Category Archives: Sport

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?

 

 

 

Murray’s mind focus reaping rewards

I really enjoyed watching the recent Australian Open Men’s final, so I was interested to read on Wednesday (Feb 18) that Andy Murray has handwritten motivations he sometimes reviews while on court.

Photography: By johnwnguyen (Flickr: DSC_4111.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Scot, like many British sports stars, seems to split opinion like marmite.

We know all about the women in his life: his coach, his mother and his fiancé, and we’re all only too well aware of the expectation placed on his shoulders since a young age. But what about the man behind the gruff exterior?

I’ve always been a fan of Novak Djokovic myself, and I remember particularly well a TV panel on BBC a number of years ago during which the Serb was asked why he thought he had done so well in comparison to his rival (before the latter had won any Grand Slam title).

Djokovic’s answer was unexpected, and very real. He simply said that he knew by doing well in tennis, he could ensure his family had food on the table and he would be able to look after them. He wasn’t being anyway disrespectful to anyone – it’s just that his reality was very different from Murray’s.

Novak has since gone on to prove himself to be the talent we all thought was possible and, in between, Murray has collected two Grand Slam titles of his own. Both men are also playing in the era of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, so it’s no easy feat!

When the 27-year-old first appeared on tour, Tim Henman was still carrying British hopes. Murray seemed physically and emotionally frail at times, and it was hard to know whether he was capable of overcoming the challenges.

He worked exceptionally hard, of course, but it was only after hiring tennis legend Ivan Lendl as his coach in 2011, that real progress was finally made. Olympic gold and a US Open title in 2012 signalled a breakthrough, and he backed it up with a much longed-for Wimbledon crown the following year.

Fast forward to this year’s final in Australia then, where everyone predicted a tight contest.

Murray’s physical fitness and strength has improved immeasurably since those initial final appearances in Melbourne in 2010 (v Roger Federer) and 2011 (v Djokovic).

His mental ability, so often a weakness, has also been worked on. Djokovic, we could see, was also not quite on the boil – so could there be an upset we wondered?

When Murray looks back at the match, he’ll realise that he managed to get his opponent on the ropes on more than one occasion; he failed, however, to deliver the knockout punch on a couple of occasions.

Djokovic produced some sublime tennis at stages, but though Murray literally had him physically wobbling around the court at one point, he couldn’t capitalise on those handful of points that would have made a crucial difference on the night.

At the highest level of sport, inches make all the difference. We saw Djokovic suffer physically for the first time in many years and haul himself through several games when it appeared his hopes could be derailed by injury. There was chat online and from the commentary team that the Serb could be faking it, but anyone who participates in sport will tell you that you just have to push through those horrible moments when your body is ready to give up, but your mind has other ideas.

Murray, too, had to fight his own demons – one of the reasons he brought Amélie Mauresmo on board – and though he didn’t succeed on this particular occasion, he can stand over his efforts.

Bottom line: we could all benefit from drawing up our own motivation list and reciting it to ourselves… even if we leave off the line about sticking to the baseline!

Murray_motivation
Andy’s on-court motivations