GAA commercial director Peter McKenna has rejected criticism of the Sky Sports broadcasting deal and the recent decision to extend it by five years.
McKenna played a key role in bringing the subscription-based broadcaster into the GAA market as a media partner in early 2014, as well as the more recent decision to not just extend the arrangement, but to move from a three to a five-year deal.
The GAA has consistently claimed Sky, who to hold exclusive rights to 14 championship games, are offering a vital outlet to fans abroad.
Paul Rouse, UCD-based GAA historian and Irish Examiner columnist, has been a consistent critic of the Sky link and wrote after the five-year deal was announced in December that the emigrant argument has been a “deeply cynical exercise” by the GAA.
“It should be pointed out that every Irish emigrant with a basic TV package in England could already purchase the rights to watch Gaelic games on Premier Sports for £10 per month, long before any deal was done with Sky,” wrote Rouse. “What the Sky deal actually did was significantly increase the costs for Irish emigrants in Britain who wish to watch Gaelic games.”
Speaking on the issue for the first time since the extension, McKenna said he naturally disagreed with Rouse and claimed the arrangement was working well.
“Obviously, I challenge Paul on his approach and his stats on it, I feel that what we set out to achieve, we have more than achieved,” said McKenna. “I think that Sky have brought a new dynamic to it. They were always HD in their broadcasting, now all broadcasters run that.
“I think that they continue to give us a different take and there’s a whole series of other marketing activities that Sky do in terms of getting our results out and promoting the game and so on, which is very important to us.
“You have to be very mindful of the fact that we have GAAGO available in 184 countries, so there’s a huge appetite from Antarctica right the way through...
“I also think that we probably don’t put enough thought to what TG4 are doing and what they have done for the games, which is phenomenal. So, I would [reject Rouse’s comments]. I wouldn’t accept some of the premises that are there. I think the strategy that we laid out for our media rights has worked and is continuing to work.”
McKenna also defended the decision to break from tradition and move from a three-year media rights deal to a five-year arrangement.
“We have a very, very small team here in Croke Park. What we have got [with the deal] is stability. We know that is now locked and secure for five years. That allows us to plan and to get ourselves ready for the next tranche.”
RTÉ Radio secured full and exclusive live rights for all senior championship games in the new deal, which runs from 2017 to 2022, pushing Newstalk out of the picture in what was a considerable victory for the state broadcaster.
“We wanted to get the best set of partners for us and we felt that when everybody put their proposal forward, what RTÉ were putting forward and the consistency of message that they would give us, that was the way for us to go,” said McKenna, who declined to comment on reports that the overall package could be worth as much as €80m to the association.
“We never release those figures, that’s not our style. We were very happy with the media rights deal we did and I think Pauric [Duffy] took everybody through that. I think that’s as much as we can say on it.
“I know you would love me to give a figure, which I am not going to, but I think we achieved balance in the media rights this time around.”
McKenna was speaking at the release of the GAA’s annual accounts for 2016, which were described as “healthy”. Total GAA revenue was just over €100m, with the Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce concerts at Croke Park, as well as the All-Ireland football final replay, contributing to that figure.
Concern was expressed at a 5% drop in attendances, as well as insurance fund losses of €600,000.
McKenna, who doubles as the Croke Park stadium manager, revealed that the venue will require around €60m of investment over the next 10 years just to maintain it.
He also said he could understand why Dublin, who play a number of Allianz football and hurling league games at Croke Park, are reportedly ready to build a new stadium at the Spawell complex.
“A premier team like Dublin does require great facilities. There is a beautiful place there in Templeogue, but I don’t think it will impact on us for five or six years, at the earliest.”
Interestingly, McKenna suggested that the Brexit decision has already cost the GAA around €300,000 in lost revenue.
“It would be in the hundreds of thousands, yeah, not in the millions, say €300,000, something like that. It’s conferences that we would have anticipated coming across, and didn’t. Anything that gives market uncertainty makes people less anxious to have marketing conferences here and so on. So it’s not Brexit in and of itself, more the uncertainty that’s it created.”
GAA annual accounts 2016
Total revenue: €100,986,508
Gate receipts: €30,110,910
Sponsorship/media income: €19,717,759
Insurance premiums: €10,680,674
Cost of injury and insur- ance funds: €12,753,910
Net surplus: €3,109,549
Gate receipts All-Ireland SFC: €14,788,614
All-Ireland SHC: €8,335,163
National Football League: €2,758,261
National Hurling League: €1,923,228
Income from Páirc an Chrócaigh Teoranta: €7.5m
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