THE GAA’s decision to withdraw the privilege of free viewing of a selection of GAA matches “which is deserved by so many people who were the backbone of the association through the years” has been labelled a “thundering disgrace” by one die-hard Gaelic games supporter.
Pat O’Connor of Crean, Bruff a former member of and player with Camogue Rovers GAA club said the shock of the direction taken by the leaders of the GAA can neither be “underestimated nor understood”.
Sky Sports has secured 14 live matches as the GAA has announced details of the media rights for the next three years as TV3 loses out in the TV deal.
A total of 45 provincial and All-Ireland championship matches will be broadcast live on television annually for the next three years: a total of 31 games will be shown by RTÉ (as per the last contract) and 14 by Sky Sports.
“What justification was given by our now wealthy association of the consequences to those ordinary men and women who cannot afford the Sky subscription in these financially challenging times?,” asked Mr O’Connor who was so perturbed by the announcement that he put pen to paper and penned a letter to the editor this week.
Sky Sports costs €36 per month or €432 per year but to obtain it, viewers also have to have a general Sky TV package, the cheapest of which is €28 per month. So for a customer subscribing for the first time, the annual cost is €768.
“How many decent GAA followers cannot afford the corporate box experience to watch a match, and now will Sky high costs deprive them of watching the match in the TV box in their own home?” asked Mr O’Connor who spent his working life a teacher at Desmond College, Newcastle West.
“The GAA’s assertion that games are available to watch on computers and iPads is not an option for every GAA enthusiast.”
Mr O’Connor said the deal is “divisive, discriminate, unfair, costly and an insult to the Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, and to so many Irish people”.
Pat Heffernan, vice chairman of Limerick County Board said he was “very disappointed with the way the deal was “pinned on the people because I felt it didn’t go back to the grassroots through the clubs and county boards”.
“I thought it was very shabbily done because we had congress only a couple of weeks ago in Croke Park and there was no mention of it. I felt strongly about it. I feel there are a lot of people who can’t afford Sky at this present day and that is the reality of the way things are going. There are people going to matches - great clubmen who do all the work for years - maybe paying to go into matches two or three times a week from now on during the busy times, and at least they should have been entitled to free to air viewing in their own country. The deal was done and dusted and we had no say whatsoever”.
Mr Heffernan said he fears that in three years’ time when the deal comes up for renewal “they could blow the competition out of the water with the power of money”. “My own honest opinion is that Sky aren’t in this for the good of the GAA, they are in it for the good of themselves. In relation to “the spin about the diaspora”, Mr Heffernan said: “I’ve been out to Australia and have watched the games. I’m only back from Spain last Sunday week and I watched the games for the three Sundays I was there. There is tremendous coverage wherever you go, through Setanta. That doesn’t cut any ice at all.”
“There are genuine people and they are very vexed. Are the players going to stand by with all this money going around the place and they still getting nothing.”
The matter was discussed for 25 minutes at a County Board meeting on Tuesday evening where it was proposed that a letter would be sent to Croke Park to outline the dissatisfaction in the clubs in Limerick at the Sky deal. Limerick County Board chairman Oliver Mann, feels that one of the positives of the deal is that GAA games will be viewed now by a wider audience. “We can say that it is purely commercial and they are a commercial station and there is no doubt about that but they must also see that our games are attractive and they would attract an audience,” he said. “That’s something that we as an organisation can be proud of - that we have games that are in demand.” County board secretary Mike O’Riordan, also expressed his support of the deal to the Leader, saying he felt it is “a very positive” move.