By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Irish soccer fans who can’t land a ticket for games at Lansdowne Road will now find themselves having to shell out a little more cash in order to follow the fortunes of the national team.
The Football Association of Ireland last week found itself mired in further controversy after the announcement of a new TV deal with the pay channel BskyB. Beginning this year and continuing through 2006, all the Republic of Ireland international team’s home games will be screened live on the subscription station Sky Sports, with delayed transmission an hour later on TV3.
The agreement cuts out Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, which for years had monopolized rights to Irish international soccer. The FAI has said that Sky and TV3 combined had offered euro 8 million for the broadcast rights, while RTE had offered just euro 2 million.
RTE, meanwhile, has accused the FAI of breaking off negotiations and of not informing the station that it was about to close a deal with the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky.
The bottom line is that if supporters now want to watch the games live, they will have to subscribe to Sky, whose subscription rates are approximately euro 40 per month.
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RTE’s director of television, Cathal Goan, accused the FAI of selling out on its legions of fans. However, the FAI’s treasurer, John Delaney, said RTE’s bid wasn’t realistic.
“All I know is that in our meetings they had no apparent or realistic negotiating stance,” said Delaney, who insisted that RTE had in fact offered euro 100,000 a year less than the existing deal.
The taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and other government officials have criticized the deal, but unlike in Britain, where certain sporting events are ring fenced under legislation for terrestrial television, there is no such protection in Ireland.
Sports Minister John O’Donoghue said the deal would deprive many fans of the opportunity to watch the national team live on television.
“I have no doubt that these sentiments will be shared by fans of this great Irish team throughout the length and breadth of the country,” he said.
The Labor Party communications spokesperson, Eamon Gilmore, said awarding the rights to a “Murdoch-owned pay channel” was an “act of utter betrayal” of ordinary Irish fans.
“It appears that greed has triumphed once again in Irish soccer over the interests of the fans,” he said and blamed the government for failing to enact 1999 legislation that would have ensured viewers free access to major sporting events on TV.
“The government sat on its hands and this is the result,” Gilmore said.
TV3 will show the games in their entirety. It also has the rights to the Eircom League, guaranteeing five live matches a week and a “Sports Tonight” highlights show.
FAI President, Milo Corcoran, defended the new deals, saying they were very significant for Irish football.
“The additional financial resources will be used to support all aspects of football, from the senior international team, through the Eircom League to grassroots football,” he said.