Tag Archives: BT Sport

Q&A with BT Sport presenter Jules Breach

It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in February. Britain is experiencing its ‘Indian Winter’ and I’m walking to the Market Place Bar in London’s Fitzrovia to meet sports presenter Jules Breach, fresh off the train from Liverpool.

I’ve known Jules for just over a year and I’ve been able to see her grow as a TV presenter but also as a person. I wanted to interview her to get her own insight into her life and hear her views and opinions on challenges in presenting sport as a female.

As I arrive, she’s got a little suitcase and is wearing a tiger print shirt, which makes her even easier to spot in a relatively empty bar.

She orders a hibiscus and peach tea and is frustrated at me when I paid the bill for the drinks.

 As a child you were pretty well travelled: has this helped with the travel now involved with your job?

“I was born in Brighton then moved to Mauritius when I was six months old, then I moved back to England when I was about five, and then moved to Jamaica when I was eight. I moved back to Brighton when I was 15 to stay with my aunty and uncle as the schools were better here.

“Definitely, I look back at my whole life and see that it’s just preparing me for what’s to come.

“It’s funny. I never imagined I would be working in football when I was 15, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I loved journalism, I loved TV, I loved performing but I never knew that it would be a career when I was 15.

“I was playing tennis at quite a high level and I still had dreams of being a professional athlete for a living in that just didn’t work out.”

Moving to the UK without your parents: how was that?

 “It was terrifying. My mum slightly bribed me by telling me that I could be my only female cousins’ best friend and that we’d share a room together. We had a little den in the third-floor attic conversion and it was great!

“I did miss my parents and it wasn’t like it is today where you can Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype all the time. We genuinely wrote letters and the phone calls were only every so often. It was a different world to what it is now.

“It was hard at the time, but whenever people ask me about that period of my life I didn’t know any other way. It is just normal that I didn’t live with my mum and dad and we lived on the other side of the world.”

You work regularly on the Premier League, you’ve covered a World Cup, you work on the sidelines at Champions League games and done some presenting at the Rugby World Cup. What’s next? The Cricket World Cup – I ask as a bit of a joke…

“Funnily enough, I am actually doing something for the Cricket World Cup but just for a charity. I’ve recently become an ambassador for Street Child United; it’s a phenomenal charity that helps street children through their love of sport.

“They have a really big presence in the Philippines, which is where my family are originally from, so it’s a really lovely thing for me to be involved.

“They have some amazing people that are coming over to play at Lords Cricket Ground in the summer, so I’ll be there with the charity and hopefully help raise money and awareness and play a little bit of cricket. Obviously, I have no idea how to play cricket, but I’m so excited – it’s going to to be great fun.

“To work at the Champions League final is definitely on my bucket list – I don’t know if it’s going to happen this season, so fingers crossed.

“On a serious note, I just want to keep enjoying myself. I know it sounds cheesy! But I just want to work and have fun and enjoy my job.”

You host BT Sport’s Score programme with Mark Pougatch. What has working with him been like?

“Mark Pougatch has been an absolute legend to me. Before I worked with him, I knew Mark from his radio work, and he has been the most incredible person to work with.

“He is so helpful and is so understanding. He’s worked in this industry for a long time but he was paired with someone who is completely new to it, but yet he has so much patience and understanding with me. He’s always wanting to help me in every different area of our work.

“It was an insane achievement for me to go from a screen test to actually getting the job, and then work with Mark, and for him to kind of mentor me has just been amazing.”

Recently, female football pundits have faced sexist abuse from trolls online. What has been your experience with this?

“Whenever I saw these Twitter trolls, the small-minded people, I have kind of always just let them go over my head

“Rachel Brown-Finnis did that piece on BT Sport and it really got to me. It upset because it was such an attack personally on her and because I know her, and I know how great she is and how phenomenal her knowledge of the game is.

“It’s just wrong and unfair that those kinds of opinions still exist in this day and age.

“She didn’t deserve it, and BT Sport decided to have a piece on the abuse female pundits get, only for it to be greeted by more abuse.

“One thing that’s nice is working for BT Sport as they are one of the channels that want to give more women an opportunity to work in different sports.”

Before we leave, I make her promise me that she’ll take me to the World Cup Final in Qatar in 2022 as the final will be held on my birthday. She laughs and says she will.

Feature image courtesy of BT Sport.

Battle of the boxing broadcasters

Broadcasters have long had an important influence on boxing, but in the past year it has intensified to another level.

For most of its history, the sport has been all about battles in the ring, but we are entering an era in which the biggest fights are those between media companies.

The USA and UK are seen as boxing’s biggest markets, and both countries now have three different networks competing against each other.

For British fight fans, it is common practice to turn to Sky Sports to provide the best and biggest contests in the sport. However, Sky’s arch-rival BT Sport is also becoming a major player, especially after the success of its pay-per-view (PPV) coverage of Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury.

If that wasn’t enough, ITV have decided to join the battle of the broadcasters by signing a deal with promotional company Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) last December.

PBC have had great success in America, especially through their dealings with Floyd Mayweather; now the company is venturing into the UK market and spicing up the party.

Shockwaves

The situation has long been similar in the States where boxing fans are accustomed to the ongoing stalemate between boxing broadcasters. However, as in the UK, things have escalated.

For a while, the competition in the US market has been between Al Haymon (PBC), Bob Arum (Top Rank) and Oscar De la Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions), all on separate TV networks.

In addition to its recent contract with ITV, PBC also have ongoing deals with Showtime and FOX, whilst Top Rank’s dealings are solely with ESPN.

However the introduction of DAZN  last year may change boxing for good, and has already sent shockwaves throughout boxing in America.

Branded as the Netflix of sport, DAZN is a streaming service that shows various sport events for monthly subscription fee – potentially signalling the end of PPV.

DAZN have already teamed up with Golden Boy and UK-based Matchroom to create a great triple-threat fight between ESPN, Fox and DAZN.

Why is this so important?

Promotional deals

Boxing works differently to, say, football, where organisations such as the Premier League and Uefa sign broadcast deals for their ‘product’ to be shown in various markets.

Promoters have always been the key figures in boxing, and their stables of fighters become aligned with whichever media companies they do deals with.

More recently, individual boxers have been signing with broadcasters directly. Mayweather fought under the Showtime banner; last year, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez signed a £278m deal with DAZN; Tyson Fury has just announced an £80m tie-up with ESPN.

How does this affect viewers?

When fighters sign long-term promotional deals with media companies, all of their fights for the duration of that contract will have to be shown on that platform.

One of the most common criticisms of boxing nowadays is that the best do not fight the best – well, it’s quite difficult when two fighters are contracted to two separate broadcasters.

Now we have the three best heavyweights on three separate television stations. With Fury signed to ESPN, Wilder with Showtime and Anthony Joshua to the DAZN.

Resurgence

This has been an ongoing problem in boxing over the past decade and has put several mega-fights on hold, including Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.

After being talked about for several years, it finally went ahead in 2015, when former multi-weight champion Pacquiao – at the age of 36 – was deemed by many to be past his best.

Boxing has seen a resurgence in its fortunes in recent years, and is now generating a much larger following worldwide.

The key to this upsurge isn’t easy to pinpoint, but one thing is clear – large sums of money are being invested in the sport with a view to making even larger sums.

So, what will happen going forward?

Record-breaking

The most alarming issue, as mentioned earlier, is the battle of the broadcasters could make it much harder to ever see certain fights happen. A few that spring to mind include:

Big fights that may not happen…

  • Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
  • Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder
  • Errol Spence vs Terrance Crawford
  • Canelo vs Genady Golokvin III
  • Vasyl Lomachenko vs Gervonta Davies

One thing that has been evident since these networks have been going head to head is fighters have been getting extremely big paydays thanks to broadcast budgets increasing significantly.

DAZN broke into the US market last year with a record-breaking budget of $1bn over the next eight years. Fox and PBC have a budget of $120m a year for the next four years.

With these unprecedented amounts comes huge financial incentives for fighters, as broadcasters will offer ridiculous amounts to have the biggest draws on their platforms.

We have already seen the consequence of this already. Last year boxing saw the ‘richest contract in sports history’ when Canelo Alvarez signed his 11-fight deal with DAZN.

Since then we have seen many top-tier fighters in the majority of weight classes sign contracts for career high paydays.

Fortunately for fans, this means fighters are much more active. There is no longer a situation where boxers are fighting once a year.

However, that also means more expense for boxing fans who want to be able to see as many key bouts as possible across all the media platforms now involved in the sport.

This cold war between the broadcasters is already creating unsavoury situations such as White v Chisora being on Sky Sports PPV on the same night as BT Sport’s Warrington v Frampton PPV last December.

However due to the power of these companies, the resolution to this dilemma is further away than ever.

Asher-Smith crowned BT Sport Action Women of the Year

Dina Asher-Smith was crowned BT Sport’s Action Women of the Year, marking her monumental achievements at the European Athletics Championships where she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.

The holder of multiple British track records was a heavy favourite to win the prize which celebrates women’s accomplishments in sport throughout the year.

Asher-Smith expressed her shock in winning the award, saying: “To think that I am your Action Women of the Year is just incredible.”

The sprint star, who ended the season at the top of the 100m and 200m world rankings, added: “I never thought I’d be the fastest in the world, it’s crazy, it’s like a dream.”

Striving

Footballers Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze were also nominated but were unable to attend the ceremony due to the inaugural Ballon D’or taking place on the same night.

The England netball team’s success was recognised at the Action Woman Awards

Other nominees included Lizzy Yarnold who celebrated another Olympic gold in the skeleton bobsleigh this year, golfer Georgia Hall, triathlete Vicky Holland, cycling queen Laura Kenny and the Paralympic skiers Jen Kehoe and Menna Fitzpatrick.

The England netball team beat Chelsea FC and Asher-Smith’s teammates from the 4x100m race to win the Team of the Year award after they secured the Commonwealth title in dramatic fashion, literally with the last throw of the game.

Former England striker Michael Owen presented them with the award. As they got a picture together he joked “I’m the mascot” because of his height in comparison to the netballers.

Captain Ama Agbeze said: “We really appreciate the support that we’ve got, and we love inspiring not just women and girls but actually men and boys too. We’re grateful for England Netball and the what they’ve done for us.

“There’s a number of people in the Roses programme that didn’t get to go the Commonwealth Games. As people know, sport is tough and there’s lots of people striving to be there, so these girls are representing not just Roses netballers but netballers [throughout] England, and we just wanted to thank everyone for their support.”

Dedication

The ceremony was presented by Clare Balding who opened the night by saying: ‘The awards celebrate all that is wonderful about women in sport.”

She led the tributes to Paralympic legend Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who was given the lifetime achievement award, not only her success on the track as a wheelchair racer but for her dedication to charity work and the guiding influence she gives to the next generation of Paralympic athletes.

‘The event was hailed as a great evening for championing women and their sporting exploits’

“Throughout the year there have been countless stand-out team and individual performances with truly astounding women leading the way in sport,” said Balding.

The evening didn’t only celebrate female athletes but also felt women’s achievements in general, with ranking female guests from the RAF in attendance along with many others that work in broadcasting and print journalism.

In the past few years, since BT Sport began purchasing more sports rights in the UK, it has made a concerted effort to aim for more equality in their coverage, not only behind the scenes but also in front of the camera.

Its Saturday afternoon football results show The Score has several female presenters including, Jules Breach, Becky Ives and Reshmin Chowdhury.

Although the main award was a great birthday present for Asher-Smith, who turned 23 this week, the event itself was hailed as a great evening for championing women and their sporting exploits.

Photos courtesy of BT Sport. For more information on The Action Woman Awards, click here.

Review – ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ by Michael Calvin

Since signing for Everton in January 2016, Ademola Lookman has managed just one goal in 15 appearances for the Toffees. The 20 year-old is a way off convincing the Goodison faithful that the £9.5m they paid Charlton Athletic for his services was money well spent.

He is not the only one struggling to live up to a big price tag, but at least he made it though the academy system. Thousands of talented young players don’t.

Youth development is the subject of BT Sport documentary No Hunger in Paradise, based on the book of the same name by veteran sportswriter Michael Calvin.

The process of developing promising young footballers into elite players is a high-stakes business, both financially and emotionally, and with so much riding on it for those involved, the water can sometimes get muddied.

The film explores the wide range of issues you’d associate with the pursuit of turning boyhood dreams into the reality of fame and fortune achieved by a gilded few.

Pushy parents. Business-minded clubs ruthlessly pursuing their own interests, no matter what the damage this might inflict. Then you have the sharks that come in the form of agents and other third parties, looking to make big bucks.

With some of these themes very much linked and some relevant in isolation, every young players experience is different. It’s a minefield that Calvin explores in forensic detail.

Early success

After becoming the first nation to win three major tournaments at any men’s age group in one year, England’s best young players would seem set for bright futures in football.

However, it’s surely a telling statistic that before the U-21 European Championships, the Germany squad had collectively racked up 14,000 more minutes of Bundesliga action than their Three Lions counterparts had in the Premier League.

Calvin, who is well placed to analyse the issues having helped his own son traverse the cut-throat youth system, explores how the academies are failing to protect the futures of those young lads who don’t make the grade.

Once it becomes clear the individual is no longer worth their salt, they are cast off like “pieces of meat” – a fate that befell former West Ham United U-21 captain Kieran Bywater.

Bitterness

The midfielder was released in his final year of the academy after 10 years with the club, bringing to an end his childhood dream of playing for the Hammers first XI.

Calvin captures remarkably well the bitterness of this pill for the 19 year old to swallow, not only interviewing the player but also Bywater’s father, Simon, who offers more insight into the decision that left his son a “sobbing broken soul”.

‘Calvin uses journalistic vigour and a personable approach to get the right interviews and ascertain the uneasy truths’

There was no indication that Kieran was going to get released – if anything he was expecting a new contract. He was looking forward to starting his life in London and committing to the club long term,” Simon reflects.

What made the pair particularly angry was that Kieran’s release and subsequent mental breakdown was not initially followed up by support from any group that arguably had a duty of care, such as the club itself or the PFA.

“I was totally alone,” Kieran explains. “I didn’t get the messages from close friends that I thought I would. Obviously, there is a lot [of interest] around mental health at the moment and as someone that struggled with it after my release, I think its key that it becomes more a part of people’s careers.”

Kieran is now doing well at the University of Charleston in the USA, and, following graduation next year, will be eligible for the MLS draft.

“When I was going to clubs [after release from West Ham] I was going through all this emotionally,” he recounts. “I just wasn’t the same person going out there on the pitch. It deeply affected me and my game. It was hard for everyone to see.”

Dashed hopes

Some cases can end tragically, like that of former Tottenham Hotspur academy player, Josh Lyons.

He took his own life after being let go and at an inquest into his death the coroner questioned clubs’ duty of care saying: “It is very difficult to build up the hopes of a young man only then to have them dashed at a young age. I find there was an absence and lack of support in football.”

Clubs are looking to other fields of youth development to learn lessons

Whilst the specific theme in this film is about how young people can be exploited in the world of football, there are common issues present that are not exclusive to sport.

Calvin speaks to the principal of renowned performing arts academy the BRIT School in Croydon, about how football clubs are trying to learn lessons from non-sporting organisations about how best to nurture young talent.

By delving deeper into the subject matter, the findings of the research are more credible and insightful making the film an important work on sociology as much as merely a sporting documentary.

He uses journalistic vigour and a personable approach to get the right interviews and ascertain the uneasy truths.

Even Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, a firm advocate of academies, has some reservations about certain practices.

Drawing on his 35 years of managerial experience, including 22 at Arsenal (in which time he’s seen the academy win three FA Youth Cups; only Chelsea have won it more), he joins England head coach Gareth Southgate in suggesting the clubs take boys on too young.

Home-grown

Chelsea’s principles are often criticised by fans of smaller clubs who accuse them hoovering up swathes of young talent. However, they are a organisation that has given to academy football the significance that football’s economics demand.

It seemingly begun with owner Roman Abramovich. “Developing home-grown players is a vitally important goal for Chelsea,” the Russian declared in 2007 whilst cutting the ribbon on their state-of-the-art Cobham Training Centre in Surrey.

One especially interesting part of the film is the look at how things are changing with regard to academy set-ups. In 2017, Championship side Brentford took the bold decision to close theirs, choosing to adopt a very different approach.

Phil Giles, co-director of football at the club, says it was more of a business decision.

“Rather than taking our resources, which are limited at a club this size, and try and spread them across the different age groups, we decided it would be better to focus more at the end of the spectrum where you can be more certain that the players you’re working with are going to have the opportunity to be professional footballers.”

While a “politically difficult” step to take, it matches up more closely to the philosophy of Wenger and Southgate; that 12 is too young an age to assess a player’s character and ability.

Giles states with honesty that clubs are keeping 80% of their players on when they realistically have no chance of making it as a pro, merely because the best players need others to train against.

Clearly, that is not a good model, either economically or morally, and goes some way to explaining the shock that registers when players, like Bywater, are presented with the truth – that they’re surplus to requirements.

Calvin points out that the young hopefuls are not only put under pressure by the clubs, but also by parents, and the film-maker faces the awkward questions this subject poses head on.

The Bywater’s are not the only father-son duo to feature. Glen Brunt tells of a similar story for his 16 year-old son Zak who having signed for seven different clubs since the age of five is now playing at eighth-tier side Matlock Town.

He is frank about how parents like him can be the biggest contributor to pressure on the youngsters. “Maybe they’ve not achieved what they wanted to in their lives and they’re trying to do it again through their kids,” he admits to Calvin.

‘Stockpiling’ talent

The film makes an important contribution to the debate about giving these kids too much too soon. Whether that be money, pressure or stardom, the results are too often negative.

As former Manchester City academy product and first team player Joey Barton attests in his interview with Calvin, who has good rapport with the ex-footballer having ghostwritten his autobiography, “the national team is suffering” as a result of the academy system.

The midfielder (right) says it’s the “stockpiling” approach of the big clubs that are to blame, too frightened to let youngsters move elsewhere just in case, against the odds, they come good.

However, Barton knows better than to lay the blame purely at the door of clubs. ” I don’t see players at the big clubs saying ‘I’m not playing (minutes) here, I want to go and play for Plymouth and get a load of League 2 games under my belt.’

“They’re scared to go down the divisions because if they don’t do well then they can’t act like superstars.”

That is, he says, stunting the players’ growth as they’re denied vital game time.

Barton, ever the riveting interviewee, gives a wonderful anecdote in which he describes a time at QPR trying to explain to the academy boys the harsh reality of becoming a professional footballer.

“Who’s going to come and take my shirt off me? You don’t come across as being nastier than me and I don’t see you outworking me so how you gonna take my shirt?”

In an era when people are being encouraged to confront and tackle mental health issues, Calvin’s documentary shines a timely spotlight on an issue that is often overlooked.

It’s not only in the interest of the sport, but also society at large to ensure the right measures are in place to produce footballers that are well-rounded people as well as good players, and that academies are held accountable for what happens to their prospects that don’t make the cut.

No Hunger in Paradise was broadcast on BT Sport 1 and can now be viewed online

Can fresh impetus be added to UK hoop dreams?

It’s sometimes said in the world of American sports ‘If you don’t think you’re a winner, you don’t belong here,’ and it doesn’t just apply to coaches motivating their players in locker rooms.

For 40 years, basketball in the UK has failed to get its act together, due to a noxious cocktail of factors, but chiefly poor governance and a funding system that never gives it a chance.

So how optimistic should fans be now that a new firm, Premier League Basketball (PLB), have set up camp in London with the aim of launching a brand-new league to rival the British Basketball League (BBL).

Parsons oversaw the Clippers’ billion dollar sale

Richard Parsons, former interim chairman of NBA franchise the LA Clippers, will invest £1.6m to launch the start-up as an eight-team summer league in 2019 with outfits in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Birmingham, Sheffield and  Glasgow, as well as the capital.

A good place to start to underline the sport’s failings in recent years is the BBL.

The 12-team competition, established in 1986, has long since seen it’s heyday of the mid 90s when the ’95-96 season opener between London Leopards and Manchester Giants attracted a crowd of over 14,000.

Nowadays, most league games average no more than a few hundred.

Exodus

Amaechi is a consultant for PLB

“There is nothing the BBL does well, except survive,” says one of the UK’s most recognisable faces in the game, former NBA player John Amaechi.

“It’s the cockroach of sports – it’s almost dead because of a nuclear holocaust, but yet it still survives.”

The poorly-managed administration forces many of the best talents to move to higher-quality continental leagues of the likes of Spain and Greece, or for the best one or two players further afield to the USA to ply their trade and have any hope of developing into truly elite players.

This exodus compounds the low standard of competition here, and the vicious cycle continues. This is one of the main things that the PLB claims it will address.

Brits abroad

“It’s not that the quality of British basketball is not good, it’s just a lot of the great players are playing abroad,” says Wanshu Yu, senior associate of marketing at PLB. “Part of our focus is to bring the very talented British players back to this country.

“Other than bringing British players back, we just want to create a very diverse and high level game so we will have Europeans and Americans – basically we welcome all players of all countries to come join.”

However, the evidence that British players are not cutting the mustard is stark. When the Boston Celtics meet the Philadelphia 76ers later this month in London for the regular-season NBA game, out of five Europeans to make either teams’ roster, not one is British.

The reality is British basketball, up to now, has been a tough sell for the brightest prospects. Low wages and the absence of an effective players union does not bode well.

“You should get paid enough to live,” Amaechi asserts. “I’ve had two different BBL players living in my house before because at the end of the season they get kicked out of the team accommodation.”

Amaechi in NBA action for Orlando in 2001

Amaechi, who these days works with FTSE 100 companies to maximise efficiency and output, speaks with the passion and knowledge you’d expect of someone who’s scaled the heights of professional sport.

The 47 year old former Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz forward has taken on a consultancy role with PLB despite distancing himself from British basketball’s authorities in the past.

Referring to his correspondence with PLB UK chief executive Ron Scott, Amaechi appears hopeful the new competition can finally put things right. “I told him that I will support any entity that comes into this country and meets my criteria.”

Living wage

He went on to outline those conditions: “Paying the living wage to every player. It’s a career and not a job. Not an organisation that requires the funnelling of public money through their system to pay players (like BBL)”, he reasons.

“As long as they stay clear of that, I will support something that is an aspirational target for young people in this country.”

The funding figure mooted is a drop in the ocean to start a new sports league, but the PLB marketers remain positive. “That £1.6m completes our seed funding which means we’re in the middle of our formal financing, and that figure is just to allow us to maintain ourselves until such time we meet out funding goal,” says Yu.

Look at any pro sports competition in the world and its not hard to see that money is at the heart of its longevity. One-off kick-starter payments are important, but so is a steady stream of income, and needs media coverage.

Coverage

BT Sport shows up to seven NBA games a week

“We’re in conversation with different broadcasters,” Yu tells me. “We believe basketball in the UK deserves more coverage. We think the change in season [winter to summer] will definitely give basketball more exposure – not only will the venues be more available but we also have more choice regarding broadcasting.”

It’s been reported that BT Sport are interested in showing two games per week from the new league to fill a large void left by the off-season absence of football and rugby.

A deal with the broadcast giants could prove decisive in having the financial clout to attract star players.

If anybody is willing to negotiate on behalf of players welfare it’s the English former NBA player. “Ron [Scott] consulted me on the minimum wage in his league”, says the performance coach.

“We disagreed but then they went with what I thought it should be, which is higher than the living wage because I feel  players should be rewarded for being pro athletes.”

Player welfare

Player contracts are something PLB is giving a lot of thought. “One of the special things about us is we have a single-entity business model which means from the beginning the league will build and own all the teams,” explains their marketing chief.

In other words, by applying the single-entity model, all players will be contracted to the PLB centrally rather than to individual clubs, as is the case in Major League Soccer (MLS).

“This allows us to do a better quality control so you have a consistent level of basketball and entertainment experience,” Yu goes on. It also means that they can implement salary caps.

This piece of contractual law has caused controversy in the MLS before when a group of players filed a lawsuit arguing that the ‘single-entity’ policy was artificially suppressing wages because they were unable to negotiate potentially better deals with other sides in the league. The court ruled in favour of the MLS.

Grime

PLB’s mission statement is to provide “high-quality, competitive basketball events in major UK venues, broadcast live in prime time with fresh, fast-paced, interactive entertainment experiences.”

“Britain has a slightly different taste to the US so the organ music or American style rapping might not be so welcome,” Yu suggests.

“The hottest thing right here now is grime. So what we want to do is incorporate the British culture in our entertainment offering to create an experience that is homegrown, organic and set to British peoples taste.”

However, those are the trimmings – it remains to be seen whether British basketball can be steered towards the mainstream after decades of languishing as a  minority sport.

UK Sport statistics show that hoops is the second-most popular team sport among 14-16 year olds in this country. But can PLB turn that interest to a viable sporting league, particularly now that the NBA casts such a long shadow with its social media activities and overseas broadcast deals?

‘I’m no stepping stone’ Langford warns Khurtsidze

Elephant Sport’s Emily Jamieson speaks to British middleweight Tommy Langford about his upcoming fight against Avtandil Khurtsidze.

Speaking at his training camp in Birmingham, he warns his Georgian opponent not expect to “walk through” him.

Langford, 27, speaks highly of his “crazy and loud” fans and his hopes for a big fight in Las Vegas if he defeats Khurtsidze, nicknamed ‘Mini Mike Tyson’.

North Devon’s Langford has won all 18 of his professional bouts so far, with six wins coming via knockouts.

Khurtsidze, who is 10 years his senior, hasn’t fought in over a year, but has 34 wins in 36 bouts, with 21 knockouts and only two losses.

Langford and Khurtsidze meet at the Leicester Arena on April 22nd for the interim WBO world middleweight title. The fight is live on BT Sport.

YouTube Preview Image

Why the FA Cup needs to be protected

The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.

Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.

Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.

Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.

Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.

Back seat

“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.

Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).

Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.

The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.

Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.

Squandered

And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.

“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”

Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.

Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.

Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.

To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.

No coincidence

Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.

Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.

“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”

A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.

It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.

But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?

No-win situation

Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.

The money that  Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.

New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.

Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.

In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Replays

But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.

It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.

“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”

Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.

They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.

Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.

That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.

That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.

More diversity progress needed in sports media

How hopeful can aspiring sports journalists from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds be about getting into the media industry and building successful careers?

On the one hand, many of the delegates I met at DWord2 – the second conference on diversity organised by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) – spoke about opportunities and a widening of the industry’s ethnic and cultural mix.

On the other, research shared by BCMOS founder Leon Mann painted a bleaker picture.

 Among the 450-plus written and broadcast UK media personnel covering this year’s European Football Championship, Wimbledon, the Olympics and Paralympics, BAME representation was just 9.6%.

There were no non-white females covering any of the events for newspapers, only two BAME males reporting for papers at Euro 2016 and one white female. The figures for BAME and women reporters were boosted somewhat by 19 working in TV commentary roles across the four major events.

DWord2, held at the BT Sport studios in Stratford, brought together some of the most influential figures in the sports media industry to discuss its lack of diversity and underrepresentation.

BCOMS Findings
BCOMS facts and figures for Euro 2016, Wimbledon, Olympics and Paralympics

As a young BAME woman with ambitions to work in the sports media, I sense that there is progress being made.

We are in a better position than before, but as the statistics showed, a lot of work still needs to be done.

The Daily Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew summed up the sports media industry pretty succinctly when he said: “They’re white men.”

Glimmer of hope

Whether it’s BBC executive Shelley Alexander, or freelance reporter and producer Benny Bonsu, a more truthful and accurate representation of our society in the media is a must.

From a personal perspective, their success gives aspiring black female sports journalists like myself a glimmer of hope, that, regardless of our race or background – and so long as we are great at what we do, are determined and get guidance and support –  we can one day turn our dreams into reality.

“Young sports journalists like me, aiming to break into a traditionally white, male-dominated industry are doing so at the right time”

Working at the DWord2 event gave me the chance to speak to Kadeem Simmonds, the UK’s first black sports editor of a national daily newspaper (The Morning Star), as well as Rodney Hinds, sports editor of Britain’s biggest and most recognisable black newspaper, The Voice.

Both of these inspirational figures gave me a sense optimism.

Although there’s still a long way to go, looking ahead, and with further backing and support from campaigning organisations such as BCOMS, we may come to find more journalists from BAME backgrounds in position of power and influence.

Uplifting

I spoke to a number of journalists, as well as people who work in different areas of the media from the BBC to Uefa, many of whom said that they had not found it difficult getting into the jobs they currently do.

Neither did they feel that they had missed out on opportunities because of their race or gender. I found their experiences uplifting.

“I hope that, with a lot of hard work and dedication, I will one day be an inspiration for the aspiring young journalists from BAME backgrounds aiming to follow in my footsteps”

As the day continued, I took a step back and I realised that I was surrounded by black excellence, respected by their peers throughout the sports media industry.

In the final year of my BA Sports Journalism degree course at the University Arts of London, they gave me belief that the journey I’m on can lead to a successful outcome.

Young sports journalists like me, aiming to break into a traditionally white, male-dominated industry are doing so at the right time.

This is because pioneers, like many of those attending DWord2, have blazed a trail for us and are actively working for fair and equal opportunities.

Yes, the passionate debate on underrepresentation and the need for more diversity in the sports media stems from deeply embedded institutional problems.

But the fact that the conference attracted so many of the industry’s big hitters, including Philip Bernie, head of TV Sport at the BBC, BT Sport chief Simon Green, and C4 commissioning executive Andy Stevenson, showed the issues are being taken seriously.

I hope that, with a lot of hard work and dedication, I will one day be an inspiration for the aspiring young journalists from BAME backgrounds aiming to follow in my footsteps.

For more on the work of the BCOMS, visit their website.

BT Sport’s European coverage is a welcome change

For as long as anyone can remember, it has been common practice in UK football broadcasting to hire cliche-mumbling ex-professionals who bore viewers on a regular basis.

TV producers believe that only veterans who have been there and done it can provide insight into the game. Sometimes they do, but fans also have to put up with mind-numbingly obvious analysis from pundits such as Jamie Redknapp and Michael Owen.

It’s a failed logic, that being an expert at playing the game automatically makes you an expert at reading and talking about it. Within weeks of their retirement, the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes are placed on our screens.

Producers must have had no idea if they will do well or not, but the logic applied because they were great players.

Last year Sky ran endless adverts announcing that Thierry Henry was joining their ‘team’, highlighting some of his mesmerising goals and rightfully showing that he was one of the greatest players our league has ever seen.

However, his main contribution has been lots of long, rambling sentences that has offered little or zero input into the games we’ve been watching.

Mundane

Of course, it’s wrong to pretend that only one type of footballer-turned-pundit exists. In the latest generation there are several that offer a lot to their viewers, the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Danny Higginbotham and Gary Neville (before his step into management) stand out.

The reason for this is because they clearly do their research and try to offer more than just the obvious analysis that any true fan can already see.

“Fans don’t want to be treated like children who don’t understand the game because they never played it professionally”

Despite an increase in these type of pundits over recent years, broadcasters have still stuck to their old ways, picking mundane legends of the game for the top live games.

And this is why BT Sport’s European goals show has been such a welcome addition to the sporting television schedules.

The show is anchored by James Richardson, a fan favourite ever since he hosted Channel 4’s Football Italia show in the 1990s, supported by journalists Julien Laurens, Rafael Honigstein and James Horncastle.

Right off the bat, you can see that all of these guys know what they’re talking about – they offer a real depth of knowledge of players and teams that most English viewers will not know much about.

Focused

However it’s not just the fact that they’re journalists and not ex-pros that makes them so valuable. There’s a real chemistry at work as they debate teams, players, managers, clubs and the game itself. They’re also very comfortable in front of the camera, an attribute that is often overlooked in this industry.

The same team also feature in BT Sport’s Champions League goals show, a programme that British TV has needed for a long time.

Similar to the NFL’s Redzone, it offers viewers the option of watching the best bits from every game as it happens. A very simple and effective idea that no one has come up with in the UK until now.

The programme is great however because it offers so much more than just highlights of the goals as they go in. Julian, Rafael and James give viewers the chance to learn about these great European teams we have been in awe of for so many years.

Impressive

For far too long coverage of European games in this country has focused fully on the English teams involved – understandable perhaps a few years ago but less forgivable these days.

English fans already know all there is to know about their teams, and are enquiring enough to want to learn more about why an impressive Borussia Dortmund side won, than why Tottenham lost.

Fans don’t want to be treated like children who don’t understand the game because they never played it professionally.

They want knowledge from people who know what they’re talking about, have worked hard to get to the top of their profession and who are deep down, fans who love and are invested in the game as much as us.

That’s a criteria that BT Sport’s European coverage has met perfectly. It’s the perfect example of what an industry has needed for a long time.

Image courtesy of soccershouts

David Goldblatt talks ‘The Game Of Our Lives’

Released at the tail end of 2014, polarising football historian David Goldblatt’s book The Game Of Our Lives, The Meaning And Making Of English Football was recognised as an all-time classic when it won the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

But just what was it about the process of researching writing which elevated it to such a prestigious level and made it stand out?

The Game Of Our Live was by no means a side project for Goldblatt, it’s a stunning, detailed and often controversial history of English football.

Unsurprisingly then, writing the book was no easy task, as delving into such a polarising topic as the rise of the Premier League in meant unearthing as many negatives as positives, attempting to understand how the juggernaut was created.

‘Am I on my game here?’

“When I was writing it, never did I think it would be up for an award,” says Goldblatt. “It was one of those books that while I was writing I really didn’t know if anyone would really understand what I was trying to write, or get enough out of it.

“I mean, the experience wasn’t the fear of the blank page, because I never get the blank page. I was just asking myself constantly ‘am I on my game here?’ But in the end I’d said what I wanted to say, and if the world likes it then great, but if they didn’t then at least I wrote from the heart and for myself; that’s what’s important.”

Goldblatt’s previous books The Ball is Round and Futebol Nation were very different books, with a different voice; one focusing on Brazilian culture and football, and one providing an overview of the world game.

“The experience wasn’t the fear of the blank page, because I never get the blank page.”

But the reason Goldblatt and critics alike thought The Game Of Our Lives stood out was that it was told from the heart, from the place which he was most consumed.

“I had to write it in a very different voice,” explains Goldblatt. “The Ball Is Round was very Olympian, from the mountain top looking down, whereas this book has a lot of personal experiences in it. And first person that made it a different kind of writing enterprise with a different kind of research.

“I was able to draw upon personal experience, like my time as a fan of Bristol Rovers.”

Aladdin’s cave

Despite writing about the part of football more dear to his heart however, it didn’t make it easier when it came to sitting down and consuming himself in the real story of the Premier League.51mKHrAGG0L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

“I think in the eight years between The Ball Is Round and this one, so much more content has become available for me to search through. The online archive has gotten out of control. When I was writing The Ball Is Round in 2004 I was scratching around trying to find stuff about Uruguay for instance, and now you cannot move for material, particularly visual material,” he chuckles.

“I watched for example, for a piece in the book about mascots and how they fight each other or players, and there’s so much of that sort of thing on youtube, thank god someone is uploading the fights between mascots. I give praise and thanks!

“The online archive has gotten out of control.”

“This is a book that has got a lot of visual evidence, and we watch football so I think again English is my first language so I was able to in a way that I couldn’t with The Ball Is Round, engage with the mad sad world of the football blog or chat rooms. I was going into old chatrooms to look for, you know, what do Liverpool fans really feel about the team. It’s incredible.

“In regards to method though, I think of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now: ‘Method? I see no method at all? I wonder whether there is one, but definitely in terms of intimacy and types of material, it’s my home, there’s a lot of anger and political passion. It’s politicised reading, but that’s not right at the front.”

A more informed reader

There was also not only so much to learn, but an overlying sense of pressure because as he put it: “The readers of this book were always going to be far more knowledgeable and passionate when reading about their national leagues.”

It touched on so many subjects up and down the country, that inevitably it would spark a debate.

“Are we going to fight for a new football?… It’s a case of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will”

“I think there is pressure. I don’t think it was overwhelming, though. In a book like this where you’re representing or describing something as complex as amazing as a football club’s culture, you choose your words very carefully, you have time to craft it. It’s a gauntlet though, as I want people to respond, I want fans, people in power, the people I disagree with to come at me.

“It’s meant to be provocative, I’m waiting for a response from Greg Dyke and the rest of the FA board. Though I don’t expect one…

“You do have to be confident to write it. It was really good as an author to get into a groove and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“In football culture, there’s a lot of banter, a lot of people disagreeing, but not many people lay it all on the line and say ‘This is what I think, and this is why’. This book is two fingers up at football, but they don’t care, they’re raking in billions in TV rights, they don’t need to talk to me.”

It can’t be that bad, can it?

Even to someone like Goldblatt, who has been researching and writing about football for decades, there were still some surprises in what was unearthed – no matter how trivial.

“It’s meant to be provocative, I’m waiting for a response from Greg Dyke and the rest of the FA board.”

“I was surprised by just how bad the FA is. Obviously everyone knows it’s hopeless and has an impossible job, but nobody has written a history of the Football Association, not a proper one. The official one is one we all laugh at. I think that’s amazing.

“It was really surprising just how incompetent they are, and that may seem strange coming from me.

“On the other hand, I was pleased by the extent by which despite every effort between Sky and BT complex to drain every element of spontaneity of the staging of the spectacular, there are innumerable forms of resistance by crowds in and outside stadiums.

“That’s what’s great about football, most of the time everything is about London and the South East, but football is Grimsby, Halifax, Sunderland, they get their moment in the sun. I got to tell interesting stories about those places.

“The depth of it surprised me.”

The football we deserve?

In the end, Goldblatt is still as outspoken about the top-end of English football now, as he was before. What The Game Of Our Lives has done, is given him a platform to express his true feelings in depth, rather than rehabilitate his views on the Premier League.

The beauty of the book, is that his opinion hasn’t changed on the subject only grown stronger. After further investigation, the politics behind the Premier League it is what David Golblatt thought it was; his assumptions have been right all along.

“We get the football partly that we deserve, and partly what we want. Are we going to fight for a new football, for a different kind of football, make it a better culture?” he pondered.

“The possibility is there but the likelihood is that we won’t. It’s a case of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.”