‘Nothing beats being there’ is a popular slogan in the GAA world. This can be applied to all sporting events in Ireland with the concept of attending matches always being an integral part of Irish culture. With current Covid-19 guidelines stating that all matches must have an attendance of no more than 200, (including players, backroom staff, etc) a hole has been left for sports fans. A modern way of life, however, is beginning to fill the void.
Online streaming has become more and more prominent in recent years with the likes of Netflix and Amazon streaming hundreds of shows on a daily basis. Until recently, streaming was a word assigned to movies but those days are coming to an end. All areas of media and broadcasting are coming to the fore with sport being no different. To use a forgivable pun, Ireland appears to be at the races in this regard. Why? An interesting point that needs to be looked at is the sheer size of the Irish diaspora around the world with approximately 100 million people claiming to have Irish ancestry with a significant portion of them having close ties to the country at present. With that, there is a significant amount of money and exposure to be gained by Irish sporting organisations such as the GAA which leads us to my next point.
The GAA have been pioneers in this regard. For example, GAAGO was set up in 2014 to allow fans outside of Ireland to pay a subscription monthly or annual subscription in order to watch every game of the All-Ireland Championships. The service has also extended its coverage to the club game where selected matches are currently being broadcasted on the service. Last week, the Examiner newspaper announced that a three year deal with Cork GAA to broadcast live club games within the county on Facebook and on their website. This is a huge step forward which will give more access to fans than ever before while also giving the club players more exposure which is thoroughly deserved and gives print media a crucial shot in the arm which will help to provide another form revenue in an industry which has struggled. Evolution is the resolution in this scenario.
Even if the future of print media has been brought into question the same cannot be said for social media where sports streaming is also beginning to make its presence felt. Not only is GAA taking advantage of this but so are sports such as tennis. For example, the Munster Branch Winter League finals delayed due to Covid-19 were played on July 18th and were streamed on the Munster Branch Facebook page due to limited numbers allowed to attend the event. Although tennis is a minority sport in Ireland, it is following other sports such as basketball when it comes to streaming their games to an unlimited audience on social media garnering further exposure for the games. Friends and family who would normally be unable to get access to live coverage due to the small scale nature of events like local tennis finals now have a way of watching which can only be a positive step forward.
Another organisation taking a huge step forward is the FAI who recently announced that all League Of Ireland games would be streamed on watchloi.ie which charges €55 (€69 overseas) for those who are interested in accessing all games in the league this season. All revenue will be shared between the clubs equally with the FAI covering the production costs. This is a huge boost for clubs in particular who are unlikely to see crowds for the remainder of the season which takes away their main form of revenue which comes through gate receipts and season tickets. This new service could be the difference between the clubs and leagues survival or its demise which would be catastrophic for Irish football.
Of course, it will only succeed if there is enough appetite among fans to pay for the product which like the future of the league, remains uncertain. It is, however, a step in the right direction moving forward to promote the league as an attractive product to watch if one is unable to attend the games themselves. The only way for an event to gain attraction is to promote the games which are possible without having to spend money on broadcasting rights and the extra facilities required for TV broadcasting. Online streaming can be of an adequate quality using one camera depending on the size of the venue where the match is taking place. It is a low risk, cost-effective way to entice more fans to watch the game and to make more revenue. Easy access for fans is easy on the pockets for its providers.
To summarise, a new dawn is beginning during the most unique of times. It is unclear when we will see the terraces full again and for now, Ireland could do worse than seizing an opportunity to provide a viable alternative in which everyone could benefit from. Economists have always said that even in the midst of a global pandemic, there will be those who profit and this appears to be the case. As Bob Dylan says, the times they are a-changin’.
Perhaps its time to embrace that.