THE TG4 SPORT department could sense that the 2017 All-Ireland Ladies finals would be a momentous occasion, when it became apparent that they wouldn’t be pitching their cameras in the usual position.
The Cusack stand is their annual home for the event on account of the high percentage of supporters that tend to sit in the opposite stand.
But the news of a packed out attendance in the lower tiers of the Hogan, Davin and Cusack stand, forced them to have a rethink.
Head of Sport at TG4 Rónán Ó Coisdealbha explains to The42:
“A week and a half out from the finals we started looking at camera plans. And we realised that the lower Hogan, lower Cusack and lower Davin end were going to be full.
“Back in the day, you’d be shooting from the Hogan into the lower Cusack that would be half empty at least, so it’s fantastic.
“Helen O’Rourke, the CEO of the LGFA, said they were opening the upper Cusack (tier) so that meant to us that we could move the cameras back over to the upper Hogan. It worked out well for us.”
They had a hunch that somewhere between 40,000 and 41,000 would turn out for the triple header of junior, intermediate and senior finals, but the record-breaking figure of 46, 286 surpassed their expectations.
It represented an increase of almost 12,000 compared to the number of spectators that attended the 2016 deciders, and turned out to be the highest attended women’s sports event so far this year.
More importantly for TG4, an average of 303,800 people tuned into the senior final between Dublin and Mayo – its highest-ever viewing figure for a Ladies’ final since the first broadcast back in 2001.
The senior game reached 563,000 viewers, and peaked at 409,700 viewers watching live just before 5.30pm.
GAA commentator Brian Tyers has been part of Spórt TG4 since its formation in 1996, and was there when the Irish language station first began broadcasting the Ladies games.
He has always enjoyed covering the matches, and from his position in the commentary box, he could tell there was something different about the All-Ireland atmosphere in Croke Park last weekend.
“It was certainly exceptional and you could sense it on the day,” he told The42.
“They’re really exciting days, the standard is really high. But something I thought was interesting when I was talking to (former Cork footballer) Juliet Murphy afterwards who had sampled this many times as a player.
“She was sitting up in the commentary box but she said she could definitely sense a completely different atmosphere. Any time there was an important twist in the match, you’d hear the surge of just excitement from the crowd.
And it felt like a real crowd, or a championship crowd that you might get for a men’s match or any match. Croke Park was more than half full last Sunday so it really was an exceptional atmosphere.
The attendance at the All-Ireland ladies finals has been steadily rising every year, with an an annual increase of an estimated 3,000 patrons between 2014 and 2016.
Tyers was somewhat surprised to see the crowd numbers swell to such an extent this year, and was reminded of the potential that some people saw in Ladies football back in the early days.
Someone said that with the right promotion, you might see the day where you’d get 50,000 at a Ladies match. And so you’d be thinking, ‘you must be joking, are you out of your mind?’”
“But for the last three years, the crowd has gone from 27,000 to 31,000, to 34,500 last year. And then 46,000 this year so it’s definitely going in the right direction.
The promotion is definitely there and the spectacle is there. If the game wasn’t good enough to draw the crowds, they wouldn’t go.
The origins of TG4′s relationship with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA), dates back to when the latter was looking for a new sponsor in 2001, having come to the end of their deal with Bank of Ireland.
TG4 was a station that was still in its formative years, and was looking to get involved in more projects that provided live broadcasts.
They initially agreed on a three-year deal, with TG4 broadcasting six games in the first season, a number which has since jumped up to 17 games this year.
The station has also incorporated the use of Facebook live, and Youtube platforms to cover the games and expand its audience.
The partnership was simply a good fit for both parties, according to Ó Coisdealbha.
“They were looking for a sponsor and coverage, and we were willing to provide sponsorship and live matches to fill our schedules and to have All-Ireland finals in our portfolio.
“TG4 was only five years on air after starting in Halloween 1996. We were still finding our feet at the time as well and I suppose in the big scheme of things, the LGFA is only around since 1974, so they’re quite a young organisation themselves.
“At the time, we had just covered basketball for two or three years when it used to be sponsored by ESB. There were all these figures available at the time saying that basketball was one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland.
And then all of a sudden Ladies football was up there as one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland.
“There appeared to be a lot of clubs around the country where Ladies football was beginning to be played. It just seemed to have that buzz about it.”
There was never any concern about investing TG4′s coverage in a sport that had a niche following at the time, and the consistently high viewership of the games proved that there was an audience out there eager to watch the games.
It’s possible that other networks may become interested in competing for the TV rights for Ladies football further down the line, but Ó Coisdealbha is confident that his media organisation offers the most competitive package for fans of the sport.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Ó Coisdealbha continues, “because it was the first time we were doing it but we understood the importance of the occasion – it’s Croke Park, it’s All-Ireland finals, it’s a big event. We respected and understood that.
“Genuinely, there was never a time when figures were low or anything like that. We’ve been delighted with the figures ever since then because we were surprised at how well the senior final did for us over the years.
The All-Ireland Ladies senior final was always in the top 10 most viewed programme on TG4 each year.
“If you look at all the coverage TG4 give, there’s a lot of TV stations out there that would say, ‘am I in a position to pay for an outside broadcast unit for 17 live games?’
“Competition is good and always keeps you on your feet, but TG4 has a fantastic relationship with the LGFA. It’s as if we’ve grown together for the last 16 years, there’s a really good relationship there. We love working with them.”
Tyers admits that he wasn’t overly familiar with Ladies football prior to the introduction of the sport into station’s scheduling.
But as a Corkman, he is particularly proud of the standard set by the Cork ladies over the last decade, and he got to know some of the players through his role with TG4.
Naturally, more challenges await both the Irish language station and the LGFA in terms of capitalising on the progress they made this year, in order to grow the sport even more and attract more viewers.
Tyers is enthused by how far the project has come, and is eager to continue adding to that success in the future.
“I know it’s one of the central planks of their sporting strategy and their commitment to Peil na mBan goes back to 2001 when it might not have been that fashionable at the time.
I enjoy doing the Ladies matches as much if not more as many of the other matches we do for the rest of the year.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that the crowds at some of the matches are disappointing, so I think that’s certainly one of the objectives for all partners involved in the next number of years to increase the crowds at games before the All-Ireland finals.
“The people involved in TG4 and Peil na mBan are really sound people and we enjoy working with each other. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being involved for the last 16 years and look forward to many more.”
TG4 will be broadcasting the replay of the All-Ireland intermediate camogie final between Meath and Cork later this afternoon. [Throw-in at 1.30, Gaelic Grounds].
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