Amid the ongoing controversy around GAAGO and broadcasting Munster hurling championship, RTE head of sport Declan McBennett appeared on a number of RTÉ news programmes yesterday to discuss the controversy. Bryan Dobson had some hard questions for McBennett on News At One yesterday afternoon, and he wasn't spared by his RTÉ colleague Caitriona Perry when he later appeared on the Six One.
The decision to put high-profile Munster championship games on pay TV has been criticised by Donal Óg Cusack, Age Action and the tanaiste, amongst others.
RTE and GAA GO have the rights to show all championship Games. The condensed GAA calendar means RTÉ only have 15 games to air before the quarterfinal stage in both codes. Not every game can be broadcast on TV. However, a number of thrilling hurling games being behind GAAGO's paywall and co-owners RTE's own interests in the success of GAA GO has angered fans up and down the country.
Amid the tensions and public criticisms of the service, McBennett had hoped to clear up the issues on Six One last night. His interview with Caitriona Perry was a fascinating six minutes of television.
Caitriona Perry: You're deciding on the RTÉ games by virtue of being the RTÉ head of sport, and you're also deciding on what goes on RTÉ GAAGO by virtue of that being a joint-venture between RTÉ and the GAA. How can people trust that RTÉ is picking the most wanted games to put on free-to-air, and isn't cherry-picking some juicy ventures to put on GAAGO to make people pay for them?
Declan McBennett: No, the most important games largely Caitriona, as you can well imagine, is defined by where you come from. This weekend, the most important game for many people, in Louth, is the Leinster final. Last weekend, it was Clare and Sligo, and Derry and Armagh...
CP: Can RTÉ show matches of a Saturday, or are they exclusively for GAAGO?
DMc: No they're not exclusively for GAAGO. RTÉ can show games of a Saturday.
Despite Virgin Media's statement, tactfully pointing out RTE's interest in the success of GAAGO as co-owners and questioning whether this drove decisions on what games were free-to-air, McBennett was adamant that no such conflicts existed.
CP: When there's a clash of hurling and football championship games, could those football games be moved onto RTÉ or the RTÉ news channel instead of GAAGO?
DMcB: I think both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have referenced that whereby, on a weekend where you have 15 major matches, not all of them can be covered, however there are more games being covered than ever before.
CP: But what is stopping RTÉ as joint-venture co-owners of GAAGO from saying, actually our viewers want to see these, so we're going to put them on RTÉ Two or the news channel?
DMcB: The allocation of rights is a matter of the GAA.
CP: But RTÉ - yourself and Dee Forbes are directors of GAAGO, you can see how people might feel a little aggrieved.
“Did we [RTE] get exclusive access? No. The allocation of rights is a matter for the GAA…it’s up to the GAA as to how they allocate their rights, and that's the way it should be.” – RTE head of sport Declan McBennett speaks about ongoing broadcast row about free-to-air GAA games pic.twitter.com/KLmG1U0JZs
— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) May 9, 2023
McBennett also vehemently rejected that RTE had received exclusive access to rights previously held by Sky Sports, despite a statement from Virgin Media, suggesting the rights never went to market.
Did we get exclusive access? No. The allocation of rights is a matter for the GAA, as it is with UEFA, as it is with the IOC, as it is with the Six Nations, any organisation.
Catriona Perry received plaudits all around for her interview with McBennett, with fans delighted that she didn't hold back with tough questions. Former Monaghan footballer Dick Clerkin was among those praising Perry for the interview.
This is excellent from Catriona Perry and Declan McBennett.. Hard questions both asked and then openly answered with hard undisputable facts... https://t.co/uIkXTxpptb
— D Clerkin (@clerkin_d) May 10, 2023
Caitriona Perry very very good here https://t.co/I3FZrPLcKu
— Phil Greene (@iampgreene) May 10, 2023
Perry is set to depart these shores and return to America where she'll take up a role reporting for the BBC. As she proved last night, she'll undoubtedly be a huge loss to the broadcaster and Ireland.