RTÉ in sponsorship drought as A-list radio and TV programmes up for grabs

Clare Byrne, Joe Duffy and Brendan O’Connor’s radio shows and the 2022 Fifa World Cup are among those still without deals

Claire Byrne: her RTE Radio 1 show is still without a sponsor for autumn. Picture: Andrés Poveda

RTÉ has yet to secure sponsorships for many of its biggest television and radio programmes ahead of the autumn season.

Among those yet to attract sponsorships are the broadcaster’s radio programmes fronted by Claire Byrne, Joe Duffy, Ray D’Arcy and Brendan O’Connor, and television properties such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the United Rugby Championship and the Big Big Movie, the Saturday evening family film which was previously sponsored by Coca-Cola.

A 12-month sponsorship of Today With Claire Byrne is being offered for €350,000, 56 30-second half-time adverts during the World Cup in Qatar are being sold for €250,000, while year-long sponsorships of the Big Big Movie cost €330,000 and Liveline is €195,000, according to RTÉ’s listed rates.

The broadcaster has warned that it is facing a funding crisis, and called for reform of the TV licence to secure extra money. RTÉ makes 43 per cent of its revenue from commercial deals in sponsorships and advertising, and the rest from the TV licence.

The government last week rejected a recommendation from the Future of Media Commission to replace the TV licence with funding directly from the state.

Geraldine O’Leary, commercial director at RTÉ, told the Business Post that there were a number of reasons why many of its most popular programmes and high-profile events had yet to secure sponsorship for autumn.

“It’s a quiet summer, I think that’s the same for all media owners. It’s quieter than we would like it to be. We’re having a quiet July and August. There are so many factors driving media investment,” O’Leary said.

“The whole economic situation, with talk about inflation and recession. A number of categories, such as automotive, have supply issues and don’t have the products to sell. It’s an uncertain time, and in uncertain times it’s more difficult to commit to long-term sponsorships.”

O’Leary said the broadcaster was hopeful matters would improve later in the year, but that economic factors meant this was in doubt.

“Agencies tell us they are hopeful for the last quarter of the year, but they’re just not sure. That certainly impacts efforts to sell longer-term sponsorships. Our year is defined by the final quarter. We hope it will be strong but there is an underlying level of uncertainty,” she said.

O’Leary said that despite the slow summer, the broadcaster was making progress on selling some of the currently available sponsorship packages.

“In TV, we’ve sold a number of new properties over the last couple of months and others have been renewed. Likewise, with radio, we are in discussions with people. The way it works with sponsorship, you could be talking to a number of people and nothing gets over the line or somebody can come in from left field and do a deal. It’s the ebb and flow of sponsorship,” she said.

“We’re in advanced discussions with someone on The Big Big Movie. Advanced discussions hopefully get over the line but sometimes you can be down the road with someone and it doesn’t. I play the long game. The World Cup is coming up and we are already well down the road to having that over the line, it’s a multiple sponsorship deal.”

When asked if the prices of these properties may be too high for sponsors, O’Leary said that the overall level of inflation needed to be taken into account.

“There’s an issue of media inflation in the way there’s inflation with absolutely everything for clients. They’re being hit with unforeseen costs they hadn’t budgeted for in 2022. There’s a tightening of the belt all round. It’s absolutely not a dead market, and we’re exploring options with a number of people,” she said.

“Commercial revenue is 43 per cent of our revenue, so we have to make sure we maximise it. What we need to do is maximise all commercial revenue lines, and if we’re short of budget, then that’s when the conversation happens about how we match our costs to our budget.”