GAA hits back at 'misleading' Virgin statement on TV rights deal

The GAA has hit back at Virgin Media over “factual errors” contained in Tuesday's statement about the current broadcasting rights deal. Picture by Seamus Loughran
The GAA has hit back at Virgin Media over “factual errors” contained in Tuesday's statement about the current broadcasting rights deal. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE GAA has hit back at Virgin Media over “factual errors and misleading comments” contained in a statement made about last year’s broadcasting rights deal.

The issue of paywalled games has been a subject of much debate in recent weeks, and on Tuesday Virgin questioned the arrangement which led to GAAGO essentially superseding Sky Sports as broadcast partners.

The station’s statement asked if RTE, as a 50-50 partner in GAAGO alongside the GAA, paid a fee for the rights “or did they just agree to keep them behind a paywall to drive incremental revenues for both partners in GAAGO, i.e. RTÉ and the GAA?”

Virgin also claimed the GAA didn’t contact other broadcasters once they failed to reach agreement with Sky. However, on Wednesday the GAA released a statement of its own, insisting Virgin had the opportunity to submit a bid earlier in the process but opted not to.

“On Tuesday May 9, VMTV [Virgin Media Television] issued a statement that called into question the integrity of the GAA media rights process,” read the GAA statement.

“The statement contained several factual errors and misleading comments. The GAA contacted VMTV and requested that they correct their statement. Since this has not been forthcoming, the GAA, reluctantly, issues the following to correct the record.”

The statement outlined that the GAA has a bias towards free-to-air stations to “maximise coverage” and TG4 as a channel dedicated to the Irish language, while saying they “seek to keep commercial tension to the fore by seeking an agile, competent third party”.

Discussions with Virgin, the GAA say, started in February 2021 around the new media rights deal that would commence after the 2022 inter-county season, but claim there was no expression of interest from the broadcaster.

“The initial call was followed up by a detailed description of the various packages available. Thereafter followed several meetings, telephone calls, emails and document exchanges between the parties.

“In June 2022, VMTV were again contacted to clarify that they did not intend to make a bid. VMTV were clear that their model was not to acquire rights but rather to acquire ‘ready to go’ packages.

“In short, VMTV were afforded every opportunity to discuss options, variations to packages and to submit a confidential offer. VMTV chose not to bid. GAA continued discussions with other parties.

“Specifically in respect of one party, the GAA was unable to deliver Sky’s preferred selection as strategically we wanted greater free to air coverage for our National League package.

These rights subsequently went to TG4 and RTÉ.

“Whilst Sky did bid for a lesser package, the GAA decided to progress with GAAGO. This was because GAAGO could facilitate greater flexibility on match schedules, provide coverage for an additional 24 games and offer the opportunity for more flexible pricing for viewers and members. The finances involved were in fact similar.”

The GAA also said that, following “considerable commentary” about GAAGO, a “comprehensive review of its operation” will take place at the end of the season.