GAA decision over live TV games looks poorly thought out

Ronan McNamee (Tyrone) and Neil McAdams (Monaghan) will meet in the first round of the Ulster SFC later this month but there'll be no live television coverage Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

SOMETIMES the GAA must feel they can't do right for doing wrong. They face criticism at every turn and their motivations and decisions are continually questioned with terms such as ‘clueless', ‘money-grabbing' or ‘elitist' the more pleasant descriptions used.

Any regular readers will know that, by and large, I have belief in the good intentions of the GAA hierarchy and acknowledge the impossibility they face in pleasing everyone.

Their recent decision-making regarding the coverage of the Championship this summer however, looks poorly thought through, even to me.

As things stand, the TV coverage of the Ulster Championship will go from seven games last year to two this year (one semi-final and the final).

This has come about because the GAA have not increased the number of covered live games from 45 this year across both hurling and football Championships.

Given the fact that, with the hurling format changes and especially the introduction of the Super 8s, there will be an abundance of huge clashes in high summer that will provide the choicest fruit in terms of TV coverage, the TV companies were never going to miss these by choosing early round provincial ties instead.

In some ways, the GAA had backed themselves into an unwinnable position through a number of decisions.

Selling TV rights for five years in December 2016, when it appeared some form of significant restructure was imminent, seemed unnecessarily restrictive. I am not privy to the deals themselves, but surely the GAA could have put in some sort of fall-back position where, in the event of a new format, certain aspects could be renegotiated.

Obviously one of the big accusations in terms of the

Super-8s resorted to the age-old ‘Grab-All-Association' jibe.

The claim was that, typical of the GAA, they just put on more elite level games to milk more money out of the competition.

If they had come out and had a new bidding process for the TV rights to these extra games, they would have brought further scorn on themselves and confirmed many sceptics' views.

In not doing so, they have confounded all those sceptics and make such accusations look like cliché-driven hot air.

However, seeing the fuller ramifications of their decision, it looks like the GAA are falling into the trap of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

The current situation raises several significant concerns.

The month of April has been of questionable success in terms of addressing the club v county fixture issues.

It has, however, shown that without the inter-county game, GAA coverage goes through the floor. While this will not matter one bit for the hardened Gaels (and may even be seen as a good thing), for those trying to maintain high levels of interest, participation and profile of our games, it is far from ideal.

The Championship will of course bring renewed media interest, but it is TV coverage in particular, with the glamour and profile that brings, which has the biggest impact.

A game covered on TV will drive so much more interest and conversation than one not covered.

If the Championship is our games shop window, it seems a wrong move that, in an era of increased competition but also increased interest, we should board that shop window up.

For the Ulster Council themselves, it must be frustrating that having proven to be the reason for maintaining the increasingly maligned provincial structure (along with the Munster hurling Championship), it is essentially cast aside from TV coverage because of the arrival of the Super-8s.

The arguments for doing away or changing the role of provincial Championships in the All-Ireland race have been made often and has even been alluded to by members of the GAA hierarchy. The creation of the Super-8s appeared to be a further step, along with the All-Ireland Qualifiers, which completely change the value of the provincial competitions.

Allowing them to lose out on a massive amount of TV coverage acts as further evidence of disregard for competitions

whose glory days are seen to be behind them.

Then there are the revenue implications.

The Ulster Council would gain payments for the TV rights of covered games along with consequent higher sponsorship levels due to the increased exposure levels TV coverage offers.

To have this taken away due to decisions of Central Council seems unfair.

If reports are true, the Ulster Council are exploring the possibility of a separate rights deal with the BBC.

To me this appears only fair, but it would mark a massive change in the landscape and would be a test ground to see who owns the rights to such events – central or provincial councils.

I have no doubt the likes of BBC or TG4 would love a chance to have sole coverage of a big competition like this. Additionally, the likes of the BBC have faced criticism about the ongoing lack of sport on terrestrial TV due to loss of rights to the big subscription groups. Given the issues society faces in terms of obesity and increasing activity levels of the population, it is certainly a concern that in the average week there is probably about 10 hours of cooking programmes and 1 hour of sport. Hardly a balanced diet.

Hopefully the GAA will relent and, having scored a wee point against the ‘Grab All' accusers, will now take the sensible course of action and allow additional games to be covered.

In this day and age, to have a game like Tyrone vs Monaghan, which will surely sell out the 19,000-odd capacity of Healy Park, not covered on TV seems absurd. Supporters, TV companies, provincial and county boards and the players and teams themselves would all benefit.

Hopefully sense can prevail and, sure, if the GAA make a few extra pounds from it, who could complain about that?...

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