Cahair O’Kane: Can GAAGO ever actually thrive in a dodgy box world?

GAAGO therefore has surely no realistic prospect of achieving its new stated aim of giving the GAA the financial reward it desires for its broadcasting rights.

Tyrone proved no match for Kerry in last weekend's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final but Joe McMahon believes the Red Hands are well capable of bouncing back in 2024 Picture by Philip Walsh
Rights and wrongs:

FOUR weeks from now, shortly after lunchtime on June 17, the black clouds will reconvene over skies that haven’t seen the sun since the one about Ryan Tubridy and the barter account first fell out of the folder.

June 17 is when the GAA publishes its final fixture list for the All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-finals.

The first four knockout games of the footballing year will all be live on GAAGO.

The following weekend, the first two quarter-finals will be on the streaming platform as well.

Rightly or wrongly, RTÉ will get another kicking for it.

No fixture has any significance until it’s actually a fixture. Right now, those games are all just empty spaces with a ‘v’ in the middle, nothing belonging to anyone.

But on June 17, the vortex will open and into it will go a hundred thousand angry screams.

If the group stages go according to plan from here, you’d foresee Armagh, Derry, Mayo, Roscommon, Cork, Tyrone, Louth and Monaghan being the eight teams in action that weekend.

Imagine it’s Tyrone v Derry, Armagh v Mayo, Cork v Monaghan and Roscommon v Louth.

Oh God. You can’t even.

Mickey Harte against Tyrone, Armagh’s big test.

The wailing would be banshee-esque.

Last year, when Galway and Mayo were paired together at the preliminary quarter-final stage, the GAA couldn’t stand behind the door and pretend the water wasn’t already up their waist inside.

Football fans had waited patiently for almost three whole months and now finally, a big tree was going to fall.

So they broke. RTÉ were only supposed to be showcasing the Tailteann Cup semi-finals that weekend, but two of the preliminary quarter-finals weren’t supposed to be shown at all.

The GAA fixed the Salthill game for the Sunday afternoon and with that came accommodation in RTÉ One’s schedule.

For a few days, all was right with the world again.

It is not fixable this year. There will be no last-minute adjustment, no Little House On The Prairie cancellation to make way for the real start of the footballing summer.

The GAAGO schedule for 2024 shows four preliminary quarter-finals rather than two.

It cannot be described as an ambush on the football championship because it’s been flagged up for six months.

The average GAA supporter, however, lives from hand-to-mouth when it comes to these things.

Next weekend is the only weekend.

So on June 17, particularly if the draw falls a certain way, the fan will be hit hard by the proverbial.

But the real damage was done 18 months ago.

The GAA’s latest broadcast deal was announced in October 2022. By then it had known for eight months that the following year’s football championship would be on 5,000 calories a day.

The trousers its broadcasters were wearing were never going to do after the expansion.

RTÉ had 31 live championship games in the previous deal and still has 31 live games in the new deal.

But the premier football and hurling competitions now have 98 games between them.

The Tailteann Cup is another 35, the routinely-ignored Joe McDonagh home to another 16.

More than half of those games have no home at all.

Very much through their own doing, RTÉ are in no financial position to play the part of a Good Samaritan broadcaster here. They haven’t a pot to pee in.

Jarlath Burns smashed any illusions over the GAAGO project last week.

It is purely a money-making venture.

Yet the funds that RTÉ and the GAA will raise from GAAGO are negligible.

The company’s 2022 figures showed profit had halved from 2021, with subscriptions down and costs up.

That was before the new championship broadcast deal kicked in.

Projections for 2023 that Tom Ryan gave the Oireachtas Committee were of around €4m in revenue.

But in terms of profit, they’ll do well to clear €1m.

In terms of organisations the size of the GAA and RTÉ, the figures will be relatively inconsequential.

And they will remain so because there is no winning the ongoing war with dodgy boxes.

If companies with the power of Sky and Amazon and Disney can’t do anything about them, the GAA has absolutely no hope of disrupting live feeds.

To paraphrase the famous Peter Quinn quote, black market consumption of games is so widespread they can’t even find the market.

GAAGO therefore has surely no realistic prospect of achieving its new stated aim of giving the GAA the financial reward it desires for its broadcasting rights.

And this is where it now differs from Sky, which was always one disguised as the other. It was always about getting paid, but sold as giving the games to the world.

Viewing figures were so pitiful that it never came close to being a balanced argument.

When Armagh met Monaghan in 2014, just over 10,000 people watched it. There were 18,000 viewers for Dublin v Wexford that summer. On the same day, RTÉ averaged 358,000 for their World Cup coverage of the unsexy meeting of Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Tom Ryan told the Oireachtas Committee that 120,000 people had watched some of its bigger games last year, including Kerry v Tyrone in the football quarter-final, but that figures were as low as 1,000 for some Tailteann Cup games.

In all of this, the GAA will defend their right to get paid.

But surely, if we’re down to brass tacks, they have to be paid enough so that it justifies the whole project.

Will GAAGO, from a purely business point of view, ever be able to do that in a world of dodgy boxes?