US visit inspired new livestream GAA service bringing games to fans worldwide during lockdown

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THE GAA REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: Irial Mac Murchú, founder of beosport.live[/caption]

The Irish proverb 'níl dlí ar an riachtanas', might literally be translated as 'there is no law on need' but perhaps is better understood in this era of pandemic when the world has been turned on its head as 'necessity is the mother of invention'.

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And if new thinking is needed in all walks of life, who would dispute that the need was greatest amongst the GAA fraternity who have been starved of any live action for the best part of four months only to be told that the return of games would not mean the return of all fans?

South of the border, championship games have been limited to 50 spectators a team while in the Six Counties, the GAA has asked clubs to adhere to the spirit of the Executive's Coronavirus restrictions by ensuring no more than 250 attend any game on a pitch without perimeter fencing.

The result is legions of disappointed fans in communities where the GAA is the very heartbeat of the community and summers synonymous with Gaelic games.

Enter the 'law-breakers' — or should that be the mothers of invention — of Nemeton TV in the Ring Gaeltacht of Co Waterford with a live-streaming innovation beosport.live which has the capacity not just to to bring GAA games to a sports-hungry public struggling with the Corona lockdown blues but to transform how we watch Gaelic games in future.

"Travelling in the US, I was always impressed by how many sports were live-streamed on all sorts of devices," says Irial Mac Murchú, founder of TV company Nemeton in An Rinn. "While we don't have the critical mass of the US with its 300 million population and rich sponsors, the Covid crisis gave us the opportunity to think anew about how we might bring Gaelic games to a public which could no longer go along to cheer on their local team at the parish pitch."

60-strong broadcaster Nemeton has already earned a stellar reputation for its focus on the live broadcast of sports - including rugby, GAA and, in Scotland, shinty — but now its engineers and technicians set to work to create a premium quality but affordable solution which would enable games to be broadcast from venues across the country.

"We had been streaming games for some years but it just wasn't viable to do that from smaller venues. However, when the virus struck, I realised immediately that there would be an enhanced demand now for all games," explains Irial. "Our technical team managed to come up with a partial solution which could be delivered at a lower cost than previously thought possible." However, the final part of the jigsaw came from an unusual collaboration with a Croatian broadcaster.

Adds Irial: "The Croatians contacted us recently to use our facility in Co Waterford to download coverage of an event in Portugal which they were then streaming into Russia. The innovative approach they adopted twinned with our own unprecedented use of 4G and of cloud production and storage, as well as our own technical innovations, gave us the breakthrough in technology we needed to launch beosport.live."

Now rolled out to seven counties, beosport charges fans €5 or £4 (including VAT) to watch a selection of games live-streamed from the ground to their laptop or mobile device.

By Saturday evening, when we spoke with Irial, in Irish, Nemeton had broadcast nine games and was bracing itself for a frantic burst of games on Sunday evening. Tired but relieved, the Gaeltacht man was proud to have already set a record for the number of live games broadcast in a 24 hour period. "No one in Ireland has ever broadcast live games on this scale before," he said. "We've also learned a lot in a short period and our latest game was, we would admit, smoother and better-delivered than our first."

This new era in Gaelic games broadcast has been made possible by utilising the latest technology to cover games with just one camera operator. "When Nemeton is doing a live outside broadcast of a game, we would usually have five cameras in operation, on a big day that could go up to 10 cameras," explains Irial. "The one cameraperson we dispatch to a game has a wide lens camera, a laptop, an encoder and a special arial to upload the signal to our studios in An Rinn. There our team is adding the time clock, graphics, the score and providing replays."

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ANTRIM ON BOARD: Portglenone will feature in the first game broadcast from Antrim on beosport.live. The Portglenone men are seen in bundling a St Gall's player off the ball.[/caption]

The producers are also feeding in the commentary, usually provided by a person appointed by the clubs or someone already working as a reporter for the local radio station.

Nemeton had set itself a target of recruiting four GAA county boards as partners — usually on a income-share basis — for the launch of beosport. As it turned out, they were over-subscribed with seven counties now using the service, among them Antrim.

"I was delighted to get the call from Antrim," says Irial. "I have made so many friendships in Antrim over the years, in the Irish language movement and through the GAA, that it really lifted my heart to be able to make sure the GAA community there was part of our service."

That's a view echoed by Antrim PRO Seán Kelly. "There was a lot of effort put into securing the deal with Nemeton from the county treasurer, Dónal Murphy and myself.
We are looking forward to streaming games for Antrim Gaels who can't make the game. Hopefully, there's a good uptake and if there is, then we will be able to show a lot more games. It has 30 days playback, scores on screen and full commentary."

The Antrim PRO said clubs and county has been starved of revenues due to the shutdown of games but he was keen to ensure the price was as low as possible. "We made it affordable for people and it actually works out less than going to a game so we are delighted to be able to provide this service. It's an exciting time for us all."

And Irial Mac Murchú believes this livestream revolution will continue to blossom even when life returns to normality post-pandemic. "I don't think there's any going back on this development," he says. "As the internet improves, the ability to broadcast at high quality is just going to get better and, in my view, once someone tries the livestream they will continue to use it. And of course when word gets out and fans around the world know they can watch their local team online, then the future of beosport is assured."

And with no imminent end to the emergency — as evidenced by GAA teams benched just this week after players tested positive for Covid — fans hungry for live action will find that 'needs must' for them means making beosport the new Netflix for GAA fans.

Antrim will debut the livestream service on beosport on 29 July when Roger Casements of Portglenone take on Kickhams of Creggan in the Senior Football Championship. Throw-in at 7:30pm and tickets available online.