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The Sky Sports plan for the GAA - technology, analysis and winning over the Irish audience

The broadcaster will make their debut on June 7th in Nowlan Park.

Steve Smith: 'The most important thing is what the analysts say' Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

SKY SPORTS TOOK centre stage at Croke Park yesterday.

The broadcaster unveiled their cast of presenters and analysts as they crank up their preparations ahead of their entry to the world of GAA this summer.

But what can we expect from this seismic development for the GAA? Steve Smith, the Sky Sports Director of Production, guided TheScore.ie through what they have in store.

Technology

There will be a sharp focus on what technological features Sky Sports bring to their approach but Smith is adamant that it will not come at the expense of their analysis.

“We’re trying to marry the polished technology that you see on Sky Sports along with the expert analysts that we have employed. The most important thing is what the analysts say. We don’t want to have a a situation where the analysts are concentrating on technology more than what they are saying.

“One of the reasons why we are bringing Brian (Carney) into the team is that he has worked with a lot of the technology we will be looking to employ within the GAA. He will be able to drive that in the early period.

“The televising will be from the ground. It means that we have to come up with a solution that is a mobile solution. The analogy would be ‘Monday Night Football’. That comes from Sky Sports studios in London and you only have to have the technology that works in that studio. There are greater challenges when you take that technology out on the road.”

Steve Smith (left) addressing media yesterday. Source: TheScore.ie

Analysts

The popularity and excellence of Gary Neville’s contributions on Sky Sports ‘Monday Night Football’ has heightened expectations of the broadcaster’s GAA analysis becoming similarly advanced.

“He (Gary) had a lot of experience in terms of TV experience before he came to Sky Sports because he worked a lot with MUTV,” outlined Smith. “He had done a lot, that not a lot of people had seen. Then when he came to Sky Sports he had the platform and technology to be able to bring that to life.

“I think we have three years to develop our (GAA) output. I spoke to Bernard Brogan last week and he was talking about what important role within the team the analysts play. We need to bring that to light.”

Bernard Brogan Bernard Brogan was consulted recently by Sky Sports. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Sky’s GAA Team

Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney will front the GAA coverage but behind the scenes there will be a team working to direct operations. Ciaran O’Hara, who has worked extensively with TV3 on GAA in the past, is a notable addition.

“Clearly I am not an expert on GAA but I hope we have got the right team around us that will bring that to the fore,” stated Smith. “I will be over for the first game definitely but my remit is across the whole of sports. So what I will be doing is watching from afar but coming across periodically.

“We have a producer back in the UK Dave Lawrence who has 25 years experience of producing within Sky Sports. Ciaran O’Hara has obviously got the expert GAA knowledge. It is a unique challenge and a unique opportunity to blend those two things together.”

Winning Over The Irish Audience

Sky Sports arrival to the world of GAA has not been met with universal approval. Smith accepts that convincing fans of the value of Sky is a challenge.

“It is going to be a challenge but it is going to be an exciting challenge, one that we are really looking forward to. With traditional sport there’s always going to be an element of questioning from the fans as to what a new broadcaster will do with their sport.

“But the important message for us is that we understand that, we respect that and we want to make sure that we put a great offering on for GAA fans.”

First Day Out In Kilkenny

Nowlan Park on June 7th is where it will all begin for Sky Sports and GAA. It’ll be a unique venue for them to broadcast from. The home of the Cats is currently without a roof on the Old Stand after wind damage last February.

“That’s where the production manager and directors go and deal with the specific detail but I do know about Nowlan Park and the fact it’s re-developing,” remarked Smith.

“The plan is to shoot from that side rather than into that side. We’d much rather show what a great spectacle it is rather than shooting a building site.

“At the moment, we’ve got live programmes that are three hours or around that. I think the exciting opportunity of Sky Sports and the capacity of what we have, is that we can tailor our approach to different games.

“If we know the appetite that’s over here for pre-match and post-match, we can look to lengthen as we develop in a season.”

Damaged stand on Nowlan park The wind damaged the stand in Nowlan Park recently. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Midweek Highlights Show

Aside from their live coverage, Sky will also have a midweek highlights show but there will be no analysis.

“All our analysts are over here (in Ireland), all our studios are over at Sky. Which means that we end up with a solution where for live game works really well because they’re all on site.

“When you’re in a situation where you’re looking at highlights, you haven’t got a natural home for a highlights show. It’s highlights of all the matches. You’re completing the narrative for GAA fans who watch on Sky Sports.”

Liaising With Amateur Players

Sky’s flagship sports see them deal with professional sports stars in competitions like the Barclays Premier League and the Heineken Cup. But liasing with amateur players in the GAA throws up unique challenges for Smith and his team.

“When we set out with the Premier League, it was important to build relationships and build trust. I understand it’s a slightly different dynamic because you’re dealing with amateur players.

“But I hope we can work with the GPA to try and build that. And the flip side is with the platforms that we have and the amount of people that we can reach, it’s an opportunity for those guys to profile themselves as well. I haven’t met with them (GPA) yet. We have to approach it from a fresh perspective.”

Liam O'Neill and Dessie Farrell Dessie Farrell, the chief executive of the GPA. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

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Fintan O'Toole

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