GAA Football

Kicking Out: We're supposed to be better than what Tyrone have done

Dromore and Coalisland both embarrassed the Tyrone County Board by accepting the help of local businesses to pay for free admission for children to Sunday’s county final which was being streamed by the county board at a hefty pay per view tariff of £16. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE ordinary rank and file of Tyrone are good, hard-working people.

As a county, their upward mobility is something to be admired. They’ve created their own niche power base through education and engineering, and transferred that success on to the football field.

In an engaging piece of social history published before the All-Ireland final, Fermanagh-born and Tyrone-adopted journalist Declan Bogue noted that since the mid-1990s, Tyrone had become “full of men and women who hadn’t needed to get a plane ticket or a ferry just to secure work.

“The population had enough educated and highly-motivated people, some of whom benefitted from greater ease of university education, others who didn’t allow their lack of it inhibit their ambition or abilities. It coincided with an industrial revolution within the county, mainly in engineering with the establishment of firms such as Terex Finlay, Powerscreen, Mallaghan, and more recently, current jersey sponsors Tyrone Fabrication, founded in 1992,” he wrote.

There is plenty of money in Tyrone, if you look in the right places.

And in that sense, it’s no different to anywhere else.

The haves have more than ever, and the have-nots have less.

Our current society is like an island cracking down the middle, with the two parts drifting away from each other.

A large number of ordinary GAA people can feel their feet dragging on the coastline of poverty as they desperately stretch themselves to cling on to the other side.

The GAA prides itself on being the organisation of the people, but those people have become increasingly middle-class.

That’s creating the very real danger of exclusivity, a word that sounds like something to be aspired to but is built on exclusion.

That is where Tyrone GAA got it so badly wrong at the weekend.

Following The Irish News’ revelation that they had turned away TG4’s outstretched hand in favour of charging people £16 to watch their own online stream, the county’s PRO Eugene McConnell spoke to The42.ie.

In attempting to defend that move, he argued: “Diesel has gone up, electricity has gone up. The price of a loaf of bread has gone up.”

Last Wednesday night, four days before the parish’s team played in the county final, the food bank in Coalisland sent out 18 parcels of groceries to local families. That was double the number of previous weeks.

They expect that the number of families needing help will only continue to rise as Christmas comes closer.

The cost of living has skyrocketed in recent months. Between Brexit and the protocol, the north sits on the tip of a political iceberg that could melt any day now.

We’re still surviving the absolute worst of it, but that could change very quickly.

Poverty of food and fuel is very real and far closer to your doorstep than you might realise.

The GAA nationally has allowed itself to be drawn into the mindset that you pay for everything else, so why wouldn’t you pay to watch football?

This whole argument is not about the price of streaming this game or what you charge U16s into that game.

It’s about the precedent and the normalisation of profiteering at the expense of inclusiveness.

There will always be people who defend the prices, no matter what. They’ll set it against Ireland’s win over the All Blacks at the weekend or going to see Coldplay or the cost of any random weekend in Dublin.

All of that misses the point.

We’re supposed to be different.

We’ve always prided ourselves not just on being for the community, but being the community itself.

We’re supposed to be the organisation that takes the reality of cost-of-living increases and tries to ensure it isn’t another financial burden of families to buy into the momentous day where your team reaches a county final.

We’re supposed to be the organisation that doesn’t put a price tag on feeling part of your own community.

Costs need covered and money needs made, but there’s a balance.

Derry’s £5 charge on their county final, and their £35 season pass, are extremely reasonable. Other counties around Ulster hop in between £7 and £10 for games, which is touching the upper edge but still acceptable.

None of them are running at a loss.

Tyrone’s online streaming service, like that of other counties, is doused in good intentions.

Online coverage coupled with RTÉ finally jumping in has revolutionised the visibility of the club game in a very short space of time.

But there’s a very fine line between providing a service and bogging the arm in.

It’s unclear what Tyrone’s costs were to stream the game but Mac AV, who run the service, told TeamTalkMag that the cost of production from their end had not gone up from last year.

The cost in other counties varies, but most are spending between £500 and £1,000 per game on providing professional productions.

In attempting to defend the cost, Eugene McConnell revealed to The42.ie that “two or three thousand” people had signed up for Tyrone’s streaming of the semi-final between Coalisland and Errigal Ciaran.

Based on the £13 it cost punters to watch that day, Tyrone brought in somewhere between £25,000 and £40,000 for that game alone, which they had declined to give to RTÉ as part of a double-header.

Croke Park have fostered the idea that capitalism is grand because everyone else is at it.

Tyrone are not the only county to have picked up the baton. Admission fees to some club games down south has crept over €20.

County finals have come to be seen an afternoon for maximising revenue. If that is at the expense of maximising exposure to eyes young and old, then the priorities have become fanked.

Tyrone set everything about their county final, from the 5.30pm throw-in time to maximise the online audience to charging U16s at the gate, around making money.

Even in the face of widespread criticism, they refused to drop the charge on U16s, even when Dromore and Coalisland both embarrassed them by accepting the help of local businesses to pay for all the children to get in free.

The GAA can’t call itself an organisation of the people when it treats those people as an ATM.

The capitalist arm has reached in and has grasped its beating heart.

It won’t take much more of a tug to rip it out altogether.

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