MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Sport and art no simple mix and match as TV rights deals skyrocket

had occasion to rock up to the Irish Book Awards before Christmas, a good evening in what used to be known as the Burlington, even if it ended long before the usual evening finish, or even morning finish, you’d traditionally associate with the old Burlington.

One of my personal highlights was the prize-winner who gave a short, passionate, speech which moved beyond the usual thanks to the publisher, the editor, the judging panel, and on to slightly different, new territory — about how good it was that the ceremony was being recorded for broadcast later that week, that it was only right that a programme dedicated to books be shown on television rather than, say, sport (a good deal of nodding in agreement among many of the attendees not sitting with any, you know, sportspeople), or cooking (not quite as much nodding in agreement, given the dozens of cookbook authors sitting in the direct eye line of many of the attendees, obviously) and so forth in this vein.

Pleas for more culture, given the vast amount of sports available — across all platforms — came back to me last week when reading a blog on The Economist about the arts.

Specifically, the writer stated: “A study conducted in 2014 showed that more people attend London’s plays and musicals than London’s Premier League football matches. Live-streaming multiplies the audience numbers during the course of a show’s run: over four million people have watched National Theatre Live since its inception in 2009.”

Regardless of the woolliness of the statistic — a study? — sharp-eyed readers will note the fatal weakness in the second sentence quoted: while there may be a finite number of physical seats in the English capital’s Premier League stadia, there is also a growing sense that those occupying the seats in question are not as important, financially, as those TV viewers around the world who underwrite the vast sums paid out in broadcasting deals.

Four million people is an impressive number for a national theatre putting on new and challenging work, but that’s dwarfed by Premier League viewing figures — the TV deal the Premier League has with Thailand alone is worth more than €200 million, for instance, and overall, the figures soar into the billions.

Although you can read elsewhere on these pages about poetry and sport intersecting, comparisons which focus on any notion of financial resemblance are a bad idea. A better idea would be something along the lines of Martin Amis’s satirical short story Career Move, flipping the public profile of Hollywood scriptwriters and poets, with the latter group enjoying vast money and international fame and the former bunch scraping along in obscurity.

Amis didn’t swap footballers and poets, you’ll notice, even though he wrote one of the greatest ever descriptions of a professional athlete many years ago, describing the young John Barnes as stunned with his own physical perfection. If he had the good sense to steer clear of the pro sportsman/starving artist switcheroo, you’d think everyone else would too.

For some things I really am very resistant to change

Ah here. I’m a progressive guy. The numbers. The new way. But is it time to call a halt now I see that the Moneyball guys are now to begin curing us all of our ills? One Paul DePodesta, who was Billy Beane’s assistant with the Oakland Athletics is now, I read, turning to medicine.

PoDesta has joined the Scripps Translational Science Institute where he will “work on new ways to use the growing amount of data being collected from patients through advances such as genetic testing and wirelessly connected devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators.”

DePodesta sees the obstacles to acceptance, mind: “Medicine is just beginning to explore this opportunity, but it faces many of the same barriers that existed in those other sectors — deeply held traditions, monolithic organisational and operational structures and a psychological resistance to change.”

Much as I was delighted to see a new way to make it to mid-table in the American League (West), I tend to take my encounters with pacemakers and defibrillators more seriously. I’d be more than psychologically resistant to change if it meant confounding perceived wisdoms about my health. Can these guys just make a mistake or two so we can all go back to the old ways? Or should we take a look at the HSE and consider they couldn’t do as bad a job as Leo Varadkar?

Meeting of minds is poetic

So: you wait a few years for some poetry and sport, and then another poetry-sport interaction danders along.

A pal in the States alerted me to Mary Karr’s poem ‘Loony Bin Basketball’, dedicated to the famous coach Phil Jackson. It was the focus of a terrific piece by one of America’s greatest sportswriters, Sally Jenkins, in The Washington Post, which carried an account of how Karr met Jackson — at a cocktail party for authors, after Karr had published a memoir and Jackson his well-known text on coaching, Sacred Hoops.

Despite being closer to seven feet tall than six feet, Jackson went unrecognised among the writers, but Karr’s son was a basketball fan. She introduced herself: “I’m Mary Karr.” Jackson is probably the only professional sports coach in the world who would be able to say: “I know who you are.”

You can read Loony Bin Basketball here.

Sally Jenkins you can read in The Washington Post on a regular basis. You would be well advised to do so.

Gambling awareness programme top idea

Sport and art no simple mix and match as TV rights deals skyrocket

I see gambling has raised its ugly head among GAA players again. Dessie Farrell, head of the Gaelic Players Association, was in the news last week saying the GPA’s confidential counselling service helped 74 inter-county players deal with various issues last year, with gambling becoming such a concern the organisation is to set up an awareness programme, using players who have come through the problem to help others.

This is a laudable initiative, as clearly this isn’t a problem that can be ignored, but what about others involved in the game, particularly those whose fondness for a wager is less a threat to their lifestyle and sanity than a menace to the integrity of sporting competitions? People don’t consider, however, that there are others involved in the process who need to be taken into account. The NBA referee who lost his job because he gambled on games he was handling is a case in point — on his way out the door he proclaimed there were, in the words of miscreants everywhere, “loads of them are at it*”.

Who’d want to start examining that?

*may not be actual words.


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