The issue of broadcasting and the GAA reared its head again at the weekend when Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and former Cork All-Ireland winning goalkeeper and RTE GAA pundit Donal Óg Cusack both argued that all GAA (hurling) matches should be available on free-to-air television.
This is an emotive issue and one that goes to the heart of the GAA and all it represents.
For quite some time we have written about this and these posts from 2018, 2019 and 2021 touch on various issues to do with broadcasting and streaming of our national sport.
Just before Covid struck, I delivered a research seminar in UCC’s Skellig CRI Centre for Research and Innovation in Caherciveen, Co. Kerry. My presentation was called “The Evolution of Broadcasting in Gaelic Games”.
Like the 2018 post above, it addressed the evolution of GAA broadcasting, from the first television broadcast of a GAA match in 1962 to 2010. 2010 was a significant year because up until this point all games were available on free-to-air television in this country.
Since then, various subscription platforms have purchased content – Setanta Sports, Sky Sports, GAA Go – which has migrated behind the paywall.
Why this change? The 2016 GAA annual report to Congress can help explain it.
Then GAA Páraic Duffy said: “Any restriction that prohibits the GAA from engaging with all interested parties, including subscription TV providers, would seriously reduce our negotiating power and thus our ability to achieve the true worth of our assets, and would inevitably lead to a greatly reduced media-rights income. In what is already a small pool of potential broadcast partners, we must ensure the existence of a genuine market for our games and maintain the option of engaging with all interested parties, regardless of whether they are free-to-air or subscription providers. This flexibility and freedom is crucial if we are to nurture a competitive tender process and thus ensure that the GAA achieves the proper value for its rights."
At lot had changed in 20 years.
Back in April 1997 then President of the GAA, Jack Boothman, said: “The GAA can never in conscience decide to sell television rights to any media provider who will not be widely available throughout the country and which will not be national in character. We are not going to sell our people down the river for money.”
The movement towards more live broadcasts both on free-to-air television and subscription platforms has meant consumers pay more – both at a per match level and overall. For example, back in 1996 when just 14 games were shown – all free-to-air – the total cost to the GAA fan (television licence) was €137 (2020 prices) of just under €10 per game. In 2002 this dipped to just €4 per game. However, things changed post-2010. By 2014, and the arrival of Sky Sports, this had risen to more than €300 in total and more than €7 per game.
This is no surprise. Our 2019 paper demonstrates this at play in the English Premier League when ITV lost all live football to Sky Sports. However, this move has had a transformative effect on English football.
During his impassioned speech Cusack said “My nephew – my father told me lately – can name all of the Liverpool squad. I don’t think the young fella was ever in Liverpool. Why is that?”
I have the exact same situation in this house – a small person that can name the entire Liverpool squad. He has never been to Liverpool either. But this is not because Liverpool are on free-to-air television. Quite the contrary. It costs me €60 a month in subscription charges. He doesn’t know this of course but he gets to watch Liverpool once if not twice a week on live television.
There is be a follow-up post on this issue shortly.