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Sports and broadcasting (again)

Today I wish to return briefly to an issue that continues to rumbles on this august website, that of whether – these days, and especially when one is beyond the first flush of youth – it is better to go to the trouble of actually attending sporting events or (alternatively) at some point ‘withdraw’ from said practice and simply watch them as covered by ‘live’ television broadcasts.

It goes without saying that, at some point in history, the only way in which one could watch sporting events was in the flesh. Literally, perhaps, in the days of the Olympics of ancient Greece, where females used to queue to watch, not least because it was one of the few places you could go to watch fit young (and not so young) men taking exercise whilst naked.

Subsequently, of course, people who had attended sporting events recorded their experience for the benefit of others – and eventuality posterity. Some just had a compulsion to record what they had witnessed, others were inventing a subset of journalism and satisfying a popular demand.

They used wax tablets at the outset perhaps, and later – when the printing press was invented – newspapers, pamphlets and books.

Those who had been unable to attend were able to ‘catch up’ with the results. Some of those that had been fortunate enough to attend wanted a record of the occasion.

Great and wealthy men and women wanted representations of  sporting events (drawings and pictures) to hang on their walls – maybe they wanted to recall the day their champion racehorse won the Derby, or wished to own and display a portrait of their favourite pugilist.

horseTowards the end of the 19th Century, the means to capture movement on film were developed. Edward Muybridge became the first to film a racehorse galloping in 1878 – see here – YOUTUBE

Robert Paul took his moving image camera to Epsom in order to film the finish of the 1896 Derby (won by the Prince of Wales’ horse Persimmon) and then created a public sensation by showing the results in the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties in Leicester Square the following day.

They say the same of God, of course but, if film and television coverage of sporting events hadn’t existed, undoubtedly one day someone would have had to invent it.

To begin with – naturally – it was all for the benefit of those who had been unable to be spectators at the actual event. ‘Being there’ was what it was all about – the whole experience of planning and travelling to the game or event, booking restaurant tables, hotels, means of transport … just the whole ‘making a day of it’ thing, with the sporting endeavour it was built around being almost the icing on the cake.

And a ‘random chance’ one that that.

You might have been lucky enough to go with your Dad to the epic 1953 FA ‘Matthews’ Cup Final [in which Blackpool beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3] because he had a last-minute spare ticket only when someone else dropped out.

However, quite possibly, it might have ended differently – e.g. in a 0-0 score draw bore.

ClayOr equally you might have spent US$1,000 or more to get all suited and booted in order to be one of the tiny 2,434 crowd in the 4,900 seater Central Maine Youth Center arena on 25th May 1965.

If you had, you would have born witness to the return (second) fight between world heavyweight boxing champion – the then still Cassius Clay – and former champion Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine in the flesh … only to see it end, not with a bang but a whimper, at 2 minutes 12 seconds into the first round when referee ‘Jersey Joe’ Walcott finally declared Liston kayoed after the famous Clay ‘phantom’ punch.

Had you been there, on the night you might probably have felt hard done by at shelling out so much for so little entertainment. But – now, fifty years later and more – maybe you’d still be telling your grandkids (and anyone else who’ll listen) all about the time you ‘wuz there’.

It’s all bound up in the wonderful uncertainty of sport, one of its most glorious attractions.

superbowl2015We now live in an era (the 21st Century) in which the television broadcasters are kings. They pump up the amounts they’re prepared to pay for the rights to broadcast sporting events, relying upon revenues generated by their ‘pay per view’ spectators (and/or the advertisers who are prepared to pay exorbitant amounts to have their marketing campaigns exhibited in the commercial breaks) to not only fund their massive logistical costs but create the huge profits that presumably – if they get their sums right – make it all worthwhile.

Anyone who supports an elite sporting team knows the complaints and gripes surrounding television coverage all too well. The broadcasters choose the times that events or matches begin to suit their transmission schedule needs. Those fans who loyally turn out week after week have either to live with the consequences or butt out – there’s no compromise to be proposed, indeed no negotiation to be had, that is going to get anywhere.

It’s all about Big Business.

I was reminded of this yet again – if I needed it – by the following article by Chris Green on the vexed issue of ‘empty’ ring seats left unoccupied by those enjoying the very expensive corporate hospitality packages available at Wimbledon which appears today on the website of THE INDEPENDENT

It’s another relevant aspect of the ‘To Attend … or Not Attend’ argument and one that I certainly had momentarily forgotten about.

Part of me feels that – if earlier this year you paid say £1,000 for two tickets to the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final – and then you want to have a drink in the bar behind the stand during the second half, or even slink off early with eight minutes to the final whistle when one team is so far ahead that there is no chance of them losing … that’s all perfectly within your rights and entitlement.

On the other hand, if someone else has simply attended the game on the back of some freebie invitation to join an expensive corporate box (or equivalent) … and then merely watch the game – or perhaps even only a small proportion of it – on some television stuck to the wall of said box, thereby leaving empty a stand seat that maybe a real fan might have loved to enjoy … that somehow goes against the grain, doesn’t it?

The trouble is that the organisers of the Rugby World Cup have got to make a profit somehow … and if corporate entertaining is the best means to make all the sums add up (including the reported £80 million that the England RFU had to guarantee to World Rugby in order to win the right to host the event), then you can see why they went for it …

Er … can’t you?

About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts