The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced a two-year extension to its existing broadcast deal with Sky last week.
The deal is worth around £18.5 million a year and cements Sky’s position as the only broadcaster capable of combining its TV schedules with very deep pockets and the ECB’s commercial plans up until 2019 and beyond.
Sky wasted no time reminding everyone that English cricket has earned £150 million from the pair’s long-term contract, now entering its tenth year, money which, the broadcaster maintains, has been “invested to help strengthen the game, by improving international, first class and local facilities.”
It’s difficult to argue with this statement, although some counties, who advocate televising the highlights of NatWest T20 Blast matches on free-to-air television, might question the wisdom of throwing their lot in with one broadcaster, especially as the format of T20 is scheduled for another detailed examination.
Not surprisingly, counties would prefer to play the tournament over almost three months because it guarantees income and makes fixtures less vulnerable to bad weather.
It is understood that Sky would prefer a shorter T20 tournament along the lines of Australia’s Big Bash.
More importantly, several counties are keen on the T20 competition gaining free-to-air exposure, not least because regular, grass-roots participation in the game has plummeted sine 2005. They’re probably the ones who recognise that he who pays the piper calls the tune.
* Having highlighted the growing trend for wearable technology, this column was provided with details of a Manchester-based company called SmartLife, created by academics at the University of Manchester and UMIST, whose products are currently being tested by England Women’s rugby team and the national women’s hockey squad.
SmartLife’s technology, which enables coaches to monitor real-time data such as athletes’ heart rate, is sewn into players’ shirts and what are called its ‘smart bras’.
Similar technology has been around for a while and has helped doctors monitor women who might be at risk of contracting breast cancer. After signing an agreement with textile giant Cortaulds, SmartLife is looking to raise £15 million to fund future development.
* At a time of the year when fitness is very much a hot topic amongst those of us who over-indulged during the festive period, a relative newcomer emerged as the country’s largest gym operator this week.
Pure Gym, founded in 2009, opened half a dozen new gyms last week alone and plans to add a further 36 during 2015. It now boasts 90 UK-based gyms and 450,000 members, making it the country’s largest operator when compared with Virgin Active (400,000 members) and David Lloyd Leisure which has 440,000 members. Pure Gym plans to open between 30-40 new sites a year “for a few years yet,” according to chief executive Peter Roberts.
There are almost 60 operators in the UK’s low-cost, ultra-competitive gym sector, most of which have no annual contracts and charge members between £9.99 and £25 a month.
The fees are comparatively low because almost all, like Pure Gym, do not offer expensive-to-maintain swimming pools and saunas.
The company, majority-owned by an American private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors, is expected to complement natural expansion with acquisitions should the opportunity arise.
LA Fitness, which sold 30 of its sites to Sports Direct, still has 47 gyms could be of interest to CCMP who are intent on building a portfolio of up to 300 sites by 2020.
* Research has found that the farther a team is away from the Premier League’s relegation zone, the less likelihood there is of them signing a newcomer during the January transfer window.
The research, which examined transfers over the last decade, found that every one of the 53 teams that have been within two points of the relegation zone at the beginning of January has signed at least one player during the subsequent month.
This perhaps explains why the majority of the 228 players signed by top-flight clubs since 2005 have been defenders.
* Football club owners are not exactly renowned for spending too much time grappling with moral dilemmas.
Details of their concerns that supporters are being over-charged for average fare, or reports of club directors having sleepless nights about the re-scheduling of a fixture which leaves fans embarking on a 500-mile round-trip for a Tuesday night League Cup replay are thin on the ground.
One wonders, then, whether the former Sheffield United and Wales forward Ched Evans will ever work within the football industry again.
Evans maintains that despite being found guilty of rape, he is an innocent man. His case is currently being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
It is understood that since being released from prison last October, he has discussed the possibility of securing contracts with Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic. On both occasions, the clubs concerned have been on the cusp of agreeing a deal only to back out at the last minute.
There’s understandable apprehension about hiring a man found guilty of rape.
However, the burgeoning power of social media has succeeded in turning consternation into fear, a development compounded by subtle threats from internet-savvy sponsors capable of making it known that they’re considering cancelling contracts with a football club should it do something with which they do not agree. It is this commercial threat, implicit or otherwise, not the moral dilemma of recruiting a convicted felon, which appears likely to convince clubs not to sign Evans.
And because money talks louder than anything else in football, Evans will be punished twice – once with a jail sentence and once with unemployment.