Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Setanta: The Last Rite's

It seems that Setanta has been on death row for weeks now, and this is the third re-write of this particular posting, but today the lights finally went out on a company which had only really entered the public consciousness when they won the right to televise the SPL in 2004.

Friday saw the announcement that they had defaulted on their £30 million payment to the Premier League, which lead to the cancellation of the current contract to show 46 league games, and the contract to show 23 league games which was due to start the following term. This news was followed by the announcement that prospective backers were pulling out of a financing package. That was followed on Monday by the news that the SPL would be pulling out of their contract and seeking a new television partner. To add insult to injury, the English Premiership wasted no time in announcing that ESPN would be taking over the remainder of Setanta’s contracts.

TwoHundredPercent has been blogging on the impact that the sinking of Setanta would have on the former Conference, and in many respects the impact there would be much worse than the impact felt in the EssPeeEll (© Bill Leckie 1999). Scottish Football hasn’t really been flush with cash since the first implosion of TV rights fees in 2002, which led to Motherwell going into administration and Clydebank and Airdrieonians going to the wall (only for a reborn Airdrie United taking Clydebank’s place in the League, ironically Gretna were admitted to the Scottish League at this point too). There was a feeling that Scottish Football had left those days behind when the new contract with Setanta was announced just weeks ago, a contract supposedly worth £125 million starting in 2010, and one which according to the Sunday Herald the Old Firm & Aberdeen were against signing. It now looks as if the SPL will go with the option favoured by those three teams, and take the Murdoch shilling once more, even if the offer is substantially less than the original offer.

Theoretically, Scottish football should be in a better position to weather any possible drop in revenues. However there are rumours that there could be 3 SPL clubs in trouble should Setanta go belly up. Kilmarnock are said to be heavily in debt, Falkirk were said to be in a bad position should they have gone down, while it is not clear who the other team could be. Outside of the Old Firm, who has big debts which are “serviceable” thanks to continued participation in european competition, the only teams closest to financial safety are Hibernian (thanks to the sales of promising players), newly promoted St Johnstone and St Mirren (thanks to tax dodgers Tesco). Everyone else will feel the squeeze, which would be exasperated by the poor economic situation.

Many of the “business correspondents” will point to Setanta having a business model which was doomed to failure, especially in poor economic times. This is one of the reasons why pay per view won’t really take off in the same way that it does in the USA. However, one of the key reasons must be the elephant in the room in the shape of BSkyB. Anyone entering the market for broadcasting sport in the UK must have deep pockets, and it is no coincidence that the collapse of Setanta, and earlier on this decade ITV Digital, came after both paid huge money for sports rights (ITV digital shelled out about £330 million for Football league rights, while Setanta paid part of the £425 million for FA Cup and England’s home games) in an attempt to challenge BSkyB’s dominance of the sports market.

Of course, with all the comparison’s with the English Football League’s ill fated broadcast marriage with ITV Digital flying about, with forecasts of a similar meltdown in store for the SPL, there is one similarity. Both the English Football League and the SPL felt that they had to go with small, untried sports broadcasters due to the monopoly which exists within pay-tv sportscasters, shown in the “poor” offer’s submitted for both sets of rights.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Ausies Are Coming!

"There's one thing on my cricketing resume that hasn't been achieved yet and that's being captain of a winning Ashes series in England. That's something very dear to my heart."

With those words Ricky Ponting announced his intent to lead Australia to victory in this summers Ashes series. The ruthless efficiency which was the hallmark of their 5-0 whitewash 30 months ago looks to be in evidence as the Australian’s squad to defend the ashes was announced in the week.

The squad that was picked includes several form players, instrumental in the series win in South Africa. Chief among these, among the batsmen were Marcus North (Centurion in the 1st Test) and Phillip Hughes (A century in each innings of the 2nd Test). Hughes likely opening partner is Simon Katich. Four years ago Katich, like the rest of the Australian middle order, struggled under a barrage of reverse swing. His comeback after the retirement of Justin Langer, and the injury problems of Phil Jaques, is all the more remarkable in that light.

The Australian middle order is likely to be made up of the tried and trusted, starting with the skipper, looking for the 40 runs to take him past 11000 career test runs, followed by Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke. They need to be. Australia have left out Andrew Symons from the squad, while wicket keeper Brad Haddin is no Adam Gilchrist. Whether Haddin is even in the Ian Healy mould remains to be seen. For so long the Australian middle order was the powerhouse of their batting display, with Pointing, the Waugh twins, Allan Border, David Boon and the Chappell brothers all attaining legendary status occupying those berths in the past. Yet this was the biggest failure for Australia 4 years ago, with only one century coming from that area of the batting line up (Ponting’s 162 at Old Trafford, though Clarke made 93 in the victory at Lords). This area Australia needs to get right.

Symon’s exclusion from the squad has seen the door open for 2 relatively unknown all-rounder’s. Shane Watson was much hyped before the last Ashes series as Australia’s version of Flintoff. In 8 tests, 257 runs at 19.76 and 14 wickets at 36 runs is not good form. His “back-up” Andrew McDonald’s figures are not that much better.

There is strong competition for the bowling bearths. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark are back, but are not certainties to get back into the test team. The performance of both Peter Siddle and particularly Mitchell Johnson on South African soil puts the experienced pair under pressure, with Andrew Hilfenhaus also in contention for a test place. It is likely that Australia will start the majority of the 5 tests with 4 seamers.

The largest hole to be filled from the 5-0 ashes team is in the spinners department. Having said that Shane Warne was more than just a leg spinner, the majority of wickets that he picked up in the last years of his career were earned by his nous, and his experience and ability to deliver the perfect delivery. This time around, Australia have picked just off spinner Nathan Hauritz, though if required both Michael Clarke and Simon Katich could provide slow bowling options. Either option is likely to take the 20+ wickets Warne normally hovered up in an Ashes series. This puts pressure straight away on the quick’s to get the wickets.

This is not the legendary Australian side of 1993 or 2001. But it is not unlike the side which toured England twenty years ago with a mix of experience and hungry inexperience. Ponting’s quote is a statement of intent, the question is though. Is England ready?