Conor McQuillan. Photograph: Tom Micks

ONCE again a major talking point for this year’s Munster senior hurling championship has been GAAGO with the streaming platform criticised by the Taoiseach but an Ennis man has warned that the service may have finally met its match.

This year a total of 38 championship games have been broadcast exclusively on GAAGO including Clare’s win over Cork and the Leesiders victory against Limerick, both games that were held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Cork’s 3-28 3-26 win over Limerick has been one of the games of the championship so far was aired only on GAAGO which prompted Taoiseach, Simon Harris (FG) to urge the GAA to reflect. “It has always been a grassroots organisation and I think the grassroots are really, really, really angry and really disappointed and really frustrated that matches that the kids want to watch, that the family want to watch, are being put behind a paywall. The GAA really need to revisit this, they really need to listen to their grassroots members. That’s always been their strength, and I think they’ve gotten this wrong”.

GAA President, Jarlath Burns said he was “very surprised” with the Taoiseach’s contribution “considering last year we actually sat in front of an Oireachtas committee, we were asked to do so, we did so”.

Ennis’ Conor McQuillan is a second year student at University College Cork. A footballer with Éire Óg, the operations of GAAGO tweaked his interest this year when studying Economic Law of the European Union.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Conor flagged, “GAAGO, the highly criticised on demand GAA streaming platform may have finally met its match, coming face to face with the double edged sword of Irish Competition watchdog, CCPC and European Union law”.

He recalled, “July saw the announcement from the CCPC that they would be investigating the broadcasting service on the basis of potentially being an anticompetitive merger to the market. This is due to Sky Sports pulling out of the GAA streaming market in 2020 and leaving a large gap in the market. GAAGO, originally intended for Irish expats and GAA fans abroad, filled this gap. There are two major issues arising from this which can be detrimental to the consumer. Firstly, GAAGO is jointly owned by RTÉ and the GAA. Both organisations are non-profit, while GAAGO is a profit-making company. Since GAAGO changed its function from streaming solely abroad to a mix, prices have increased by around 300% since 2021, while offering a worse selection of games”.

Conor McQuillan. Photograph: Tom Micks

According to Conor, there have been “questionable decisions” on the part of RTÉ in choosing to pick their matches. “Kerry’s quarter final matchup with Tyrone in 2023 saw it locked behind the GAAGO paywall. Three of Cork’s four Munster SHC matches this year were on demand and not selected for RTÉ broadcast, even when the demand to watch Cork games will be highest in Munster’s most populous county. Furthermore, Clare’s clash with Limerick in the 2023 Munster SHC round robin stage was not selected for broadcast. It is a clear conflict of interest”.

Further question marks cloud GAAGO, Conor said. “The second issue arising is that GAAGO not seeking approval from the CCPC may be a breach of European Union law known as ‘Gunjumping’. Under the strictly policed EU laws on mergers, GAAGO may be guilty of failing to abide by a standstill obligation. CCPC argues that GAAGO should have sought CCPC approval as they changed the overall function of their company, switching from a company catering almost wholly for an international audience to selling 500,000 passes in Ireland to watch Kerry versus Tyrone, a drastic change”.

Since the investigation was announced, GAAGO have stayed firm in their stance and are adamant no wrongdoing has occurred. Conor noted, “The enforcement of European Merger Law is a tight ship and it is likely that they will find GAAGO guilty of failing to abide by the mandatory standstill obligation, and if this is the case, the CCPC would not have approved the merger in the first place. Virgin Media have made the claim that Sky’s previous contract for on demand games was never put out to tender, however GAAGO have contested this, stating they ‘bias toward free to air’. This further puts the image of the company into disrepute”.

He continued, “Although there is much scepticism surrounding the legality of the increase in prices, for example, in 2021, 60 championship games were available for the annual membership price of €25. In 2023, only 38 games were available and the price has increased an exponential 300% to €79, it is unlikely that the CCPC will make any recommendations on illegality on this basis. While EU law is also extremely favourable to the consumer in the area of seeking if there are potential breaches of dominant market positions, which GAAGO have, it is rare to see a penalty on the basis of simply increasing prices. This is due to the argument made by academics that having a tight fist around a firm’s ability to control prices is detrimental to the overall market and discourages innovation”.

Now running for eleven months, a decision is imminent on the CCPC investigation. On what the future holds for the streaming service, Conor outlined, “While GAAGO is safe for the 2024 season, its future as we know it may be up in the air. A potential solution is to find another on demand streaming service by putting the contract out to tender, or another is to expand the legislation protecting free to air rights that major tournaments such as the World Cup and games such as the semi-finals and finals of the All-Irelands in both grades to align it with the more modern Australian approach, who’s ‘anti-siphoning’ laws give national broadcasters of AFL first refusal over every game. It is clear that by this time next year viewers of the upcoming provincial championships will have a much more accessible and cheaper way of viewing”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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