MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: The next stage in sports coverage

Over the weekend I got chatting to an acquaintance about stadia and it put me in mind of an event I attended a few ago., writes Michael Moynihan.

Readers may recall a piece based on Paul McGinley’s contribution to the Sports for Business Sports Science conference, which was held in the RDS off the main hall, just as the BT Young Scientists Exhibition was going on.

One of BT Sport’s top men gave a public interview at the Sports Science conference. Grant Best is a producer whose CV includes time at both Sky and ESPN, and while naturally he was singing the praises of his present employers, he made some intriguing remarks about the stadium or live event experience, as opposed to — and combined with — the viewing experience.

“I’ve been talking about this for months — years — and I enjoyed the (London) Olympics, went on the first Saturday,” Best said.

“But the experience can be tough, you can’t interact with it and there’s an onus on football and rugby clubs to help that.

“Provide the data on a website, the broadcast feed — everything everyone is experiencing at home. That has to happen.”

It’s curious to me that the great advantage of being at a live sports event — the atmosphere, the immediacy, the full experience — is somehow inadequate or lacking. Yet Best has a point — people want the full gamut of information, data, access, noise, the receptors overloaded every which way: senses working overtime, as XTC sang.

The connected stadium is, as Best says, an inevitability, a matter of time rather than a matter of taste.

In fairness, the BT Sport man acknowledged the question marks that raised for rights-holders (the sporting organisation itself, usually, which would be providing the connected stadium) and broadcasters by citing the NFL in America, which owns the rights and also broadcasts itself: “Will the Premier League have a similar set up at some stage? I don’t know.

“We enjoy how it works at the moment but there’s every chance it could happen, it’s a proven model in the States.”

Best also pointed out the power of data, which is a favourite topic of this columnist, and nudged the conversation towards another new dawn, where sports teams would share their stats and information directly with the public. It’s not as if there aren’t teams which allow a certain level of access, he pointed out, though the day of the full sound feed from a Premier League dressing room is not yet in sight.

“There’s sports data from rugby and soccer we can’t access, it’s the teams’, but if we could release that, it’d enhance the experience.

“Man City are very forward-thinking in those terms, they allow cameras into places we and Sky can’t go and that enhances the supporters’ experience. There’s audio (and video) from dressing rooms in the US and Australia. We mentioned rights holders, or governing bodies, and they’d have to allow that access to enhance the experience. In that sense the US experience is fantastic — access to the locker room that brings you inside — but we have to understand sometimes there are barriers and some things aren’t allowed.”

Anathema to the traditionalists? Probably, though arguments against, say, a live feed from a Six Nations or All-Ireland final dressing room are outflanked by Best’s observations about US sport. They say all art aspires to the condition of music, pure form, and all sports aspire to the condition of US professional sport: pure, uncut marketing. In that sense the most significant comment from Best wasn’t in the nitty-gritty of sports broadcasting (though he made an astute observation about the 4K TV picture — that it suits a smaller scale, like putting in golf, rather than a large canvas like a goalmouth in soccer). Before you get your knee ready to jerk, consider Best’s common-sense comment on sports and sports coverage nowadays: it’s just where we are. 

Spirit of the Gael is alive and well and back on TV 

Laochra Gael returns shortly. The new series, which will feature the likes of Mayo star Liam McHale and Limerick hurling icon Ciaran Carey, will begin on Tuesday, February 3. It’s always been worth a watch, and certainly the addition of a dashing journalist as a talking head (is ceann cainteach the correct term?) shouldn’t dissuade you from tuning in. (If this is your way of... Please. Discuss any such fripperies with my agent.) There’s a lot to be said for the basic concept. Getting the views of some of the biggest names in the GAA on some of the biggest events in their career? What’s not to like? 

A lot to learn from watching baseball

Joy to the world — I uncovered a smashing gem on YouTube a few days ago, Episodes 10 and 11 of Ken Burns’ Baseball, the greatest sports documentary ever made. I know it took me a while. Be gentle.

The episodes featured contributors who were in the original series 20 years ago — Daniel Okrent, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. (Boswell, by the way, is the man who originated that saviour of the sports columnist, 50 reasons sport X is better than sport Y: muchos gracias, T.) Anyway, in these latter episodes, Boswell noted that baseball regained popularity following damaging player-versus-owner stand-offs and strikes as the players showed their humanity, flaws and all — that their humanity became more apparent and the game in turn became more appealing.

In the new dispensation in Irish sport, where athletes in almost every discipline are media-trained to the inch and rarely stir out without a product to endorse or tweet about in a not-at-all jarring way, this would be a revolutionary idea.

It’d be interesting to hear Boswell tease this out more fully — or to see his writing on the matter — but even a bare-bones application to our own corner of the globe is enough to set one dreaming of an alternative sports context.

A far better one, perhaps.

Is it silent President time again?

Last Saturday in these pages, John Fogarty discussed the term in office of Liam O’Neill as GAA President, giving the Laois native a good grade for his time in the hot seat.

Is there an argument, though, for a return to the days of the silent President, the office-holder whose only real appearance in the media came in the form of photo opportunities as he opened a club extension or presented medals? An enterprising political studies student would ferret out a handy thesis by comparing the activities of Ministers in Government with GAA presidents, particularly if he compared some of the monosyllabic office-holders of the past — in both realms — with their more recent successors. What has caused the outbreak in visibility among GAA Presidents, never mind the removal of the mute button? There now appears to be a wish among those office-holders to have a legacy of some sort to leave after them when they depart the office. The question is this, though — how many legacies, really, is the GAA in the market for?


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