Devil in the detail as GAA seals €60m bonanza

A Friday in December. Downtime for GAA news and a world away from the maelstrom that greeted the association’s last media rights announcement on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate date, the reaction to the confirmation Sky Sports had joined the party and subsequent rearguard action taken by Croke Park to the same was extraordinary. RTÉ’s Prime Time were overzealous and went overboard in their analysis of the deal but then there was a smidgeon of the GAA protesting too much.

Yesterday was nothing like that, yet questions remain in spite of the numerous press releases issued in relation to the new agreements.

Here, we try to answer five of them.

Has the new broadcasting deals with RTÉ and Sky Sports accommodated the possibility of more football championship games from 2018?

In short, yes. Should GAA director general Páraic Duffy’s football championship proposal be given the green light at Congress in February, it will mean eight more games, which, coming towards the end of the competition, will simply have to be broadcast.

In that event, they will, of course, be divvied up between RTÉ and Sky Sports. The GAA are on record as being hesitant about showing more than the current 45 live senior championship matches but that could all change.

Let’s not forget that there is a strong possibility the hurling championship structure will also alter before 2021 and more games there are likely too.

Why keep Sky Sports on board?

Keep the others competitive seems to be one of the main reasons and by that we mean in terms of their bids, not their broadcasting values.

We realised that at Congress last year when the “keep the rest of them keener” argument was made time after time. It might suit the GAA to do that for now but Sky’s policy is exclusivity and the more their relationship grows, the more they will believe they are closer to attaining the majority, if not all the games, for themselves.

However, if Sky Sports’ viewing figures fail to improve and the calls for more free-to-air championship games continue (they haven’t quietened in Clare, for one) what arguments do the GAA have to keep them in the stable but for money?

In a Sky Sports press release yesterday, Duffy was quoted as saying: “I would like to acknowledge the profiling of our games by Sky Sports, not only in Ireland, but also in Britain too.”

The viewing figures for Sky here and in Britain don’t truly justify that argument. Sky privately maintain their numbers are bigger than those in the public domain but haven’t released them. Interestingly, there was no mention yesterday of GAAGo and whether British Gaelic games followers will continue to miss out on the service, which has been made available everywhere else outside of Ireland.

Why did the GAA dump Newstalk?

This break-up had been expected going back a number of months with rumours of disagreements between Jones Road and Digges Lane.

“Commercially sensitive” was the phrase being bandied about yesterday, though money would seem to be the reason. It certainly couldn’t be their standard of broadcasting: Newstalk’s GAA coverage of its 22-game package has been excellent. Five years is a hell of a long time for both parties to be apart. RTÉ undoubtedly have a greater reach but the quality provided by Newstalk seems an awful resource to sacrifice.

While we’re at it, why five years?

It’s an interesting question. Media is one of the fastest-moving industries in the world and the environment is sure to look different to what it appears now.

Not only that, live sports’ value will continue to rise as one of the few remaining communal TV experiences and advertisements are tolerated. The reputed €60m deal provides the GAA with a lot of security and there is confidence in Croke Park they haven’t undervalued their products as they have done so before.

But who are the ones getting tied up to 2021 here — the media partners or the GAA?

How will Virgin Media’s disagreement with Eir Sport affect Saturday night Allianz League viewing figures?

It remains to be seen but it would be logical to believe there won’t be as many taking in games from the comfort of their armchair this coming spring after the pair couldn’t agree on terms.

Eir have recently brought out their own broadband/TV package but that will take time to grow in popularity and Virgin Media is still believed to have around 300,000 TV customers.


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