The level of GAA coverage on television has increased in recent years to unprecedented heights. Where once upon a time the national broadcaster would only provide live coverage of the All-Ireland Hurling and Football finals, there are now hundreds of live GAA matches shown every year at home and across the world.
The Gaelic Athletic Association today has a very pronounced commercial arm with its latest deal with Sky and RTÉ in December 2016 believed to be worth over €50 million to the association. Eir Sport is now also delving into the market for GAA broadcast rights.
But with these major stations all pumping massive resources into their GAA coverage, there is still one small Irish language station proving to be an incredibly popular and pioneering force in the market.
On Sunday, 642,000 viewers tuned into TG4 to watch the Allianz National Football League Final between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. This made the league final the most watched programme on TG4 since its launch in 1996.
The following evening TG4 streamed the Ulster Under-21 Football Final between Donegal and Derry live on their Youtube channel, a godsend for followers of the counties who were unable to travel to Armagh on a Monday night. This match may not have drawn in as many viewers as the previous day’s action but it demonstrated not only TG4’s commitment to GAA coverage but also to making their coverage as widely accessible as possible.
The Under-21 final was not hidden behind a paywall. There was no requirement to register to a mailing list or pay a subscription. It was simply made available to those who wanted to see a game of Gaelic Football.
TG4’s GAA coverage has been expansive in recent decades. While RTÉ and Sky may hold the rights for the live Championship action, TG4 has endeavored to showcase just about everything else. On top of their coverage of the Allianz Hurling and Football leagues, the station broadcasts live coverage of the Under-21 Championships, the Club Championships, college and schools finals, the Gaeltacht finals and the Ladies Football and Camogie Championships.
Indeed, the success of the Club Championships on TG4 has prompted Eir Sport to move into this area. On top of the live coverage, the Laochra Gael documentaries produced by the station are some of the finest GAA documentaries ever made.
All of which shows the commitment TG4 has to producing as much live GAA coverage as possible and making it available to as many people as they can.
Most of the 642,000 viewers who tuned in for the gripping final between Dublin and Kerry (myself included) wouldn’t have understood word-for-word what the commentators were saying, but that’s not important. The main thing is that everyone who wanted to watch the game was able to do so.
During the Division 2 final between Kildare and Galway on Sunday the commentator mentioned the word ‘citeog’ every so often. After looking it up I discovered it is an Irish term for left-handed or left-footed. Let it not be said you can’t learn something while watching football.
For the likes of RTÉ and Sky, they could learn a lot of lessons from TG4’s coverage of Gaelic Games.