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Saturday 27 February 2021


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Plenty of questions have already been asked about the GAA’s latest broadcasting rights deal and, in particular, the decision to get into bed with Sky Sports for the next three years.

Today the politicians have their turn. President Liam O’Neill and Director-General Paraic Duffy appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications this afternoon.

The hearing is set to begin at 12 noon.


Paraic Duffy makes the GAA’s opening statement and begins by stressing the Association’s “obligation” to provide better coverage to the 392 affiliated clubs overseas.

Duffy: “When Liam and I sat down to address the TV rights contract, we knew we had to address this issue head on.”

Paraic Duffy reiterates the fact that the GAA’s total revenue under this new deal has only marginally increased.

“Quite simply, finance was not a key priority in our negotiations”

Duffy: UK & Australia are the biggest destinations in terms of Irish emigration in recent years. These people are now able to watch games live in their own homes for the first time.

Duffy: Of the 18 most important games (6 provincial finals, 6 AI quarter-finals, 4 semi-finals and 2 finals), 16 will be broadcast free-to-air on RTÉ.

“The charge made against the GAA of disenfranchising its supporters is not sustainable.”

Duffy: Never the case that all games were live on TV. We have always had to find a balance between live coverage and encouraging supporters to attend matches.

Duffy: Due to emigration, “it is no longer tenable for the GAA to see the audience for Gaelic games as Irish people living in Ireland.”

Duffy: “It is the intention of the GAA that beyond 2017, our games will continue to be available free-to-air to Irish audiences.”

Paraic Duffy has finished speaking on behalf of the GAA. “That’s our statement,” says Liam O’Neill when asked if he wishes to add anything.

Responding to questions from John O’Mahony (FG), Paraic Duffy confirms that the RTÉ Digital offering which makes games available worldwide will be a subscription service. The fee has not been fixed yet.

Duffy: There was no interest from ITV or Channel 4 and BBC were only interested in Ulster Championship. Did we have to go to Sky? If we wanted to make games available to British audience, yes we did.

Paraic Duffy confirms that Sky are exploring a subscription deal with the GAA clubs around the country.

Liam O’Neill responds to some questions from Timmy Dooley. No negative feedback since Sky deal was announced. He visited Australia last year and said that the main message was: please make sure that we can see our games.

Liam O’Neill tells a story about a young man in Australia who went to watch the All-Ireland final but was asked to leave because it was 3am and the pub had to close. The barman turned the TV towards the window and he watched the rest of the match outside.

Timmy Dooley steps in to ask if the Sky deal and Channel 7 Australia deal are linked and if not, why is O’Neill focusing on Australia?

O’Neill says the entire TV rights deal needs to be viewed as a package rather than isolating one tiny part.

Duffy: “If there was a free-to-air way [in Britain], of course we would have taken it. It wasn’t there.”

Duffy is asked about promises made to the government in 2010 about free-to-air coverage.

Reiterates that he told Eamon Ryan — then Minister for Communications — that the key games would remain FTA and, as already noted, 16 out of the 18 biggest games still are.

Paudie Coffey asks if the GAA proactively explored with, or offered incentives to, BBC, Channel 4 or ITV regarding free-to-air coverage.

Duffy says they did meet the BBC but no, they did not offer any incentives for them to cover the games. “I think that was a pretty reasonable position to take.”

Pay-for-play is “simply not an issue,” Duffy says. The Gaelic Players’ Association remains just as committed to their amateur status as the GAA is.

Duffy calls for a sense of perspective about which games are live on TV. If you’re from Dublin and Kerry, yes, your games were always on TV but that’s not the case for Monaghan or Cavan or Carlow etc.

A JOKE! A JOKE! Sinn Féin’s Michael Colreavy: “I represent Sligo-North Leitrim. We don’t trouble ye very often in Croke Park.”

Michael Colreavy now quotes from Paul Rouse’s study about the impact of pay-TV on the Heineken Cup viewing figures.

Key difference with the Heineken Cup study, Paraic Duffy says, is that all of the Heineken Cup games are shown on Sky.

Duffy: Last year RTÉ didn’t have all the provincial finals. Now they have all six provincial finals.

Duffy: 11 million homes in Britain have access to Sky. None of the other British providers could give that kind of access.

Duffy: Premium Sports still have the rights to show games in pubs and bars and clubs in America. That hasn’t changed.

Colreavy: “Why are still paying middle men to retransmit the games?”

Duffy: “We’ve taken nothing away. We’ve simply added to what was there in the past.”

O’Neill: “The difference is that we were limited to that [Premium Sports] deal but we’re not now. We have moved on… we have more options now.”

Liam O’Neill quotes an emigrant who told him that “being able to watch the games is like a bandaid on a homesick heart.”

Eamonn Maloney, Labour TD for Dublin South-West, says he has no questions for the GAA and just wants to welcome the deal.

Eamonn Coghlan poses some questions, including about Sky’s ability to dictate the fixture list now but finishes — “Well done to the GAA, I think this is great for Ireland.”

Paraic Duffy again reiterates that the GAA is determined to “maintain the balance” between free-to-air and subscription broadcasts going forward.

Duffy: No issue with Sky scheduling of games. No intention to play games on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Sean Barrett: I don’t expect to be allowed in to Croke Park for free… and I don’t expect to be able to see matches for free, whether that’s the TV licence or a subscription channel. An organisation costs money to run.

Final questions, I think, go to Pat Deering (FG TD for Carlow-Kilkenny) who is a former chairman of the Carlow GAA county board.

Deering: “I hope that the smaller counties would benefit more from the deal.”

Liam O’Neill says that the GAA were caught out slightly by the reaction… but that politicians should understand that as well as anybody.

Liam O’Neill says he checked with the three presidential candidates, including Uachtaráin-tofa Aogán Ó Fearghail, to make sure that they were ok with the decisions.

Liam O’Neill says the decision has weighed very heavily and will continue to until the first year of the deal is shown to be a success.

Duffy: “I don’t think anything that’s been said today can question the fact that we’ve looked after both groups [the Irish at home and abroad].”

That, as they say, is a wrap. Thanks for reading.

About the author:

Niall Kelly