It’s a number of weeks now since the last tender for GAA media rights was submitted.
Interested parties have been left anxiously refreshing their inboxes and checking their phones to see if they get a slice of the pie over the next three seasons.
The mention of Sky becoming a real player, which stem back to comments made by GAA president Liam O’Neill in his first month in office, has a few on edge.
The GAA can’t be blamed for taking their time seeking the best financial deal that complements their determination to promote the games as strongly as they can.
But it’s the area of international rights where they have prioritised a lot of their efforts. In negotiations, each of their prospective partners have been asked about their opinions on the area.
Their reasons are two-fold. They understandably want to move away from people having to bring their children to pubs abroad to watch games when their kids are those now playing them. “If the GAA are going to grow abroad it will have to be done through television,” said O’Neill.
Speaking two months ago, GAA director general Páraic Duffy emphasised that point further. “We’re absolutely determined that, whatever the outcome is, that all of our games will be available live and more easily accessible to as many people as possible throughout the world, particularly in North America.”
Then there’s the fact they were burned back in their international TV deal in 2010. As O’Neill explained 12 months ago: “Somebody sold our rights and then sold them on, so that wasn’t a great deal. I think we have to be a lot sharper about that. We have a different approach to marketing now... I think there is a bit more awareness of that TV rights game and how it is done. I would be hopeful that the world has moved on and that we will be in a better position when we go to do it the next time.”
Leaning on expert advice, the GAA shouldn’t come unstuck again and in this respect Sky could provide the support to widen the net.
It has also been mooted Sky may assist the Association in developing a dedicated GAA channel. However, speaking on Today FM yesterday, commercial director Peter McKenna described the possibility as remote but confirmed Sky were among the rights bidders.
Earlier this year, the GAA released their Just Play app, a platform which allows subscribers to get highlights from the previous weekend's major games for a small fee.
Sky’s behaviour in the last couple of years intrigued indigenous bidders. Last year, Henry Shefflin and Bernard Brogan featured in TV and billboard ads for the British company. However, the GAA are also aware of the backlash if they award too much to a subscription company. The reaction to bringing Setanta into the fold in the mid-00s wasn’t as negative as they only received a small portion.
For that reason, RTÉ will likely once again pick up the lion’s share of the packages. The scathing criticism of players on The Sunday Game in recent seasons hasn’t gone unnoticed in Croke Park but they remain the best TV conduit for the games on the island. TG4’s live Sunday rights for the league continue up until next May, and while there have been rumours of RTÉ putting in a heavy bid to challenge them from 2015 on, the bilingual broadcasters should retain the rights.
Where RTÉ may be successful annexing an extra tranche is in the Saturday night league games, which have been in Setanta’s possession since 2005. Having decided to cut the €1m per annum Premier League highlights show, the national broadcaster has a Saturday evening slot they can fill for a fraction of the price.
Setanta, as this newspaper reported in July, were set to benefit from the BT Sport-ESPN deal and were keen to augment their stakes in the GAA media rights. However, it remains to be seen just how strong a hand they had to play following their parent company’ recent €1bn deal for the Champions League rights.
In the previous round of agreements, RTÉ picked up 31 Championship games to TV3’s nine. RTÉ also enjoyed the bulk of live radio rights, with Newstalk enjoying their first Championship foray.
The new deals, when revealed, could work along the same lines again but they are on tenterhooks. The GAA has upped their marketing game and expect their would-be media partners to do likewise.
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