FootballHurlingMark TownsendSportsTop Articles

It’s time for the GAA to have their own television channel

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Ok. It’s gone too far now. We know, we know. It was funny for a while. You were angry for a while. What with the Sky deal and Michael Duignan and RTE not showing half (or more) of the games in the championship. It was funny for a while. But now it’s gone too far.

So did you get to see the Galway Offaly game tonight?  You really should have done, it was a cracker, but unfortunately, unless you were one of the 8,000 or so lucky souls that paid into O’Connor Park in Tullamore then there was no way for you to watch it. Or how about Laois’ mammoth comeback against Wexford in Wexford Park? Well, unless you were in Wexford Park, you didn’t get to see that one either. Instead, if you were watching RTE, you had the “pleasure” of having to endure a documentary on some lagoon in Venice or, even worse, having to sit through the four hour cringe fest that was the Eurovision song contest. Well, rather you than me mate.

The championship kicked off with a bang last week with a cracking match between New York and Leitrim in Gaelic Park. The Joe McDonagh cup has been running for two weeks and has already produced a number of intriguing storylines. And then there were those fantastic provincial games this evening. There’s only one problem though. Unless you’re willing to rack up the miles travelling around the country/UK/USA you would hardly have got to have seen any of it. And the reason for that, is the incompetence of the people who are running the competitions.

For an organization that loves our native games as much as the hierarchy in the GAA must do, they don’t seem intent on spreading the love much. There’s a reason why the Premier League is the richest and most watched football competition in the world. The television companies who run the game (SKY and BT) market it in a way that no other company across the world does.

They pimp and preen those fixtures so that the most humble Swansea Southampton encounter is promoted to feeling like the second coming of christ.  In the GAA, it seems the opposite is the case. Because the product that the organization has is brilliant, but the powers that be seem intent on hiding it under a bushel for the vast majority of the year. For how long can this continue?

Now of course, there’s a can of worms that could be opened here. Firstly, if there was to be a GAA channel, who would pay for it? Would it be government funded or the GAA’s own initiative? And would the station be free to air with RTE (although RTE being “free to air” is a misnomer in itself) or a subscription service a la Sky?

Then there’s the argument as to if and when the money did come in, how would it be distributed? Would it, as kind of seems inevitable anyway, lead to professionalism in the GAA? Would it lead to yet more of that, Joe Brolly-esque alert, elitism? Or would the money be pumped back into the struggling county boards and clubs, as the organization insist the SKY money was anyway?

So maybe, maybe, if a new TV station was introduced, it would cause more problems than it’s worth. Maybe. But what’s the alternative? Having thousands of disgruntled GAA fans across the country complaining as to why they can’t see top class action every Saturday and Sunday in the summer? That’s the problem GAA fans are facing. Say what you want about soccer and rugby, but you never hear fans of those sports complaining they don’t see enough Rugby or Soccer on the telly.

With the introduction of the round robin series in the provincial hurling championships, and the Super 8’s in the football, there has been a massive increase in the level of games in the GAA summer. And I applaud that. But there hasn’t been an increase in the level of the television exposure. In fact-ridiculously-in a lot of cases there has been a decrease.

Only two Ulster football championship games will be shown on television this summer, while there are only 3 Leinster championship hurling games that will be shown. This is despite the fact that all 22 of the provincial hurling games look like they will be massively competitive, and large tracts of the provincial football championship will go untelevised. Even the most humble clash between New York and Leitrim last week was a corker. Yet, the GAA will plunder on just showing the odd provincial game, and a probable Dublin Leinster semi-final blowout, and we’ll be left silently fuming listening to the wirelses.

What can’t be denied is that there is a market for more GAA action on TV. How many times during the spring did you hear folk complaining about the lack of league coverage on RTE? Or wonder why some rugby game in a half-filled stadium, was being shown on the station, while fantastic hurling and football league games were being completely ignored? It’s not just about nefarious companies like Sky or Eir Sport coming along, and stealing all these games from under the GAA’s noses. It’s just that RTE, for whatever reason, didn’t want them. And the powers that be in the GAA, who seem so intent on keeping outside influences away from their sport, are happy to let other sports be shown on television, while they have no interest in promoting theirs.

Now it isn’t all bad. Sure TG4 does a fantastic job of keeping the home fires burning between October and April with their club,underage and league coverage. But given the financial restrictions that the company are under, they can only do so much. And that’s not to say that if the GAA did come up with their own channel, the beauty of TG4 would be lost either. The organizations should be working in tandem with each other.

You could easily see Michael O’Domhnaill, Dara O’Cinneide and whoever else, coming on board the GAA station as presenters to show whatever games they can. It would certainly boast the GAA’s quota of Irish language coverage anyway. And with vintage All-Irelands, documentaries, a la RTE’s on Mick O’Dwyer, and Laochra Gael, there would be more than enough content to keep the station ticking over in the winter months. The problem here is not one of a lack of material. There’s plenty of that. It’s about a lack of foresight.

Think about all the competitions through league, club, championship and underage that could be shown on an exclusive GAA channel. Think of all the soccer teams around the world who have their own TV stations, even though they play just one game a week, while the GAA, with multiple interesting games each week, choose to leave the action unused for fear of hurting attendances. Well, attendances haven’t reduced massively since they started showing many more championship games in the 90’s. If anything, they’ve increased. So why would it be any different if they started showing more games now?

When you think of the amount of games that could and should be shown, and the amount of people who want to see them, it almost makes you wonder why they didn’t do it sooner. Well, foresight was never the GAA’s greatest attribute. But better late than never. The games are there, they just need to be given a wider audience. It’s time to do the right thing guys. There’s no point having a killer hand in poker, if you’re not going to play it. So if there is a time, to start up your own TV station, it’s now.