Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What If Sky Are the Big Losers in the GAA Deal?

As the national debate rages about the GAA and Sky Sports, TV3 are like the dog in the night-time in the old Sherlock Holmes story. They should have barked, but they haven’t. What’s going on?

Nobody else has been shy about giving his or her two cents. The negative reaction to the deal has been viscerally emotional. A media giant, run by the worst media mogul in the world, the Dirty Digger himself, taking a slice of Erin’s heritage. Returning the felon’s cap to the fair head of Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

Op-ed pieces mourning the loss of the peasantry’s simple pleasures were written by writers who had successfully hidden their interest in Gaelic Games under a bushel until this current moment of crisis.

Worst of all were Eugene McGee and others who wept for Old Dan, living the back the mountain, the salt of the very earth, who has no truck with that blashted Sky at all. Poor Old Dan.

When Old Dan, a GAA man to his bones, opposed the opening of Croke Park to garrison games, he was told he was a backwoodsman and castigated for standing in the way of Progress-with-a-capital-P. Now Old Dan is everybody’s pal. It’s not just the sweet poitín that has Old Dan’s head spinning.

And then on the other side, there have been many reasons behind the positive reactions. Some people look forward to increased coverage. Some people believe Sky is the means by which the Gael can evangelise his games to the wider world. And some people like to see RTÉ get a puck in the snout for inflicting Pat Spillane on the nation, year after year.

And even through all this debate, not a peep from TV3, other than a column from Matt Cooper in the Sunday Times, the busiest man in show business. Nothing. Isn’t that odd?

Sky is getting an exclusive selection of runts from the GAA’s summer litter for three years. The station is known for not sparing the hype, but we’ll see what they’re made of when they’re live from Markiewicz Park on some day when the rain is sheeting in off the Atlantic, while Fermanagh and Longford do battle in Round 2 of the Qualifiers.

Here’s another odd thing to throw in the pot: generally speaking, when someone sells his or her soul, her or she tries to get a big price for it. Even the miserable Doctor Faustus did his best to ask for dinner, drinks and dancing in the moonlight with Helen of Troy herself before you-know-who turned up to take him off to the hot spot.

The GAA are saying that this deal is a slight increase in revenue from what went before. Prior to this, the idea was that Sky would sell their best bull to get a slice of the Gaelic action. That doesn’t look to be the case now. Surely Sky couldn’t have got the rights – cheap?

In his Sunday Times column, Matt Cooper remarks that the GAA made no mention of TV3’s contribution to GAA broadcasting in this deal. That’s odd too. So, let’s construct a perfectly hypothetical hypothesis.

What if Sky never expected to win the rights in the first place? What if there are currently some geezers in stripy shirts in Wapping felling like they just woke up married in Vegas, and to an Irish colleen at that?

Could it be possible that TV3 lowballed the GAA? TV3 isn’t exactly flush with cash at the moment. The press has recently run stories about the horrific prospect of the final Xposé! featuring what’s fabulous for the dole queue in 2014. Could it be that Sky won the rights by default, because a strapped-for-cash TV3 thought the GAA would never look to Sky at all?

And here’s another thing. Who says the Sky coverage will be any good? People have been talking about what a great job Sky have done on darts. They didn’t have to – darts has been established as a TV sport since the 1980s.

What made Sky was that they hired Sid Waddell, one of the greatest sports commentators of all time, to do their coverage. Now Sid himself has moved on to walk in the asphodel, will darts go down the tubes? Snooker used to be a big deal on TV once, as was showjumping. There are no guarantees.

It was nice to think that as soon as the Sky deal was brokered, the Wapping geezers immediately made their way to the Kingdom of Kerry to offer Dara Ó Cinnéide a king’s ransom to front their coverage. But when you stop and think about it, why would they bother for Saturday qualifier games?

How much do Sky spend on their NFL coverage? Not. A. Lot, as Kevin Cadle himself might. Put. It, a man who could give any RTÉ chancers who can’t quite believe their luck a run for their money.

Or how much do Sky spend in presenting their Spanish soccer? It can’t hold a candle to Channel 4’s Italian soccer coverage of twenty years ago, with the t’rrfic AC Jimbo presenting.

Sky’s rugby coverage is poor. Their coverage of the Lions was embarrassing in the summer. The Lions are a miracle, a throwback to a different age of different values in rugby. Sky never got that for a second, and just had Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell embarrass themselves over and over again.

The Lions are a symphony; Sky covered them like they were something by Big Tom and the Mainliners. If Sky can’t get rugby, what chance they’ll get the GAA? People who are hoping for GAA Paradiso may have to think again.

Sky will be novel and worthwhile, but it won’t last. The GAA is like Guinness. You can get it all over the world, but it only tastes right at home.

Hopefully, the market will be stronger the next time broadcast rights are available because the GAA needs the money to compete against other sports (and not to just hoard it in great vaults under Croke Park, as some journalists who should know better seem to think).

In the meantime, let’s leave the final word with Seán Bán Breathnach on the Seo Spóirt. SBB said that, whatever about TV, people talking about exclusive radio rights are talking through their hats. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta is entitled to broadcast every ball kicked and every sliother pucked in Ireland, so exclusivity doesn’t come into it. Ná laga a comhartha riamh.