Colm Bradley looks at the impact the new Sky Sports deal could have on the GAA…
There is a sometimes a sense of nervousness involved with starting off on a column.
When subtle points are to be made there is always a risk that a healthy swathe of readers will think that you are just banging an old drum for the sake of it.
Well it might be an old drum but this time I promise you it is not for the sake of it.
It was reported last week that the GAA are in negotiations with Sky Sports over a rights package to cover some of the Championship.
The Irish Independent reported that the GAA and Sky TV were deep in negotiations about a possible deal. Since that story broke there has been all sorts of speculation about what sort of deal is being brokered.
Some are arguing that any matches shown on Sky will also be available free to view on Irish TV stations while others are contending that Sky will have an exclusive package for up to ten games including two All Ireland quarter finals.
From the purely practical point of view for the supporter it will obviously be very important which of the scenarios above proves to be correct.
If the viewer has to pay for Championship games it will hurt them financially. Although we should be quick to realise that pay to view already exists in terms of Setanta and league games.
So, for me any deal with Sky is not an indication that some vast Rubicon has been crossed but rather that another step has be taken down the road to semi professionalism and a football structure that sees 12 or less regional teams competing for the Sam Maguire.
Once again no doubt I will be accused of scaremongering and being a prophet of doom. Fair enough. It is a caricature but any reader is entitled to draw their own conclusions. However, hear me out first if you will.
When it comes to this Sky deal I fully respect the opinion of people when they say that it will bring our games to a more global audience.
This can only be a good thing and I accept that. I can also see the rationale behind the view that the extra revenue that it generates can be ploughed back into the grass roots of the game.
I am all for that as well. But for me even the combined positivity of these two reasons does not come close to rebalancing what the Sky deal will do to the perceptions of many within the GAA.
Take these two tweets. One is from Kerry man and All Ireland winner, Tommy Walsh, who is currently a full time professional athlete with the Sydney Swans while the other comes from Colm Parkinson, the former Laois player and current radio pundit.
“So our ‘amateur’ game is now being sold to Sky? There is no other sport in the world where players & supporters are taken advantage of more!”
“How much longer are footballers and hurlers going to accept playing for free now GAA games are going pay for view.”
Reading the above tweets worries me. They worry me because of the perception that is out there among some sections of the GAA community that players are ‘entitled’ to some of the profits of the association. These types of tweets will fuel those who hold that opinion.
Parkinson went on to suggest that the players should strike for a slice of the TV pie. That is just crazy.
But believe it or not I have huge sympathy for the current player.
Their commitment is far greater than it was seven or eight years ago but commitment alone should not determine any entitlement to money.
On a purely practical basis we cannot sustain professionalism within our current format and what would start as the thin edge of the wedge in terms of a slice of a TV pie would grow.
Because, and this is an argument I will continue to make, it is impossible for anyone to accurately predict what type of playing body we will have in ten to 15 years time.
As a result we cannot presume that we will always have a majority of players, as we do now, who cherish the amateur ethos and who would understand what ripping it to shreds would do the the very fabric of our games.
But in essence we have a leadership who are pushing the association and indeed the county players into a situation where something is going to have to give.
Croke Park has already pushed the inter county game to ‘professional preparation’ with its crazy fixture list and as it is seen to be ever more commercial, as inevitably this Sky deal will be seen, they lead themselves open to charges of being profit led.
There is also the failure to properly put in place a system where managers and coaches get paid legitimately based on their qualification instead of brown envelopes under counters around the county to every Tom Dick and Harry who fancies a crack at management.
And when we are at it why not throw in the continued lack of respect that is shown to the club. I have said it before but every decision that is taken in the GAA at present needs to be taken based on what impact it will have on our clubs. This never happens from what I can see.
To this end we should accept now that we have a diverging association. Down the line I fear the break will come and clubs will lose out even more than they are now.
The Sky deal is not that big a deal. It is merely the latest in a long list of decision that have put profit and and commercial factors ahead of all else.
Sometimes the bottom line is not really the bottom line.
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