In the wake of winning a legal battle against Premium Sports, New York bar owner Eugene Rooney faces a fresh lawsuit refiled by Premium for theft of signal. Premium pulled its service from Rooney’s bars, and he in turn countersued for breach of contract.
Premium, formally part of Setanta Sports, is the company that brings Irish GAA, rugby and soccer matches to America through closed-circuit feeds, mostly to bars. Premium says it also has the right to charge patrons for games in its packages that are broadcast free overseas.
Rooney first found himself in conflict with Premium after showing a rugby game between Ireland and England in February 2010, shown in one of his bars in Manhattan through a slingbox medium. After a battle back and forth with Premium they pulled their sports service from Rooney’s bars, and he in turn sued them for breach of contract.
Rooney sat down with IrishCentral Community News recently at his bar, The Irish Pub on 7th Avenue. The 64-year-old Irish immigrant explained what happened that February.
"It was a big game. Premium phoned me up and said to charge twenty dollars a person in order to view the game. 'You could take in five thousand dollars,' they told me. This money goes straight to Premium,” said Rooney.
He told them no. According to Rooney, the following day they called him again and offered to give him half of the money.
“I still refused. I could have made three or four thousand dollars that day. Most bar owners pay ten thousand dollars a year for a contract to receive the games from Premium, I had the chance to make almost half of that total in just one day but it didn't interest me."
Rooney did show the game in his bar that day however, and this would in turn really annoy Premium. It caused a two year law suit. Rooney used a Slingbox device to stream the game from a friend’s apartment in Dublin.
"I have a lot of superb friends both here and in Ireland who know a lot about technology. I used the slingbox device two years ago which only set me back two thousand Euro, as opposed to paying Premium the ten thousand dollars most other bar owners around New York pay,” he explained.
There was a slight delay between the live game in Ireland and the game on the televisions in the bar, but the bar owner said the picture was super.
“It may have only frozen once the entire game. With the slingbox device, if I changed one channel on the television in the bar, all the TV's would change,” he said.
But now he has a new device.
“This new box could be kept in a shed in Ireland, even a field and I would still receive the games in High Definition. See, technology is moving so fast these days that it has not been kept within the law - upgrade laws to protect providers. As long as this technology is unprotected, don't blame me, because if it is there I'm going to take it,” said Rooney.
The Irish bar owner from Co. Mayo won his case in March 2012 when the judge, without a jury, agreed that the game shown in February 2010 was not a simultaneous transmission but rather was a minutely delayed signal from a slingbox device in Dublin and he wasn’t breaking any laws.
"I was not sure what the outcome of that case was going to be, but I was very pleased with the result. During the trial, nothing phased me. People were constantly asking questions. I told them nothing. I have other things on my mind than Premium," he says, sporting a smile.
"O'Rourke (an owner of Premium Sports) brandished me a 'hero' in court. I'm not a hero. This isn't about heroism. Am I the bravest man in New York? No. That's not what this is about. It is about fairplay and standing up for myself and other bar owners across New York who are afraid to speak out.
Three weeks ago when Rooney was at home in Ireland he went to Leinster House and spoke with the Minister for Communications.
“I want Irish people to be able to watch the hurling and football in New York for free. It is a law in England, that the FA Cup must been shown to English people living anywhere in the world for free.
"This is not the case in Ireland. This isn’t because I can save twenty dollars because I can fly to Ireland first class anytime and sit in a soft seat in Croke Park. I want the games shown free for the likes of the elderly people living here or people who are just getting by on minimum wage. I don't want to be mugging them for twenty dollars this weekend, or next weekend."
The bottom line, Rooney says, is, “I think more people should stand up and speak out. I'm not going to tell people how to break the law, but if you break the law with me I will break the law with you.
"Premium have sucker punched me, I'm gonna sucker punch them back. I just want the 'sheriff' in San Francisco and the rest of his team to know that they have messed with the wrong guy. They made a dreadful blunder and I am ready for them. 'Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.' Trust me, I am prepared for whatever is coming."
Rooney faces his second law suit with Premium Sports in the coming weeks. He did not comment on it as he has not read the claims.