Lines blurred online as Second Captains return

“So Dionysus says to George Best…”- Ken Early broadens a few minds at the Irish Times.

“Our gardening leave ended a couple of days ago and being in the constant company of four other men has become extremely tiresome.”

With those words, Eoin McDevitt announced the end of the exile of some of Ireland’s most popular sports broadcasters. The Second Captains (“the artists formally (sic) known as the Off the Ball 5″), have announced their new weekly show to be streamed and podcasted by the Irish Times.

It’s an intriguing development. Those who attended the recent Dublin Freelance Forum will have heard me speak on the subject of multimedia, and Ken Early will now be both writing and broadcasting for the Irish Times as it experiments further with its digital future.

If it’s successful, it won’t be long before the cameras are rolled into the studio and we have our first major online TV show in Ireland.

But the statement from the Irish Times is not as balls-out positive about this brave new media landscape as one might expect, and the closing line suggests that the paper of record isn’t exactly going all-in in its attempt to corner the online multimedia market.

Over the next few weeks we have the Heineken and Amlin Cup finals in Dublin, the Champions League final at Wembley, and the first match between England and the Republic of Ireland for nearly 20 years. Second Captains will be covering all of them alongside the Irish Times sports team.

This month, the only place to hear the Second Captains is with

This month? Hardly jumping into the abyss now, is it?

And maybe rightly so.

If we cast our minds back to the Second Captains’ departure from Newstalk a few months back, we’ll find a hard-headed business decision by the broadcaster at the heart of it.

Various reports suggest that the Second Captains wanted to eat into George Hook’s remarkably popular and spectacularly scattergun evening show. The station looked at the numbers, and ultimately decided to let substitue the Captains, rather than sling their Hook.

At a commercial broadcaster, the bottom line ultimately steers such decisions, and Hook draws in more dollars. It’s that simple.

Like them or not, the Second Captains have evolved into an outstanding broadcasting team that changed the face of sports radio in Ireland forever.

But whether that can be translated into advertising or sponsorship revenue is what counts – and what remains to be seen. Either way, it’ll take more than one month.

Whatever happens, it’s a bold move by both parties that is to be applauded – instead of moaning about not being able to make money online, the Irish TImes is putting its money where its mouth is, even if it’s not going for broke.

And by moving online, the Second Captains will retain control of both their brand and their broadcasts, rather than risking it all on another commercial radio station where the same limitations would apply.

Game on.