There will always be a great divide within any sporting organisation.
You have on one side the older, more traditional members, who believe that if we change things too quickly or too radically we lose the core strength of what we believe in, the ideals and passion of the past that has made us what we are.
Then you have those who believe that every generation has the right to do things their way and change things in accordance with their own views and ideas. And then you have those who sit on the fence and give out about everything but do nothing about it.
The GAA has always been a more traditional organisation. They have always moved steadily and have not initiated change without giving it great debate and even greater thought so the idea that as a organisation we are now about to hand the television rights to a proportion of our championship games to a pay-per-view channel could very well change the way the GAA does business in the future.
Of course there are two sides to the debate on whether Sky is right for the GAA but I put it to you that this comes down to one thing and one thing only. This is about money and nothing else.
If you want to believe all the spin - that it will give the organisation a bigger profile abroad; it has the capacity for the GAA to challenge the likes of soccer and rugby internationally and of course that the money from these television contracts will find it’s way back to the clubs - then you can.
In my view you have to look at this from two different angles. One is from a county perspective; county teams could argue that having the games on Sky will enhance their chances of better commercial sponsorship deals. It gives them a better opportunity to sell their image better because Sky promises the opportunity of a wider audience and it gives county players a better profile abroad.
Well maybe it can do all those things and maybe it won’t make a blind bit of difference to those who sponsor county teams but since when did county boards become commercial entities? Since when did the county team become a business and why if we are so concerned about the profile of our county players do we not look after them ourselves?
If our games are going to become pay-per-view will the county players demand their cut? After all they are the product on sale. It’s their skill and hard work that Sky will hope viewers will pay to watch. So will there be a cut in it for them and if there’s not, do they think that these modern young men who dedicate their lives to their sport and to their county will wait that long before they demand their share.
What will it mean to the ordinary club member or volunteer? What will the Sky deal mean to them?
Last week when the GAA came out to break the news of this pending deal, Nicky Brennan the ex President of the Association suggested that about 80 per cent of the money would flow back to the clubs. Now I hope Mr Brennan is right but I seem to remember when Croke Park was opened to Soccer and Rugby that, yes, the cash would find it’s way back to the clubs. Well I have attended my own club’s own AGM for many years now and I have yet to see on our financial statement a gift from our friends in Croke Park. There’s another problem with the Sky deal for the club. Because of the Association with Sky it will be perceived that there are huge sums of money at stake.
Just like what happens in soccer, when the club member has to go knocking on doors to sell a ticket or club galotto the Sky deal will be thrown back in their face. After all the GAA is the richest sporting organisation in the country, the perception being that the money will come back to the clubs but we all know in reality that might never happen.
But the way I see it is like this. We are asking people, for one reason or another, to pay Rupert Murdoch’s for the pleasure of watching their own county play. It could be elderly people who have followed their club and county for years and are now unable to travel.
It could be young people whose parents are unable to pay the price of a ticket. I have nothing against Rupert Murdoch or Sky or any other television company who want to make a living out of showing sport. I have no doubt that whoever Sky employ to present their programmes will be a breath of fresh air but when did the GAA turn into a commercial entity? Since when did the GAA turn into a organisation where everything is about the bottom line or how much money they can turnover?
Since when did the GAA care about their commercial profile outside of Ireland?
In a nutshell, since when did the GAA stop being about the club?
We are told by successive presidents that the grassroots are the backbone of the organisation. We get the slick advertising campaign about the club championship and what it means to communities all around the country but in reality it’s just spin. I know as an organisation that we need finance to survive but at what cost to our members?