Pat Rabbitte has announced what sports are to be protected as free-to-air (h/t to AFR):
The Summer Olympics.
The All-Ireland Senior Football & Hurling Finals.
Ireland’s qualifying games in the European Football Championship & World Cup.
Opening games, semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament.
The Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby.
The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show.
Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship.
In other words, no change. However, there is a curious coda which merits further examination:
He also noted that the Six Nations will remain designated as deferred but that it is in fact shown live. The Minister stated that he would be prepared to intervene in the event that it was proposed in the future that the Six Nations would no longer be available live and free to air. He also noted that based on GAA assurances, he believes that the events which were considered for designation will continue to be shown on a free to air basis.
Taken at face value, the part about the Six Nations makes no sense. It’s designated as deferred, but should there be a risk that it ceases to be live then he’ll have it designated as live. So why not remove this ambiguity and designate it as live? This status has the IRFU’s fingerprints all over it. No doubt it was sold to the Minister on the basis that this is the way it is in the UK and what a regulatory mess it would be to have a different rule here than there and you can be sure that we as custodians of the great and noble game of rugby union would never ever sell the jewel that is the Six Nations to anything as vulgar as the highest bidder oh and thanks for leaving the Heineken Cup alone have you lost weight my that suit makes you look slimmer Louis Copeland is it that’s where we get all our suits…
Okay, there’s a bit of artistic licence in there but you get the point. Sports organisations like to claim that they would never sell such venerable events as the Six Nations or the All-Ireland senior finals to subscription channels but they would like to be able to maintain full commercial bargaining rights – I recall Jack Boothman making this point quite forcefully when he was President in a radio debate on the subject. And they must think we’re all completely stupid, not least the beancounters at Sky and ESPN. Who in their right mind is going to bid for an event that they know they’re not going to be sold, and even if they were – gasp! Sports administrators have their heads turned by filthy lucre! – that the government will step in to prevent it?
There are two non-insane interpretations, neither of them palatable for the Irish sports fan. The first and the more likely scenario is that even the hint of losing it to Sky will push up the price RTÉ or TV3 bids for a package. Can you ever see RTÉ letting go of the Six Nations? There are no lengths that mandarins at Montrose will not go to get their fix of rugby so we can expect RTÉ’s (read: the licence payers) bid to creep inexorably up at the mere mention of the Dirty Digger. More apocalyptically, the possibility of a British government stepping in to protect the Six Nations from subscription channels has receded greatly in the last year as the Conservatives are not going to be inclined to back up the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation against the hero who broke the power of the unions on Fleet Street. The logic that we should swim against the flow of the regulatory (pun unintended) tide on the mainland (use of outrageous term intended) would still apply should Sky gain control of the other three unions on these islands. And before you know it Ireland’s next Grand Slam can only be viewed by those in pubs or with subscriptions. We also may need pressure suits for the globally-warmed environment of 2070, but don’t say you weren’t warned.
And you know what? I don’t care. The only event I want to see is Waterford win the All-Ireland and I plan to be there in the flesh. Hopefully advances in longevity will be such that I’ll be well able for our next appearance in 2053.