football championship that the broadcasters know where the goodness is.

It’s for that reason RTÉ are set to televise just seven live matches across the Leinster, Munster and Ulster football championships, the same number as they will broadcast in the Munster SHC.

Last year RTÉ showed double that amount of provincial SFC fare — Connacht (three), Leinster (two), Munster (two) and Ulster (seven).

BBC Northern Ireland’s 11th hour deal gives the Ulster SFC the exposure it deserves — thank the heavens Tyrone and Monaghan will be shown in full, albeit deferred — but deferred and streaming are not ideal conditions.

It’s quite obvious what RTÉ and Sky Sports think of the provincial football competitions — the devolution of each will no longer be televised.

RTÉ pundit Tomás Ó Sé succinctly expressed the general attitude towards the Leinster SFC:

I think above in Leinster, teams are beaten before they go out against Dublin. It’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t even watch a Leinster championship match now.

Then again, TV companies wouldn’t have banked so many of their exclusive games towards the end of the summer had the GAA not made the changes to each competition.

What they are telling the GAA is not something they haven’t heard before — the real product is in the bigger teams facing each other more often. Ignoring that advice would be difficult were it not for Croke Park are almost on the same page.

Like the purpose of Gaelic games to Sky, everyone knows the Super 8, as elitist as it is, is a bridging structure to a tiered football competition.

That the football championship isn’t without divisions based on merit is its major failing but the addition of such, unless the GAA insisted otherwise, would make lower tier or tiers a turn-off for TV.

RTÉ, for example, won’t be showing live the All-Ireland preliminary hurling quarter-finals between the third-placed provincial teams and the second tier Joe McDonagh Cup finalists.

Up to now, there have not been much instances of the GAA ceding to demands of TV companies. The five-year contracts agreed at the end of 2016, as much as they have aged badly with the introduction of the round robin formats of the provincial hurling championships and football’s Super 8, are what they stick to.

But it’s partly because of the parameters of those deals that football — Galway v Mayo this Sunday is RTÉ’s one live football game over the next three weeks — will be largely snubbed in the early part of the summer.

If the GAA want an example of how to keep companies from defining their sport, they can take a leaf out of Augusta National’s book.

Last week, it was reported there was an impasse regarding Sky’s coverage: the broadcasters, for the serious money they have invested in their framing of the tournament, want UK exclusivity but Augusta fear the breadth of it has reached saturation point.

The GAA might see more of themselves in Augusta as curators of traditional values but if they are to live up to that reputation they must ensure more than just their illustrious back nine is seen on TV.

More often than not, RTÉ and Sky will promote matches that don’t require promoting. The provincial football competitions have been left behind, first by the GAA and now by TV. The GAA, as it fancies itself more as a media company, might have to pick up the slack until the next round of media rights.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie


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