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Streaming is now a live option as the GAA looks to broadcasting future

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Dean Rock of Ballymun Kickhams in action against Jonny Cooper during Sunday’s Dublin SFC tie

Dean Rock of Ballymun Kickhams in action against Jonny Cooper during Sunday’s Dublin SFC tie

SPORTSFILE

Dean Rock of Ballymun Kickhams in action against Jonny Cooper during Sunday’s Dublin SFC tie

By any metric, these past two months have been a transformative period in GAA broadcasting.

Initially, when Covid-19 simply meant restricted crowds at club games, streaming was a useful service some county boards opted to supply.

When the virus forced all games behind closed gates, it became a necessity - and a hastily sourced one at that.

"We weren't ready for this at all," admits Irial Mac Murchú, CEO of Nemeton, the Waterford-based production company that somewhat inadvertently, have found themselves as central players in the deluge of streaming of GAA club games over the past two months.

"It almost happened by accident. And we really only had weeks to prepare for it in the run up to the last weekend in July. We've been swamped ever since and basically running to catch up."

So far, Nemeton have broadcast 102 games from Waterford, Galway, Kilkenny, Antrim, Roscommon, Kerry and, most recently, Tyrone.

That's in addition to the 100 or so GAA matches per year they produce for TG4.

"The GAA nationally and at county level is broke," Mac Murchú explains.

"There is no money anywhere. So we had to devise the most cost-effective solution."

Nemeton's plan was to send one multi-skilled operator to each venue, equipped with a camera and a streaming kit.

The match would then be streamed back into the 'cloud,' accessed by production staff at the company's headquarters in An Rinn, the Gaeltach area near Dungarvan in Waterford.

Those staff insert graphics and manually load replays, all of which is then beamed out to the general public through a purpose-built platform called beosport.ie.

"When we started we quickly realised none of the county board websites had the bandwidth to carry live video and they didn't have the stability to operate a successful paywall," Mac Murchú explains.

"So quickly, we had to set up this platform because the games needed somewhere to exist. And it's through that platform that we stream everything linked to each county board's website."

Naturally, given the precarious financial situation in which county boards find themselves, the desire to broadcast as many club games as possible must be offset against the requirement for the exercise to pay for itself.

The cost to counties of Nemeton's basic package is just under €1,000 per match.

There are several subscription models currently being utilised.

Westmeath, for example, have charged a flat €10 rate per game and are understood to have averaged around 150 views per match.

Wexford have employed a different model, incorporating a season ticket whereby subscribers can watch every match in their football and hurling championships. Other counties have opted for a more 'bells and whistles' approach.

Dublin's stream features bespoke graphics and a higher frequency of replays, while they also provide live commentary and match analysis.

The cost is €6.99 per single game, although weekend/daily packages have also been available. Roughly, they must attract 360 purchases per game to break even.

If the basic economics make the process sound simple, there have - and will continue to be - issues around technology and infrastructure.

"The single biggest challenge with streaming is if you don't have fibre or if you don't have some sort of wired connection, you're at the mercy of the cell towers," Mac Murchú explains.

Over the weekend, there were drops in feeds of various severity reported in Roscommon, Kerry, Mayo and Antrim.

The Kerry county board issued an apology via their website for the outage and dropped responsibility for the error on the lap of their providers, 247.tv.

On Saturday, one of Nemeton's feeds, a Roscommon Intermediate quarter-final between Éire Óg and St Dominic's in Strokestown went down consistently due to a lack of connectivity.

"We just could not get a stable signal to the nearest cell tower," says Mac Murchú, who points out that Nemeton had a "100pc record" in streaming quality and speed before last weekend.

Similarly, the feed from an Antrim SHC game between O'Donovan Ross and Cushendall suffered from repeated stalling due to the fact that there were upwards of 400 people at the game, each of whom had mobile phones vying for the same 4G connection as the broadcast equipment.

By comparison, Mac Murchú stresses "not one frame has dropped in all the games we've had in Kilkenny," due to Nowlan Park's fibre optic cable connection.

Clearly, infrastructure in some GAA grounds remains an issue but it's easy to see how, with greater planning, both the quality and quantity of live streamed GAA games will escalate over the coming years.

The GAA's main broadcasting contracts are up for renewal in 2022 and Mac Murchú says he would be "very surprised if Croke Park weren't looking at where streaming fits in".