So it’s definitely too early to call Sky’s coverage of the GAA a failure. But it most definitely hasn’t been the best of starts.
There has been much debate throughout the country ever since the GAA agreed to sell rights to championship matches to Sky Sports last April. Almost a year on and it appears the deal hasn’t been as successful for Sky, nor for the justification provided by the GAA, as either party would have hoped.
Initially there was a fantastic reaction to the GAA with the British Twitterati taking to social media to exclaim their bemusement and enjoyment of such novel sports. Even footballer Joey Barton was hooked on the action.
However, disappointing viewing figures tell a different story. Sky GAA debuted with Kilkenny v Ofally which drew a viewership of just over 32,000. However, when Dublin took on Wexford less than half that tuned in. It is estimated that 103,800 people in Britain tuned in to watch the All-Ireland Hurling Final at a time that Sky Sports 1 expected to attract figured between 1 and 1.8 million.
The replay between Kilkenny and Tipperary attracted just 54,800 while Kerry v Donegal saw only 50,500 people tune in. These figures appear even more paltry when compared with the audiences attracted by RTE. So where to from here?
The deal, which was made last year, will be up for renewel in 2017 and while it’s far too early to deem the venture a complete failure, the GAA must be careful when it comes to striking a new deal.
Many members across the country remain apprehensive of any packages involving subscription services. The GAA put forth the argument that with such widespread emigration in Irish society this entire deal with Sky is about bringing access to those emigrants who can’t watch the matches.
However, at the same time as the Sky package was announced it emerged that GAAGO, an online subscription service was also to be rolled out in conjunction with RTE. It’s hard to justify the “access to matches for Irish emigrants” when there is a second avenue from which access could be provided.
Clare have proposed that any games provided to Sky not be done so exclusively, and be made available on terestrial television in Ireland. This motion has been backed by Offaly and is likely to receive further backing as time goes on.
The question then becomes would Sky be willing to pay, most likely a lesser price, for games over which they wouldn’t have exclusivity and would only draw a UK audience? If so then that would truly be for the benefit of Irish emigrants, as well as for the expansion and exposure of the GAA. If not however, then it is clear that this is just another market over which Sky will inevitably seek complete control.
Many golfing people will lament the recent news that Sky Sports gained the viewing rights to The Open. It is obvious that Sky will continue to be a dominating force in sports viewership and will continue to grow stronger.
While the GAA must balance the books it must be weary when one of the most powerful broadcasters in the world starts to take an interest. If in 2017 Sky ask for more games in return for more money, what then? Will the GAA be able to say when enough is enough, or will it be too late?