The ’Park will be the first stop off for Sky

Kevin Blanchfield (St Kieran's College) keeps his eye on the sliotar as J.P. Treacy (Kilkenny CBS) closes in during the All-Ireland post primary schools final in Nowlan Park. Photo: Eoin Hennessy
The pessimistic view is that the GAA has crossed the Rubicon with its Sky Sports contract and its future is laden with trouble and strife, writes Nickey Brennan.

The pessimistic view is that the GAA has crossed the Rubicon with its Sky Sports contract and its future is laden with trouble and strife, writes Nickey Brennan.

The optimistic view is that the latest media three-year contract offers exciting prospects for the GAA to grow globally and to bring the presentation of Gaelic games to a new level.

Readers probably know I support the new contract, but I also recognise it has left some people unhappy that 14 games will not be free to air for the next three years. The new contract has many different elements.

It sees a number of new media partners coming to the GAA table for the first time. Sky Sports generated all the headlines and the furore around their involvement meant that other aspects of the contract received little attention.

As I was not involved in contract negotiations I can only speculate as to what the GAA included in its proposal. For years successive Presidents, this one included, heard pleas from Irish people around the world asking that the ’Association pay greater attention to their needs when negotiating the next contract.

When so many young people left Ireland in search of work they took their fondness for Gaelic games with them. If you have not visited foreign lands and seen what the GAA means to so many then it is difficult to appreciate how thrilled they now are to have been given so much consideration at this time by the GAA.

Gaelic games are booming around the world. There are well over 400 clubs actively providing a sporting and social outlet for Ireland’s sons and daughters. And what’s more, Gaelic games are attracting more than Irish people. Just consider what the availability of live games will do to promote Gaelic games abroad!

It is hardly surprising that Sky Sports was keen to transmit Gaelic games. There is a strong belief among many GAA people that they can bring a level of innovation and presentation not seen before. Britain has 10 million Sky Sports subscribers. That is a potentially massive new audience for the GAA.

Many of those households will have a strong Irish connection.

For the GAA it was a case of balancing the needs of Irish viewers with a potentially huge audience in Britain. Sky Sports can deliver an entirely new audience across the Irish Sea, while its ability to bring innovation to the presentation of games is an exciting prospect.

That strategy, though, has a downside. The exclusive arrangement with Sky Sports does mean that some people in Ireland will not have access to those games except on RTE’s ‘The Sunday Game’.

Sky has a growing presence in Ireland, but I appreciate it is a service many people cannot afford. It may suit some to go to their local pub to see a live game, but that choice will not be suitable for everyone.

Premier Sports will continue to show all championship games in the UK, with the cost in the region of £10 per month. However, that media provider has significantly less customers than Sky Sports.

If Sky Sports was to become a GAA media partner it was always going to expect exclusivity for some games. That is a commercial reality. TV3 had similar exclusivity in the last contract. Ironically, that exclusive arrangement with TV3 meant that many GAA supporters in Northern Ireland were unable to see those games because of lack of coverage.

Making the new contract all the more interesting for Kilkenny is that Nowlan Park will be the first port of call for Sky Sports on June 7. The spotlight will fall on Kilkenny in more ways than one that evening.

The quandary for the GAA in selecting its media partners was that bringing its game to more households in the UK would inevitably mean a reduction in the number of lives games on terrestrial TV.

During 2014 over 100 games will be shown live on various stations. Fourteen will be on a pay to view service. The remainder will be free to air. The last media contract was valued at €10 million. The new contract includes a modest increase. The financial outcome clearly shows that money was not the primary concern when negotiating the new contract.