This weeks Sport for Business Column in the Sunday Business Post covered the ins and outs of the GAA Media Rights Deal which kicked off in earnest on Friday Sunday with RTÉ Sports coverage of the superb clash between Cork and Tipperary in the Munster Championship.
When the ball is thrown in between Cork and Tipperary in Semple Stadium this afternoon it will mark the start proper of the GAA Championship season and the first pull of a five year media rights deal pitching RTÉ Sport against their Sky rivals.
This weekend the Sunday Game holds sway and it will be the first marquee game of the 31 live matches to be broadcast to the strains of the familiar theme music on our national broadcaster.
Sky will have 20 games, 14 of them exclusive, and they will step up a gear next month when showing Dublin’s first match in search of the Football treble on June 2nd and Kilkenny against Wexford in a tasty Leinster Hurling clash the following weekend.
The GAA also has strong partnerships with TG4 and eir Sport, both of whom are breaking new ground in terms of coverage and who add to the rich mix of coverage afforded Gaelic Games.
There is no doubt that competition between the broadcasters has produced better coverage than we ever enjoyed prior to the 2014 breakthrough deal when Sky first became involved in the media rights deal.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the time over whether it was right to put such iconic Irish sporting moments behind a paywall but such has been the case in soccer and rugby for over a decade. Fighting against the march of changes in how sport is consumed was always likely to be akin to King Canute’s stand against the tide.
The latest deal runs for five years, giving a long term basis for how each broadcaster will set out their stall and an ability for both to make longer term investment in how they bring the games to us.
All of the games to be broadcast in the Championship will be in full High Definition. The technology deployed in analysis is up to the highest international standards and the number and angle of camera positions is above and beyond what was once thought necessary or indeed possible.
In terms of analysis Ireland has always played a good hand. Witness RTÉ’s feisty commentary in soccer and from the likes of Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane and compare that to the more anodyne coverage of the Premier League on Match of the Day and the notion of Ireland as a nation of talkers is certainly vindicated.
It’s an area that Sky has sought to take the fight to RTÉ over the first three years. Jim McGuinness and Peter Canavan have been joined on the football side this summer by Monaghan player Dick Clerkin and they have been central to Sky’s promotion of the GAA coverage.
In terms of viewing numbers there is no contest between the two. RTÉ will attract over one million viewers for the big finals in September and hundreds of thousands each week along the way.
Sky’s numbers are in the tens of thousands but a strict comparison between the two, and subsequent rating of their merit is not as simple as critics would contend.
The Championship works for Sky in that it provides live and vibrant sporting coverage with a strong narrative throughout it’s quieter summer season.
The numbers may be small but in terms of storytelling and indeed engagement from the audience they compare well to fishing programme or re runs of long forgotten sailing contests that might previously have filled the spot.
They also provide a strong Irish connection for the 1,000 staff that Sky employs in Dublin as one of the core bases within its global operation. These things may not count for much in Kiltimagh but they do matter.
They also provide an element of real competition in terms of future broadcast deals.
The extension of the new deal from three to five years provides rock steady income for the GAA enabling it to plan long term in a way that is afforded to very few Irish sports.
The GAA Director General spoke of two key criteria in last year’s negotiation of the deal.
“To ensure that our games would continue to be widely available on TV and radio to our domestic Irish audience and to our units abroad” was the first. “To protect the vital part of our revenue generated by income from broadcast rights” the second.
Haviong two strong partners for the Championship ensures both. RTÉ delivers far more for the domestic audience through exclusive radio coverage, which was a new departure in this deal and which will provide consistent coverage across all areas of society.
It also offers strong online reach through the RTÉ Player and especially the partnership with the GAA in GAAGo.
This provides access for all viewers outside of Britain and ireland to watch all coverage for an annual or match by match subscription. It’s a model that has revived US Sport and is now being followed by the English Football League. By the time of the next media rights deal in 2022 it may be that this will be the primary driver of income and the way that more and more of a younger audience choose to watch.
The only thing clear about the future of broadcast sport is that it remains very unclear. In Ireland we can see next week’s Europa League final on free to air television. In Britain thought it is on BT Sport, behind a paywall. Except for the fact that it will also be broadcast live on You Tube. That’s right, free to air online despite BT Sport’s investment of over €1 Billion in exclusive UK rights. And they are party to the You Tube deal as well.
Everything changes and who knows where or how we will be watching in years to come.
Fo now though get the kettle on, put your feet up and settle back for Munster hurling in all its guts and glory, brought into your living room by Michael, Des, Ger, Marty and all the team.
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