Memories of the Masterful

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Sometimes the joy of Test Cricket is not immediately obvious…..

On Sunday night those who didn’t value their sleep were treated to sport at its finest at Augusta National. Two men fighting it out for their first green jacket. Two men who knew that their legacy would not be truly complete without winning a Masters title. Two men who played brilliant and ordinary golf, fought tooth and claw, but also never forgot that how they conducted themselves and how the event was perceived was pretty important too. I have a healthy disregard for the people who run Augusta National and how much of the authoritarian, snobby behaviour is tolerated, but you have to say this. They absolutely know how to run a historic, important golf tournament. Although not to the same levels of arrogance, the same can be largely said for the Royal and Ancient in the UK, with the Open Championship. They haven’t played the tournament on a truly inland course (is it Lytham that is the only one that doesn’t look truly like a links course) and maintain the traditions of seaside golf in a major championship.

A few decades ago US golf set up the PGA Tour and created their own tournament. It is The Players Championship. They have the strongest field of the year (or if not, one of the strongest). Like the Masters it is played on the same course every year (TPC Sawgrass). It even has an iconic hole, the 17th, the Island green. It has one of the richest purses outside the Tour Championship. Who the hell cares who wins it, though? Sandy Lyle once did, and was asked by the TV interviewer “what’s the difference between winning this and the British Open, Sandy?” to which he replied “about 100 years of history.”

So, Dmitri, why are you wittering on about golf? This is a cricket blog.

You’d be right, but there are a number of interesting parallels between golf and cricket. Like cricket, participation numbers in golf are declining in the UK. Like cricket, playing the sport to any sort of competence is expensive. Like cricket the sport is disappearing rapidly behind a paywall – make the most of the Masters because there isn’t anything else live on FTA for the rest of the year. Like cricket the authorities in Europe are in crisis because the US PGA Tour dwarfs everything, and the European Tour is a very poor imitation. Like cricket, golf in Europe thought it needed to jazz things up, and we now have the race to Dubai, which has hardly grabbed the world’s attention. Cricket isn’t exactly the same as golf, but there is no doubting that in terms of this country, there’s a lot to compare it to.

The Masters is a majestic piece of sporting theatre when it is close. I flitted in and out for the first nine holes of the final round, before getting really into it for the back nine, and transfixed from when Sergio Garcia got that par at 13. There’s not a lot artificial in its construct. The course is manicured to death, but with the exception of some modernisation, never seems to be beaten. -9 to win a tournament is, in my view, how it should be. The course can be a bit tricked up, some of it resembling a crazy golf course, but players love it (and hate it). What made yesterday was the tradition, the heritage and the prize. The coveted prize. A bleedin’ awful jacket. This prize appeals every bit as much to the young golfers, the millennials like Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, than it does to the old lags that Rose and Sergio now fall into. It doesn’t treat its watchers like idiots, but also doesn’t let them besmirch the event either. Commercialism, although rampant in hospitality etc., is kept out of the way everywhere else except on the golfers themselves.

Then I thought back to the Friday evening I spent at The Oval. Like Augusta it has a long history. Like Augusta it has embraced modernity, but not been taken over by it. It also hosted a long, but not so cherished, institution like the County Championship and holds a test match every year. It opens itself up to T20 and built a successful, if a little boorish, brand to it. Those players out there, even those now not in the international limelight, like Kumar Sangakkara, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott don’t have to be there, but I presume play because they still enjoy it. It’s not the Masters, of course it isn’t, but it felt like sport in as near a pure form as cricket can get. I got to see a legend bat, carefully, respectfully, diligently, but then let loose a shot of such beauty and class that you were overwhelmed for a single moment. How could this not be loved?

But it isn’t by authorities because it is not commercially viable. It isn’t loved by enough people at all. The format is changed to fill in around the commercially viable and the TV audience, rather than those who stick by it. Lack of attendance at The Oval, which holds 25000, is seen as a lack of interest. Cricket does not command a whole page in the tabloid newspaper now, like it used to. A childhood memory would be scouring the Sunday papers to see who had gone big the previous day. We don’t need that now, the internet does it for us, and papers are a dying game – in some ways much more so than cricket (so the angst that papers don’t send reporters to cricket matches should be put into proper context). I saw John Etheridge and Dean Wilson at the Oval on Friday, but didn’t see a match report on line on their websites for that day. There’s a view that counties and a sport that lasts more than one day isn’t viable any more, yet the Masters lasts four days, and that was thrilling.

I watched some of the IPL over the weekend. This is, after all, what the people want if you tell them enough. It was bright, vibrant, loud, atmospheric and played to full houses. What it wasn’t was good.  At times it looks like the Seniors Tour out there. But we have screaming commentators, on one occasion turning into car salespersons, telling me how the odd well connected shot was out of this world, while I wondered why I should care at all about what was being put in front of me. Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name, got out to a shot that our club number 7 would have been embarrassed about – he had got away with an LBW decision the ball before, so closed his eyes, launched his bat at the ball to the next, hit the ground on his downswing and was bowled. It was ghastly. Now, I know the IPL is not aimed at me, but if it is aimed at the next generation what is it telling them? I love how Eoin Morgan is interviewed by Sky prior to the tournament and saying how the IPL is so unique (run for cover), but he’s finding it jolly nice not having to play and picking up a nice salary for so doing. Very nice that he is being rested. We are supposed to be interested because there are eight England players out there. This is what we want.

T20 has its place, but it isn’t, and never should be the pinnacle of the sport. Test cricket is the pinnacle, and it is not measured by how much revenue it generates, how much money is in it, or even how many people attend. Your place among the all-time greats isn’t sealed by T20 performances. We might remember Brathwaite’s name for that four six salvo last year, but he’s not going to be a legend of the game, is he? When we mention the top batsmen in the world, it’s because they are all proficient, brilliant test batsmen, not a T20 or even an ODI legend. It’s because, over time, test cricket has found out those not quite up to it – Michael Bevan, a phenomenon in limited overs, a failure at test; Hick and Rampraskash, the last to a hundred first class hundreds who never clinched the deal in tests; Yuvraj Singh, a fearsome limited over plays, a limited test one. Tests make players, like Steve Waugh, Steve Smith et al, when there are flaws which can be over-ridden by application, ability and temperament. I am no fan of T20 cricket, but I’m even less of a fan of those who seek to change test cricket.

There is a lot wrong with test cricket, but there’s not a lot wrong with it that doesn’t involve throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have our issues with over rates, the teams can be slightly precious about over rates, I don’t give a stuff if TV can’t fit in certain times – that’s their problem, not the game. Trying to shoehorn in a four day test is just so utterly cretinous in this day and age that I don’t know where to start, but I’ll have a go. If you get a full day’s play rained off, and especially if it is Day 3 and one team has batted well, then the game is shot to pieces. Some of the best tests lasted four days – Edgbaston 2005 and Trent Bridge the same year come to mind – but others would have perished on the vine in four days – Adelaide 2006, Old Trafford 2005 immediately from an England perspective. Forget cramming in extra overs, the TV companies don’t want play past 6:30, the players can’t get in 90 as it is. Five day test cricket evolved because it worked. Because it gives the game, the modern game, time to breathe. A test match is a longform story, and should go at its own pace. If you want to play fast, play fast, but if you can grind, well then do that to. It allows all sorts to play, and to play all sorts of games. There are bad games, of course there are, but there are some superb ones to. Test cricket is about sport. Great sport is entertaining. T20 is about entertaining, and entertaining isn’t always great sport.

I don’t believe tradition, heritage, longform, nuanced, high level sport is the preserve of some crusty old timers like me. I don’t believe the love of test cricket that I cultivated at an early age is just something that applies to people over the age of 40. I am probably guilty as most, but we need to place more trust in our younger people. They might develop test cricket into a form that is different, just as the 1990-2006 Aussies played differently to the previous champion team, the West Indies. By shutting off access to the greatest form of the game, the authorities in this country are guilty of putting the heritage of the sport at greatest risk. A new T20 league is not a cure-all. It isn’t even a gateway drug to test cricket. The ECB betray their trust in the brand of test cricket, and I hate using the word brand, by talking it down. They betray the sport by playing too many games, turning the latest cycle of Ashes test into a best forgotten era of poor quality games played by knackered players, and then tell us it is our fault for not being with the times.

If you think I’m being melodramatic compare two other veritable English sporting institutions. Wimbledon is a fuddy-duddy, up your own rear-end, tennis tournament where certain traditions have to be maintained, but where the club can modernise (a roof of the Centre Court) and where winning a title there is viewed as the Masters is in golf. It is in the rudest of health, remains on the BBC (for the time being) and it is venerated in the sporting calendar.

Then look at the FA Cup. The premier date in the football calendar for supporters of my age. If you couldn’t win the league, you could have a go at the Cup. It was a marvellous occasion, it was the game families got together for. It was special. Now it has been pretty much demolished. The Premier League teams outside of the top six treat it like a dose of measles. The top six muddle along with second XIs until the business end. The prize of getting to Wembley is now for four teams rather than two. The Final used to be the finale of the season – recently they played a full programme of league fixtures around it. Now we pretend it is important, when it is really isn’t. They took the magic out, and expected people to still buy an inferior product. It mattered if you won things, not finished 11th in the Premier League. Ah, they say, but Leicester won the Premier League so magic can still happen! Check out what the Big Six clubs have done since then very quietly behind the scenes. They don’t believe in sport at all, they believe in a rigged game, and they are trying to rig it so they get even more of a ridiculously generous pie. Despite beating them all in the league last year, and gone further in the Champions League than their rivals, Leicester City aren’t big enough. Quick reminder – one of those “Big Six” hasn’t won the league in 56 years.

 

This long old piece has gone on a bit, I know, but events like yesterday, fewer and further between, inspire me and remind me why I love sport. Why I love the competition. It’s all a game, and winning matters, but not at the cost of everything. Where quality competition between evenly matched foes, in a perfect setting, is compelling without being forced. The drama naturally evolved, with other actors flitting in and flitting out. Even when the tournament is won comfortably, there’s still a feeling a player could implode. Sometimes, like Jordan Spieth, Greg Norman and Curtis Strange to name but three, they do. Sometimes, like Adelaide, “boring” test matches explode into life into compelling finishes. Sport is wonderful, sport evolved over time, and sport can easily be ruined if not taken care of, is party to short-term cash grabs and made the preserve of an elite few.

So getting misty eyed over a golf tournament is understood through the prism of this being an event that is given context by history. Chicago Cubs fans will feel the same about the World Series last year. Leicester City in the Premier League, which, like it or not, is the same format, more or less, than top flight football for the past, oh, century or so. I felt like that with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Millwall getting to Wembley in the same year, Edgbaston 2005, and many more. It can’t be produced at will, it has to be natural, and people have to care.

There are morals to these tales, and the reaction to sport is individual in nature. Maybe, just maybe, in cricket, we might understand that, and as a governing body they should not countenance radical tampering with the highest form of the sport. It is five days for a reason. Just as it is four rounds for a reason. It is two weeks on grass for a reason. It is seven games at the end of a 162 game regular season for a reason. Sport. Top level sport is a thing of beauty, framed by history, and savoured by those who watch it. Money, no matter how hard you try, cannot guarantee that kudos. The Super Bowl evolved. The World Cup (football) evolved (and now threatens to eat itself). It was just good to be reminded how great it can be. Food for thought.

 

Epilogue…

As if this post wasn’t long enough, I had a couple of extra thoughts to add.

As you know, I won’t listen to that Flintoff and Savage podcast, but one clip was posted on Twitter and it was interesting. Take it at face value for starters. (dash – can’t find it). In it Freddie basically said he wanted to score runs and take wickets for Lancashire and England. When he played for the Chennai Super Kings he felt no attachment and didn’t care.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04sv3py

Found it. Flintoff isn’t pure as the driven snow. He was commercially very aware (remember how he held the bat up when he made a hundred at the bit the Woodworm bat tapered in? Never short of showing something different, our Fred). But it says a lot about the mindset of your sportsman. Love him or hate him, but Flintoff always laid his body on the line for England.

The other thing is that despite the superb entertainment last night, the Masters drew a very disappointing TV audience. The NFL saw a drastic decrease in viewer numbers this year. The NBA regular season looks to have a smaller audience. Baseball’s World Series bucked the trend last year, but only because of the long-standing story of the Cubs, but regular season numbers are low. In England we see decreasing  numbers – the Grand National drew a low number this weekend. Yet all we see is sports rights rise and rise. The fewer are paying more and more, while the sports get further out of reach to a watching public in the UK, and to a less interested market in the States. There is a ton more choice on TV these days, but still, this gravy train has to stop, doesn’t it?

Finally, and with all due health warnings about the source (barely sentient Charles Sale), there’s this story…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/golf/article-4377230/Sky-s-golf-coverage-driving-rugby-rough.html

With this point very important to note, if true.

Sky are revamping their service this summer with cricket, Formula One and golf getting dedicated channels. Football is still seen as the big seller and will have two channels, one for the Premier League and one for the rest.

The new format will allow a cheaper entry price for one package of £18 a month but viewers will pay significantly more if they want to purchase the whole of the Sky Sports output.

This is interesting. As I said on Twitter, what this will mean is I would cancel pretty much everything else except cricket. Not quite sure this is a great idea by Sky.

We have a very complex landscape, a world that seems to watch sport less but be asked to pay more, and be treated with even more contempt by governing bodies. Where the hell do we go from here? Hoping for the best, but fearing for the worst.

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31 thoughts on “Memories of the Masterful

  1. RufusSG April 11, 2017 / 10:09 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and it certainly got me thinking. There’s too much here for me to comment on everything, but just a few thoughts that come to mind.

    Unlike you, I do enjoy watching the IPL (although I’m such a tragic that I’ll watch pretty much any form of cricket anywhere involving anyone, so I’m probably not the best source to judge its ability to attract an audience). I think it works best as an experience if you don’t take the whole thing too seriously – I’ve learnt not to place too much faith in the absurdly hyperbolic commentary, and there’s plenty of high-quality cricket on show – like Gambhir and Lynn’s partnership the other day, or de Villiers’ innings last night – in between all the undeniably poor stuff as well (the fielding in particular goes rather violently between extremes). Unlike other T20 leagues around the world, the IPL to me seems primarily an entertainment vehicle with high-quality cricket being an optional extra – the cricket in the Blast and the Big Bash, for instance, is more all-around solid from what I’ve seen.

    As happy as I am to watch T20, however, tests and ODIs (although I know opinion is divided on the latter) I still find far more fulfilling to watch. I whole-heartedly echo your sentiments about tests in particular, about how a slow-burning test is about as satisfying as it gets – and why cutting them to four days would be an immensely stupid idea. Almost everyone, when asked, will say that tests are best, from your average club cricketer to the upper echelons of cricket governance. So why, as you point out, do the ECB seem to have so little faith in not just test cricket but all their other organised competitions, and wish to make the new T20 league front and centre? Of course, we all know that tests are not an easy sell to the uninitated, and I have some sympathy for the “gateway drug” argument about T20. But given the multitude of ways that other competitions are going to suffer as a result of this new league, and with suggestions like four-day tests cropping up again and again, whatever the ECB think T20 would be a “gateway” wouldn’t be of the same quality it was before: so why go through the gate at all?

    Whilst I guess it’s good that, at the bare minimum, the ECB realise that there’s a problem with cricket’s reach, I just wish they could find a way to attract new younger fans that didn’t seem so at odds to the desires of the existing supporters they’ve already got in their ecosystem. I’m not totally against a new T20 league in theory, but I am deeply disappointed in the way it has been presented to the public and negotiated in the county boardrooms, and the amount of arm-twisting and coercion that has had to happen to get it through. If this new product is so great, why not let it speak for itself? Granted, the counties have never been keen on change: if there’d been a just few more dissenters we’d never have had T20 in the first place (and since I believe that T20 cricket has largely been a force for good, I’m happy it did go through, although I accept some may disagree). But this has a more obviously far-reaching and radical impact on the other county competitions that simply having a new competition back in 2003 did – if it had failed, it could have simply been scrapped quietly and that’d have been it. This has much more significant implications, so it’s disappointing to see the concerns of many county followers, and even county chiefs, swept under the rug.

    Finally, on your point about Sky’s proposed dedicated cricket channel, it’s worth considering that the Asian sports channels Star Sports (mostly available only in India) and Ten Sports (broadcast more widely across Asia) had dedicated cricket channels of their own for many years, but which have been discontinued over the past year or two. Although they would have competed with many of the same sporting events that cricket does now on Sky (a lot of Premier League and tennis matches get shown over there for instance), with cricket the far most watched sport in those countries they could afford to have a specific cricket channel without worrying that it would lead to significant drops in subscription. I can definitely see, as you suggest, a number of people shedding their Sky subscriptions down if you had a number of dedicated channels, as there are a larger number of sports competing with one another of similar popularity, but with football probably on top.

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  2. nonoxcol April 11, 2017 / 10:13 am

    Golf has given me more indelible memories than cricket in the 2010s. There, I said it. I’ve already written my response to the inevitable “sporting review of the decade” pieces in December 2019 – it starts with Medinah, London 2012, Bolt in general and some unforgettable tennis, and everything else is an also-ran. Even Pietersen’s great innings, even the 2010/11 Ashes, even England’s win in India, even SA v Australia in early 2014.

    And my response will always come back to Medinah, which is the greatest *thing* I’ve seen in sport since 2005. My vote for the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s was always a cricket thing – the 1981 and 2005 Ashes, and the Bridgetown Test in 1999.

    As a FTA guy, I think the Masters weekend is now my highlight of the sporting year. Couldn’t agree more about the FA Cup either – an absolute bloody scandal. Every year people ask “what can be done to restore the magic”, or something similar, but because they’re all on the same effing Premier League gravy train hardly anyone points out the obvious reason for its systematic desecration.

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  3. AB April 11, 2017 / 10:35 am

    The point about T20 is that its great for LIVE spectators – you can fit in a game between work and the pub, or alternately its less of a challenge to engage and manage a group of 11 year olds for a game that lasts 3 hours as opposed to 7 hours at the test. Its a more viable option for a wider number of casual fans.

    Whereas casual fans can flit in and out of a test match on the tv, internet, or the radio, it requires dedication to actually go and sit in the stands for 7 hours – you have to be a real fan.

    There is no reason why an 11 year old would be more excited by a televised game of T20 cricket than a televised game of test cricket. Kids really haven’t changed that much since 2005.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance April 11, 2017 / 10:48 am

      That’s an interesting way of putting it. You’re right about it being much easier for the casual fan to attend a T20.

      Funny thing about going to a Test match is how people who have no real interest in cricket beyond the casual rave about it when they do go – a 7 hour bar with sport going on in the background. It’s the hidden gem of days out (assuming decent weather).

      Personally, I’ve always thought that there’s no reason at all it has to be an either/or. T20 is a fantastic way of hooking interest for all the obvious reasons, it’s short, it’s exciting. Done properly, it’s a perfect way of creating interest in a sport. Put it largely on FTA television and it works, those who watch will also pay attention to Tests and some of them to county cricket as well. This determination of the ECB to drive a wedge between them is insane, T20 could be a fantastic means of entry into cricket.

      It’s strategically sensible and can provide the financial future for the game over half a century. So naturally instead, they prefer to kill the golden goose. That’s the stupidity of it – few cricket fans are opposed to T20, the logic of it is clear. How they’re doing it is the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • AB April 11, 2017 / 3:06 pm

        I’m pretty sure the original idea of the T20 cup back in 2003 was to try to get people who ALREADY liked cricket to actually come down to the ground. It wasn’t aimed at a “new audience”, it was aimed at the people who already played cricket or watched test cricket on the telly, but for reasons of logistics or practicality, rarely had the time on inclination to go down to their local county ground.

        It stumbled across a latent demand – it turned out cricket was pretty popular in the UK at the turn of the millennium, and people were quite keen on the idea of just popping down to watch a few hours of cricket after work on a Friday, or to take the kids over on a Sunday afternoon (having been playing themselves on Saturday, of course).

        It just seems to be taken as a fact that “kids” are only ever going to be interested in T20 cricket because its “more exciting”. This is bollocks.There is nothing intrinsically more exciting about T20 than about a first class match. Even a 10 year old is perfectly capable of getting excited by first class cricket if a) he understands what is going on, b) the people around him are excited and c) there is one team he wants to win (either England or his local county team).

        People don’t go to watch T20s because they’re more “fun”, they go because they’re more convenient.

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  4. SimonH April 11, 2017 / 10:37 am

    I was watching on Sunday evening and play a fair bit of golf although I don’t generally follow the game anywhere near as much as I do cricket.

    I’m not such a fan of the Masters, nor of the idea of the majors (which seems to be something of an invented tradition – dating from around 1960 – and a pale imitation of tennis’s four majors which are much more global in nature). What hooked me on Sunday was the story of Garcia, someone who has had to pay some serious dues to achieve his goal. It seems very antithetical to the culture of instant gratification in which we live and the consigning of sportsmen to the scrapheap before they are old enough to grasp what they’re really involved with.

    I can see golf following in cricket’s direction with declining participation leading to marketing gimmicks and format-tinkering supposedly to revive the game. There are have been hints of this already. It’s probably less advanced in golf because the main revenue-source (the US tour) is also the most traditionalist.

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    • LordCanisLupus April 11, 2017 / 10:46 am

      All traditions are invented in some way or other. The tennis grand slams for instance. It wasn’t long ago that the Australian Open was not so much the poor relation but almost destitute. The top players shunned it. But the tournament adapted, became relevant again and while very much the USPGA to the other three now has that kudos.

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    • AB April 11, 2017 / 11:31 am

      I don’t mind the idea of majors, they just seem to be the wrong majors. The Open and the Masters are the two obvious ones, but the US Open is ok at best and the US PGA is a very poor relation.

      Need a European Open instead, or maybe an Asian open.

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  5. yahooovercowcorner April 11, 2017 / 11:16 am

    Great article. Your comment about that the people want brought Paul Weller’s lyrics from Going Underground to mind regarding the IPL: the public wants what the public gets.

    Like

  6. Benny April 11, 2017 / 12:00 pm

    Masterful article. Let me try a different comparison, which might work:

    Test cricket – theatre
    ODI – cinema
    T20 – TV

    If you want to see the most accomplished actors in a historic location, brimming with atmosphere, you’ll start in somewhere like Shaftesbury Avenue and watch our finest tread the boards that the greatest have trodden before.

    If you want a more immediate and less dimensional hit, try the other two.

    Like

    • SimonH April 11, 2017 / 12:23 pm

      If there’s a play written in the last two decades that’s as awesome as ‘The Wire’, I’d like to know what it is!

      Like

    • SteveT April 11, 2017 / 2:33 pm

      Couple of great articles this week, this blog continues to hit new heights and leaves MSM floundering in a sea of mediocrity. I’ve been off work this last couple of days and have taken in a couple of IPL matches. It’s not bad, enjoyed AB’s innings, although some of the bowling was abject tripe, it still had to be hit. Shame the run chase was so easy though, made it a bit boring. Amusing that Dominic Cork backed the wrong horse though. Think I’ll be watching WI v Pakistan this afternoon though.
      My comparisons would be
      Test matches = Chess
      Odi = Draughts
      T2o = noughts and crosses

      Liked by 1 person

      • LordCanisLupus April 11, 2017 / 2:36 pm

        How about Tests – Elite, ODI – space invaders and T20 – pong.

        For a certain age.

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          • LordCanisLupus April 11, 2017 / 2:45 pm

            First space trading game on our old computers. Before your time….

            Like

          • thelegglance April 11, 2017 / 2:46 pm

            I am still young and sexy and gorgeous, this is true.

            Like

  7. Mark April 11, 2017 / 12:38 pm

    Great post Dmitri. There is a lot to get ones teeth into, and I could write a fair bit about these issues. (Which will bore the pants of most people.)

    I think the big issue to focus on is sport vs sport making money. A lot of people like watching sport, but very few are prepared to pay for it, and even fewer are prepared to pay big bucks to watch it. Which posses a dilemma for the governing bodies, and the sportsmen who want to earn a good living from their talent and dedication. The ECBs recent survey showed the top 5 sports were all free to air. We come from a generation which was very lucky to be able to watch a lot of sport for nothing. Growing up you could enjoy football, rugby, cricket, athletics, tennis, golf, Olympics, horse racing, motor racing, what ever. All for free. It introduced me to a lot of things I would never have been interested in. I even tried out a few. (Surely that is what being a child is all about? Sampling new things and seeing what you like) It used to be the model for music too. The best DJs wouldn’t just play what is popular, but would introduce you to new stuff, and bands you didn’t know.

    However that doesn’t make money in the short term even if it does create a customer for many decades to come. That is why sport has to have a balance between exposure vs a premium money extraction model. Many sports have faced this balancing act. I remember back in the 1970s show jumping became quite popular on TV. I don’t know one end of a horse from another, but I used to watch. I understood competition, and people with a skill. Then the empty suits got involved and worked out you could chisel out even more cash by re naming the horses after the sponsors products. So Dobin or Sugar lumps became Sanyo Music centre. And the viewing figures tumbled. But show jumping continues. It just doesn’t make the kind of money football does. And that introduces another issue. Those that do, and those that watch. Many people like to do sport instead of watching. We have seen a rise in individual sports that people participate in. Not many people like watching Iron Man races, but I know people that do them, and love them. Cycling has skyrocketed in the last decade. Even footballers prefer playing to watching long after they have retired. Many have no idea what it means to be a fan. In fact many ex players laugh at fans behind their backs. They would never travel the length of the country to watch a football match. They think those that do as being a bit weird. (Very few will admit this in public. Especially if they want a job in the media.)

    And even if you are lucky enough to be in a sport that does generate money, it comes with its own problems. One of my bug bears is listening to ex players like Savage and others condemn fans for criticising their team and players. See the problem is Robbie, if you keep demanding people pay more and more money for the privilege, people expect quality performances.. If players want big money for their increasingly lavish life styles they must deliver. And if they don’t, people will get angry. A lot of footballers in the premier league earn big money, and don’t perform. But unlike golfers or tennis players footballers get their money paid up front. They sign a 5 year deal, regardless of what they then churn out..sure they can be sold on, but only if another club will match their wages. If a golfer or tennis player stops performing he quickly disappears down the rankings, and the earnings.

    The authorities are now so desperate to keep the big money flowing in, to pay the huge salaries of players, and administrators they think they must dumb everything down to attract the moron vote. This is a dangerous, and greedy path to travel. You end up pissing off the real lovers of your sport, and with no guarantee the newbies will stick around very long. I’m interested in Skys new payment structure. It is an admission that very few people can pay the top rates for all sport. People will have to pick and choose, and that could be deadly for some sports that have lived on the teat of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AB April 11, 2017 / 2:54 pm

      There is a balancing act that every sports body has to judge correctly, between giving away enough exposure free of charge to retain a sufficient level of popularity and interest that there is sufficient demand for the products that you are able to make money out of.

      The more successful sports are those that get the balance right – they might take the strategic decision to offer lower prices to ensure wide levels of exposure to a tv audience and a number of cheap seats at each game, but then use that to fuel the popularity that makes them their money on premium channels, front row seats, merchandise, and corporate hospitality.

      Its a model that works – if it didn’t, then we wouldn’t have all these modern shiny stadia and enormously well-paid athletes and administrators.

      Unfortunately, its a model that the ECB are completely clueless about. They are a prime example of a governing body who don’t understand their sport, don’t understand their audience, and have got the balance completely wrong.

      Like

      • thelegglance April 11, 2017 / 4:38 pm

        I always note the strategy of the authorities for Rugby League as a case in point. It’s nationally a niche sport (not so much in the heartlands of Lancashire and Yorkshire obviously), and they went for the money with Super League on Sky. But they also have made absolutely sure that the Challenge Cup is on the BBC, and so are many of the internationals. It’s striking because either code of rugby and football works reasonably well as a highlights package, you can still get the sense of a flow of a game in a way that isn’t possible with cricket unless those highlights are extensive. 25 minutes is a terrible way to get the sense of a day’s play, and even worse if it’s a T20 or ODI where it’s just a succession of fours, sixes and wickets.

        The ECB simply don’t get this, at all. Having public access to your “product” is essential, not for the likes of us who are already likely to pay out, but for those for whom it is new, or who have a casual interest. The idea that young people don’t watch television is drivel. People “consume” live sport. Always have, always will, because it’s immediate and, since they use that term consume, it’s worth noting it’s a consumable item.

        Liked by 1 person

    • man in a barrel April 11, 2017 / 10:57 pm

      I think that, now that they own the TV rights to a lot of sports, they need to work out how to farm them. So, if you bought the whole package but only really watched rugby or cricket, there comes a point where a price increase gets too much and you ubsubscribe. But this is where it gets dangerous. They bid high for the rights just to build the audience. They obviously feel they are at a risk point so they start to disaggregate the sports. Then we will know exactly the market value of rugby, cricket etc. They are no longer just all part of the mix. The ECB might get a shock. The players might need to buy economy cars

      Like

      • Mark April 12, 2017 / 8:49 am

        This is a great point!

        A dedicated cricket channel will show exactly the numbers of people who will pay hard cash for cricket only content. The ECB may find themselves in a very poor negotiating position if Sky executives can show how few peopke will pay for cricket only.

        There will be some who can afford to pay for the full package including all sports, of which I am one…… (but I am beginning to question it’s cost.) but some of these sports live on the tailwinds of football, and life may about to become very tough indeed if they have to stand alone.

        The ECB might set up there own tv channel and show their matches live, and charge people a fee to watch each test match? £5 per day or £12 for the whole test match. Then show ODIs and county games. I’m sure one day the top football teams will keep the rignts to their own games, and sell them direct to their fans. Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea all have their own tv channels now.

        Good luck to the likes of Watford, and Bournemouth, and Liecester when that happens. And you know it will…… because as Dmitri says the big clubs were furious that Liecester won the league. That was not supposed to happen with the setting up of the Premiership. They are already complaining about sides coming up from the Championship, and pocketing the cash, and the parachute payments when they go back down. Being a yo yo club can be very profitable these days.

        Of course they risk screwing up the whole selling point of ” the greatest league in the world” when it goes back to becomming boring becuae 75% of the teams can’t compete. But hey that is what happens in retail, and other business. And the big clubs are business entities first and foremost.

        Like

  8. SimonH April 11, 2017 / 1:20 pm

    Couple of slightly worrying things in Newman’s interview with Moeen Ali:

    ‘I know this might sound strange but we haven’t got the brightest group of individuals and I think that helps a lot because we don’t over-think anything. You’ve got Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler leading us and then the rest who literally just try to smack it as much as we can.

    While “over-thinking” is a thing, I do find that a worrying attitude. I can’t imagine SL under Mahela and Sanga saying something like this.

    “As a group of guys we want to be the best white-ball team to represent England and create a legacy and I think we can definitely do that”.

    Legacy klaxon!

    “I always think it’s better getting out attacking than being caught at short-leg or blocking… I’m going to play my way and if I’m going to get dropped I want it to be on how I play and not trying to be someone I’m not”.

    Sound familiar?…

    Like

    • thelegglance April 11, 2017 / 1:27 pm

      I would imagine Moeen has said that first bit with a smile on his face rather than a serious assessment of their mental aptitude.

      Like

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