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Live GAA from Shannon to Shanghai

Live GAA from Shannon to Shanghai

14th April 2014

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"Hey buddy - can I get fries with that soda?" It's 8.59am local time, I'm perched on a high stool in the Heritage Bar on 960 McLean Avenue in Yonkers and the locals are ensuring their 'balanced' diet knows no bounds.

However, I am fixated on the slightly snowy TV screen in the corner of the bar in anticipation of what was supposed to be Donegal's retribution of Derry 5 years after the Oak-Leaf County clinched the Anglo-Celt in the rain and mud of Clones. Of course, this optimism evaporated as I watched a mischievous Joe Brolly slot home in the 70th minute and blow kisses to the Donegal entourage behind the town end goals. Not even the bearded Jesus-like appearance of a young Jimmy Mc Guinness lining out at no.8 could lead my beloved county to the Promised Land.

The year was 1998. My brother and I were on our summer holidays, staying with our uncle in Queens and living life in the land of Uncle Sam. We left his house at 7.20am (a departure time perhaps more accustomed to those seasoned Kerry supporters making their yearly trek to Croke Park in the third Sunday of September), caught the subway and rode 3 buses to ensure that we would not miss throw-in. This was the rat-run that Gaels living away from the old sod endured week in, week out and watering holes such as The Heritage, Maggie May's and Waxy O' Connors were THE places to consume live GAA overseas.

Fast forward 16 years and the ways in which we watch live sports are practically alien to the above mentioned setting. The 'TV everywhere' ethos allows the modern day sports fan to never miss a kick, slam-dunk or putt. The world is a better place as a result of what now seem like daily technological innovations and sport continues to be a major benefactor of this evolution. Now for the boring statistics on the growth of digital…concentrate!

- There are an estimated 2,484,915,152 Internet users worldwide, 35% of the global population [We Are Social, January 2014]

- 1.6 million Irish people are in possession of a smart phone, 57% of the country's population [Irish Digital Consumer Report, 2013]

- Broadband is installed in 91% of Irish homes and the average person spends 12 hours per week online [USwitch.ie Study, 2013].

- There are more mobile phone subscriptions (4.8 billion) globally than there are annual sales of toothbrushes (3.5 billion)!

Ok, so the last statistic is bizarre but, in short, we are in the age of digital. Smart phones, tablets and laptops have become extensions of our arms and these connected devices have transformed consumer behavior and viewing habits unimaginably. Live and indeed catch-up sports content is now 'always on' and a recent Sports Media Consumption Report stating 63% of fans now access footage online validates this sentiment.

London 2012 will forever be remembered as "The Digital Olympics". A total of 432m visits were made to the LOCOG website during the event (60% of which were from mobile devices) and the official app was downloaded over 15 million times - just two examples of the digital success surrounding the event. More than 500,000 people watched the Seattle Seahawks claim Superbowl XLVIII via Fox Sport's live internet stream at the end of February and that was accompanied by a staggering 24.9m tweets about the game - a record number in the short life-span of the social platform. The NCAA "March Madness" competition seen nearly 70 college basketball games equate to approximately 45 million video streams by enthusiastic spectators.

If this craved-for content is not being supplied to us by the rights holders or official broadcast partners it is coming from our very peers; the phenomenon of ‘User Generated Content’ (UGC) has launched itself into the digital arena with enabling platforms such as YouTube acting as a catalyst to the trend. You can watch the latest action in the office, on your commute, in the park or at the beach. Best of all, the GAA is hurtling into this space and will ensure Ireland's national treasure is about to become an international sensation. So how has the GAA embraced the fact that "65% of people are now using digital devices as their 'first screen'"? (DMX, March 2014). Moreover, what have they planned for into the future?

A bastion of Irish heritage and sporting culture since the association's founding fathers sat in Hayes Hotel in 1884, the GAA has sought in recent times to ensure that it keeps pace with the dawning of the new digital world. There has been an iterative online development process; initially concentrating on the marquee GAA.ie website (which now receives 2 million monthly ‘hits’) before embracing the social media wave (93,000 Facebook friends & 109,000 Twitter followers on last count!) and more recently taking the necessary steps to 'optimize' these assets across all smart devices and operating systems.

In May 2013 the Commercial Department developed and launched the sport's inaugural video highlights app, 'GAA Just Play'. This was yet another digital toe-dipping exercise and proved just as successful as previous inroads. Ultimately, the app was a pre-cursor to what the GAA now intends to do in an international context. The association’s recent broadcast rights tender led to the inception of a groundbreaking partnership between the GAA and RTE Digital and demonstrates the association's intention to broaden their inventory into a media & production arm similar to their peers in Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) and Australian Football League (AFL) Media.

This online streaming service will offer international fans a direct means to watch live GAA matches in 2014 (and as the service develops highlights, archive and other exclusive programming) on any connected device in a location of their choice. The subscription service will offer game and season-long passes at a very affordable price point and affirms the GAA’s ambition to engage with our community abroad, all the while making the consumption of Gaelic games as convenient as possible for this diaspora. The Games Department in Croke Park continuously process transfers to international GAA units on a daily basis, an activity unsurprisingly dominated by moves to the UK, North America and Australia. There are 392 international GAA clubs dotted around the globe. They are present on every continent and digital advancement, in this instance under the guise of the new live streaming service, will facilitate the connection between the homeland and downtown Tokyo, upstate New York or downstream on the Danube (Wi-Fi dependent!).

The GAA has a ubiquitous sense of being within the 32 counties; this now looks set to grow internationally within a “33rd digital county”…alongside that basket of fries from The Heritage on 960 McLean Avenue.

The GAA – RTE Digital streaming service will offer fans living overseas a direct means to watch live Senior Championship matches on any connected device in a location of their choice. More details will be released in the coming weeks.

Noel Quinn is the GAA Media Rights Manager.  He is the point of contact for GAA official broadcast partners and provincial, county or club units seeking advice on media rights related issues.