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'Huge Opportunity' - The Companies Bringing Club GAA To A Bigger Audience

'Huge Opportunity' - The Companies Bringing Club GAA To A Bigger Audience
By PJ Browne Updated

When Sporting Limerick first started streaming club GAA games in the autumn of 2018, they wouldn't announce that there was going to be a broadcast until an hour beforehand. There was the fear it wouldn't work. The fewer who knew about it, the fewer who would be disappointed.

"There was no paywall, it wasn't worth being paywalled," says Raffaele Rocca, owner of Sporting Limerick and Stream Sport Ireland.

"You look back now and think 'Jesus, did we really try that? Did we really get away with that?'"

Four years on, confidence and ambition has increased. Now, the more who know about the streams, the better. If you've tuned in online for a club game from Galway, Limerick, Mayo or Tipperary, it was Stream Sport (or Sporting Limerick as they are known as in the Treaty county) providing the pictures.

The company also works with the Irish Examiner, broadcasting the Cork championships, along with Munster Rugby's pre-season games. Connacht Rugby and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association are also clients.

In 2020, Rocca took over the business from the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership, who felt they had taken the company as far as they could.

That year, as counties scrambled to show games on online with Covid-19 preventing crowds from attending grounds, Stream Sport got the contract for the Tipperary championships.

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"It was one of those things where you knew there was an opportunity there," says Rocca, "you tendered for it, and you got it, and then you kind of sat back and scratched your head and said, 'Jesus, how are we going to fulfil this?'" They did so with the help of A-Live, a Limerick company which has extensive experience of covering live events.

They streamed 95 games in 2020. Last year, it was 143 games. This year they're on course for 230 games. Last weekend's broadcast of the Cork Premier Senior Hurling Championships featured a main commentator and two co-commentators. With it being the final round of the group stage, there was a graphic showing the 'as it stands' table.

"A lot of organisations are embracing it now because they know that, basically, these games are their own content," says Rocca.

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"There's a kind of a shift in mindset within the county boards. They have to kind of move with the times, they have to modernise.

"Some of the scores, some of the goals, they're phenomenal. We had the Jake Morris goal there two weeks ago. I think it was up to 100,000 views. The Shane O'Brien one from the Harty Cup this year, that had 270,000 views."

The fear that something will go wrong, that the stream will go down leading to a deluge of social media outrage, is still there but has been allayed by putting in the necessary hours of preparation and using high quality service providers. Calling it a full-time job doesn't cover how much work Rocca puts into ensuring everything runs smoothly.

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"Seven days a week at the moment," he says.

"There's never a day that you're not doing something with it. Monday to Thursday is literally sorting out accreditations, press passes, crew lists. Then the facilities that the grounds have. Do we need to do work at a venue?

"The level of production you can do sometimes is very reliant on the venue. If you're in Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Semple Stadium, you've loads of space. You've covered power sockets. You've got a really good vantage point. It's a comfortable place to stream from. Therefore, you can do more with the production because you're not worried about getting wet.

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"There are some venues where you'll be saying, 'Let's just get in, stream the match without any drama and get back out of it again'.

"We're trying to close the gap between what a stream and broadcast would look like. Broadcast, obviously, is an entirely different budget, entirely different expectation for the viewer. We're trying to get as close to that standard as we can without the expense."

* * * * *

Like most GAA fans, Lar Doyle and Jimmy Doyle streamed club games during the Covid-19 pandemic and were happy to simply be able to watch. Unlike most, they then began to wonder how it could be better.

"You had people who were new to the live streaming business pulling together off-the-shelf, white label streaming products, and bolting them together with paywalls," says Lar Doyle, head of business development with Clubber.

"We looked at building our own platform from the ground up, and build it around GAA, something me and the CEO Jimmy love."

Two years later, they've developed relationships with Waterford GAA and Kerry GAA, and are in talks with other county boards. Over this week and weekend, they'll stream nine hurling games from Waterford: Three minor finals, two intermediate finals, the senior relegation final, a junior final, and the two senior semi-finals.

"Somebody said to me the other week that we're 'disruptors'," says Doyle.

"I said, 'We're not really disruptors because there's nothing there to disrupt at the moment’. There's an untapped market at the moment which hasn't been addressed, economics possibly being one of the reasons.

"We're not just focusing on the big money games. We're not interested in that per se. We've shown all the intermediate and senior games in Waterford, besides the ones TG4 have taken.

"We like to show it all. When you're reading a book, you want to read the whole of it, you don't just want to go to the end of it.

"The platform can cater for big finals, three camera productions. For the lower end games, for the videographer that goes out, they don't have a production crew in the background.

"If you pay a tenner for a match - Premier League or your own club's intermediate game - you expect the same level of quality in terms of reliability, and it being full high definition. You want to be able to see teamsheets, a scoreboard.

"How does one videographer do that? One videographer can go out, stream a match. We give them our own matchday companion app. It's like having a live production crew in your pocket.

"That allows the videographer to in real time update the scores on the live stream. Before the match, they can show teamsheets. Red, yellow and black cards can be put up. Substitutes can be put up. They start the clock, stop the clock.

"At half-time, we have an ad space where we run ads for local sponsors. The videographer can click plays ads, stop the ads, then run ads again at the very end."

Between them, Lar and Jimmy - who have known each other for nearly 30 years - have 50 years of experience in telecommunications and IT. Jimmy worked with Microsoft for 25 years, and Lar most recently for eir. That knowledge has been invaluable in building their platform from scratch, and ensuring they've got reliable streams.

"People were sticking mobile dongles in laptops, and it's not fit for purpose," Doyle says about the early days of streaming club GAA games.

"Our focus is on trying to keep that stream. Of all the feedback we've had from customers - 'I can't stream', 'My credit card doesn't work' - normal stuff, we've had very little queries about the cost. People see the value in a good quality stream. You're only as good as your last stream! You get one big failure, and it can damage the brand.

"We've had a few big blips. I think we learnt a lot with that. We had one with the McGrath Cup. It was a horrendous time for Clubber. Six or seven months on, we're a different outfit now. We understand the business now inside out; right from how to get a signal out from a hole in the ground to getting the process streamlined for videographers to do all the stuff themselves.

"For us to be able to align with what we want to do, and show as many games as possible, that means going outside of the main pitches in urban areas which might have fibre brought into them. We've got to go where no streamer has gone before!"

This season, they've broadcasted from eight locations around Waterford. Last weekend they streamed from Templenoe - a village 10 minutes west of Kenmare - as they defeated Dingle to reach their first Kerry senior club final.

"Mobile connectivity out there [in Templenoe] is challenging to say the least!" says Doyle.

"When you think about the complexity of getting a picture from a pitch all the way to someone's phone or smart TV, it's quite challenging. There are so many moving parts, and many possible points of failure.

"From Templenoe, we had six mobile connections bonded together to get a signal out of there. That's the level you have to go to. We won't do a match now with just one mobile connection.

"Even though we're a technology platform, we're not videographers. At this stage of growth, we've had to get involved from an end-to-end point of view to instil the quality that we expect.

"If someone is using our platform, and stream goes down because they've used a dongle in some remote location, and we've had nothing to do with it, it comes back to the brand, which is Clubber."

In addition to Clubber TV, their streaming arm, they've also developed the AI-based Clubber Coach, which provides automated match analysis.

"If you're getting matches streamed on our platform, we can do automated match analysis on that stream, and have it back to you the following day. You get all the stats you need generated with the clips - puckouts, turnovers," says Doyle.

"It's another growth area. We're trying to slowly build an ecosystem around Clubber to meet the needs of sports rights holders, and clubs.

"We've big plans. GAA is our love. It's like RyanAir when they flew out of Waterford in the 80s - one plane, one market. We have bigger plans to address the unaddressed market in terms of the lower tier of sports, and bring AI to the lower tier as well.

"We're not in it as a part-time exercise. We're all in on this. The opportunity is huge."

See Also: Can You Get 10/10 In Our Quiz Of The Club GAA Weekend?


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