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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019

'I definitely think there's huge scope for the GAA to develop their own channel and their own model'

Former Wexford GAA player Diarmuid Lyng has recently launched a petition to remove the GAA’s pay-per-view model.

FORMER WEXFORD HURLER Diarmuid Lyng suggests that the GAA has the potential to develop its own channel in the future, which could act as an alternative to TV stations like Sky Sports broadcasting the games.

Diarmuid Lyng Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Lyng has recently launched a petition calling for the removal of the pay-per-view model from the GAA, along with fellow prominent GAA figures including Joe Brolly, Michael Duignan and Paul Rouse, who is a UCD lecturer in the School of History.

After initially acquiring television rights for GAA games in 2014, Sky Sports have since agreed a new deal with the GAA which runs from 2017 – 2022.

GAA figures have voiced their opposition to this pay-per-view coverage of our national games, including Duignan, who spoke passionately on the Sunday Game last year about how his father is unable to watch some of the hurling championship games as he does not have a Sky subscription.

Lyng’s petition has already accumulated over 3,500 signatures since it began at the beginning of this month, and Lyng is hopeful that it will spark a meaningful dialogue about the direction the GAA is taking in relation to the distribution of TV rights.

“It opens up debate, but obviously that’s not enough,” he told The42.

“It’s another outlet, another avenue of communication for people on the ground who aren’t happy with the direction that the GAA are taking at the moment, that feel there’s an excessive focus on the commercialisation of our games. I hope it continues the debate and I hope it continues conversation.

This is just one other way to have an open and meaningful open debate about how people on the ground feel about putting GAA matches behind the paywall, about dividing the GAA public between those who have money and those who don’t have money.

“I hope it continues to give a voice to people who feel the corporate involvement is not quite as welcome as it thinks it should be itself.

Lyng had reservations about the prospect of the Sky Sports deal when it was introduced, having witnessed its impact on American sports. He also spoke to people within the GAA, and felt that the sport as a whole was unprepared for the effect the Sky brand might have on the GAA’s cultural identity, which he believes is based on community spirit and participation.

And although he concedes that it is quite difficult to predict how audiences will be engaging with sport through television in the coming years, he believes the GAA has the potential to create a channel of its own in the future that could provide an alternative to Sky Sports’ coverage.

“My fear is a private firm like Sky and the culture that goes with the way in which they promote sport, that that would have an impact on our identity as an organisation.”

I definitely think there’s huge scope for the GAA to develop their own channel and their own model.

“If it is a pay-per-view model or a subscription model, that that money comes from the GAA and stays in the GAA and goes back out to the GAA. It works to serve itself and works to serve club and county teams around the country.

Ollie Canning, Senan O'Connell,  Brian Carney, Jim McGuinness, JJ Delaney, Paul Earley, James Horan and Peter Canavan Launch of the Sky Sports 2016 season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s more in terms of the financial end of things that we’re not making money for a different organisation, that we would be keeping it for ourselves, or that it would be money funneled from the GAA playing public and the paying and the viewing public, back into the GAA, which is then [sent] back out to the clubs to benefit those very same who are paying and supporting.

Similar to Sky Sports, eir Sport also has a five-year deal with the GAA, which allows them to broadcast football and hurling club championship games and expand the number of televised matches in the GAA calander.

They have also announced that they will provide live coverage for three Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 fixtures this year.

Lyng accepts that eir Sport is providing a television platform for fixtures that would otherwise be denied live coverage, and also believes that competition from other stations is beneficial for RTÉ, who are the primary broadcaster of GAA games.

However, he fundamentally disagrees with TV channels broadcasting games behind a paywall, which may alienate some GAA fans who don’t have the required TV subscriptions.

“I don’t think sport is necessarily entertainment. It’s something that you partake in and you participate in, that you play and you learn about yourself.

I don’t gauge it on the basis of how many games I get to see while I’m in the comfort of my own sitting room on my television. But I don’t expect that to be everyone else’s opinion, that’s just how I see it.”

“I see the positive side of getting to see four league games at the weekend. But if the assumption is that games being televised and games coming into the sitting room is the model by which we measure success, well then obviously this is a good thing.

But in the long run, the pay-per-view model has a negative impact on sport at grassroots level. We’ve seen that in other sports, we could all say, ‘well let’s see how it goes.’

“But it would be kind of silly when you can look at what happened to grassroots rugby and cricket. You can also looks across to American sport which are further down the road of the commercialisation of sport and the selling of sport as entertainment, which I would have serious issues with.

“In terms of Ladies Football, club games, all of this increases… For the players who are taking part and the counties who are interested, it’s definitely a great thing for them to be able to see their teams play on Sky or on eir [Sport] or RTÉ or whatever it is. My issue is, to what end, and if it’s just for people who want to watch games in their sitting rooms at whatever cost that is in the long run to the participation, then that’s the conversation we should be having.

Is being able to see it on television, is that level of engagement enough?”

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