Brexit – good or bad for sport (focus on England, Britain, UK)?

Brexit – good or bad for sport (focus on England, Britain, UK)?

The British people have spoken and, by a slim majority (so close the TV umpire/third umpire would have ruled ‘not out’ using the hawkeye system) have chosen to say arrivederci, au revoir, adios, auf wiedersehen and good bye in 23 other languages to the European Union. An economic and political union for sure, but for many Europeans a common sense of identity, enabling past “indiscretions” to be moved on from and a vision of the future based on a common cultural identity… and no more wars! Some are hoping it is just round one, but my guess is this is game, set and match. So, what does this mean for sport, with an emphasis on British sport.

Football players from the EU have had the freedom to play in the lucrative EPL (around 100ish) and including the first and second division of English and Scottish football there are more than 400 EU players. Will Brexit result in EU players being treated like non-EU players? In this case, to be eligible for a work permit, the player must have played a percentage of games for their national team, the lower ranked the team, the higher percentage of games required. Will this have a positive affect on the chances for South American, Asian and African players? Will it have an impact on the quality of the EPL and/or sponsorship value and all the follow-on affects?

One benefit of the current EU rule is that academy / age-group level players from Europe have ready access to the EPL academy programmes. If this was gone, what impact would it have on the development of football in European countries?

Will there be a short-term impact on EPL teams signing EU players given all the current uncertainty?
But, then this would presumambly mean more British players in British football. Will this provide long term benefit to both grassroots and international British football? Will it improve English and Scottish international football, certainly England could do with some help?

The Kolpak agreement is an EU agreement that allows The African, Carribean and Pacific Group of States (http://www.acp.int/content/secretariat-acp) to enjoy the same access previlieges as EU players do to EU professional sport. Regardless of any immigration laws, the UK would no longer be a party to this agreement. What impact on English cricket, think Strauss and Petersen? Perhaps NZ and Oz will get a few more? Impact on West Indies cricket, they need all the help in test cricket they can get and access to English county cricket is hugely beneficial? Samoan, Fijian and Tongan rugby? Perhaps NZ and Australian Rugby can now stand up and take some responsibility!?

What impact does the falling value of the pound have on the attractiveness of transfer fees and prize money(Tennis, Golf etc.)? At the top end the numbers are silly money anyway, but what about the bottom, will it be material?

The European Golf Tour says it is OK to have British players in the Ryder Cup team (they would hardly say no to McIlroy anyway, would they!), but playing under the EU Flag minus one star, a bit odd? Maybe a chance for a new European flag for when we include Britain (NZ might have a spare one or two examples to try)? Not to mention the European Tour is based in Surrey, a problem for the future?

Will Andy Murray still be happy to play under British Tennis (Lawn Tennis Association) given the Scottish position on the vote? Rory McIlroy plays under Northern Ireland anyway, so safe for now… or will it just become Ireland in the near future? Sinn Fein seem to think so.

Is there a good deal to be had buying into an EPL team today – price has probably dropped, but realistically the brands are still powerful?

How safe are the Gibraltar-based bookmakers? Spain is already making a noise.

Beckham v. Botham, beauty versus the Beef, youth v. age, bending v. bashing. Perhaps, instead of a second referendum, we just put the two of them in the ring and let them go 10 rounds, who would win?

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Fiji Rugby 7s – do they need 15s as well?

Fiji Rugby 7s – do they need 15s as well?

logoFiji has been dominant in Rugby 7s for many years. They embraced 7s early. It worked for the Fiji rugby style. Rugby 7s will be featuring at the Olympics and many have suggested it will provide a massive profil boast, or at least expose the sport more widely leading to improve sponsorship and broadcast interest. Given this, should Fiji internationally go all out in the 7s game and abandon 15s?

To what extent would it affect their sponsorship? Given such a lack of exposure (outside the World Cup) that Pacific Island teams get in the 15s (not part of the SANZA or Six Nations pacts), are the costs of supporting an international 15s team actually supported by sponsorship or propped up by the 7s?

Would it adversely affect the playing development of Fiji rugby 7s in the long term? If the national team focused on 7s, this would likely have a trickle down affect into club rugby in Fiji, reducing participation levels in 15s… does this matter? A question for the rugby experts  – does playing 15s help you be a better 7s player? Cricket T20/ODI v tests for comparison?

While on the cricket comparison, consider the development of Ireland and Afghanistan at One Day and T20 cricket. Afghanistan are ahead of Zimbabwe in ODI rankings, with Ireland not far behind and Afghanistan are ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in T20 rankings. Perhaps this is because they don’t have test status and therefore a sharper focus?

Rugby in Fiji has had a deal with Clermont in France. This has helped bring development money into Fiji rugby and supported a handful of Fijian players make a move to France. Would this be adversely affected? Without looking at the details, would it be unreasonable to assume the French are after the fast backs, which may improve with a 7s focus?

Given that rugby is the national sport in Fiji, would the decline of rugby 15s be acceptable to the people (and the politics) of Fiji? Rugby in Fiji is massively important – Fiji Rugby has a prime ministerial appointment on its board. Would it dent national pride if 15s rugby declined to a point where Fiji could not afford to play or qualify for the Rugby World Cup?

Is the climate (heat and humidity – not politics) in Fiji really  conducive to Rugby 15s?  Maybe that accounts for the rise in Rugby 7s? You can change development programmes, sponsorship etc., but you can’t change the climate (well you can, but that’s a different blog!).

Would the IRB care? Would the IRB even notice? Would the IRB realise that they need to support Pacific rugby more than they have? Would NZ Rugby and Australian Rugby (and France, Wales, England) realise they need to support Pacific rugby better if they want to maintain the quality player flow?

Rugby 7s may or may not be the next big thing in international sport, but with the exposure it is receiving and should continue to receive, would a focused bet on 7s only by Fiji Rugby provide sufficient payback, both in absolute commercial dollars and general exposure of Fiji to the world?

A waterfront stadium in Auckland?

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The last time there was a debate on the waterfront stadium, New Zealand was in Rugby World Cup 2011 fever and a 60,000 seat stadium was needed. Through the ‘decision making’ process an upgrade to Eden Park became the default choice, including an upgrade to the surrounding infrastructure (streets, train station etc.) and temporary seating for this one-off event. Other than a lack of forward planning by late goers to the opening RWC game, things worked pretty well (fan trail, trains, etc.). The stadium has resurfaced, raised by mayoral hopefuls, one can only assume because they believe it is an issue that Aucklanders, a. care about and b. largely agree on (unlike the transport problems or the price of houses or the rate increases or the power of the mayoral office or …). Let’s consider some of the issues in the debate.

As stadium, does Eden Park, work? Can you get in and out without too much fuss? Can you find your seat? Can you get eats and drinks? Do you get an unobstructed view of the game?

Is public transport to Eden Park inefficient? Consider the bus service from the North Shore (which would continue to be required for a downtown stadium), or trains from out West, or trains from East and South once the inner city loop is in place?

Since when did Aucklanders opt for public transport anyway – will it be easier to park downtown than in the streets around Eden Park?

Are there sufficient eateries and ‘drinkaries’ around Eden Park (from Dominion Rd to Kingsland) for pre- and post-game activities?

Aucklanders don’t have a good record of attending winter sports in stadiums (except for the 2 or 3 AB tests), will this change with a waterfront stadium? Due to the general lack of interest in attending winter sport, presumably a new stadium would have to support ODI and T20 cricket (oh and test cricket without the regional facility plan – see below), so will oval sports fans still bemoan the inadequacies of a mutli-purpose stadium?

Will this improve the chance of getting agreement from Auckland Cricket, the Warriors and Speedway to the Regional Facilities Plan? Do we assume this would be a requirement to make it ‘viable’? But at what cost? Jim Doyle says they are good to go (but, what do the fans say), seems Regional Facilities don’t see cricket their (but where will the big T20s and ODIs go – Western Springs big enough), people talk about soccer (what soccer?).

Is building a multi-hectare, multi-storey facility that blocks general access to the waterfront in keeping with what appears to be a general strategy to open the waterfront up to general use? See Queens Wharf, the Viaduct, North Wharf and Silo Park for recent examples.

Can we compare Auckland to Melbourne, as is often done (NZ’ers appear to have a fixation with being the same as Oz?!?)? The centre of Melbourne is quite different – size, transport structure, topoology (hills, rivers etc.)., Melburnians are avid live sports attendees, can you say the same about Aucklander’s? Does 1.8km (the difference between the ‘centre’ of Melbourne to the MCG and the centre of Auckland to Eden Park) really make a difference?

Have alternatives been considered for the cost (or a fraction of it) to support alternative spectator activities? Outdoor theatre (was the outdoor globe successful?), outdoor music festival venue (how many attend Laneways, BDO etc?), stadium seating to support water events (America’s Cup, Volvo round the world, Red Bull Air Race etc.?), just maintain Eden Park?

If you are lucky enough to have attended a sports event in Wellington or Melbourne, then you have a sense of the simple benefits that a downtown stadium offers to the privileged sports fan. When considering civil works in Auckland, investment opportunities and the challenges Auckland as a growing city faces, is a waterfront stadium a priority?

What’s with Netball in New Zealand?

___1636001_origThe ANZ Champs are no more. Netball New Zealand have extended their broadcast deal with Sky TV to cover a domestic competition with 6 teams (once agreed with Netball Northern Zone) and the Silver Ferns internationals. The number of international tests has increased and may include more games with England and South Africa (need to secure those fast) than in the past.

What does this mean for netball in New Zealand?

Can it be said, it is somewhat disappointing that netball has been unable to hold together a semi-professional, international club competition between the top two netball nations? This, in stark contrast to rugby, that has consistently expanded their international club competitions. It is unfair to make comparisons between sports, only to point out a contrast that speaks to what are many fundamental differences.

How have Netball Australia managed to secure a broadcast deal now, when, for 9 years, the broadcast (and primary funding) of the competition has been supported by Sky TV in NZ, while Netball Australia attempted unsuccessfully to secure an Australian deal? Is it a case of Australia only being interested in Australia and therefore, once Netball Australia planned to breakaway the broadcasters were far more willing? What came first, Netball Australia planning to breakaway or the broadcasters suggesting that they would support an Australian only league? And, if they are only interested in Australian teams, then why not show only Oz v Oz games within the ANZ Champs, or would that not have been good enough? Why not have taken the conference structure further, had an Australia only and NZ only conference final series (or similar)? Couldn’t a structure be developed that retained the international club competition while providing sufficient Oz v Oz games to satisfy Australian broadcasters? Takes one back to an earlier question, what came first, Netball Australia wanting to break up the competition or a broadcast deal?

Does the new broadcast deal bring more money into the teams in the new NZ domestic competition given the money was previously shared between NZ and Australia? Only NNZ and Sky know the answer, but if that is the case, then is a good thing financially, takes pressure off the NZ teams structures and should allow for more effort (i.e. money) to be spent on development. On a side note – good thing that the deal was inked before the Sky-Vodafone merger (maybe?).

Were the Australian teams really that much better than the NZ teams? Sure, on average, the Australian teams were better, considering the rugby comparison, you could suggest that the gap in rugby is greater than the gap in netball. There have always been a couple of weak NZ teams, unlike the Oz teams, but were not the match ups with the top teams close enough to be relevant? Was the gap big enough to warrant a reduction in the number of NZ teams as Australia were calling for? Or was that just a ploy to ensure their was a mutual decision by both NNZ and Netball Australia to end the ANZ Champs by presenting a wholly unacceptable alternative?

Will this adversely affect the high performance development of New Zealand netball? Can the development tier below the Silver Ferns improve as much without facing teams that are generally as good if not better than them, coached differently and playing a different style of netball? The addition of the Beko league (planned when Netball was restructured 4 years ago) is going to help development, but will it to do that to the extent the the ANZ Champs could have? NZ results (both international and club) have been getting worse in recent years, so something had to change – or was that just a talent cycle (no mass retirements recently) – or would the new development programmes put in place by NNZ have addressed that over time?

Will the international game be better or worse off? The development of netball was taking a trajectory similar to other sports – international club competition, a shortened format that included a celebration of the sport weekend (Fast 5). NNZ was doing a fantastic job hosting Fast 5 and momentum was building each year, and yet now it is no more. Maybe the same could be said for the ANZ Champs? Both moves are contradictory to other sports. Will Australian players having less exposure on NZ screens reduce or increase the interest in netball with Australia? Expanding the international competition to include more games with England and SA (if indeed that is the plan, as it appears) can only be good for international netball, IF England improve their game (as their playing numbers should allow) – maybe they need to import a few NZ and Oz coaches, and IF Australia don’t force their club agenda on English netball? Does Australia breaking away from an international club competition suggest their interest in the international game generally is waning? If Oz have a strong local club competition, will they care as much about the international game (see league, aussie rules and perhaps football for examples)?

Can NNZ pull off the ‘champions league’ style international club competition? This would be fantastic. But, it needs Australia and they are not locked in. Can an English club (would need at least an English club, but preferably a SA and Jamaican club too) afford to compete? Would the INF subsidise an SA and Jamaican team – surely it would be a great incentive to build-up their local club competition, or would NNZ need to subsidise? This competition would represent good sponsorship opportunities and may even become the celebration of netball that Fast 5 should be – this will only happen if it is a marketing lead venture.

Is it going to be harder for the NZ teams to get good sponsorship as the market of viewers is now smaller for an NZ only competition? NZ teams were sponsored by a mix of local and international brands, but the international brands appeared to bring in more money – how significant was the draw of being on Australian screens to these international brands? Will the opportunities improve as NZ will be able to structure the game times around maximising exposure for sponsors in NZ? Will there be greater viewership (the numbers were dropping) with only local derbies and therefore improve sponsorship?

Will Australia be able to offer better deals to top NZ players than NZ teams can, without a coordinated payments system as exists in the ANZ Champs? The Australian broadcast deal is not flash (despite the impression they give) so there won’t be floods of cash, but what can the league clubs offer up? Australia will be funding 3 more teams over and above the existing 5 state teams and have reduced their squad sizes – this would suggest they are not going to be flush. Netball Australia will put in salary caps, but these will be Australian only. Will there be restrictions on the number of overseas players – not if they have been trying to coerce England into changing their netball season in an attempt to attract their players to Oz? This is perhaps the biggest unknown and possibly the biggest risk to New Zealand netball. Even without big salary differences, it is not hard to see top NZ players being attracted to what may be, in the first instance, a more competitive competition.

Does any of this say anything about the power base in international netball? A few years back NZ and Australia were on a similar level, and used that to ‘influence’ the international game in a coordinated way. But, has Oz starting flexing their muscles more now? And if, so what are implications?

Netball is hugely important to New Zealanders and more importantly netball as a woman’s sport is critical in the New Zealand sports landscape, both at a community and international level. Neither of these can be eroded and the Netball NZ board and executive are of course acutely aware of this. So, at the end of the day, the governors and managers of NNZ are entrusted to have made these decisions with the best intentions in mind, even if their hand was somewhat forced by our neighbours.