Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Sky's the limit for GAA

Former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns has said a deal with Sky could be positive for the GAA

With talks between Sky TV and the GAA at an advanced stage for live coverage of the All-Ireland series, one of the most high-profile members of the GAA's Management Committee has given the scheme his backing.

Former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns has declared his support for the possibility, of Sky coming in as a broadcaster, on the verge of a deal to screen 10 games, including two All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Outlining his reasons, Burns told The Belfast Telegraph: "It immediately makes the negotiating hand of the GAA stronger. It is very important that the GAA gets the best possible value for its members.

"That's what our members expect from us, because 85% of every penny we earn goes back into the Association. What we are doing is trying to get the best deal for our members, that's why we are in leadership, to get the best deal."

The prospect of getting the Sky TV treatment, with all their expertise, knowledge of camera angles and the sheer financial muscle in screening the best product possible, is also tantalising, added the Chairman of his local club, Silverbridge.

"We are interested to see how a 100% sporting broadcasting company would interpret our games, all they would bring to it in terms of presentation and analysis and everything else."

Last week, it was confirmed that the GAA, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs, are set to make a significant investment in the Ruislip playing grounds in London. These bold moves in expanding the global appeal of Gaelic games would be reflected in bringing the games to the greatest numbers possible.

Burns continued: "For the development of our games abroad, it is important that there is a commensurate broadcasting arrangement, which allows people in distant communities the opportunity to view our games.

"We are making a significant investment in Ruislip, that's the confident place we are in as regards our development in London and we want to bring our games to that community."

There has been some level of disquiet about Sky coming in as a broadcast partner of the Association, with some commentary on how the games will be taken away from those that do not have a subscription, or a satellite dish.

In answering those complaints, Burns explained the suggested deal "is not going to stop TG4 broadcasting three games every Sunday, as well as a highlights package on a Monday, and a highlights package on RTÉ on a Sunday evening. The Sunday Game will still be there, there will still be live games on terrestrial television.

"There is still plenty of choice and still plenty of opportunity to watch, and of course the heritage games are untouched; the All-Ireland finals and possibly the semi-finals will still be on free-to-air television."

Not so long ago, the only games GAA fans could watch were the semi-finals and finals of the All-Ireland series. Occasionally the Ulster final would make it onto the screens of BBCNI or UTV, but there were many seasons when this was not the case.

The prospect of seeing a round three qualifier was a distant dream back then and Burns recounted how coverage of games has come a long way from the modest diet of six live games per year.

"That's where we started, with those games and there was never a glorious era where we had all the games live. There was a period four or five years ago when there was something like 50 games shown and attendances plummeted; and we felt we had tipped the balance against ourselves."

Last week, GAA President Liam O'Neill declined to comment on the negotiations, saying: "There's a process going on at the moment and to speak about it would be unfair to those involved. It's tied up in a legal process."

However, sources close to the GAA administrators have intimated that the deal is at contractual stage.

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