Hats off to Tom Mockridge, chief executive of Virgin Media and clearly the caped champion of football fans everywhere, who this week called Ofcom’s investigation into how the Premier League sells its live television rights “welcome news”.
Virgin Media’s lawyers argue that the manner in which the self-styled ‘most exciting league in the world’ sells UK television rights is “in breach of competition law”.
The value of the league’s latest rights deal, which ends next season, is £3 billion, more than 70 per cent higher than the previous contract which covered the period 2009-12. According to Ofcom, Mr Mockridge and his learned friends maintain that although more than 40 per cent of league matches are broadcast live under the current arrangement (most of us probably thought it was higher), the percentage is, say Ofcom, “...lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live television broadcast.”
Mr Mockridge said he wants “to make football even more accessible...to ensure a better deal for football fans.”
Virgin Media appear to want more football on the box, possibly in order that they may bid to buy the rights – but not at the current price.
The bidding process for the 2016-19 rights is scheduled to commence early next year and expected to yield upwards of £3.7 billion for the Premier League.
Jeff Loria, owner of the Major League Baseball (MLB) Miami Marlins, has seen the value of his investment in the franchise more than treble in the space of twelve years.
Loria, a well-known New York art dealer, bought the Marlins from Liverpool FC owner John W Henry for $158 million in 2002 when they were known as the Florida Marlins. They officially changed their name to reflect their home base in 2011. According to US finance magazine Forbes, the organisation is today worth more than $520 million.
Given his background Loria, who previously owned the Montreal Expos, an outfit he effectively sold to the MLB for $120 million in 2002, is no stranger to clinching big deals, be they for 20th century masters, an area in which he specialises, or buying baseball franchises. On Tuesday, he signed the largest-ever player contract in baseball history and one of the most valuable ever in world sport.
The beneficiary? Step forward 25-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins’ slugger who was absent from the final 17 games of last season after being hit in the face by a pitch, but who earlier this week managed to find his way to the foot of the contract where it says ‘signed’ and penned a deal worth a staggering $325 million (£210 million) over 13 years. Stanton’s agent insisted on a break clause after six years, but Loria is expecting him to hang around until 2027 and add to his already impressive tally of 154 home runs in five MLB seasons.
Loria was clearly delighted after the deal was agreed. “I’m happy for the city. I’m happy for him. And I’m thrilled for baseball,” he said. “We have a player who is committed to us, and we’ve committed to him for the life of his career.”
At a basic $25 million a year, Loria will be hoping he has invested in a modern baseball master.
Rarely over the past couple of decades have we heard a sportsman or woman utter anything approaching Winter Paralympian Jade Etherington’s comments earlier this week. Talking about why, after winning four Olympic medals at the Sochi Games, she has decided to quit the sport and focus on becoming a teacher, Etherington said: “For me it’s about the quality of my life. Even though they have this (new) funding... I’d rather be happy and (have) no money.”
The visually-impaired 23-year-old Etherington, a member of the British Disabled Ski Team, became Britain’s most decorated Winter Paralympian after winning three silvers and a bronze at Sochi, but retired earlier this month after the sport’s governing body failed to back her or, apparently, tell her that a significant increase in funding was imminent.
In the run-up to Turin 2006, Winter Paralympians didn’t receive a penny in central funding, although they were awarded £205,000 for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. This figure was almost doubled (to £405,000) for those competing at Sochi earlier this year.
The irony is that as a direct result of Etherington’s success, coupled with that of Kelly Gallagher, who won Britain’s first-ever Winter Paralympic gold at Sochi, the funding award for the 2018 Games was increased to £2.7 million – although it only came into effect at the beginning of October.
Rugby folks are not exactly renowned for their militancy, but it appears that Samoa’s match against England at Twickenham on Saturday will go ahead after the Samoan squad withdrew its collective threat to go on strike and effectively boycott the fixture. The International Rugby Board (IRB) has now become embroiled in a dispute which revolves around details of where £9 million of annual funding distributed to Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, as well as smaller Pacific territories, has gone.
A meeting was scheduled to be held in France last weekend between the IRB, player representatives and the Samoan Rugby Union (SRU) to address these concerns, but the union failed to turn up. Faced with the threat of strike action, the SRU warned players they risked losing a potentially lucrative fixture against the All Blacks next season, would be excluded from next year’s World Cup and would not be allowed to participate at future Olympic Games.
This one could run and run, particularly as the SRU chairman, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, also happens to be the nation’s Prime Minister.
As this column reported last week, the Caterham F1 team, currently in administration, was on course to raise the £2.35 million it required to compete in Sunday’s F1 finale in Abu Dhabi. Eventually, more than 5,000 grand prix supporters pledged £1.9 million, with sponsors making up the £435,000 shortfall at the 11th hour.
Not as though this show of support will cut much ice with Bernie Ecclestone. In an interview with an Asian marketing magazine, he was dismissive of the smaller F1 teams, but even more disparaging about the sport’s need to attract younger followers.
“I don’t know why people want to get to the so-called young generation,” said Mr Ecclestone. “Why do they want to do that? Is it to sell them something?
“Most of these kids haven’t got any money. I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash.”
One wonders how many of those who pledged money to send Caterham to the Gulf for Sunday’s race are aged under 70.