Yesterday it was announced that almost a third of the 45 televised provincial and All-Ireland senior games will be pay-per-view in this country, 14 exclusive to Sky in Ireland, while the All-Ireland finals and semi-finals will be shared between Sky and RTÉ.
O’Neill said the organisation’s authorities are prepared to take the criticism for the move but accepted it was “a hard call”, although he stressed it was not a move “to make money as such” but to gain exposure.
He remarked on 2FM’s Game On programme last night: “It’s a call we’re nervous of but we felt that as leaders we had to do what we thought was best. We wouldn’t have done what we did if we didn’t think it was in the long-term best interests of the association.
“I think that when people tend to reflect on it they’ll see there’s intent here to get our games global recognition. Yes, there is a small cost and we’d just ask people to park that for the moment, see how it works out this year.
“Although we’re nervous and I’ve openly admitted I’m nervous having made the decision — anybody who cares as much about the GAA as I do would be. But I’m confident too, that based on the samples we’ve done and based on the track record of Sky that they’ll bring something new to it.”
O’Neill said the GAA, with its new agreements with Sky, Australia’s Channel 7 and online subscription partnership with RTÉ, will bring ex-pats closer to Ireland.
However, the programme was inundated with messages condemning the decision, the tone of several of them claiming the GAA’s management committee had sold the organisation out.
O’Neill referred to some of the comments as “off the wall” and he also clarified his earlier comments on RTE’s Six One news when he suggested people without Sky Sports packages could “in many cases go to a person who has Sky but we’re not asking our supporters to pay [the subscription fees].”
He explained: “Live television is a format that doesn’t give you much time to think and respond to. The line of questioning was pushing me in a certain line where he [Bryan Dobson] was trying to suggest that anyone who wanted to watch the game has to pay a €700 [annual] subscription. That’s not true. You can go to the games. That’s the sort of comment we get and it’s really not helpful.
“[Director general] Páraic Duffy and I are as conservative and as traditional as you would get in the GAA. We’re looking at a package here that would satisfy a broad group of people.”
O’Neill also pointed out there were five more games available live this year compared to the last three seasons.
However, he acknowledged: “There is a trade-off there between the value to us of having those games free-to-air here or engaging us in a process which enables us to bring the games globally.”
Duffy said he believed association members will agree losing nine free-to-air games to benefit those abroad is a “price worth paying”, while the financial benefit is “marginal”.