Everybody’s talkin’

by Rick Johansen

There’s an awful lot of “everybody’s talking about” going on in sport at the moment. Everybody is talking about the Premier League title race™. Everybody is talking about the Fury v Usyk fight this Saturday night. Everybody is talking about the impending retirement of England cricket fast bowler Jimmy Anderson. And it turns out that, actually, everybody isn’t talking about some or any of these events. Many aren’t talking about any of them.

Sky TV, which effectively owns football in England, has a big incentive to hype its biggest tournament. More viewers equals more subscriptions which equals more profits. So they announce, with the fading print media which is increasingly desperate for anyone to fork out a few quid to read their tat, that somehow we are totally consumed with the romantic competition between the pride of the United Arab Emirates, Manchester City, and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’s Arsenal, now that America’s Fenway Sports Group’s Liverpool are out of the equation. Romantic, my arse. Actually, it literally is as romantic as my arse.

Tonight, the entire country, save the odd 66 million people, will be turning into Sky to see if hedge fund ENIC’s Bahamas-registered subsidiary ENIC International Limited Tottenham Hotspur can turn over Citeh and hand the Premier League to the Arsenal. And tomorrow, there will be literally millions of water-cooler moments when workers express their admiration of how genius coach Pep Guardiola’s team can win pretty well everything everywhere on a miniscule budget of around £10.

Many of the real fans of both clubs (they’re not really ‘clubs’ are they? Not in the traditional sense) will be at Etihad Airways stadium to enjoy the alleged fun and millions more genuine fans who can’t afford a ticket or armchair fans (I know an armchair fan when I see one because he’s there, in the mirror) will be forking out a fortune to Sky, watching on a dodgy stick or standing in the pub, gazing at a big screen. Another couple of million ‘neutrals’ will probably be watching and hoping Tottenham or Citeh lose. Frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck who wins so I’ll probably watch Clarkson’s Farm instead. Believe it or not, most football fans don’t care, even though you’d never guess from looking at the media.

And one other thing. The game will be behind a paywall and the vast majority of Brits won’t care and won’t watch. Quite honestly, there is no more excitement about how the top tier in football will end than there was in the days before the Premier League cash machine was invented.  The Big Fight is something else again.

Most people have heard of the boxer Tyson Fury who fights Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world on Saturday night, not because they have seen him actually fight, but because of the publicity being a famous boxer brings. He’s a massive showbiz personality, something, at least to the general public Usyk isn’t. Boxing is a minority sport in Britain but again we’re asked to believe that this, the first of two fights between the two men, will be watched by everybody. Not at £25 a pop it won’t be. Again, some will watch with dodgy sticks, some through dodgy internet links and in pubs. Well over 60 million won’t be watching, but we will be told that actually they all are. And there’s Jimmy Anderson.

He’s 41 now and has been playing cricket behind a paywall since 2005, when Sky bought up the lot. He is England’s greatest bowler in terms of wickets taken and this year he is retiring or, as I would call it, being retired. As with the title race™ and The Big Fight, everybody is talking about Jimmy’s retirement, but they aren’t. Cricket fans are, for sure. Anderson is a true great of the game and if he had played cricket on free-to-air television, he’d be one of the most famous people in the land and certainly as famous as cricket greats from the past like Ian Botham. His retirement will be all over pay TV and the newspapers, but to most people it will be as important as the “and finally” moment on the news. An afterthought. “That Anderson must have been good. Never saw him play.”

This is all, progress, you see. Progress as in shit loads of money. The Premier League is the richest league in the world, big boxing events are now beholden to the head-choppers of Saudi Arabia with their petro-dollars and aside from The Hundred, there remains no cricket on terrestrial TV. And the way we consume TV, whether it’s behind a paywall, streamed or watched on catch-up, means we often watch stuff at different times. The only “did you see?” moments are the national events like a coronation or a funeral, the World or European Football finals or maybe things like the Olympics and the Wimbledon Men’s Single’s Final, things we all see together at the same time.

We won’t all be talking about the title race™, The Big Fight or Jimmy’s farewell, even though we will all be told we will be. On balance, I’d prefer the American owned behemoth to come first rather than the UAE enterprise, I couldn’t care less about The Big Fight and I’ll bid a silent farewell to a cricketer who would have been a superstar to transcend his sport if the England Cricket Board hadn’t sold their soul for Sky’s filthy lucre (it isn’t really, but lucre is such a good word).

Everybody’s talkin’ at me. I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’. That’s because they’re not.


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