What is GAAGO and why is there controversy over GAA games?

Q&A: Criticism over streaming facility, aimed at Irish abroad, centres on number of games behind paywall

What is GAAGO?

GAAGO is a streaming service set up by the GAA and RTÉ, initially introduced several years ago to offer Irish people living abroad subscriptions to watch matches online.

This year the streaming service holds the exclusive rights to nearly 40 championship matches, meaning those same matches will not be available on free-to-air TV stations, namely RTÉ.

How did this controversy start?

Speaking on The Sunday Game highlights programme last weekend, three-time All-Ireland winner Donal Óg Cusack strongly criticised the fact some of the most entertaining hurling matches of the season so far had been behind the GAAGO’s paywall.

The former Cork hurling goalkeeper said it appeared the GAA was “using hurling” to get its streaming service offering “off the ground”. The comments sparked a debate over the number and type of matches available on the streaming service rather than on RTÉ's normal free-to-air stations.


What is the background to this?

Amid some controversy at the time, in 2014 the GAA announced a deal with Sky Sports, where the British broadcaster would get the exclusive rights to some championship matches.

Last October Sky and the GAA announced the media rights partnership would end, leaving open an opportunity for some new, similar deal.

Meanwhile, restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic had given the association an opportunity to trial its streaming service to the domestic Irish audience for live league matches, with some success.

So how many matches are GAAGO showing this year?

Under a new deal announced late last year, the online streaming service will have the exclusive rights to show 38 live matches this year.

GAAGO is essentially filling the hole left by Sky and taking up the rights to many of the matches played on Saturday over the course of the championship, with RTÉ's coverage largely focusing on Sunday matches.

How much does GAAGO cost?

A “season pass” subscription for all the matches behind the streaming service’s paywall is set at €79 this year.

There is also the option for people to pay for a subscription to watch a single match for €12, or to buy a bundle to watch three matches for €24.

What is the structure of GAAGO?

The company behind the venture, GAAGO Media Ltd, is 50 per cent owned by the GAA, with RTÉ owning the other half.

It reported profits of €1 million in 2021, up from more than €700,000 the year before, according to its most recent financial accounts filed last summer.

Its board includes outgoing RTÉ director general Dee Forbes, RTÉ head of sport Declan McBennett, the director general of the GAA Tom Ryan, Peadar Mac Cionnaith, who is Croke Park stadium director, as well as Colin Morgan, chief executive of corporate investment advisers Key Capital.

In recent days Noel Quinn has been appointed as head of the streaming service, having led the GAA’s marketing team for several years.

What have people been saying?

Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Minister of State with responsibility for sport Thomas Byrne, among other politicians, have suggested elements of the GAAGO broadcasting agreement should be reviewed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this week it was not possible for RTÉ and TG4 to televise all GAA matches. The Fine Gael leader said the most popular and important matches should be on free-to-air television, with GAAGO used for other matches.

In a statement, rival broadcaster Virgin Media questioned whether RTÉ had paid “anything” for GAAGO’s broadcasting rights. “Or did they just agree to keep them behind a paywall to drive incremental revenues for both partners in GAAGO, ie RTÉ and the GAA,” it said.

What have the GAA and RTÉ said?

Mr McBennett, RTÉ group head of sport and GAAGO board member, has said scheduling changes “entirely outside of the control of RTÉ” meant some recent matches had to be moved to the streaming service. Commitments by RTÉ to show all six provincial finals had also clashed with other matches on at the same time, he said.

However, Mr McBennett said under the current deal there were “more games than ever available to the public”.

Similarly, Mr Quinn also defended the deal in recent days stating the GAA and RTÉ felt “we have the balance right”, between matches streamed and those shown on television.

“Hopefully people will judge this on the multiyear deal that is in place, rather than the first couple of weekends,” he said.