Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is there too much GAA on television?

The GAA has completed its TV rights deals for coverage up to and including 2010, and nobody, it seems, has been left out.

Under the deal, RTÉ secured the live rights for 40 GAA championship games, with the exception of ten games, which will be shown by TV3. The live rights to the Allianz National Leagues and Club/Cup Championships were awarded to TG4 and Setanta Sport respectively. TG4 will have the rights to Sunday afternoon League games and Club and Colleges games, while Setanta will show floodlit games on Saturday nights and four Sunday afternoon League games. A range of highlight packages have been awarded to RTÉ, TG4, Setanta Sport and the BBC. UTV secured a 'Clips' package.

In addition, BBC NI, RTÉ and the GAA have agreed a new
deal that will mean significantly more GAA matches being broadcast live on BBC NI over the next three years. Under the new agreement, BBC NI will be able to show live any game in the Ulster Football Championship that RTE is also broadcasting.

Even less high profile competitions such as the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup finals, the U21 championships, the Mc Kenna Cup O’Byrne Cup, Leinster Colleges, Féile na nGael and even Cumann na mBunscol finals, all of which had previously struggled to receive any television coverage, now get televised. Such comprehensive GAA coverage on television is good news for armchair GAA fans all across Ireland. But, isn’t there a balance to be struck?

Despite the high numbers of championship games to be broadcast—in total, 52 live championship ties were broadcast last year, including replays and with 50 games already divided up between RTÉ and TV3, that will be exceeded under the new contract which kicks in after the National Leagues—Nicky Brennan has emphatically
rejected the suggestion that there is overkill regarding live coverage at this point.

‘‘All we’re doing is what we’ve been doing for the last number of years. There’s a strong audience out there for it. Our attendances have not been impacted on over the last number of years, we’ve continued to maintain our attendances. It’s always something we’re conscious of, I won’t deny that.”

Nicky is in denial about a lot of things these days, the grants for example, so maybe he and the lads at Croker Park have neglected to think of the wider impact of televising more and more games. Does all this GAA on television mean that less people are now inclined to go and watch club games, which take place at the same time as televised matches on a Saturday evening? And who is going to decide the throw-in times for the matches—the broadcasters or the GAA—and how will this affect fans?

In England the traditional Saturday kick-off time of 3.00 pm for football matches has been sacrificed to accommodate the whims of the broadcasters, much to the disgust of
fan groups. It’s the broadcasters, not the clubs or the League, who specify the times on which most teams play their games. The new times, such as Monday evenings, greatly inconvenience fans travelling to games. We’re lucky as travel distances are not too much of a problem in the early stages of GAA championships and it ceases to be an issue from the quarter-finals on as the majority of games are played at the usual Sunday time.

The impact of televised games on attendance at club matches is still worth considering. Although, proving there is a link is next to impossible as there are no statistics to evaluate the trends maybe the GAA should still think about blocking hours for club matches at weekends. For example, Article 48 of UEFA's Statutes and Article 3 of UEFA's Broadcasting Regulation provides for member associations to block broadcasts during certain hours. The Football Association in England does not authorise the broadcasting of football matches played during its main fixture on Saturday afternoons to protect attendances at the game.

TV coverage does provide the opportunity to watch a game fans want to attend but are unable to get tickets and for neutrals to watch the best matches—all GAA fans want to, and should, see Munster hurling matches. Some fans, however, are influenced to watch games on TV rather than go to the match. So maybe the comfortable option of watching a game on telly rather than go see a local club game is becoming more popular with all these games now on TV.

What do you think?

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