The League of Ireland European revolution will not be televised and those flying the country’s flag are outraged.
Ahead of their Europa Conference League third round tie tonight at Tallaght Stadium, Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley has slammed the lack of broadcast coverage, echoing comments by Bohemians Keith Long.
Long’s joy at overseeing a 2-1 win over Greek outfit PAOK at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday abated when asked about the continued television blackout of qualifying ties featuring Bohs, Rovers and Dundalk.
Apart from the maximum 8,000 fans inside the stadium, plus those paying €10 to buy a stream, the wider Irish audience were denied access to view one of the League’s finest occasions in decades.
Likewise, along with a mere 1,500 seeing Rovers in the flesh against Albanian side Teuta, external observers will be restricted to streaming subscribers.
None of the 13 ties involving four Irish clubs in the Champions and Europa Conference League this season have been carried live on terrestrial television. That will rise to 18 by next week.
As Irish teams have progressed deep into the Conference League, with Bohs and Dundalk each winning two ties apiece, the clamour for a national broadcasting platform has spiked.
The three remaining clubs, should they win their ties, will be 180 minutes away from reaching the group stages in the inaugural season of Uefa’s third competition.
Notwithstanding the demise of eir Sport, that Virgin Media and, in particular, national broadcaster RTÉ, are not covering the fixtures so far irks Long and Bradley.
The duo managing the Dublin rivals were united in their belief that alternative avenues should be explored to avoid the situation recurring.
“I believe the league is in one of the strongest periods in terms of the quality and we need to showcase that,” said Bradley.
“This doesn’t surprise me. All of the managers had a meeting with RTÉ at the start of the year and you are wasting your time.
“I think we have to look outside and start forgetting about the TV companies here who refuse to show the games.
“We can’t keep going cap in hand, begging them to show talented footballers playing at a really high level.
“Maybe we can get interest from outside this country because what we have right now doesn’t respect the quality and the work that goes in. It’s been plain for all to see that’s been the case for years.”
Long concurred, stating: “Our match was a great spectacle and would have been good value for the licence payer. This is a nice story for us and I’m very proud of the club.
“It is disappointing that we always seem to be scrapping for the crumbs at the big table when it comes to getting that sort of exposure. It is frustrating, and I don’t think it would happen in other sports such as GAA or rugby.
“The powers that be, they are the ones with the questions to answer there. Maybe it’s a budget thing. I think RTÉ, the national broadcaster, for whatever reason, seems to not fully get behind the professional game in this country.”
When the claims were put to RTÉ, a spokesman said: “RTÉ’s policy in recent years has been to show the League of Ireland champions in European action.
“Unfortunately, it was not possible to show Shamrock Rovers v Slovan Bratislava in the Champions League (in July) due to a clash with the European Championship finals.
“RTÉ and Rovers were in discussions to show Thursday’s first leg game with Teuta but due to Olympics coverage at 7pm, it would have entailed a 5pm kick-off which Rovers were unable to accommodate.
“Should Rovers progress to a Europa Conference play-off, it is RTÉ’s intention to show it live, subject to agreement with Rovers.
“Indeed, within the last 48 hours, RTÉ and representatives of Shamrock Rovers have been in discussions about broadcasting a possible play-off tie.”
A suggestion emanating from a Bohemians source that they offered to relinquish their revenue from the streaming service by offering the rights to the home games at the Aviva for free was denied by Montrose.
“No formal offer was ever made by Bohs to RTÉ to cover the game,” added the RTÉ representative. “Also, as it is RTÉ policy to show the champions first, the Bohs game wouldn’t have been shown.”
Virgin Media earlier this week confirmed they had acquired broadcasting rights for the Conference League from Uefa under a broader rights package, indicating Irish teams would feature this season.
Asked whether the Government should add Irish teams’ participation in European competition to the designated free-to-air list, Bradley replied: “Possibly so but again, it’s like we’re forcing their hand to actually show these games.
“It shouldn’t be that way, rather that it’s something there’s a demand for.
“It’s nonsense but we need to build our streaming products, making the package appealing to people every year.”