Nickey Brennan: Future media funding poses challenges for the GAA

I AM sure many readers noted the announcement from the RTE Director General last week on the major cutbacks in the station’s programme output and pay cuts for many of its top presenters.

I AM sure many readers noted the announcement from the RTE Director General last week on the major cutbacks in the station’s programme output and pay cuts for many of its top presenters.

Included in the announcement from Noel Curran was a decision which may well have significant implications for the GAA. A 25% reduction in the funding of sports coverage will drastically impact the output from the national broadcaster.

By any measurement that is a significant cut in funding and the inevitable consequence will see reduced sports coverage on TV screens and the radio in the years ahead.

GAA broadcasting contracts generally tend to be for three years and the current deal has two years to run before renegotiations commence.

What is abundantly clear is that RTE will come to the table with a much smaller cheque the next time contracts are up for discussion. They will, however, be hoping to secure broadcasting rights, at least similar, to what it currently holds.

TV3 understands the need to have a strong relationship with the GAA, but it is also limited in the scale of funding available to cover Gaelic games.

The level of coverage

Many will rightly point to the level of coverage which RTE and TV3 (particularly the former) give to soccer and rugby (in the case of RTE). One can only presume that with funding cut by a quarter, all sports will be impacted.

TG4 also has limited funding at its disposal, but it consistently strives to deliver maximum coverage to Gaelic games within those resources. Up to now the station did not have the finance to take on the challenge of live GAA championship coverage.

Given RTE’s clear position on future sports broadcasting, TG4 may well be eying a bigger slice of the GAA championship action.

The national broadcaster has shown little appetite to cover the National Leagues and is happy with its one-hour programme on Sunday nights. One has to be disappointed with such scant coverage of national games from the national broadcaster for the best part of seven months.

It is simply not good enough!

It is not difficult, therefore, to see that if RTE is to cut its funding to the GAA its championship coverage will be impacted in one way or another. The end result, if RTE retains the primary championship contract, will see fewer games covered live.

That brings us to Setanta! This broadcaster experienced some difficulties in the recent past, but they now appear to have stabilised their operations. They have a genuine interest in Gaelic games and do a decent job on the League games it covers live in the spring.

The problem (if that is what is how it should be classed) with Setanta is its pay per view policy. Many people in this country are happy to pay for Sky Sports, but the notion that one has to pay to watch Gaelic games (aside from the few League games currently covered by Setanta) does not go down well with many people.

Real dilemma

The news from RTE last week is a real dilemma for the GAA. The funding it generates from media coverage ultimately finds its way down to every province and County Board and it is a crucial income source for these units.

RTE will want to retain the same level of coverage, but for a reduced fee. The GAA on the other hand will hope to, at least, retain its existing level of income from media sources. Squaring those two positions will not be easy.

I don’t know if Setanta is either interested or has the resources to cover GAA championship games, but I suspect they would relish the chance to become the primary media partner of the GAA.

So, does the GAA accept less funding from the national broadcaster (or possibly TG4) and keep its viewers happy or does it look for a more profitable outcome with a new primary media partner and pass on that income to provinces and counties?

Viewers and patrons may not be happy with a pay per view operation, but provinces and counties badly need to retain their current income streams to run their affairs each year.

I do not envy those who have to find a solution to that quandary.