Football

Now it’s LeTV

Well, I wasn't expecting that.  LeTV out-bid Cable TV and PCCW's Now TV for English Premier League (EPL) TV rights in Hong Kong, paying US$400 million (double the value of Now TV's current agreement).  They had a big launch event this week - and then promptly sold the broadcast TV rights on to Now TV.

Which presumably leaves LeTV with the streaming rights, with speculation that they might offer individual games or a "season pass" (for all of one team’s matches), but nothing has been confirmed.

It should at least be better than the hopeless "Now Player" (I gave up on that after losing the connection three times in the first few minutes of the only EPL game I tried to watch).  

LeTV's streaming service only recently launched in Hong Kong, so it makes some sort of sense for them.  Well, possibly - in the UK it worked for Sky, but not for ITV Digital or Setanta Sports UK (both closed down after over paying for rights), and I suppose it has helped Now TV in Hong Kong (who first acquired the rights in 2007, only to lose them to Cable TV three years later).

Apparently some of the games will be available in 4K.  That's no use to me - my TV only supports 720p (what they used to call "HD ready") and I already have Now TV's so-called "Super HD" service (which I believe is 576p).  

Meanwhile, in other streaming news, Netflix have announced that they will launch in Hong Kong early next year.


Football insanity index (sacked managers edition)

There have been ten managerial changes since the start of the current Premier League season.

9 out of 10 of the people appointed had zero management experience in the Premier League.  One had managed in the Championship, and three had managed elsewhere in Europe - but of them,  only Felix Magath had real experience in a top league. 

So which of them have been successful?

Tony Pulis, obviously, the one of the ten who had previously managed in the Premier League (he has a 48% win rate at Palace).  It’s too early to make a fair judgement on Felix Magath, but he seems to be doing a decent job.

The rest of them have done no better than their predecessors.

Club Was Are Old Manager New Manager
Sunderland 20th 20th Paolo Di Canio Gus Poyet
Crystal Palace 19th 11th Ian Holloway Tony Pulis
Fulham 18th 19th Martin Jol René Meulensteen
West Bromwich Albion 16th 16th Steve Clarke Pepe Mel
Tottenham Hotspur 7th 6th André Villas-Boas Tim Sherwood
Cardiff City 16th 18th Malky Mackay Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Swansea City 12th 13th Michael Laudrup Gary Monk
Fulham 20th 19th René Meulensteen Felix Magath
Norwich City 17th 17th Chris Hughton Neil Adams
Manchester United 7th 7th David Moyes Ryan Giggs

EPL back on Now TV

So the English Premier League is back on Now TV.  It seems to be the pattern now for it to alternate between PCCW’s Now TV and Wharf Group’s Cable TV every three years.

Of course they charge you extra for the EPL.  You might think that a Now Sports Megapack would cover everything, but rather than using the old channel numbers they have created new numbers (from 621 upwards) that are only available in the Super Sports Pack.  And, yes, you need to subscribe for two years.

They also charge extra for Premier League TV, which is a 24 hour channel in English that is originated from the UK and available worldwide to all broadcasters who have EPL rights.  One of the presenters is John Dykes, once of ESPN Star Sports.  I have so far refused to pay for this because I objected to them quoting me a price for EPL coverage and then calling me a few days to ask for more money for one of the channels.  

Good thing about Now TV?  The video on demand service (which cable TV don’t have).  They also claim to have “Super HD” but it seems that my existing decoder doesn’t support it - so again I would have to pay extra for that.

In other Now TV news,  Eurosport is now available in HD, and they showed the recent US Open tennis.  They also have English rugby league and French rugby union, cycling, and some odd bits of football.

Meanwhile, Goal TV has closed down.  They stopped providing coverage of the Championship last season, but still had programmes from several club TV channels  (Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona).

There was a letter in the SCMP from someone complaining that ITV Choice is no longer on Now TV.  The only time I ever watched it was once when I was surprised to discover that it was available in a hotel in Bangkok, but the programmes were old and very second-rate.  So, no big surprise that PCCW chose not to continue offering the channel. 


Madness

I wrote about the Championship merry-go-round shortly after Michael Appleton had become Blackburn’s third manager of the season in mid-January.  Now’s he’s become the 32nd manager to be fired this season.  Where would Blackburn be without Venky’s  and their global football adviser, Shebby Singh?  Don’t answer that.

It was only a few weeks ago that Appleton was quoted as saying that “if Shebby Singh is global advising, he's not advising me”.  Now it seems that Singh has had the last laugh by getting rid of him.

Alex McLeish?  He lasted just 39 days as Nottingham Forest before leaving by “mutual consent” (which for once seemed not to be just a polite way of saying that he had been fired).  He left shortly after the peculiar business with George Boyd “failing a medical” on deadline day. 

Anyone else?  Ah yes, Simon Grayson was sacked by Huddersfield Town after a run of twelve matches without a win, though his successor has not been notably more successful.

And in the Premier League, Reading demonstrated that they could be every bit as ungrateful to a manager who had got them promoted as Southampton had been a few weeks earlier, by firing Brian McDermott.     

It’s all madness, I tell you.

Wolves remain in turmoil and face second successive relegation

Some decisions have been unfathomable. Sacking Mick McCarthy last February and replacing him with his assistant, Terry Connor, was madness. The appointment of Stale Solbakken in the summer was another error of judgment. Unveiled in May as the man to take Wolves back to the Premier League with a more refined style of play, Solbakken was sacked eight months later following a humiliating FA Cup defeat at non-league Luton Town. By that point, the players had long become exasperated with the Norwegian's methods.

Eager to get rid of "the Mick McCarthy culture", Solbakken felt the best way forward was to empower the players. Standards dropped, discipline disappeared – Bakary Sako went unpunished after reporting late for one game – and training lost its competitive edge, with some of the drills regarded as ridiculously basic. Johan Lange and Patrick Weiser, the assistant manager and first-team coach Solbakken brought in to work alongside him, had little authority.

When things started to go badly wrong on the pitch, Solbakken was reluctant to read the riot act, prompting Roger Johnson, whose own time at Wolves has been little short of a disaster, to confront the manager in the changing room during the run of three straight league defeats before the Luton game. Johnson, along with a few other players, felt that Solbakken needed to adopt a tougher line and urged him to point the finger. Solbakken, keen to avoid confrontation, refused.

If Solbakken's departure was inevitable, Saunders's arrival represented a surprise, in part because of the speed with which things happened but also because he was the only person interviewed. Sean O'Driscoll, who had been harshly dismissed by Nottingham Forest, was available, yet he never got a look in. O'Driscoll went on to take over at Bristol City, where he has picked up 17 points from his 11 games in charge. Saunders has eight points from the same number of matches.

Though, to be fair to Wolves and Dean Saunders, they did win last Saturday.


Championship merry-go-round

There have been three managerial changes in the Premier League this season, two of which were rather puzzling (Southampton sack Nigel Adkins and name Mauricio Pochettino as manager  Rafael Benitez replaces Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea manager), and one rather less so (Mark Hughes sacked as Queens Park Rangers manager), but there have been far  more in the Championship. 

Steve Kean was the first casualty of the season, saying that he had been “forced to resign” as manager of Blackburn Rovers.  It seemed an odd time to get rid of him, but this week he had to pay “substantial” damages to Sam Allardyce after he was caught on video (in a bar in Hong Kong) saying that "Big Sam" had been sacked because he was a crook.  Blackburn decided that after one inexperienced manager had failed, what they needed was someone with six years of managerial experience in, er, Norway - former player Henning Berg.

Then Bolton sacked Owen Coyle and appointed Dougie Freedman from Crystal Palace, who in turn recruited Ian Holloway from Blackpool, creating another vacancy, which was filled by appointing Michael Appleton (from struggling Portsmouth). 

So what happened next?  Henning Berg, was sacked after only 57 days, and Michael Appleton become Blackburn’s third manager of the season.  Yes, that’s the same Michael Appleton who had joined Blackpool just 65 days earlier.  He said that he made the move because Blackburn “is a club that is steeped in history”  and “the ambition of owners Venky's persuaded him to join.”   That’s Indian poultry giant Venky's, and their global adviser Shebby Singh (former pundit on ESPN Star Sports).

But Michael Appleton hasn’t had as many managerial positions as Sean O'Driscoll.  In the summer he quit his coaching role at Nottingham Forest to become  manager of Crawley Town (newly promoted from League Two to League One), but almost immediately turned round and headed back to Nottingham Forest as the replacement for Steve Cotterill.  That lasted until 26th December when he was sacked (to be replaced by Alex McLeish*).  However, he didn’t have long to wait before starting his fourth job of the season, at Bristol City, as replacement for Derek McInnes, who was sacked on 12th January.

* Yes, Alex McLeish who had failed at Birmingham and Aston Villa.  No, I don’t understand it, either.

In other Norwegian manager news, Stale Solbakken managed to survive for just over six months at Wolverhampton Wanderers before being sacked on 5th January and replaced by Dean Saunders.

It’s less surprising when a club at the bottom of the league fires their manager: Paul Jewell left Ipswich Town “by mutual consent”  and they appointed Mick McCarthy, who had a distinctly uneven start - his first six matches included three wins, one draw, and two heavy defeats (5-0 and 6-0), but they are now out of the relegation zone. 

Barnsley sacked Keith Hill just after Christmas when they were bottom of the table and replaced him with David Flitcroft. 

That’s 11 changes out of 24 clubs in just over half a season.


EPL might cost more, or it might not

Last week the UK TV rights for the English Premier League were sold for £3 billion.  Does that affect Hong Kong viewers?  No, because the rights for other countries will be sold separately.

But here’s a stupid story in the SCMP based on the incorrect assumption that international rights are included in the UK deal, and that Cable TV and Now TV will have to  “buy the international rights from the British broadcasters”.  No, they won’t.  They will bid separately and all the money will go to the EPL.

The article is padded out with quotes from people who don’t want to pay more (well, there’s a surprise) and an accountant who prefers to pay nothing and watch the games through dodgy online streaming.  The best quote is from so-called (but unnamed) “media analysts” who think that fees might rise by “as much as 30 per cent”.  Well, yes, they might.  Thanks for giving us that insight…

English Premier League TV rights deal to hit fans

71pc increase in cost to British broadcasters, to HK$36 billion, is likely to be passed on when they sell rights overseas, meaning higher fees for HK viewers

John Carney | South China Morning Post | Jun 17, 2012

Hong Kong soccer fans can expect to pay more to watch English Premier League matches after the signing of a record-breaking £3 billion (HK$36 billion) broadcasting deal in Britain.

The league's domestic agreement with BSkyB and British Telecom is worth 71 per cent more than the current deal, and suggests local broadcasters will have to pay far more to continue carrying matches of the world's most popular soccer league.

Asian media analysts say the three-year agreement could lead to subscriber fee rises of as much as 30 per cent after providers buy the international rights from the British broadcasters. The deal begins after next season, when local Cable TV's current deal also runs out.

The news strikes soccer fans in the midst of the Euro 2012 Championship in which many EPL fans who might subscribe to Cable TV's i-Cable  are packing local sport bars to watch Now TV's exclusive broadcast of the matches.

Just last month, sport fans learned that they might not get free television broadcasts of the London Olympics as talks drag on between the sole local rights holder, Cable TV, and over-the-air broadcasters ATV and TVB.

Freelance writer Ed Mathews complained that cost of watching the EPL was already too high.  "It would be cheaper to watch your pick of the best matches now in a sports bar," Mathews said.

Teacher Sean Holmes shared the sentiment, complaining that local broadcasters use soccer to attract new viewers, but continually charge them more.  "It's also an increasingly inferior product," Holmes said. "The best footballers in the world play in Spain in La Liga. I'll be cancelling my subscription and just watching La Liga in the future."

But not everyone had a bad word to say about what soccer fans have to put up with here.  "I don't care because I already watch it via an internet feed for free anyway," accountant Francis Powell said. "So you could actually say I'm grateful for the quality that i-Cable's broadband provides."

Cable TV did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did PCCW , which runs Now TV.

Elsewhere news of the potential fee rises was met with an air of inevitability.  "I would welcome the opportunity for the general public to view the Premier League for free," tourism lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said. "But we have to realise that we're living in a commercial world and the Premier League has become huge worldwide."   But he said providers should show "social responsibility" and make sure fees remain affordable.

Toby Cooper, owner of The Globe bar in Central, said the EPL's periodic switching between i-Cable and Now TV put off home subscribers as it compelled them to switch providers. However, he believed most bar owners would accept any fee rises because the channel pays for itself.

"The Premier League is just something you have to have," Cooper said. "The price is going up because everyone wants to watch it. It's the biggest league in the world and the interest here far eclipses La Liga and Serie A. That's not going to change."


FA Cup final–just another game

Ah, the FA Cup Final.  Used to be the only club game played at Wembley, and the only one that was live on TV.  Now we have the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley, play-off finals, the League Cup, the Charity Community Shield and I don’t know how many other matches played there.  And hundreds of games live on TV.

There was a time when winning the FA Cup was also special because it provided entry to the Cup Winners Cup, but today it gives entry to the interminable Europa League, and the place usually goes to the runners-up (when the FA Cup winners are a big club who have qualified for the Champions League).

It also used to mark the end of the football season, but now we always have play-off finals after the FA Cup final, and this year there’s another set of Premier League fixtures coming up  next weekend – but worse than that we actually have four Premier Leagues matches being played at lunchtime today, including the game that will most likely see Manchester United being confirmed as champions, so you could argue that the FA Cup Final isn’t even the biggest game being played today.

Still, at least we have “It’s a Cup Final Knockout” on BBC One.  Surely?

Er, no:

1.30 pm Cash in the Celebrity Attic
2.15 pm Bargain Hunt Famous Finds
3.00 pm Father of the Bride
4.40 pm Don't Scare the Hare


Russia and Qatar

So it's Russia in 2018, and, er, Qatar in 2022.

There has been entirely predictable outrage in England about the failure of the World Cup bid. Apparently some delegates promised they would vote for England, but then voted for someone else! Well, who could possibly have expected that?

The Sun (predictably) has another angle: It's a fix - Russians knew World Cup bid result, because when the same delegates told the Russians that they were voting for them, they were telling the truth

There has been criticism of the Sunday Times (for exposing the willingness of some FIFA delegates to accept bribes) and the BBC (for reporting that other FIFA delegates had taken bribes in the past). Prior to that, Lord Triesman was recorded by the Daily Mail repeating rumours about other naughty things done by Johnny Foreigner.  And those foreign FIFA delegates didn’t vote for the English bid.  Life really is full of surprises.

Then Qatar won the right to stage to 2022 tournament. Why would FIFA want to stage the World Cup in a tiny but incredibly wealthy state. Oh, right...

Surely it is now time for the English FA to stop wasting time and money on World Cup bids. The money they spent on this one would have been much better used on projects that would bring immediate benefit and maybe even give England a chance of winning the trophy. 


So much football, lah

It doesn't seem that long ago that we only got one EPL game live on Saturday night.  Then it became two of the 3pm kick-offs, and then (3 years ago) every single game.

Perhaps even more amazing is that we now get up to 3 live games on Saturday from the Championship (the second tier of English football) courtesy of Goal TV, which has recently been added to the Now Sports package.

Goal TV also has selected programmes from the club channels of Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona, including full matches (but recorded rather than live).

MUTV (Manchester United’s channel) is no longer available through Goal TV but has become a standalone channel on Now TV - for which you have to pay extra.  They seem to show their EPL games a few hours after they have finished.

So what is available? 

  • English Premier League - Cable TV has the live rights
    • MUTV (Manchester United TV) - Now TV
    • Chelsea TV, Liverpool TV – Goal TV (Now Sports) 
  • Champions League and Europa League - Cable TV
  • Italian Serie A - Cable TV and Now Sports
  • Spanish La Liga - Now Sports
  • German Bundesliga - Cable TV
  • French Ligue 1 - Now Sports
  • Scottish Premier League -  Goal TV
  • Dutch League -  Goal TV
  • English FA Cup - Star Sports (Now Sports)
  • English Football League -  Goal TV

As ever, updates and corrections are very welcome.