McGregor in Vegas: A game-changing moment?

I gave some thought to staying up for the recent Conor McGregor fight having signed up to Setanta Sports for the festive holidays (too much football, so much time off!)

Photo: By Andrius Petrucenia (UFC 189 World Tour Aldo vs. McGregor London 2015) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

In the end my fondness for sleep won over, though heavy rain meant I woke about 5am on the morning and duly checked the Twitter machine to see what had happened. Early estimates had mentioned 3am for his fight but in what is a growing peeve of mine, this was probably a programme start time rather than the live schedule. Since when were programme start times more relevant than Kick Off times?

Anyhow, I woke just in time to read about McGregor entering the arena in Vegas via Twitter. Listening to the lashing rain, I was contemplating hauling myself, accompanied by a duvet, to the sitting room to watch the fight but before I had a chance, it was all over.

Within a minute or so, the entire fight – all 13 seconds – was available on Twitter to view, and in that moment I thought back to the days of watching Premier League games via Aertel and being delighted (George Graham era) when Leeds United ever even managed to score a goal. Those refreshes always seemed to take an age…

I haven’t watched an entire McGregor fight yet but as someone who has previously practiced martial arts, the fuss around him has been fascinating to follow. Ireland, as a nation, loves to get behind anyone doing well in their trade – but just as he reaches his peak, the begrudgers have begun to emerge. He practices MMA; he isn’t knitting teddy bears.

What’s interesting though is how much more accessible the sport currently is. Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan fought Chris Eubank Jr the same evening but the fight was on Box Office, so a regular Sky Sports subscription was not good enough – more cash was expected if you wished to see the evening’s fight card.

Social Media has and continues to change the way we watch sport. Initially, it allowed viewers become part of the ‘conversation’ around the coverage but – as shown by the McGregor fight – Social Media now has the potential to replace TV coverage altogether – and that will be frightening for any broadcaster currently paying out a small fortune for TV rights.

Of course, it’s easy to argument that the full 90 minutes of any Premier League will never be available immediately and in one chunk, but goals and big talking points are finding their way online easier and more quickly than ever courtesy of smart TV technology and our ability to pause and replay live action all on our own.

A fellow football fan recently told me he was recording as much footage of our local club as possible, and sending highlights to his son in the US the same evening. Sure, it probably isn’t HD standard but when you just want the basics, does that even matter?

Without doubt, there are interesting times ahead for any company broadcasting sport. The balance between protecting their asset (the coverage itself) and engaging with their viewers (who are the main focus for advertisers) will continue to be examined closely, and hopefully innovation, intelligence and quality will win out in the end.

Thomas Kent & what he means to us all

I paid my respects to Thomas Kent tonight.

A name confined to Irish history books until his remains were uncovered in a shallow grace in Cork prison earlier this year, it was simply something I felt compelled to do.

I loved history as a subject in school by my class didn’t study the 1916 Rising in detail because the Leaving Cert exam questions around that period of Irish history were considered to be ‘unpredictable’.

I followed the entrance signs, climbed the small incline up to the chapel within the ground of Collins Barracks and as I signed the Book of Condolences, a changing of the guard begin. An immediate hush fell on the crowd still gathered in clusters around the church. 

It’s fair to say we are generally unfamiliar with military guards of honour and procedures in Ireland but there was something touching, and sad in the deliberate motions of the defence force members that filed away from Kent’s coffin, only to be replaced by four colleagues moments later.

The four men that entered from a back hallway were impeccable dressed. They were armed and by the time their commanding officer was finished with his commands, their heads were bowed in an intensely sorrowful way.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas Kent himself. While awaiting execution for armed rebellion in Cork 99 years ago, could he ever have imagined such a scene?

And what would he think of Ireland today? A country were people sleep homeless on the streets, where families are losing their houses because of mistakes made by the now-forgiven banking industry, where the opportunity to make money seems to trump any morals or ethics we as a nation might have. Where one in six people born in Ireland now live overseas.

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”

Thomas Kent also made me think of my own grandfather. I was lucky enough to know all of my grandparents very well during my early lifetime. They each gave me something different and for my ‘country’ grandfather, Ireland and its history were very important.

Fourteen years ago, and a few months after I had started college in Dublin, he came to visit with my grandmother and mother in tow. Once my cousin & I were duly fed and watered, he wanted to pay a visit to the GPO on O’Connell Street.

Grandad was short and stocky, never afraid to speak his mind and was very much a country gentleman visiting the big smoke that day. As we stood in the centre of a packed GPO, he gave a rather colourful version of James Connolly’s demise – collecting the attention of more than a couple of interested tourists along the way.

For several years after he passed, I would often nip into the GPO as a reminder of those now precious moments. When the portraits were removed, I was disappointed to learn that they were no longer deemed ‘appropriate’.

It often strikes me that the only people ashamed and unfamiliar with Irish history seem to be Irish. We cannot understand Ireland today without knowing our history. For me, it’s that simple.

Attending a friend’s wedding a number of years ago, I was asked to give a lift to an older American couple that needed a way to travel from the church in Mayo to the reception in Sligo.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that the gentleman had previously been the White House correspondent for a major US newspaper. After asking him what Barack Obama was really like and to nominate his favourite president of all, this former scribe spoke at length and in great detail of his admiration for the economic policies of one Michael Collins.

His knowledge and insight was incredible. I have always had an interest in Collins myself but it paled in comparison. Why is it that it takes someone looking in from the outside to make us realise how much we have and how lucky we are in many ways?

For most Irish people, the 1916 Rising is something they connect with school and the distant past. It’s considered irrelevant to life today. The people of Cork and Ireland – on September 17 and 18, 2015 – will have had an opportunity to pay their respects to someone that gave their life to try and create an Irish Republic 99 years ago. It doesn’t seem a stretch to use the ‘once in a lifetime’ phrase about now.

When we go to celebrate the centenary of the Rising next year, I hope common sense prevails. It should be a solemn moment of respect to the men and women that gave their lives during that period, and not a money-making opportunity dressed up as a ‘celebration’. We owe at least that much to ourselves and the people involved 99 years.

Thomas Kent: Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

The realities behind the €7bn TV deal

Within minutes of the Premier League’s new TV deal being revealed earlier this month, the football world had calculators out crunching the numbers.

The figures are staggering. The battle between Sky Sports and BT Sport saw the domestic rights for England’s top league tip just under €7 billion for the lifetime of the three-year agreement – and that’s before overseas or any highlights packages were added in.

Those involved in Scottish football, with many of its clubs experiencing significant turmoil at present, were left to dwell on the fact that the new deal surpasses their own monetary income from TV rights in just two games.

League Two side Accrington Stanley, meanwhile, pointed out that the sum to be paid for just one fixture under the new terms (circa £10 million per match) would pay their annual wage bill for the next 20 years.

For League of Ireland fans, the discussion centred, once again, on the lack of TV money within Irish domestic football – at least in the form of an agreement that would see money going directly to clubs in addition to prize money – and the impact of this on the League’s development cannot be underestimated given that Uefa’s own benchmarking report says that income from domestic TV rights typically averages 25% of total revenue for clubs across Europe (43% in England, according to the most recent figures released).

Further backing up the Premier League’s dominance, at least in terms of finance, is the fact that all 20 EPL clubs are part of football’s Top 40 rich list – and the new deal means that whichever club is unfortunate enough to finish bottom of the table at the end of the 2016-17 season will at least have £99 million in their back pocket to help with life back in the Championship.

Of course, the reason for the intense competition and the huge figures we’re seeing is the Premier League’s popularity on a globe scale. Nations all over the world want to see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City in action, while the concerns of those trying to actively support their local teams fade into the background like white noise.

A VisitBritain survey conducted in 2011 found that 174,000 Irish people travelled to Britain to watch football that year, spending €100 million in the process. Such ‘football tourists’ are big business as not only do they buy a premium-price match ticket, they also visit the club shop, perhaps take a tour of the stadium and then invest in merchandise year after year. I once paid £42 for a ticket to see Leeds United play in the Championship.

Irish supporters flying across the Irish Sea fork out for Premier League tickets on a handful of times a season but what about your local man, woman or youngster who needs to try and find the cash for a season ticket (Arsenal’s cheapest season ticket is now £1,014), and then face into an ever-changing fixture list on account of TV kick offs?

There are now real concerns that younger people in England are being priced out of the game and that the stadium atmospheres, considered such an integral part of the spectacle, are dying out as a direct consequence.

The Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct, representing a number of Premier League supporters’ trust, are backing initiatives to cap away ticket prices at £20 (‘Twenty’s plenty’), and there have also been calls for England’s top tier to implement the Living Wage, given their healthy bank balances.

Unfortunately, the response hasn’t been encouraging to date with PL chief Richard Scudamore saying that football isn’t responsible for increasing the minimum level of workers’ income. He also insists clubs need to continue to reinvest in talent and infrastructure in order for the Premier League to maintain its envied status.

The organisation currently redistributes about 6% of its income – 3% towards community programmes and facilities, and another 3% to the Football League and Conference in the form of ‘solidarity’ payments. Grassroots football, meanwhile, in many parts of Britain is on its knees.

I worked with Setanta Sports before they ever showed a Premier League game in the UK or Ireland, and experienced the huge upsurge the company felt when it did eventually dip its toes in the water and challenge Sky Sports (2006).

It was a fantastically exciting time – to have first-hand access to some of the biggest names in football – but there was to be no happy ending. Having failed to retain both their domestic packages in the UK next time around, the UK business eventually ceased trading in the summer of 2009 affecting Irish operations in the process.

Don’t fear: Scudamore and co. were not left out of pocket, and it was ESPN that came on board initially, taking many out-of-work Setanta staff with them. They too would flounder, unable to match the deep resources of Sky, but that context makes the arrival of BT Sport – and other possible bidders – ever more intriguing.

Football fans watching from these shores have also felt the cost of these deals. Two separate TV subscriptions, or many trips to the pub, are now needed to watch all live PL broadcasts on Sky Sports, BT Sport and Setanta Ireland – in an era where the average football fan has little or nothing in common with the likes of Wayne Rooney or Yaya Toure apart from the replica shirt he or she wears.

The new Premier League TV rights deal will see a 70% increase in income on its predecessor and yet supporters are today paying about 1000% more for match tickets than they did in 1992. There have also been significant increases in the cost of TV package subscriptions, and then we have the furore over the winter calendar for the 2020 World Cup. Thankfully, there’s also the success of FC United’s community shares scheme to celebrate…

The question remains: can a balance be struck between the financial powerhouse that is the Premier League and the needs of the game of football at every level across England? And, if so, who’s going to lead the drive for change? The FA? Clubs? Supporters?




Football, life and everything in between

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