Sunday the 16th of August 1992 is somewhat synonymous in the history of English football. It was on that day at 4pm that the top division (re-branded as the Premiership) went behind a pay-wall. Thus Sky Sports Football was born. The rest is history.
From the start of the 2019/20 season 200 live games will be broadcast across three subscription channels; Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon's UK Prime Video. These games will be shown at times generally between Friday evening and Monday night.
It is safe to say, the movement from free-to-air to subscription television has been a huge success for the broadcasters, clubs and players. While ardent football fans could probably tell you Teddy Sheringham scored for Nottingham Forrest on that day in August 1992, in a 1-0 win over Liverpool, most GAA fans would probably not know the equivalent day in their sport.
From the first television broadcast of a GAA match in 1962 until 2010, all games were available on free-to-air television in this country. But as all fans of Ireland's indigenous game now know, some of the content can only be viewed on subscription television.
This changed (I believe) on Saturday the 6th of February 2010. At 7.30pm that evening Meath lined out against Armagh in the National Football League in Navan, with the game only available to television viewers on subscription channel Setanta Sports 1. What has happened since has not been as dramatic as the shift in football but rather a slow movement towards subscription coverage. In 2014, Sky Sports joined the party and has since screened 20 live games each summer, 6 of which are exclusive. This will continue until at least 2022.
And what then?
In February 2016, the then director-general of the GAA Páraic Duffy wrote in his annual report to Congress:
“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."
The Irish Statute Book ensures that all four All-Ireland Finals must be shown free-to-air. Everything else, as things currently stand, is up for grabs. The Munster Hurling Championship; the Super 8s; all eight semi-finals. While we are unlikely to see the dramatic shift that has occurred in football in England, it is reasonable to suggest that the six Championship games currently exclusive to Sky Sports will grow. And this is before National League games are included. You have been warned.