Yesterday it was announced that the government are to give €900,000 in grants to inter-county GAA players. Yet, the GAA is wedded to the amateur principle that is interpreted as players should not be paid for playing. The government money is indirectly, rather than directly, for playing because to be eligible one has to be a player. This is not to suggest for one moment that the government is undermining the principle against the wishes of the GAA. The GAA welcomed the government announcement. Borrowing, and slightly abusing a term from US college sports, the Irish government is a GAA booster.
As an individual, my sympathies lie with the principle of amateurism for gaelic games. As an economist, I realise that the case for amateurism is far from overwhelming. Should a player be paid for doing something for which a sports organisation charges patrons? Who SHOULD hold the property right? Rather than reinforce the views of those whose sympathies, like myself, lie with amateurism, I would encourage them to read Leonard Koppett's essay "The Poison of Amateurism". You may not have a change of heart but you could have a change of mind.
Whereas the amateurism issue is about the distribution of rewards within a sports organisation, the issue of broadcasting rights can be about the distribution of rewards a sports organisation receives. Two days ago, speaking at the launch of the ISC Youth Field Sports grants, the IRFU's Philip Browne addressed this very issue (here and here). Browne welcomed the government funding for grassroots rugby but warned against the government interfering in the market for broadcast rights. However, European policy makers do not see public goods in exactly the same way economists see them. The European Television Without Frontiers directive allows the government of each member state to list sporting and cultural events that must effectively be shown on free-to-air TV. The IRFU might argue that the property rights on broadcasting should entitle them to do as they wish with their right. However, the EU takes a broader view of these things. Microsoft made a similar argument when they claimed that the code for their operating system was theirs to do with as they wished. If they wished to exclude the writers of applications from access to the code then Microsoft felt that was their business. The EU disagreed and forced Microsoft to provide access to the code. It is noteworthy that the US antitrust authorities did not go as far as their EU counterparts.
So, who should hold the property rights? Should it differ between sporting organisations? Why is there differences of opinions between economists and lawmakers on the issues? The answers to these questions can very much depend on one's perspective.