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The Impact of Pay-TV on Sport
Dr Paul Rouse
12.07.17
 
Paul is a lecturer in the School of History and Archives in University College Dublin. Formerly of Prime Time in RTE, he has written extensively on the history of Irish sport. Update: since the publication of this paper, Paul Rouse has revisited the topic in Sports Rights Commercialization Revisited: Sky and the GAA. 
 
Abstract
 
On Saturday, 19 May 2012 Leinster play Ulster in the final of the Heineken Cup. Many Irish people will be unable to watch the match live on television. In 2005 Sky Sports secured exclusive rights for the live broadcast of Heineken Cup rugby matches in Ireland. These matches – involving Irish provinces competing in the European Cup rugby competition – had previously been broadcast live on RTE and had drawn large and increasing audiences.
 
At the same time, a similar deal was concluded in England for the sale of the rights to show live cricket in that country. This paper examines what happens when sports organisations sell their broadcasting rights to pay-tv companies.
 
It looks, in particular, at what happened to the audience viewing figures for Leinster and Munster rugby matches when the rights to show those matches moved from RTE to Sky Sports. Comparisons are then drawn with what happened when the rights to show live cricket in England were also sold to Sky. The evidence which emerges is clear: when a sport moves from free-to-air television to pay-tv there is a significant decline in viewership from all sections of the community, but especially from people from rural areas, from pensioners, from working class families, and from farmers. Essentially, pay-tv places live sports beyond the reach of certain (often disadvantaged) sections of society.
 
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