Where’s it gone?

Now TV have 9 sports channels.  However, they don’t have enough sport to fill all these channel 24 hours per day and by the time you get to channel 638 (Now Sports 8) there’s usually just a blank screen.  OK, fair enough.

But hang on, there are several Premier League games tonight.  Shouldn’t one of them be on 638 or 639?  You might think so, but actually Blackburn vs. Manchester United is on channel 898 (TVB Pay Vision Info).  This is not advertised anywhere on their website, and it’s hardly an obvious channel to try.

It’s possible that if you watched the football on Now Sports 2 they might be explaining (in Cantonese) that this game is on 898, but apart from that viewers are left totally in the dark.  Very puzzling.  

EPL returns to Cable TV

Three years ago, PCCW’s Now TV put in a knockout bid and won the Hong Kong rights to the English Premier League without Cable TV being able to make a counter-bid.  This time round, Cable TV were more prepared, and PCCW dropped out of the auction, saying that they declined to pay over the odds - because they would have to pass on the costs to their customers.

This is, of course, true, as I pointed out some time back, but PCCW didn’t seem so concerned three years ago when they they paid close to US$200m, and then charged customers an extra HK$150 per month for their EPL coverage.  Without it, they have to reduce prices again, but the new price is HK$148 per month for Now Sports, ESPN, Star Sports and Eurosport, significantly more than the old price for Star/ESPN. Certainly they do have more than just the EPL - Spanish football being the latest addition – and they have an introductory offer of HK$98 and no-one actually pays the full price they advertise.  In a rare concession, they even say that customers who have existing contracts will get some form of credit.

Maybe it’s all been worthwhile for PCCW because it has undoubtedly gained them subscribers, many of whom will keep the boxes and at least some of the channels (in theory you can subscribe to one single channel, but of course they have better deals if you take more).

We don’'t yet know what type of service Cable TV will offer.  There was a lot of uninformed speculation (some of it here) about what would be available from PCCW, and it turned out to be about as good as one could have wished (every single games live, some in HD, and some available on-demand), but more expensive. 

Cable TV are hinting at price increases, but nothing has been announced.  Last time round the EPL coverage was included in their basic package, but since then they have started offering different combinations of channels and it seems highly likely that there will be a premium cable sports package (based around the EPL and the Champions League).  They do do now have an HD service, but I don’t think they have any video-on-demand facility (if they did, it would have to be provided through the converter box).

Spanish football is too expensive

Yesterday's SCMP had an explanation for the absence of Spanish football from Hong Kong TV screens.  The reason, apparently, is that La Liga want more money for the rights than either PCCW (Now TV) or Cable TV are willing to pay. 

The reality is that subscribers wouldn't pay much to watch the Spanish or Italian or German leagues.  It's the English Premier League and the Champions League that are the big draws, and the pay tv companies are willing to pay for those rights.  Now TV has done well from the EPL, and the Champions League coverage finally gives Cable TV some credibility after they lost the EPL rights, but the other leagues don't really matter.

They also report that Now TV are finally going to offer an HD version of HBO, and (hurrah) they aren't going to charge any extra for it.  This follows their decision to stop charging a premium for Now Sports HD, but (as far as I know) they they are still charging extra for National Geographic HD and Discovery HD - and for the HD version of the History Channel, I suppose, if anyone pays for that oddity.  I don't understand why they don't simply make a one-off charge for HD to include all the channels.  Too simple, I suppose.

Where's Ronaldo gone? European football on Hong Kong TV

Someone added a comment to my post about Cable TV's HD service asking where Spanish football is available this season (on TV in Hong Kong, that is).  The answer seems to be that it isn't, which seems odd given the amount of money Barcelona and Real Madrid have spent.

So what is available?  Based on my brief research:

  • English Premier League - we all know that Now Sports have these rights
  • Champions League and Europa League (previously UEFA Cup) - Cable TV
  • Italian Serie A - Cable TV and Now Sports
  • German Bundesliga - Cable TV
  • Portugese League - Now Sports
  • Scottish Premier League -  Goal TV (TVB Pay Vision, also available on Now TV)
  • Dutch League -  Goal TV
  • English FA Cup - Probably still on Star Sports (Now Sports)
  • English Football League -  Goal TV

Goal TV also has selected programs from various club channels (including Barcelona, so there's some Spanish football for you).

Updates and corrections are very welcome.

Spurs nil

It's all about money, innit?

Tottenham didn't come to Hong Kong for any other reason.

The problem is that a friendly match against South China doesn't suddenly become important because it is for the "Panasonic Cup".  They probably won't be the slightest bit concerned that this fine piece of silverware is now in the hands of South China rather than on its way to North London.

Which is why Spurs started with the likes of Jonathan Obika, John Bostock, Danny Rose and Jake Livermore.  Not exactly the stars that people had paid their money to see.

Ironically, although Harry Redknapp did bring on Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon in the second half, it was South China who scored - first with a rather clever chip by Chan Siu Ki, and then with a highly dubious penalty. 

At least the second half was better than the dire first half, but it was clear for all to see that this was a game that Spurs simply wanted to get out of the way, and frankly they never looked like scoring.

Maybe they don't care, but Spurs will not have won over any neutrals with the way they approached this game.

All ends up

Since the Football League introduced the play-off system, the end-of-season schedule of matches has been fairly consistent.

The Football League season ends in early May (with League One and Two on the Saturday, and the Championship on Sunday).  A week later the Premier League season ends.  Then it's the FA Cup Final, and finally the Play-Off finals at Wembley over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend (at the end of May).

Not this year.  The Football League season ended 2 weeks ago (as normal), but the Premier League season carries on until the Bank Holiday weekend.  Then we have the Champions League final, and (unless I'm very much mistaken) the FA Cup Final will mark the end of the season.  Which is nice.

It's often said that the winners of the Championship play-offs suffer because they can only start their preparations 3 weeks after the other two promoted teams.  This year might be different, though, because either Burnley or Sheffield United will be promoted just one day after the end of the Premier League season.  So if United win they will have the opportunity to bid for a sulky Argentinean with a history of scoring vital goals at the end of the season...    

Second division

Everyone must know that the English Premier League is on Now TV.  What about other European football?  Of course there's a lot on other Now channels and on Cable TV, but there is also some in strange places.

The Championship (the English 2nd Division) is shown on TVB Pay Vision, but they don't have a sports channel so the games go out on channel 898 (TVB PayVison Info - normally used for programme information) and tonight you can watch Burnley vs Reading in the play-offs.  The two language options are Cantonese and silence. 

Or tonight on one of the free-to-air ATV digital channels you can watch Rangers vs Celtic from the Scottish Premier League.  Earlier this season another 'Old Firm' clash was on ATV Home, but it was a dull 0-0 draw, so tonight they are showing a 42 year old James Bond film instead.

This season, TVB has been showing the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) on Jade, with a few games on Pearl (for matches that are in peak times in HK), and the final is on Wednesday night (Thursday morning here).  The final is Lazio vs Sampdoria, which might help to explain why it's on free-to-air TV - no-one takes the Coppa Italia very seriously.

AFC Wimbledon

Surely one of the stories of this football season must be the amazing ascent of AFC Wimbledon.

The club was founded less than 7 years ago by fans of Wimbledon FC when their team became MK Dons and moved to faraway Milton Keynes.  They started out in the 9th tier of English football, and have now won promotion four times in seven years.  Yesterday they won the Blue Square South title and next season they will play in the Blue Square Premier (the Conference), which is the highest level outside the Football League.  Based on what has happened so far, it seems likely that they will be in the Football League before very long.

Of course Wimbledon FC were famous for making their way from non-league to the First Division in the space of just 11 years, and perhaps even more amazingly for staying in the top flight for 13 seasons - in spite of having to play their home matches at Selhurst Park and sell most of their best players in order to survive.  Eventually the owners decided that the only way to survive was to move to a new location and build a new stadium - and the FA allowed them to do that  - much to the disgust of the fans. 

Ironically, AFC Wimbledon don't play in the Borough of Merton either, but they do at least own their ground, which is shared with Kingstonian (whose ground it used to be).   

Spot the difference

imageBBC Sport RSS feed:  League to discuss two-tier plan

Chairmen will discuss a plan put forward by Bolton's Phil Gartside to have a two division Premier League including Celtic and Rangers.

click on the link and it takes you to this page:

imageLeague dismiss two-tier proposals

Celtic and Rangers could play Old Firm matches in the English league

Plans to increase the Premier League to two divisions including Celtic and Rangers will not be formally discussed by English club chairmen on Thursday.

A proposal for two divisions of 18 teams had been reported, but the BBC has learned the issue will not be on the agenda.

Bolton chairman Phil Gartside put the scheme together and was set to present it to his Premier League counterparts.

Continue reading "Spot the difference" »

Football Sanity Index

I often find myself watching EPL games not really knowing which team I want to win.  So recently I have taken to supporting (strictly on a match-by-match basis) whoever scores higher on the Football Sanity Index.  There are many factors involved, but the main ones are the recent history of hiring and firing managers, transfer policy, and generally how well the club is run.

Did someone mention Manchester City?  First they were Thaksin Shinawatra's plaything, and Sven-Göran Eriksson was sacked apparently because they had been too successful in the first half of the season. Now with their super rich new owners they are rushing around trying to buy up the most expensive players in the world, so far with gratifying lack of success. 

It appears that Robinho was surprised as anyone to find himself at Manchester City rather than Chelsea, and his performances seem to suggest that he is not entirely happy with the way things turned out.  Then there was the ridiculous way that Gary Cook and his colleagues behaved in waving wads of cash at one of the oldest and grandest teams in world football and their petulant behaviour when their bid for Kaka was rebuffed by AC Milan.  Mark Hughes will be glad to get out at the end of the season, and of course Sven is now available to return as manager after being sacked by Mexico.  Go on, you know it makes sense.

Last Sunday, Manchester City lost to Fulham, who have been one of the success stories of the season under Roy Hodgson, a highly experienced British manager, and in spite of having a dodgy foreign owner they score very highly on the FSI and it's good to see them doing well.

Last Sunday's other game was between Aston Villa and Everton, with two more experienced British managers in charge.  Everton get a good FSI score, but Villa have out-spent almost every other club in the EPL and again failed to qualify for the Champions League.  Does that remind anyone of Leeds United?  In the Peter Risdale years they spent very freely but it all went wrong and they found themselves in administration and down in League One (aka the 3rd Division).  They will soon be joined there by Charlton, who made the mistake of hitching their wagons to the Iain Dowie Travelling Circus and then sending it on its way again only a few weeks later. 

After equally brief spells at Coventry and QPR, Mr Dowie is now working his magic at Newcastle alongside Alan Shearer.  I've already expressed my bewilderment at this appointment, and in a season when Roy Keane quit and Tony Adams was sacked as Portsmouth manager, why do clubs imagine that inexperienced managers are the answer? 

At least Paul Ince had some experience as a manager before taking over at Blackburn, but was a grand total of two years in League Two (the 4th Division) really enough?   Almost certainly not.  Was it realistic to expect that he could make the transition from Macclesfield and MK Dons to the Premier League so quickly?  Would any other organization take on an inexperienced person and then sack them a few months later?  Almost certainly not. 

Middlesbrough appointed Gareth Southgate as their manager 3 years ago although he had no experience - but at least they have stuck with him, so they now score rather higher on the FSI than Blackburn or Newcastle.  

Or Portsmouth, who should surely have understood that a recovering alcoholic who had failed at a lower league club might not be the perfect choice as manager.  They have recovered somewhat under Paul Hart, who started out in management more than 20 years ago (at Chesterfield) and enjoyed some success at Nottingham Forest a few years ago.  Who'd have guessed that someone with 20 years experience would be more effective as a manager?