Sky’s The Limit for GAA

Sky’s broadcast of matches from the All Ireland Hurling and Football Championship has probably generated more heat and controversy that almost any other media deal, certainly in Ireland and probably further afield.

This week it launched its schedule for showing 14 games exclusively live, including five in the All Ireland Quarter Final Round known elsewhere colloquially as the Super 8’s.  That’s five of the twelve games to be played at a time of year when the competition is reaching fever pitch.

There will be renewed calls for why the games should be shown ‘free to air’ setting aside the question of the license fee and perhaps glossing over the fact that a monthly subscription to Sky Sports through Now TV, with no contract needed, comes in at less than the price of attending one single match as an individual.

Regardless of the column inches and phone in minutes it will generate, the reality is that sports fans, in Ireland more than anywhere else have long accepted that pay TV is part of the landscape.  Leinster Rugby will play the Champions’ Cup Final tomorrow without any free to air visibility, just as has been the case in that tournament for over a decade.

The Premier League has been on Sky for 25 years and yet still attracts support beyond most other sporting events.

Sport for Business sat down with Sky Ireland Commercial Director Neal O’Rourke this week to chat about why Sky was prepared to invest in the GAA and how that commitment has been ‘doubled down’ as part of the current five-year deal that replaced the original three-year partnership signed in 2015.

Commitment

“Sky’s commitment is stronger than ever,” said O’Rourke amid the bustle of Buswell’s Hotel.

“We established our credentials in the first phase and made sure we gave the coverage the respect it deserves because it is the top sports rights package in Ireland and for an Irish audience.”

“What we have done in terms of production and analysis has matched the standards we have always set in our sports broadcasting, and raised the game here for what GAA fans can expect.”

“Now it’s all about pushing forward and providing great content here in Ireland and in the UK as well as going deeper by investing in the GAA through the National Youth Forum, the National Coaching Conference and the Super games Centres.”

“This year will see more firsts including, depending on how the fixtures fall, the potential for our first simulcast showing two matches at the same time on two of our sports channels.”

“The new structures of the Championship have fallen well for us in year two of this second phase of the partnership.”

“Regardless of how the provincial Championships play out in football, we know there will be key games that we will have and there is real excitement about the Hurling over the coming weeks as well, not least with Wexford against Galway in Leinster.”

Quality

“We look at delivering real quality analysis around the games.  The talent we have from Jamesie O’Connor and Peter Canavan to Jim McGuinness and Ollie Canning provide real insight and the kind of knowledge that adds to the viewers experience.”

“Senan Connell’s passion after the All Ireland last year was very real and exactly what we want to bring the games to life for those in Ireland and for those watching from England, Scotland and Wales.”

“When we came into the broadcast mix it was with the intention on the GAA’s part to increase reach and take the games to a wider international audience.”

“Our reach over the first four years of our partnership has been north of five million people across Britain and Ireland.”

“We don’t get into individual games because the nature of pay TV is different to that of a national broadcaster.  We know we will never hit the massive numbers of an RTÉ broadcast of an All Ireland Final but that’s not what we measure ourselves on and it’s not a measurement that others use about us in a business context.”

“Sport has always been core for Sky.  It’s a more competitive space now than ever before with BT in the UK and changes in the rights landscape in tennis, golf and rugby.”

“We have a very clear understanding of the value of sports rights to us and to our customers, and pay accordingly.”

“An Irish sports consumer offering has to include GAA and from a wider perspective the timing is great for us being in the summer.”

“It’s a winner for us here, which is important given Sky’s commitment to Ireland, and in the UK.”

That commitment is real.  Over 1,000 staff work directly for Sky in Ireland and thousands more in indirect employment.  Dublin is one of the four key locations and the Sky Ireland is run directly by managing director JD Buckley and a strong local team here.

“The GAA works for us in residential and it is a big advantage for our commercial offering as well.  It is also important in terms of those who work for us and the communities in which we live that Sky has a strong commitment to what matters to us.”

Devices

We touched on the changing nature of TV viewing with more devices, shorter attention spans and the rise of clip coverage over the full experience.

O’Rourke was pensive on how this impacts on the way in which the overall entertainment landscape is changing.

“Nobody can say with certainty how this will play out.  We have our own strong approach to clip rights in the Premier League but sport in full still has a magnetic draw, particularly around the biggest occasions and the closest games.”

“The business has moved on from a linear ‘right to carry’ to a much more diverse way of consuming but the actual content, how that is produced and packaged is still central and we do that well.”

They certainly do as any glimpse of what TV sport was like before the advent of Sky.  They have changed the game in many ways but stayed relevant and central to that all along.

The relationship now with the GAA is one where both sides talk and discuss the ways in which things can be done, and then done better.

Sport for Business surveyed our readership in the midst of the storm surrounding the first deal.  Less than five percent of those who responded felt it was a bad deal for the future of the GAA.  As things have developed, few but the controversialists could argue still that it should not be.  The media changes, society changes and the GAA changes.

The sport never sold its soul, it sold the rights to broadcast some of its matches to a broadcaster who does that well.  It has raised the awareness of the GAA around the world and it has increased the appeal to other sponsors.  All that time the number of players has grown, the number of children who want to be part of it has grown.

The Full line up of games to be covered live on RTÉ TV and SKY this summer is as follows.  The All Ireland Semi Finals and Final in both Hurling and Football will be shown live on both RTÉ and SkyTV

SUNDAY 13 MAY
LEINSTER SHC: DUBLIN V KILKENNY
CONNACHT SFC: MAYO V GALWAY

SUNDAY 20 MAY
MUNSTER SHC: LIMERICK V TIPPERARY
MUNSTER SHC: CORK V CLARE

SUNDAY 27 MAY
MUNSTER SHC: TIPPERARY V CORK
LEINSTER SHC: GALWAY V KILKENNY

SATURDAY, 2 JUNE
LEINSTER SHC: WEXFORD V GALWAY
MUNSTER SHC: CORK V LIMERICK

SUNDAY 3 JUNE
ULSTER SFC: FERMANAGH/ARMAGH V TYRONE/MONAGHAN
MUNSTER SHC: WATERFORD V TIPPERARY

SATURDAY, 9 JUNE
LEINSTER SHC: KILKENNY V WEXFORD
LEINSTER SHC: GALWAY V DUBLIN

SUNDAY 10 JUNE
MUNSTER SHC: LIMERICK V WATERFORD or TIPPERARY V CLARE
LEINSTER SFC: OFFALY/WICKLOW/DUBLIN V LONGFORD/MEATH

SUNDAY 17 JUNE
MUNSTER SHC: CLARE V LIMERICK or WATERFORD V CORK
CONNACHT FOOTBALL FINAL

SATURDAY, 23 JUNE
FOOTBALL RD 2 QUALIFIER
MUNSTER FOOTBALL FINAL

SUNDAY 24 JUNE
ULSTER FOOTBALL FINAL
LEINSTER FOOTBALL FINAL

SATURDAY, 30 JUNE
FOOTBALL RD 3 QUALIFIER
FOOTBALL RD 3 QUALIFIER

SUNDAY 1 JULY
MUNSTER HURLING FINAL
LEINSTER HURLING FINAL

SATURDAY 7 JULY
FOOTBALL ROUND 4 QUALIFIER DOUBLE HEADER

SUNDAY 8 JULY
FOOTBALL QUALIFIER RD 4

SATURDAY 14 JULY
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 1
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 1

SUNDAY 15 JULY
ALL-IRELAND HURLING QUARTER-FINAL
ALL-IRELAND HURLING QUARTER-FINAL
or
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 1
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 1

SATURDAY 21 JULY
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 2
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 2

SUNDAY 22 JULY
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 2
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 2

SATURDAY 28 JULY
ALL-IRELAND HURLING SEMI-FINAL

SUNDAY 29 JULY
ALL-IRELAND HURLING SEMI-FINAL

SATURDAY 4 AUG
ALL-IRELAND CAMOGIE QUARTER-FINALS
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 3
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF ROUND 3

SUNDAY 5 AUG
ALL IRELAND FOOTBALL QF: ROUND 3

SATURDAY 11 AUG
ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL SEMI-FINAL

SUNDAY 12 AUG
ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL SEMI-FINAL

SATURDAY 18 AUG
ALL-IRELAND CAMOGIE SEMI-FINALS

SUNDAY 19 AUG
ALL-IRELAND HURLING FINAL

SUNDAY 2 SEPT
ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL FINAL

SUNDAY 9 SEPT
ALL-IRELAND CAMOGIE FINALS


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Image Credit: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile and Paul Sharp, SharpPix

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