The GAA's decision to put Munster and Leinster Hurling Championship games behind its GAAGO paywall last weekend has provoked considerable commentary and controversy, prompting Virgin Media to call the integrity of the media rights process into question. 

In a statement on Tuesday, May 9, Virgin Media said: "RTÉ is a 50% shareholder in GAAGO, this has never been clarified in any editorial discussion about GAAGOand the decision not to show key games on Free to Air television.

"When Sky Television decided not to renew its GAA rights, the GAA did not approach other broadcasters to ascertain whether they would be interested in broadcasting these games but arbitrarily decided to put them behind a paywall. 

"The question must be asked, did RTÉ pay anything for these rights or did they just agree to keep them behind a paywall to drive incremental revenues for both partners in GAAGO, ie RTÉ and the GAA.

"Given the multi-million increases in State funding to RTÉ over recent years, RTÉ now has more Sports rights than it can show on its channels, with licence payers now being forced to further subsidise RTÉ by paying for GAA Sports content through its joint-venture with the GAA."

The day after Virgin Media's statement, the GAA responded, rejecting the claim and accusing Virgin Media of making "factual errors and misleading comments."

"On Tuesday May 9, VMTV (Virgin Media Television) issued a statement that called into question the integrity of the GAA media rights process," the GAA said. 

"The statement contained several factual errors and misleading comments.

"The GAA contacted VMTV and requested that they correct their statement.

"Since this has not been forthcoming, the GAA, reluctantly, issues the following to correct the record." 

On Tuesday May 9th, VMTV (Virgin Media Television) issued a statement that called into question the integrity of the GAA Media Rights process. The statement contained several factual errors and misleading comments which obliges the GAA to correct the record. #GAABelong

— The GAA (@officialgaa) May 10, 2023

The GAA said its media rights are designed to "maximize coverage" with a bias toward "free-to-air" games, while they are also designed to promote the Irish language, with a bias toward TG4. 

The statement added that its media rights process is designed to "generate a fair commercial value for our rights."

"From as early as February 2021, the GAA contacted VMTV and other parties to gauge their interest in acquiring rights packages that would become available in the renewal of the GAA media rights in 2022. The initial call was followed up by a detailed description of the various packages available," the statement read. 

"Thereafter followed several meetings, telephone calls, emails and document exchanges between the parties.

"The GAA did not receive a formal bid from VMTV or an expression of interest.

"In June 2022, VMTV were again contacted to clarify that they did not intend to make a bid. VMTV were clear that their model was not to acquire rights but rather to acquire ‘ready to go’ packages, ie productions which don’t require outside broadcast set-ups for live match coverage."

The statement added that Virgin Media was "afforded every opportunity" to acquire broadcasting rights but "chose not to bid."

The statement also said that the GAA will conduct a "comprehensive review" of its operations at the end of the current season after the GAAGO controversy provoked significant commentary. 

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the broadcasting of GAA games behind a paywall should be reviewed. 

Martin said all GAA games should be free-to-air, adding that a significant audience missed a thrilling game between Cork and Tipperary on Sunday because it was behind a paywall. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also called for a review of the streaming of GAA games on GAAGO, while the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Sport, and Media will hold two meetings on the future of sports broadcasting as a result of the controversy.