A professional playing GAA is not on the cards

The response from some quarters following the GAA’s Sky deal was that the decision would bring a move towards professionalism.

The response from some quarters following the GAA’s Sky deal was that the decision would bring a move towards professionalism.

It is difficult to understand the basis for this view because in monetary terms the extra funds which the new contract will generate are relatively modest over three years.

How many times in the past have similar responses been heard when major decisions were made by the GAA? The emergence of sponsorship including the use of logos on jerseys was one such occasion. So too were the championship multi-sponsor model and the opening of Croke Park to rugby and soccer.

For an organisation that is perceived to be slow to change a lot has happened over the past couple of decades. Some people had issues with the direction the Association took during that time and forecast doom and gloom. The outcome has been very different.

Such decisions are not made on a whim. They involve protracted discussions and negotiations with potential partners and with key central committees.

An interesting point was raised following the recent media contract announcement when some people contended that the decision should have rested with Congress or even with clubs.

The problem with such a move is that it would completely undermine the GAA’s negotiating position when dealing with potential media partners.

I imagine that the GAA started to work on the new contract over 12 months ago. External professional advice would have been sought to ensure that the request for proposal was as comprehensive as possible.

On this occasion the GAA wanted to engage with potential partners in overseas areas, in addition to the Irish market. It was also clear that it placed a lot of emphasis on the use of smart technology for overseas patrons to show its games.

Encouraging response

The response from the GPA to the new contract was encouraging. There was no call for a move towards professionalism. The reality is that heading down the professional route would have a monumental impact on Gaelic games at all levels.

The two professional team sports we are most familiar with in Ireland are soccer and rugby. The League of Ireland has experienced many problems over the past decade and officials have found it necessary to cap the level of expenditure by clubs to sustain the competition.

That was a sensible move. The crowds attending games are modest in many instances but difficult decisions were necessary to ensure the viability of many clubs.

Player’s expectations are now more realistic and the payments they receive are generally only available during the playing season.

Rugby is in a healthier place principally due to greater attendances and its TV appeal. That though, only applies to the four provincial sides, as club rugby has been adversely impacted by their success.

Running a professional rugby set up is financially challenging. The Heineken Cup is being replaced next year by a new three-tier competition and we can expect player demands to grow as a result of this change.

The recent defeat of Leinster by Toulon was a costly result for the IRFU as it deprived them of a huge pay day in Dublin between Leinster and Munster. Such occasions are crucial for the governing body of Irish rugby.

Professional difficulties

All four Irish provinces need to continually attract new players and that often results in signings from the Southern Hemisphere. Such players do not come cheap! The GAA can therefore see at first hand just some of the difficulties it would experience running a professional game.

Sky Sports has made a huge impact on both rugby and soccer (in the UK) and the deep pockets of Rupert Murdoch have resulted in millions of pounds being poured into both sports.

No one should expect a similar outcome now that Sky is involved with the GAA. We know their involvement will create some additional funds, the bulk of which will filter down through the organisation in due course.

Irrespective of who wants to do business with the GAA it will remain an amateur organisation. More than anything, it must and will continue to support its counties and clubs with the rewards from its commercial contracts.