Sport as a whole hasn’t changed much. With each sweeping development – professionalism, scientific advances, and massive sponsorship deals – what happens on the pitch, track or course is essentially the same. Athletes may be quicker, stronger and more skilful than ever before, but the spectacle remains the same. So why has the way we view sport changed so radically?
An uneasy trend in the coverage of sports is the melodrama that surrounds even the most mundane of events; where before there were players and tactics, it seems that now there are personalities, ghost handshakes and scandalous refereeing decisions. A phenomenon of analysis that more than likely stems from the foundation of the English Premier League is now pervading almost every sporting code – the hysteria of the media – and it seems to be here to stay.
The goalposts have moved in recent years as competition in sports coverage is now coming from every angle. Why subscribe to Sky when you can stream most matches live? Why buy a newspaper when there are equally good articles available on blogs and podcasts? This very website is testament to the challenges that now face established players in the media game. The solution for dealing with this competition seems to be to ratchet the excitement levels to eleven; a roller-coaster ride through every incident, from every angle, at varying frame speeds (in high definition).
The recent Gift Grub sketch on the notorious ‘Sky Deal’ (won’t be mentioned again) highlighted this more than I ever could. While Paul Merson gasped in disbelief at a player being sent to the gallows, it isn’t especially hard to provoke such a reaction from him or any other sports commentators.
Innocuous comments from managers are given Frasier Crane-style meaningfulness, referees affect the outcome of matches more than anyone else on the pitch, and poor tackles make the highlights reel as much as great goals. It is surely only a matter of time before we see post-match séances and humiliating forfeits for under-performing teams.
Are we being conned? The figures would suggest that we are happier than ever with how sport is being presented to us. The consumption of sporting media is greater than ever, but a case could be made for quantity finally confronting quality down a darkened alley and knocking seven bells out of it. In honing in on “significant incidents” we are missing out on a higher level of analysis and expertise – much more will be written about Mourinho’s post-match comments regarding Messrs Dean and Riley than how a tactical mastermind failed to protect an unbeaten home streak against the team propping up the league table.
While the tide is turning in this regard – websites like whoscored.com and the ill-fated Off The Ball podcasts deserve honourable mentions – the big players remains largely uninterested in treating the consumer as even semi-intelligent beings who do not even possess the means to question the quality or usefulness of what is being served up. Although much like that famous scene from Oliver Twist, the consumer is still running to the top table and asking for more.
Michael Hayes, Pundit Arena.