Category Archives: Media

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, 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.

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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?

 

 

 

‘Gluten-free’? Let them eat cake…

I read a series of articles in the Irish Independent over the weekend about coeliac disorder and how the ‘gluten-free’ trend in food right now is having an impact on the lives of those who can’t (rather than doesn’t want to) eat gluten.

I first started having problems with my stomach in my late teens. I was tested for coeliac disease amongst other things, and every test came back clear. I would inevitably be put on some course of tablets or other, which would settle things down for a little while, only to suffer another flare up once again before too long. There was even talk about more serious procedures if I couldn’t find a way to manage things through my diet.

By ‘flare up’ I mean feeling absolutely ill and like you needed to be sick after eating too much gluten in one sitting, or too many smaller quantities in close proximity. I don’t mean feeling ‘full’ or ‘uncomfortable’ after eating white bread like I hear so many people complain about; I mean a swollen, painful stomach, intense reflux that could last a day or two and cause restless, sleepless nights. I mean cramps and gurgling noises that suggest you haven’t eaten in a week. All of which can be acutely embarrassing when you’re around people not in the know.

I haven’t always been very careful about what I eat, but – for the most part – keeping a decent eye out on things and having the odd crisp sandwich or biscuit is enough to maintain a relatively even keel. I know when there’s trouble brewing, and I’m experienced enough with it now to know that I need to avoid the temptation of fresh bakery aisle in Lidl!

I attended the Allergies Expo in Cork with my Mum, who had gone to great lengths over the years to help me, late last year. It was amazing to see all the new allergy-focused brands springing up around the place, and it’s great to see that some of these were founded and are based in Cork too.

I’m lucky that I live close to a great Supervalu at the moment. Their range of gluten-free product has never been better and Dunnes, Tesco and others have been making great strides too. Like the people featured in the Indo articles, however, I find there has been a downside to the latest gluten-free drive.

If you eat well – meat, fish, fruit and vegetables – then you should have the staples of a very solid and nutrient-rich diet. The growing number of friends and acquaintances that have professed themselves to be eating ‘gluten-free’ now surprises me. I don’t believe it’s a healthier lifestyle choice for the individuals involved, and I really and only smile and nod when they share their ‘advice’ on how it works for them.

The reality is that gluten-free products usually cost significantly more, and staying or eating with friends is more than a little awkward. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve rolled up to a friend’s house only to be presented with lasagne for dinner or some variety of pasta or other. I’ll always eat away – manners can be a terrible thing – and I feel even worse when thoughtful friends go to the trouble of getting in gluten-free food while I’m staying and I feel obliged to tuck in even though it’s easier (and cheaper) to abstain for a couple of days.

Like all trends, I’m sure people will move on to another area of focus in time. ‘Gluten-free’ products still contain grains, flour and other items that people might like to avoid – they’re just different ones, ones that don’t elicit an ugly response for some of us.

Speaking to a nutritionist recently, she explained that one of the biggest difficulties with diagnosing coeliac or gluten-intolerance is that in an attempt to make a connection, we often reduce foods in a certain category (gluten, diary etc.) and when we feel better for having done so, we go to get medical confirmation of an allergic to a substance we have actually removed from our diet anyway…

Excluding any readily-available food element from your regular diet is never easy, no matter what, so if people want to do it for their own personal reasons, off with them. However, for those of us that need to be strict with our diet rather than preferring to be strict, we’re suddenly being lumped into the fussy eaters club when most of us would love nothing more than be able to eat pizza, or bread, or beautiful freshly-made penne pasta covered in a fresh pesto dressing*.

*begins to drool just a little

So, next time you hear ‘gluten-free’, remember: it’s not a choice for some of us!