GAA and RTÉ Defend Subscription Service at Oireachtas Media Committee Hearing
Declan McBennett, RTÉ’s head of Sport, is set to testify before the Oireachtas Media Committee, stating that the number of free-to-air Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) matches on RTÉ has nearly doubled from 40 in 2018 to nearly 70 in 2022 and 2023. He’ll argue, however, that it’s neither pragmatic nor viable to make all sports freely accessible to viewers.
The Oireachtas Media Committee is currently conducting investigations into the future prospects of sports broadcasting in Ireland. Mr. McBennett will defend the GAAGO model, stating that it has revolutionized the broadcasting of GAA games, enabling an unprecedented number of games to be aired. Both RTÉ and GAA recognize and openly affirm the increased accessibility to these games.
He will maintain that revenue generated from GAAGO contributes significantly to RTÉ’s expanded free-to-air coverage. The GAA, in its address to the committee, will echo his sentiments that it’s an unrealistic expectation to broadcast all championship games on television.
This comes on the heels of contentious debates surrounding the GAAGO service, a subscription-based platform jointly owned by RTÉ and the GAA. A number of politicians have vocally criticized GAAGO, advocating for all championship games to be available free-to-air.
In response, the GAA will assert that the volume of free-to-air games is at an all-time high. It will also point out that games available on GAAGO would, in the past, have been relegated to Sky TV or likely not broadcast at all.
The GAA will reveal that the new schedule and agreements were introduced half a year before even the first sliotar was pucked. It will concede, however, that an eleventh-hour schedule change for the highly-anticipated Clare-Limerick Munster Hurling Championship game put GAAGO in a challenging position for the summer season. Originally, this highly acclaimed championship game was set to be broadcast on RTÉ.
The GAA is looking to maintain its financial independence and earn a fair return from its matches, but it acknowledges the need for improved communication and is open to learning.
Former GAA president, Seán Kelly, has called for a reassessment of the GAAGO arrangements. During his appearance on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he expressed concern over the number of games on GAAGO that remained inaccessible to many fans and county board officials, who faced substantial criticism.
Kelly insisted on the need for more free-to-air games. He highlighted that GAAGO was initially created to serve the Irish diaspora, and it has succeeded in that aspect. However, its extension across all of Ireland doesn’t align with the core values of the GAA.
“We may have rushed our transition into digital,” Kelly opined, “We did not fully engage the people in this process. Now is the time for a reassessment to ensure more games, especially crucial championship matches, are freely available to viewers.”
The Committee on Media’s inaugural session this afternoon will also host representatives from the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Sport Ireland, and the Federation of Irish Sport.
RTÉ Sport representatives, TG4, Virgin Media, Sky Ireland, and independent broadcasters are all expected to appear in the Committee’s second session.