Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he would support a review of what sporting events are protected as free-to-air. Currently only the All-Ireland hurling and camogie finals and men’s and women’s football finals are protected under the list of events designated as free-to-air by the government. The list was put into place in 2003, and last reviewed in 2021.
Mr Martin said the expansion of the current list to include other championship games should be “open to consideration”.
“Yes, the GAA is an organisation in its own right, but I think it is fair to say that there should be a public debate as this has a national impact.”
He criticised what he called the “creeping paywallism” in relation to sport, and suggested that his namesake the Minister for Media Catherine Martin may look at adding more sports to the protected list of events which must be shown on free-to-air programming.
He believed a “huge audience was denied access to very significant games in the hurling championship” recently, referencing the fact that the Clare v Limerick and Cork v Tipperary games were only broadcast on GAAGO, the streaming service jointly owned by the GAA and RTÉ.
“There is a legitimate public interest issue there as to how often we go to the well and ask citizens to pay for this and to pay for that,” he said. “There would be an expectation among the general public in terms of access to championship hurling and Gaelic football. That issue should be reviewed in my opinion. I understand that organisations have the authority to make decisions to a certain extent as to what extra revenue measures they need to develop.”
Mr Martin said he was not happy that many of the GAA games had not previously been on Sky Sports either. “It’s a view that I hold very dear. This app is not accessible to the same wider audience as would have access on television. That’s where we are heading if somebody doesn’t shout stop. There is a lot of pressure on sporting organisations, but I don’t see how we are going to encourage sports if we are going to create barriers to great moments in sport by putting those moments behind a paywall.”
He said his views were personal and that he would welcome a debate on the issue.
The former minister for sport Jack Chambers said he supported Mr Martin’s stance on ensuring that GAA championship games are free-to-air. He said the GAA had been supported by the State through the Covid-19, and the current GAAGO arrangement is “not sustainable”.
The Dáil heard from Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews that the GAA seemed to be drifting to “a new corporate, profit-driven model”, with a view among many that “the GAA is becoming gentrified”. He was speaking following criticism in recent days that some Munster senior hurling championship matches were only available on the GAAGO streaming service.
“The GAA is a wonderful organisation. However it does seem to be drifting to a new corporate, profit-driven model in what is an amateur sport. Recently we’ve seen moves to a cashless ticketing system, we’ve seen moves to preventing clubs from displaying charity logos on their club jerseys. Now we have the subscription model of viewing games and I suppose this all feeds into a view among many that the GAA is becoming gentrified, keeping the big classic hurling and football games behind the paywall.”
In response, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin said as the Taoiseach had already stated “it would not be practical to broadcast all the games”. She said a review into free-to-air events commenced last year, and responses to an initial public consultation had been analysed.