Streaming controversy shows the growing chasm between the hierarchy and GAA members
Burying bad news is an art form.
I recall the Fine Gael-Labour government, led by Garret Fitzgerald, announcing a series of swinging cutbacks on the Friday of an August bank holiday back in the 1980s
Last Friday, at precisely 13.38, an email dropped from the GAA Communications department. It contained a press release and a 34-page document called the GAA Communications Strategy 2023-2026.
Perhaps it was just an unfortunate coincidence that the document was released on the Friday afternoon of a bank holiday.
It raises the suspicion Croke Park wanted to bury the document. If that was the aim, it certainly succeeded because, so far, I haven’t read much about it.
Ironically, the release of the new communication strategy coincided with an internal revolt in the GAA on two issues: a new directive about U-20 players featuring in the senior championship, and the launch of the expanded GAAGO streaming service.
There is a growing disconnect in the GAA family between the decision makers (who work in Croke Park and serve on the GAA Management committee and Central Council) and team managers, as well as an even bigger chasm between the hierarchy and rank-and-file members and fans.
The other day at the launch of the Dillon Quirke Foundation fundraiser, Kilkenny legend Henry Shefflin called on the GAA to scrap the rule that prevents U-20 players from also togging out at senior championship level within a seven-day period.
The Galway senior hurling boss “can’t fathom” how some of the game’s brightest talents are being denied the chance to play at both levels.
When I reminded him that it was the GAA’s own members who adopted the rule, he replied, sharply, “Well, they didn’t consult with the managers.”
The row over the free-to-air television coverage of the hurling championship has far more profound implications for the GAA.
The background is that, in the wake of Sky Television pulling out of covering GAA championship matches this year, the GAA opted to expand the GAAGO service, which operates behind a paywall and requires a reliable Wi-Fi connection to access it.
The rumblings of discontent exploded last weekend when the epic Limerick v Clare Munster round-robin game was only shown live behind a paywall on GAAGO.
Furthermore, there will be no hurling championship coverage broadcast live on free-to-air television over the next two weekends until a double-header Sunday afternoon show on RTÉ, featuring Clare v Cork and Tipperary v Limerick in the Munster SHC on May 21.
Former Wexford All-Ireland medal winner Tom Dempsey articulated the views of many hurling fans when he spoke on South-East Radio,
“It is not promoting our product. We have a six- to eight-week window to promote our product, and I think it needs to be discussed sooner rather than later. Don’t deprive (people), particularly elderly people.
“We were giving out about Sky but what was done? It was replaced with a GAA pay-per-view system. It’s not acceptable, it’s not good enough – and more (hurling) promotion is needed on the national airwaves. I wouldn’t be happy with it – and I know a lot of people agree with me on it,” he said.
The GAA has to tread carefully here because sports such as boxing and cricket, who have embraced the pay-per-view model, have experienced a fall-off in interest among the general public in their sport.
On the other hand, there are so many GAA championship matches squeezed into such a confined time frame, it is impossible to television them all free-to-air. A steaming service is the way forward, for better or worse.
In a foreword to the Communication and Strategy document, current GAA President Larry McCarthy and his predecessor John Horan said ‘effective communication lies at the heart of any efficient and well-functioning organisation. It was never been easier to ‘communicate’ but has it ever been more difficult to be heard?
Let’s be charitable and say the GAA could do better.
There is no shortage of strategic goals and aspirational plans in the document, though it is woefully short on specifics.
It does recognise the significant of social media (79 per cent of Irish adults use social media daily and 60 per cent of all adults own a Facebook account).
Thankfully, it accepts the association’s website needs to be overhauled – and if this is achieved then the strategy will have done some good.
Then, maybe the next time a communication strategy is developed there won’t be any need to release on it on a bank-holiday weekend.
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