The WWE and the GAA aka the 2020 vision

Monday, April 14th, 2014

What does scripted sports entertainment have to do with Gaelic Games aside from the obvious cynical digs? Oh nothing, just the road map for the future of broadcasting. Emmet Ryan explains.

The debate over the GAA’s deal with Sky didn’t take long to move on to the obvious question of what happens when the next deal comes up in 2017? Those opposed, or at least concerned, by Sky acquiring rights are asking what extra rights will go behind a paywall in three years’ time? This is the most pertinent and irrelevant question in the debate. The real issue at hand is where they will go.

There are three groups of players in the GAA rights war. The terrestrial broadcasters, like RTE and TV3, pay TV providers, like Sky and Setanta, and the rights holders themselves, in this case the GAA. As has been made abundantly clear the only two games protected for free to air broadcasters are the All-Ireland football and hurling finals. Sky could, if the GAA were willing, buy the rights to everything but those two games. There is a third option, rights retention.

Earlier this year the professional wrestling promotion WWE launched its own digital network, realising that a core subscriber base paying it directly could yield far more income than dealing with intermediaries. The company set a target of 1 million subscriptions by year end. It has already surpassed the 700,000 mark. While men in tights jostling to pre-arranged results may not seem like an immediately relevant business model, the US firm has taken a logical leap from formats established by professional sports leagues in North America. The NBA, NFL, NHL, and, most successfully, Major League Baseball all have digital offerings which are based heavily around partnerships with local broadcasters. All four leagues have owners willing to leave traditional intermediaries, aka TV channels, behind to sell directly to fans. Getting to that point requires bold moves, step forward the men in tights to lay a marker down.

Fundamentally this is about broadband and money, many things are about money but rights retention is a non-runner without good broadband. The infrastructure still isn’t there for a reliable live streaming service that won’t get fans and viewers complaining about buffering, eternal buffering. The WWE found this out with its broadcast of Wrestlemania and regular viewers of the services offered by LiveBasketball.TV, the main provider of Euroleague basketball, are well aware of the regular issues with their streams. If the infrastructure were there, this deal would have looked different. The difference between today and three years ago however is substantial. The difference between today and the broadband of three years from now even more so. By 2017 the possibility of selling games directly to fans without a middle man will be there. By 2020, the time of the subsequent deal, it will be hard to see the GAA not consider it a top priority.

Coffee with Creed: Episode 3 – Rocky III

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Like we could pick any other scene for the title image. Welcome once again to Coffee with Creed, our analysis of race and politics in the Rocky movies.

Emmet Ryan is joined by Paul Fennessy of to discuss the contrasting portrayals of Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang in the third instalment of the Rocky saga. Press play to hear their thoughts.


Sky Sports and the GAA, cui bono?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

With Sky Sports purchase of the rights to 14 games per season over the next three years confirmed, Emmet Ryan looks at the wider implications for the market and its stakeholders.


The deal wasn’t exactly welcomed by fans online today, somewhat of an understatement, but in the wider context it’s understandable when you look at how the executive works today and how it has for the past two decades. Prior to the mid 1990s, there were only 6 live games certain to be aired annually. The early 1990s saw some dabbling with live games but mass TV coverage on any format, terrestrial or otherwise, is less than 20 years old.

From the executive perspective, we’ll get to the non-executive below, their objective is to find the deal that best fits their stakeholders. Putting 14 games behind a paywall may not seem like the logical approach but there are strong grounds for defence which, and this won’t make me many friends, hold up well. More than two thirds of inter-county games, including the bulk of the crown jewels (16 of the 18 most-viewed fixtures) remain free-to-air. In return one would expect the GAA to be getting a sizeable bump to their coffers which can be reinvested in the game, an issue that’s far from trivial given the issues facing some county boards and clubs. They gave up a relatively small amount of their property for a bump in TV money.


Of all the players here, Sky’s role actually makes the least sense on closer inspection. The initial appeal is obvious. Ireland punches above its weight in terms of market importance for Sky, the summer is a relatively quiet period for the broadcaster, and they can expect a subscription bump. The deal Sky have struck however doesn’t help them greatly on a deeper level.

The sum total of damage done to Sky’s competitors is nil. Every rights deal Sky makes or fights for now has to be taken in the wider context of their ongoing, albeit temporarily quietened, war with BT on the quad and triple play market. The consumer sees the front of that fight, between the two over sports, but every rights fight is a part of the clash over consumer broadband, telephony, and TV (triple-play or quad-play depending on whether you split the definition of telephony).

BT aren’t in that market in Ireland but, essentially in a form of guilt by not being Sky, UPC are the target for Sky in Ireland for this fight. UPC won’t be impacted in the slightest. If there was going to be a dedicated channel for GAA unavailable to UPC customers, as Sky have opted for with Formula 1, it would have been in the initial announcement. It’s likely, albeit not a certainty, that any plans of hiding games behind the red button would also have been made obvious by this stage.

The size of the potential subscription bump also merits scrutiny. They have locked down the quarter finals for the Ulster and Leinster champions for this year in football but, as I said above, Ireland already punches well above its market size when it comes to subscriptions. The gains here are negligible compared to a close-out option.

Coffee with Creed: Episode 2 – Rocky II

Monday, March 31st, 2014

In the second part of our series looking at race and politics in the Rocky movies, Emmet Ryan is joined by David Neary to discuss Rocky II.

This was the film where Apollo Creed, willingly or not, simply had to play the villain. In this episode we discuss how this was managed along with the change in portrayal of Italian-American characters for the better.


Coffee with Creed: Episode 1 – Rocky

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Welcome to a new series here on Coffee with Creed takes a look at race and politics across each of the Rocky movies.

Over the course of each episode I’m joined by a guest to discuss how these issues were addressed in each of the Italian Stallion’s movies. The title is named for the unique, especially for his era, character of Apollo Creed. Albeit inspired heavily by Muhammad Ali, Carl Weathers made the character much more than a caricature.

Watch the first episode where I’m joined by film archivist and critic David Neary to discuss the first movie in the series, Rocky.

Further analysis after the jump.

Is provincial loyalty really a thing?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

While rugby makes it easy for sports fans to associate with their province, the lines are far more blurred elsewhere in sport. Declan Hughes discusses his experiences.

In early February 2014 I was at the under 21 Intervarsities hockey tournament being hosted at Grange Road home of Three Rock Rovers, and had just witnessed Ulster dispatching Munster by a 4-0 margin. Shortly after the match was over I met Leah Ewart who had just been playing for Ulster, her native province, in that match. Leah, plays her club hockey for UCD who I’ve supported across many sports for 33 years. Alongside Leah on the Ulster team was Katie Mullan, another UCD. Leah then asked me a question to which I had no answer at the time, “so Declan who are you rooting for today?” It got me thinking about the whole question of allegiance and whether one’s province has a pull on your affections the same way parish club, and county would in Gaelic games or indeed your local football team would in most normal countries.

Looking at my own situation, I am a born Dubliner, I have lived here continuously since I was 9, but my mother and two of my four grandparents were born in Northern Ireland. A third grandparent was raised in Newtownards so that gives 3 connections with the province of Ulster. On the Leinster interprovincial teams were three UCD players Emily Beatty, Sarah Robinson and Orla Macken. Connacht had goalkeeper Natasha Cooke and Elaine Carey.

Even Munster had a UCD player in their line-up so depending on a number of factors as a UCD fan I could have really supported any of the four provinces. My choice would have been down to which individuals I preferred. I was unable to attend the final day’s action in the tournament which would have seen me at the Ulster-Leinster clash and forced to make a call. But it begs the question how loyal are we to our provinces in Ireland?

Neil Francis, you’re not helping

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Neil Francis appeared on Off the Ball on Newstalk on Sunday along with Eugene McGee to talk about Joe Brolly’s column in the Irish Daily Mail on Sunday about Donal Óg Cusack, the retired Cork hurler who was the first GAA player to come out. Francis, winner of sports columnist of the year at the NNI awards last year, was asked about Michael Sam who aims to be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

I’ve transcribed some extended highlights from Francis’ appearance. I was going to use bold for emphasis but, yeesh, this page would be just in bold font if I did. Cheers to for posting the audio. My comments follow after the Francis quotes.

A tale of two hockeys

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Declan Hughes went to two games of hockey on opposite sides of the Atlantic with rather different atmospheres. From Belfield and the Bell Centre, here’s how Declan experienced his two favourite hockey teams.

When I was 3 years old my parents emigrated to Canada. The city they chose was Montreal. An unusual choice given, Montreal is the largest French speaking city outside of France, but my mother’s brother Séan had spent a year there as an architectural graduate. Anyway we lived there for six years and I started primary school there. We came back to Ireland when I was 9 years old and I didn’t return to Montreal for 37 years.

What brought me back to the city primarily was hockey or as people outside Canada call it ice hockey. I had the good fortune to live in Montreal during a period when the local NHL team the Canadiens won 4 Stanley Cups between 1965 and 1971. I had no contact of any kind with the game from 1971 to 1985 bar the few years we received yearbooks to update our encyclopaedia but even they stopped in 1981. In 1985 I replaced our old black and white television with a portable 14 inch colour one. I got a cable TV package and one of the stations available at that time was called Screensport. This UK based channel had the rights to show NHL highlights and I watched packaged from NHL On The Fly regularly on the station. They also showed the occasional live game and I had the pleasure of watching the 1986 Canadiens win a surprise Stanley Cup largely due to goalkeeper Patrick Roy standing on his head for the entire play off series. I was able to follow the exploits of the 1993 Stanley Cup winning side more closely as there was a lot of live hockey on that season but then Screensport was merged with British Satellite Broadcasting and eventually subsumed into Sky Sports and ice hockey all but disappeared from Cable TV and became exclusively a Premium Sports Channel product.

A few years later when internet access became widely available I was able to follow the NHL watching highlights online. I was then able to tune into listen to the odd game live online from radio stations based in Canada.

In 2007 I found a website online called I scrolled down through the dropdown menus and discovered they covered Canada and had the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal. I was amazed to discover not only my old primary school but a couple of former classmates looking to find fellow alumni. I made contact with one named Karl and made a decision to revisit Montreal in 2008. It was the centenary season of the Montreal Canadiens whom I had never seen play live until that point. I found a hotel downtown online near the home venue to which they had moved in 1996 called The Bell Centre. The vast bulk of the 24 of Montreal’s Stanley Cup victories had been won in their former venue The Forum in Atwater which is now sadly a shopping mall although they tastefully contain several reminders of the venue’s former role.

Anyway in November 2008 some 37 years after we left the city I finally got to see Montreal take on the Buffalo Sabres. It was an amazing experience and one I have tried to replicate on each of my subsequent visits over the years.

The cold reality facing Michael Sam

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Michael Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, could be the first openly gay player in NFL history. The road ahead for Sam is filled with the irrationality of those in power. This isn’t going to be fun.

To use American Football parlance, Michael Sam has a lot of upside. He was named defensive player of the year in the best conference in college football. Sam is ranked 9th at his position, defensive end, and will more than likely be at least invited to training camp by a NFL team. Michael Sam is also gay. He won’t be the first gay player in the NFL but he will be a pioneer when he takes the field at training camp this summer. For the first time in NFL history, a gay man won’t be hiding who he is from the public.

This should be applauded and if coaches and administrators were beings guided by reason and logic, they would privately applaud and not just publicly say it’s great. That may sound like it’s the wrong way around but the public perception isn’t the concern here. It’s the thinking that goes on when the cameras and microphones are out of sight.

Plenty of un-named NFL executives told Sports Illustrated that they were concerned Sam could be “a distraction”. NFL teams hate distractions. Nothing but football goshdarnit. Anything else is needlessly getting in the way and could affect locker-room culture.

Let’s pause for just one moment. You’ve got a player whose job it is to be focused on brutalising opponents, and at defensive end that is the role, and doing so at speed repeatedly over the course of a game week after week. Do you know what’s a bigger distraction? Worrying about people finding out about something you are hiding. Naturally the administrators would argue that’s Sam’s issue but it’s also their concern.

If you are spending a fair chunk of money, although based on projections not wild amounts, on a player would you rather he was in optimal mental shape or distracted? The defensive tackle inside of Sam and the linebacker behind him won’t give a damn about Sam’s sexuality if he’s getting his job done.

Forget Rodman and Matt Cooper, what is Craig Hodges thinking?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Craig Hodges
Dennis Rodman is doing something stupid. Matt Cooper isn’t being very smart by joining him. The same can be said for most of the party in Pyongyang for a basketball exhibition. Craig Hodges however is a big outlier. How does a man of such strong political will make such an awful choice?

Most of the gang of Dennis Rodman’s buddies playing hoops in Pyongyang read like a list of guys likely to go to Pyongyang with the Worm for a payday. Vin Baker, Kenny Anderson, and Cliff ‘totally open about making a porno with my wife’ Robinson are just the characters you’d expect to get caught in something like this. The game is being covered by Irish journalist Matt Cooper, who presents drivetime current affairs show The Last Word and fronts TV3’s live GAA coverage. Cooper’s involvement has caught some scrutiny in the Irish media today but given that all news is local, the man about whom we should be asking the most questions is subject to the fewest.

Craig Hodges had a pretty good career for a lifelong NBA back-up. He won the All Star 3-point contest three times, a feat matched only by Larry Bird, and was runner-up twice. He won the NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1991 and 1992. It was that latter win that brought to light something that mattered more than basketball to Hodges. The three-point ace was passionate about the treatment of African Americans. It was an issue he cared deeply for, one he was willing to put his career on the line for. This is a man who backed up his beliefs with actions.

When the Bulls visited the White House after winning the NBA Championship in 1992, Hodges used it as an opportunity for political activism. Wearing a dashiki, he criticized President George HW Bush’s treatment of minorities in America. Hodges never played in the NBA again. Hodges would go on to publicly criticize Michael Jordan for not using his position in the spotlight to do more for African Americans. This was a man who cared about the treatment of others. A man who recognised the influence those in the spotlight could use to cast light and draw attention to those who need it.

So what the hell is Craig Hodges doing in Pyongyang?