Counting the cash cows

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

As I contemplate getting up at 4.45 on a Saturday morning to watch Bayern vs. Chelsea I not only question how I get my kicks, but also the status of the European Super Cup, and where it sits in the pantheon of recurrent non-events on the sporting calendar. After roughly two and a half minutes of concerted thinking time, it makes it into my top five.

What follows is a shortlist of damp squibs. To qualify it has to take the crème de la crème of professional sport in a particular discipline, and then make them perform in an event so devoid of meaning that it renders their efforts – and those of the watching public – almost futile.

European Super Cup

We begin with this annual fixture between the previous season’s Champions League and Europa League winners. Staggeringly, the Uefa equivalent of the FA Community Shield has been running, in one shape or form, since 1972.

Last year, Chelsea – as Champions League winners – treated the game against Atletico Madrid with utter contempt, lazily going 3 nil behind to a Falcao hat-trick in the first half, before saving a modicum of dignity in the second stanza and coming away with a 4-1 loss.

This year, the only reason I’m contemplating the early rise again is because of the José and Pep element. In popular folklore, José is the villain and Pep is the shining white knight. But, I’m an avowed follower of the cult of José; his prickly charm and insolent attitude trump Pep’s holier than thou persona for me.

That doesn’t hide from the fact that the event itself is a virtual dead rubber. Yes, there’s a trophy up for grabs, but the main baubles are handed out in May. At least the World Club Cup has an intercontinental edge to it. This is just an inconvenience to clubs whose attentions are now focussed on their domestic league campaigns.

NFL Pro Bowl

Can’t say I know much about this event but any game that ‘borrows’ elite sportsmen to play for a team they have no real affinity for, in what is essentially an exhibition match, has to be pretty prominent in this list.

Indeed, the annual match-up between the best players from the two NFL Conferences is in danger of being seen as a bit of a farce. Every year the biggest concern of teams is to avoid injuries to the star players. The Associated Press wrote that players in the 2012 game were “hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight”, which can do little to aid the spectacle.

Other examples of all-star games can be found in the MLB, NHL and NBA. Thus this is what happens when obscure sports are propagated within national borders; there’s no foreign foe to vanquish (the presence of Canadian teams in the MLB and NHL doesn’t seem to provide that source of rivalry) so the deep well of nationalist fervour lies untapped.

All of which brings us nicely to the next event on our shortlist.

International Rules Series

Nice try, Tadhg. I'm still not buying.

Nice try, Tadhg. Still don’t care.

If no-one else in the world plays your sport why not just find the nearest equivalent, create a hybrid of the two, and manufacture a showcase event? That’s what the Australians and Irish did in the sixties when their own unique brands of hand-football were stewing in their own domestic juice.

To the uninitiated (99.9% of mankind), this bastard of a game takes representative players from the disparate worlds of AFL and Gaelic football and creates a mash-up which at least has the benefit of being as violent as it is meaningless.

It’s played twice every three years and, despite dwindling interest in the game, has been stubbornly propped up by the AFL in direct response to the success of the representative competition of their local football code arch-rivals, the NRL; whose State of Origin series is vastly more popular (and lucrative), sustained as it is by the mutual hatred between Queenslanders and New South Welshmen.

2005 ICC Super Series

This event at least has the virtue of having been recognised as a failure and has been scrapped. The ‘Super’ Series pitted the undisputed world champions Australia against a Rest of the World XI in three ODIs and one Test match.

The principle behind the event was that the Australian side had become completely dominant in world cricket, and had a reputation of being unbeatable. This basis was undercut somewhat as it was staged one month after the Aussies were beaten in the 2005 Ashes.

Suffering from a noticeable lack of intensity, the drab matches were played out in the half empty MCG and SCG and were all won comfortably by the home side. The Rest of the World XI, featuring stars such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan and, er, Steve Harmison, were a model of disunity.

Geoffrey Boycott described the series as a “bunfight” and said that there was “nothing that resembled cricket” in it. Wisden summed up the Test match as: “a terrible game of cricket. It had a small crowd, little meaning and was forgotten quickly.” Its first-class status has since been revoked.

The World XI players seemed to be there more for fun than anything else. Freddie Flintoff came up with some refreshingly honest opinions amidst all the bullish official statements: “I’ve got the Super Series in two weeks’ time. I can’t think of anything worse,” he said, adding on arrival; “I’m only here for the food.”

Presidents Cup

Suffering in direct comparison with the passion of the Ryder Cup, this event too struggles with the lack of pride that comes in representing a ‘Rest of the World’ (minus Europe) team. Worse, as any get-in-the-hole enthusiast will tell you, it’s not as if the Americans themselves are often galvanised by representing their country. This truly is a dead duck tournament, though you wouldn’t know that if you spoke to a South African or Australian golf nut.

Inaugurated in 1994, the Yanks have won seven of the nine tournaments, losing once and tying on the other occasion. But, really, who cares?

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Give me something I can sell

Give me something I can sell

Branding. It’s a word heavy with meaning in sport. To those in club boardrooms it’s the lucrative differentiation of their product. For fans, its invocation evokes a weary response laden with the growing detachment many feel with the teams upon which they invest so heavily (emotionally and financially).

When Luis Suarez was caught in his race storm with Patrice Evra last year, Liverpool FC instinctively rushed to his defence. Kenny Dalglish stated it was “bang out of order” to suggest he had done anything wrong. In the aftermath, it was recognised by the American owners that the club had botched their response, resulting in significant PR damage. Dalglish was fired a few months later. When Suarez lost his head against Chelsea this season, Liverpool’s support for their player was notably more nuanced.

In the pursuit of more fans – and more of their disposable incomes – teams will go to great lengths to appeal to the masses. Every Premier League team has a community foundation funding local projects and arranges copious hospital and school visits by its players. They hire ex-pros as “Ambassadors” to tour the globe reciting the virtues of their great club. These initiatives undoubtedly have an impact on the balance sheet. The clubs’ commercial departments must be telling them so.

But, in an arena where everyone’s looking for an edge, are there any shortcuts to success?

It was instructive to hear one ABC sports reporter this morning lament why his young son had turned his back on his local AFL team. Who doesn’t think supporting the Lions is more exciting than cheering on the Magpies? Whereas Collingwood won the flag in 2010, the lad still chose mediocre Brisbane to barrack (or should that be roar?) for.

The ‘4 Ps of Marketing’ are Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Get these four elements right, the marketing gurus will tell you, and you can watch the profits roll in. In sport, perhaps ‘silly nicknames’ should be added to the mix. To call the Australian national football/soccer team the ‘Socceroos’ seems to make absolutely no sense unless a highly paid FFA suit has robust data stating it will attract more young fans to the sport.

I’m talking about official team names rather than individual’s nicknames. Though, it has to be acknowledged, in a highly competitive field, darts has produced some standouts in this regard*: Mark “Frosty the Throw Man” Frost, Scott “Scotty 2 Hotty” Waites and, who could forget… Steve “The Bronzed Adonis” Beaton.

An unlikely villain

To my mind, this whole sorry business is the fault of Emilio Estevez. The National Hockey League had teams boasting some great nicknames – New York Devils, Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens – then, in 1993, on the back of Disney’s hugely successful Mighty Ducks movie (one that genuinely made me cry at the end), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were born. The ridiculously-monikered Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild subsequently joined the league. It’s almost enough to remove all the credit Estevez had in the bank for Young Guns.

If there’s any semblance of moral integrity to that episode it is that the Mighty Ducks venture occurred after the release of the film so at least it wasn’t predicated on hawking cinema tickets (I’m conveniently forgetting about the disappointing sequel, D2: The Mighty Ducks, as anyone who’s seen it must). Sadly, there are examples of sports teams who have merrily adopted a new name so as to promote the wares of a third party. The New South Wales one-day cricket side are now known as the ‘Speed-Blitz Blues’, and the New York MetroStars MLS team now only answer to the ‘New York Red Bulls’ (but, like the F1 team, as a result of a takeover).

If you’re finding this all a bit disheartening, fear not. To find evidence of the enduring Corinthian spirit that draws us to sport in the first place, one must look, as ever, to the grassroots. Look, for example, at Centennial Park this Sunday to find the CACC Metrosexuals continue their unstoppable march towards the Sydney Morning Cricket Association winter title (Division 6)!

*It’s almost as if the less athletic the individual pursuit is, the more likely its protagonists are to adopt an entertaining nickname. See also, golf and snooker. Perhaps this correlation can be explored in another article, thereby providing a simple means of categorising ‘games’ and ‘sports’. For instance, the International Olympic Committee could employ a simple formula when deciding upon the merits of a sporting body’s application for membership; if, say, over half of their professional players have stupid nicknames: no dice.

The murky world of Bodybuilding

I'm free!!!

I’m free!!!

In response to recent events Ball Control has been wondering which sports can be deemed most felonious. Luckily, as ever, Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information, backed up by trusted sources such as the BBC and, er, Femalemuscle.com.

Amongst all the data on convictions I only pulled out those offences which attracted custodial sentences. Most of the convictions were for current professional sportspeople, though some were retired at the time of their imprisonment. For the purposes of comparison, life imprisonment means 25 years (as per the English jurisdiction). Ball Control accepts the accusation of being an Anglo-centric news hub.

The comparisons between many sports are undermined by the small pool of data each of them has. Any sport with fewer than 10 convictions clearly isn’t trying hard enough to push its protagonists towards a life of crime.

The list is also notable for those who were spared prison sentences. To escape the clink, it would appear that sports prowess would be as helpful as a skilled defence attorney. The likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor (indecent assault), Guus Hiddink (tax fraud) and Patrick Kluivert (death by dangerous driving) all escaped doing porridge while similar crimes resulted in lengthy cell time for lesser-known sporting crims. And let’s not even go near the whole OJ murder charges…

Shining like a macabre light from this already gloomy list is one Leslie George Hylton, a West Indian fast bowler who played in six Test matches between 1935 and 1939. In 1955, he was hanged for the murder of his wife, Lurlene. During his trial, Hylton claimed he had been trying to shoot himself but missed. It’s not known whether she was cowering behind a bathroom door at the time.

Sport Famous ne’er-do-wells (and their crimes) No. of convictions Average length of custodial sentence (months)
Bodybuilding Bertil Fox (murder), Sally McNeil (second-degree murder), Craig Titus (second-degree murder) 3 553
Gridiron OJ Simpson (robbery, kidnapping), Michael Vick (dog fighting), Darryl Henley (drug trafficking, attempted conspiracy to commit murder) 32 213
Boxing Mike Tyson (rape, road rage), Floyd Mayweather Sr. (drug trafficking), Bernard Hopkins (robbery) 20 207
Diving Bruce Kimball (death by dangerous driving) 1 184
Martial Arts Evangelos Goussis (attempted murder, two counts of murder) 6 140
Motorsport Bertrand Gachot (assault and use of offensive weapon) 40 136
Greco-Roman Wrestling Otari Kvantrishvili (rape) 1 120
Baseball Ugueth Urbina (attempted murder), Darryl Strawberry (drug possession, solicitation of prostitution) 17 120
Skateboarding Mark Rogowski (rape and murder) 5 115
Basketball Allen Iverson (maiming by mob), Tom Payne (rape) 15 70
Cricket Salman Butt (conspiracy to accept corrupt payments), Leslie Hylton (murder), Terry Jenner (embezzlement) 10 62
Rugby Union Tony Neary (fraud) 1 60
Athletics (track and field) Marion Jones (perjury), Tim Montgomery (fraud, drug dist’) 5 52
Ice Hockey Mike Danton (conspiracy to commit murder) 6 43
Sumo Wrestling Futatsuryū Jun’ichi (murder) 2 41
Figure Skating Tonya Harding (DUI) 4 36
Snooker Silvino Francisco (drug smuggling) 1 36
Association Football Graham Rix (underage sex), Lee Hughes (death by dangerous driving), Joey Barton (assault, affray) 45 30
Horse Racing Lester Piggott (tax evasion) 4 30
Australian Rules Football Brett Cooper (drug offences), Neville Linney (burglary) 6 26
Tennis Bernard Boileau (drug use, assault and dangerous driving) 4 21
Darts Chris Mason (ABM, burglary) 2 20
Swimming Nick D’Arcy (assault) 2 9
Cycling Tammy Thomas (perjury), Missy Giove (drug dist’) 2 6