It's time for the GAA to think inside the box and give supporters the coverage they need

It's time for the GAA to think inside the box and give supporters the coverage they need
Niall Deasy, Ballyea, catches the sliotar over Barry Coughlan of Ballygunner in a recent AIB Munster Club classic that was live on TG4. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

THE Hollybough in the shops, the hats and scarfs on Pana, The X-Factor (or Strictly) on telly and of course another humdinger of a club championship weekend. 

All very strong annual indicators that the big man in red isn’t too far away from coming, feet first, down your chimney.

Nearly every weekend in the GAA calendar throws up a plethora of stories that are enough to keep us going until we do the same all over again following weekend. We may be in the part of the season where things are starting to wind down but is it really? I think you’ll find that the GAA season now extends across the full year and beyond.

We are at the stage where next up are the provincial finals across both codes in both the men’s and ladies game, this is followed closely by schools and colleges competitions which have already kicked off.

We then meander through the new year and onto the pre-season competitions which start to swing into action around the same time as the all-Ireland club competition ratchets up a notch across many different grade and levels.

Before you know it we are facing down the league and the beautiful theatre that comes with that. Then, before the smell of freshly cut grass hits you in the nostrils, its championship season again.

And repeat.

There is no off season. There is no break.

It’s non-stop action and adventure and it’s bloody marvellous.

But are we seeing enough of it and could we, the GAA-loving public, be pushing harder to see more of the action? And should the GAA community as a whole be capitalising on this conveyor belt of drama and excitement?

At present, I believe the answer to these questions is negative.

So let’s throw out an idea that might sound a little outrageous but which I think is deserving some serious consideration by the right stakeholders.

Could a dedicated GAA channel a runner here in Ireland?

The RTE studio ahead of The GAA Championship Draw 2019 in Donnybrook. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
The RTE studio ahead of The GAA Championship Draw 2019 in Donnybrook. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Let me set out my vision. It would have to be a partnership model between the state broadcaster, RTÉ, and both the male and female representative bodies of the GAA, including county boards.

These are some of the biggest and most influential organisations in the country with the capability of making something like this happen. It would require a dedicated channel.

It’s all well and good having an online presence but there will be a large proportion of the audience ‘new-media illiterate’ who like nothing better than coming in on a Sunday afternoon and turning on the TV to watch the game.

The new venture should also be made available to the masses, both home and abroad, via online mediums. We already have GAA Go so we know there is a market abroad for this type of offering.

But how would you fill the time?

Well, Monday to Friday the channel would be on air for three hours a night, say 7pm to 10pm.

The first hour could be dedicated to a daily round up off things GAA using stories from the newspapers and social media channels as the information source.

The second hour could see a different weekly current affairs style show on each day of the week. “County/club focus”, “Meet your heroes”, “skills and training show”, “legends from the past” and an “America’s game”-style show for past All-Ireland winners could be just some of the air time fillers.

Throw in a mix of archive footage from RTÉ and you have ample material to fill your boots.

The weekend schedule would be filled with paper reviews, interviews, big game previews, match of the day and post-game analysis and reviews.

Further investigation would be required but we should look at some of the shows and features of other channels that work well.

A Soccer Saturday style approach for league Sunday’s might be worth examining.

The introduction of golf’s shot tracker to get a better insight into scores that we sometimes don’t appreciate enough.

It is a bit out there and it does have some very obvious drawbacks.

It would be a costly operation no doubt.

Lights, camera, action isn’t cheap and throw in everything else that comes with broadcasting a game then you are talking mega bucks.

But let’s take a leaf out of the fantastic coverage that TG4 provide on a weekly basis.

It should be noted that TG4 would need to stay involved as they are fantastic at what they do and could offer so much support to this venture.

They provide what the armchair fan wants and I’m sure that they don’t have a Rupert Murdoch budget supporting them.

We could be clever about how we fund this.

Joanne Cantwell on The Sunday Game. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Joanne Cantwell on The Sunday Game. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Could a slightly increased GAA club membership entitle you to an annual subscription or should it be free to air and paid through the TV licence?

This requires some further investigation for sure to come up with the most-apt model.

Then we move onto what the negative consequences could be on attendances. I would look at this risk as an opportunity to bring the quality and the excitement into more homes, more regularly.

And this is only the start of the opportunities that a project like this could provide.

The revenues generated through sponsorships and advertising could be pumped back into grassroots sport across the country through schools and clubs. Grants for astroturf facilities and floodlights could be made available to clubs the length and breadth of the country.

We could continue the great work of recent years in promoting and showcasing the sheer brilliance of our ladies games. We have some of the biggest commercial brands now involved in our games and giving them a bigger platform I’m sure would only make them dig deeper into their pockets to support the game commercially.

Some county boards are already doing this with their coverage of big games on their dedicated social media channels.

So, I ask, is it time the GAA started to think inside, rather than outside the box, on this one?

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