Hold the back page

 

A miscellany of sports stories from NIALL KIELY 

Global Glazers have seen internet light

THIS WEEK England’s premier soccer league raised some €1.5 billion for its overseas broadcasting rights during 2010-13, more than doubling the previous take, and with the rights for Russia still to be sorted.

The overall figure is startling, the individual and regional deals even more so, and it underlines in the most reliable of currencies the remarkable appeal of English football’s showcase division: its games are now broadcast in 211 countries.

The Middle East and North Africa rights went for more than €223 million and were won by a company owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal ruling elite, kith to Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour. Singapore, an island of fewer than five million people, saw a fierce local rivalry before SingTel paid close to another €223 million.

But there are clouds on every horizon when it comes to the blur-speed media market. Last month the chief executives of the Premier League’s 20 clubs attended a sobering meeting in a London hotel, where they were told that satellite broadcaster BSkyB is under serious pressure.

“There wasn’t much effing and blinding,” the Sunday Times quoted one meeting source as saying. “It was more of a stunned silence.”

Ofcom, Britain’s media regulator, will soon order Sky to drastically reduce the wholesale fee it charges rivals to carry its premium channels, following a three-year investigation of the pay-tv market and complaints from Sky rivals like Virgin, BT and Top-Up.

The change will endanger the Premier League’s €667 million annual income from Sky.

It all goes to the heart of the financial model in English soccer, with the running fracas at Manchester United between the Newton Heathites and the owning Glazer family from Florida something of a local farce.

Forbes magazine has already listed Manchester United as the most valuable sports brand in the world, and United’s own potential earnings are considerable.

So forget how much value the Glazers have already stripped out of their ManU investment, or the prospects of the Red Knight bidders of transforming a shower of bankers into local heroes, or even the €780 million debt the Floridians have lumped on the club.

Never mind the quality, feel the band-width. The Glazers have seen the internet light, and know that as high-bandwidth data services are developed over the next, short few years, the value of their global brand in a global market populated with followers of the true global game is huge.

How huge? I’d conservatively estimate it in excess of €4.5 billion. Initially.

Dempsey down to earth despite stardom

NAME FIVE famous folk from Nacogdoches. Three? Okay, just the one will do.

If you were a Nasa nerd, you might remember how the world’s media descended on Nacogdoches in 2003 after much of the debris from the Columbia landed in the county when the space shuttle broke up on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere.

Locals in the mid-Texas town know well the identity of Nacogdoches’ most famous son: Clint Dempsey, of Fulham and the US, whose sublime chipped goal against Juventus last week reminded us of the smorgasbord of talent drawn from far and near to the lucrative Premier League.

Much of how Dempsey plays can be traced, I reckon, back to his unprepossessing origins. His early years were spent in a mobile home in his grandparents’ back garden, he took his lumps learning the soccer ropes with Hispanic kids on town wasteland and in 2007 he played successive games for the New England Revolution with a broken jaw.

With Fulham, under the magnificent managership of Roy Hodgson, he’s been the club’s main goalscorer, and is third in the tackle stats for Premier League forwards.

As a guy who lost his sister to a brain aneurism when she was in her late teens, he has said his family’s tragedy has made him appreciate everything else in his life.

Footnote: A band of siblings played Nacogdoches in 1912 when their (then) singing act was stopped by a man who shouted “runaway mule”, an interruption that sent most of the Opera House audience seeking diversion on the street.

When they returned, a pissed-off Julius (later, Groucho) Marx decided to insult them (“Nacogdoches is full of ’roaches” and “The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass” gives the flavour), but he found that his efforts amused rather than angered the crowd. And soon after, the Marx Brothers forsook singing for comedy.

Sochi Games causing a stir with Circassians

FINAL STRAW:FORGET THE Armenians and their generations-old genocidal gripe with the Turks. The Circassians are coming.

Reuters reported this week that a Muslim diaspora is demanding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi should be cancelled or transferred elsewhere unless the Russians apologise for a 19th century massacre of their ancestors by Tsarist forces.

The Circassians, Muslim indigents of the northwest Caucasus whose seven million descendants are now scattered elsewhere, say 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of 300,000 violent deaths in the Sochi region.

The killings, deportations and terror scattered the Circassians to Turkey, the Middle East and the US, in which parts variously some seven million of Circassian descent now live.

Although the 1864 events were recorded by Russian imperial historians at the time, no nation has yet recognised the Tsarist activity as genocide.

Activists last weekend used documents from the state archives in Tbilisi to present Georgian lawmakers with a formal request that they recognise the 1864 killings as genocide – a move that would further strain Georgia’s dire relationship with Russia.

No Sochi 2014, a Circassian lobby group, told a conference in the US last weekend that the Games site is effectively being constructed on a mass grave. According to Reuters, Circassian activists have argued that the Sochi games are as insensitive as hosting a sports event on the grounds of Auschwitz.

The latter sentiment, one suspects, will be deplored by all passport-cloning people.

Irish stick sports set up Morgan

THE MOVEMENT of Irish sportspeople to other climes, countries and challenges is something tracked and savoured by all aficionados, but the only realistic professional options for those nurtured mainly on Gaelic games have been for footballers.

Even that’s been limited, in the main, to three sports.

There’s Australian Rules, at which few Irishmen have succeeded, given the trefoil posers of “upskilling”, adapting to a professional training regime and handling the vagaries of homesickness.

Dubliner Jim Stynes was quite the exception, with a record and acclaim of which the most ambitious Aussie would have been proud. Tadhg Kennelly of Kerry learned the sharp-elbowed lessons of the oval arena well, as was evident in the early minutes of last summer’s All-Ireland final, and is another of the hardy handful that’ve thrived under ruthless Rules.

In soccer, only Dublin’s Kevin Moran could truly be described as a successful dual player, having played at the highest Gaelic football level before making a professional soccer career in Manchester.

Great numbers of other players who grew up with the joyful experience of playing whatever game was happening on their street or in their neighbourhood have, of course, had varying degrees of success at soccer. And the Irish rugby manager made much this month of how many Irish boys grow up playing all sorts of sports, as he was doing his graceful Declan Kidney routine of thanking the GAA for the use of its big field.

In rugby, however, apart from Moss Keane, few raw recruits have succeeded at a senior level unless they had some grounding in core skills at a reasonably early stage.

But hurlers? There’s no easy or obvious route for Irishmen into serious baseball, for which a whole slew of skills other than batting need to be present – and they’re every as bit as slow-burn learned as hurling’s oiled nuances – and those skills demand repetitive use from an early age to become truly instinctive.

That leaves cricket. Damaged for decades as a “garrison game” in terms of popular esteem and countrywide involvement, it still thrived in pockets and in the North. And we now have Eoin Morgan, a former student at CUS in Dublin, who’s thriving at Middlesex, has played one-day cricket successfully for England and will surely soon play at Test level for his adopted cricket country.

The fascinating aspect of his nascent genius at the game is his grounding in the Irish model of having the opportunity of trying every game available, including hurling. The Guardian’s not-readily-impressed Mike Selvey recently pointed up Morgan’s one-day qualities of “tactical nous, intelligence, coolness under pressure, confidence, intuition, innovation and capacity to hit a long ball”. Morgan himself, in Selvey’s words, ascribes the latter ability to his “grounding in Irish stick sports”.

For now, Morgan’s apotheosis has been Twenty20 cricket, that slash-and-burn version of the game for which his instinctive batting might have been created. More than anyone else in the game, Morgan, at 23, now has four strings to his batting bow: his basic left-handed stroke; a reverse sweep (a right-handed stroke, still left-hand-under); a switch-hit, effectively batting as a right-hander, and a reverse-sweep switch-hit, a stroke that effectively completes a 180-degree traverse of the batting crease.

Catch him on Setanta, playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore, who picked him up for a mere $200,000 (€150,000) in the auction for the Indian Premier League. A Dublin stick-sports epitome of nerve, verve and joie de vivre. And some lovely hurling.

Henson and Church raise spirits

I WAS greatly cheered by a headline this week that apparently announced a public house had been opened in church grounds.

Cunning stunt, you clever pastor, I thought.

These institutions are, in essence, secular cathedrals, I mused.

They are venues in which the faithful and needy gather to seek succour, reassurance, company, centrally–heated comfort – and to raise the levels of their spirits – before departing in an exalted condition.

Then, deciding I was beginning to sound like a Dublin vintners’ radio advert, I eventually found my spectacles, and it transpired the bar had been installed in the Cardiff garden of Welsh singer Charlotte Church, girlfriend of rugby player Gavin Henson.

The pair have got into public drunken scrapes in the past and Church said they were trying to escape camera phones.

“Gavin and I still haven’t quite learned to drink responsibly,” she said.