While the GAA is not a for-profit organisation, it does generate substantial levels of revenue to cover the association’s costs (see here). Almost every weekend all over Ireland, various clubs, county boards and provincial councils are charging their ‘customers’ for the right to watch their games. Similarly, every September, the GAA’s Central Council charges up to €80 for All-Ireland final tickets. One of the justifications for this is that the money raised is put back into ‘grassroots’ activity. If people must pay to attend games, why should watching games on TV be any different?
Gaelic games are often put forward by their supporters as the greatest games in the world, with the greatest fans who display great pride in parish/club/county. If this is so, then GAA fans should have no problem in paying to watch games on TV. Also, if consumers have to pay to watch on TV, maybe they would be more likely to attend the game itself as its relative cost has fallen?
Currently, RTE dominates coverage of the GAA Championship. Due to a lack of serious competition, RTE’s coverage has hardly changed over the years, be it for a live game or the Sunday Game. The same presenters, analysts and commentators seem to have been in place forever. Interviews with star players tend to follow the same formula, with the player pictured walking by the local river/castle and staring into the distance. Don’t get me started on ‘Up for the Match’!
While the TV market for the GAA is fairly small, why should RTE have a near monopoly? Surely competition from Sky would be good for both the GAA and for TV viewers. Similar doomsday scenarios were painted when Sky got exclusive rights for the Premier League, Heineken Cup, Super League (Rugby League), Ryder Cup, Ashes series, etc. Sky brought coverage to whole new level, making the viewing experience much more enjoyable. If Sky’s GAA coverage does not attract sufficient viewing figures, then it is likely that we will be back to the current situation. What is the harm in trying something different?
For the GAA as an organisation, they will run some sort of risk. While greater TV revenue may be accrued and distributed across the organisation, this may be at a cost of lower viewing figures, possibly leading to reduced participation. For other sports covered by Sky, while live TV viewing figures have undoubtedly fallen across these sports, can anyone say that Sky’s coverage has had a negative effect on the sport as a whole? Do less kids and adults people play or follow soccer, rugby and golf because the Premier League/Heineken Cup/Ryder Cup is shown on Sky?
The main negative issue for the GAA is that a relatively large section of GAA supporters may be prevented from watching games due to the cost of a Sky Sports subscription. Another possible socially undesirable outcome is that more games may be watched in pubs, particularly by children. One possible way of overcoming this is for the GAA to insist that terrestrial TV stations have the right to show deferred coverage of any game shown live on Sky.
On a lighter note, if Sky do get rights, wouldn’t it be great to get Chris Kamara giving live updates! On the other hand, if any Sky Sports producer is reading, please, please, please do not let Jamie Redknapp anywhere near your GAA coverage!