100th blog: for the love of writing

This is the 100th post to this blog. It is not my 100th blog / article as I was writing (or should I say ranting) about cricket and rugby on another blog and for another website. This blog had its genesis in two things: my purchase of an iPad and a trip to New Zealand. What came from a mobile travel blog has morphed into a blog about anything and everything I feel like writing about.

I have tried in writing this blog to, on the one hand, write about issues that bother me both from my life and also in sport whilst also, at times, seeking to be irreverent. I have been overjoyed by the fact that there are people out there who enjoy reading what I write and I will concede to being disheartened at times when a blog I have spent hours on researching and writing is read by one person (and that may have been me).

I get asked a lot: “why bother writing, you are busy enough as it is?”. My regular reply, and the truth, is that I love the writing. Actually that does not give justice to why I write: I love the process of getting the written word on the “page” and massaging it into a form that is readable. In a previous life I wrote legal opinions for a living and with that part of my life gone writing this blog has gone some way to fill that void. Now I get to write about what I want, when I want, in a form that means that anyone with an internet connection can read. The fact that people from 32 countries have read this blog has made me deeply proud.

The help and feedback I have received along the way from some wonderful people can not be discounted. Three people deserve special mention for helping (or trying) to polish the rough edges in my writing and giving me a forum coupled with this blog to write: Irene Watt (@pinkrugby), Jeremy Irvine (@Jeremy_Irvine) and Kate Stone (@oskythespy) you know how I feel about the help you have given me so all I will say, again, is, thank you.

Finally, before the festive season I was thinking about shutting down this blog. The daily grind of work coupled with a dwindling readership led me to thinking it had run its course. I have been reenergised over the Christmas / New Year period by the writing I have done, both here and in private, and will again be “strapping in” for another year of rants, sport and frivolity.

Thank you for reading.

Stephen

Free to Air Television and live sport: not a new problem but we live in a new time

I love sport, it is as simple as that. When you add the fact that I have an argumentative streak and am opinionated then it is obvious that much of this blog will look at sport and include my rants about it from time to time. Aside from the conduct of players and respect for match officials, the one issue in sport that sees me get the red mist behind the eyes more than any other is the broadcast of live sport on free to air television.

We are blessed in Australia with a multitude of free to air television stations (both analog and digital) along with an excellent pay television service both of which do play more than their fair share of sport during the week for sports nuts like me who get up at 4:30am to watch, for example, darts. I have, I concede, no cavil, with the amount of sport that is shown on our television sets in Australia. Where my cavil lies is in the broadcast of sport on television, free to air television, on delay.

I probably should be clear here about what I mean by “delay”. I am not talking about Channel 9 showing the cricket on a 3 second delay (by the way is this just the Ian Chappell swear factor or do they just want to screw up fans wanting to sync up with ABC Grandstand?). I am talking about a free to air channel having the rights to telecasting a sport and starting the telecast of it later, in some cases, significantly than its starting time.

The farcical nature of Channel 10’s coverage of the Hopman Cup into Brisbane is a stark case in point. Last night, the fixture between Barty and Schiavone was into the second game of the first set on my television set when I scrolled through my twitter feed and saw the score update showing that Barty had won in straight sets. The previous evening a similar irritation arose when I realised that the Djokavic and Tomic match was being shown on a delay of about 45 minutes into Brisbane, again thanks to my twitter feed.

Now I am aware that I live in Queensland, a state without daylight saving, and that, historically, daylight saving is a well trotted out excuse for showing sport on delay. The usual line put forward by the networks is “it is a ratings period and our regular line up takes precedence”. With a massive grain of salt I am prepared to accept the commercial reality of ratings and the effect that messing a regular line up can have on the viewership of a station. That said I also firmly believe that if a station does not wish to show a particular sporting event live for commercial reasons or because it can not be fit neatly into their schedule then they should not be seeking the rights in the first place.

The concession above with respect to commercial reality and ratings does not apply in the case of Channel 10 and the Hopman Cup however. Why? Because it is not a ratings period. It does not matter what Channel 10 shows. What I don’t understand about Channel 10’s decision to show the tennis on delay into Queensland is this: surely, in a year when you are keen to show your credentials in the telecast of live sport given the upcoming negotiations for the rights to show the holy grail of Australian sport: test match cricket, you would actually show some sport live wouldn’t you? Perhaps I am being too simplistic about this and, in fact, showing two episodes of Jamie Oliver torturing the English language and cooking meals that allegedly take 15 minutes is more commercially important to Channel 10 than showing live sport but I would have thought that would be deceptively obvious.

Those of you saying to yourselves, “this has been happening for years though: look at Sunday afternoon football”. This is certainly a valid point: Channel 9 has steadfastly refused to play its Sunday afternoon football fixture before 4pm during the NRL season for at least as long as I can remember and despite ongoing and consistent howls of derision from most quarters. It would seem that, at least until a couple of years ago, rugby league fans had accepted this method of delivery of their favourite sport because they had no other way to watch it.

If rugby league fans can be so accepting of delayed telecasts, why then can’t I just shut up and accept the commercial realities of showing “live” sport on television? The answer to this lies in the changes we are have seen in society over the last 5 years. Most people have a smart phone, a lot of people have a tablet and more people than not have a social media account of some description. Information about all aspects of life including sport is now available at the swipe of a finger across the screen of a phone. Live score websites predominate the favourites toolbars of sports fans on their PCs / Macs and apps on tablets make it all the more easy to find out the score.

The change in the ability of fans to get the score at their finger tips leads, of course, to the personal choice of a sports fan to check a score despite knowing that the telecast of said sport is on delay. In the context of it being a personal choice of the fan to get a score for a game another way, what then is the problem with showing a fixture on delay?

Setting aside the fact all of those people who do not have access to a live score service and the general disrespect shown to fans by showing a match on delay (and still spruiking that it is “live), funnily enough the problem may be one commercially for the networks with the rights more than anything else. With the increase in available means to check a score and to stream vision of a game is there not a real risk to the free to air networks that fans, such as me, are going to turn off their televisions because: a. they already know the result of the contest being shown or b. they have another means of viewing it? It strikes me that what, in fact, has happened is that the networks have not moved with the times and with that comes the risk that free to air channels may jettison the rights that they hold, at some point in the future, because fans have turned away from their telecasts. This of itself would be a tragedy: my childhood would have been very different without sport on my television and the next generation of sports people let alone fans could be left without the sporting education we had as kids.

The answer is obvious: in order to get back with the times the free to air channels need to show sport for which they hold the rights live. If not to show some respect to the fans who love the sports the networks are showing, then to protect their own commercial imperatives in the future. Until they do, fans will continue to turn off their televisions and look for other sources for their sporting “fix”.

The third coming of Mitchell Johnson: a new beginning or a false dawn?

I have been one of the many critics of the selection of Mitchell Johnson in the Australian cricket team this summer. The “Toughsticker Turncoat” I have called him on twitter and it would be fair to say I have not had a positive word to say about him.

Johnson’s selection to bat at number 7 in the coming test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground has given me a moment of pause and caused me to reflect on whether the return of Johnson to test match cricket and his installation as a bowling all rounder into the Australian team is really the new beginning for him (and Australian cricket) it seems to be.

Let’s start with the statistics: 49 test matches, nearly 1500 runs at an average of 22.77 and 202 wickets at an average of 30.63 does not make for bad reading although any cricket fan will tell you that the great all rounders have batting averages higher than their bowling averages.

In the two tests he has played this summer he has taken 12 wickets at an average of around 20 and has scored 102 runs at an average of 51 (92 not out at the MCG in the last test obviously assists that average).

Those statistics considered: why do we (or I) malign him so? Are we (or I) punishing him unduly for the very obvious poor performances in his career to date where he has shouldered the burden of leading the Australian attack and failed? I think the the answer to this last question is that fans do remember those poor performances and, for some, they are performances that will never leave the memory because they were so disappointing.

Is it more than that though? Tracing Johnson’s career through statistics and match reports is just not enough to get a whole picture of the player that he is. I watch a lot of live cricket and have watched a lot of Johnson playing the game. Part of what has bothered me since the disaster of the 2009 Ashes and the performances from Johnson that have followed are two things. Firstly, the body language of Johnson when things go bad on the field is often suggests a mix of indifference and of not having any answers. Secondly, one of the few things about the performances of Johnson has been the consistency in his inconsistency. All too often a grand performance (Perth 2010 comes to mind) is followed by a series of mediocre performances.

Now the Australian cricket team faces a year of 10 test matches against a presently cockahoop English team as well as a tough tour of India. Once again off the back of one excellent performance Johnson seems to be in the frame to tour with the Australian team to England and elsewhere and is touted as the cure to the team’s all rounder ills. I, for one, am worried about when the bubble of Johnson’s performances will burst and whether Australian fans will again be subjected to performances like the Ashes in 2009 and the first Ashes test at the Gabba in 2010.

The other concern I have about the selection of Johnson in the long term is the road block it creates not only for Mitchell Starc, the excellent young left arm swing bowler from New South Wales, but also the other bowling all rounders who might be knocking on the door. Ben Cutting, James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile all are performing in red ball cricket in Australia this summer and all could be seen to comfortably fit into a role batting at number 7 or 8 for Australia whilst bowling 20 overs of pace an innings.

When all is said and done I remain firmly in the camp that questions Johnson’s ongoing selection for the Australian team albeit I am able to concede that on the numbers alone his spot in the team probably makes sense. My feet sit in the “non-selection” camp now more because of the possible impact his selection may have on the next bowling all rounder to come through the ranks or, for that matter, Mitchell Starc coupled with my fear that the bursting of his performance bubble, based on the recent past, is closer than many may expect.

For Australian cricket’s sake I hope one of two things happens: either this genuinely is a second coming for Mitchell Johnson and he serves me up a big piece of humble pie with excellent and sustained performances or Johnson is jettisoned and one of the young future stars I mention above is given a shot to make the position of bowling all rounder there own.

I, like all Australian fans, want the best Australian cricket team to take the field every time it plays and, probably more importantly, to win back the Ashes this year. I am unsure whether the benefits that Johnson brings to the team are outweighed by the prospect that a couple of bad performance by him could be a deciding factor in the urn staying at Lords. I will be watching with interest as events unfold at the Sydney Cricket Ground tomorrow.

And retailers wonder why more people are shopping online everyday?

I have been ranting a bit this afternoon on my twitter feed (@shumpty77) about some poor customer service I have received today.

For those who missed it: I tried to buy a camera in JB Hi-Fi at Mt Ommaney and was ignored by sales staff despite me standing just 3 metres away from a staff member who felt his time was better spent talking to an older gentleman who said on at least three occasions that he was just waiting for his wife to buy something. I then went to the Nike Outlet store at the DFO in Jindalee and, having tried on shoes that I had found myself and been satisfied that I would buy them could not get any staff member to serve me and tell me about a deal they had running. Ironically, the sign spruiking said deal asked shoppers to “ask our sales staff for more details”.

In both situations I describe I was not in a busy store and I knew what I wanted and was ready to buy (indeed in the case of the camera I have undertaken at least 6 weeks of online research). In the Nike store the same staff member walked past me holding my shoes on four occasions and despite me waving at him twice he ignored me. At JB Hi-Fi there were at least nine staff working but none would deign to help me.

Now at this point some of you will be saying: why didn’t you go up to one of them and ask for help. I immediately concede that that is something I could have done and if the products I was buying were essential rather than discretionary I would have. However, last time I checked I was, in both situations, the customer and the service staff in both establishments were employed to serve me as a customer.

With all of this going on this afternoon I kept thinking to myself: how can retailers in this country continue to run the “woe is us” line they trot out seemingly on a monthly basis that the internet is killing their businesses when they do not employ people who are capable of or inclined to actually serve customers? I was ready to spend $250 on a camera (a cheapie but a supplement to my good camera) and $200 on the Nike deal I had seen advertised and neither store ended up getting the benefit of my trade and nor will they in the future. I wonder how many other sales they lost out on today or lose out in a week because of bad customer service?

I also had reverberating through my mind a question that I have posed in an earlier blog: would I have received the same service if the staff at both establishments were on commission only rather than an hourly rate? I am more than a bit certain that I would have been served virtually immediately as I must have been fairly obviously a motivated buyer (I had the shoes in a the box in my hand for 10 minutes before I put them down and left the store). Maybe that is the answer for Gerry Harvey and his cohorts who bemoan the online trade: make your service staff earn their wage!

I have, in the hour that I have been home, purchased the camera online at an alternate store to JB Hi-Fi for a cheaper price and have reconsidered my purchase of another pair of training shoes. I can’t say that I will never go into a JB Hi-Fi store again (I have a $50 voucher from Christmas to use up) nor that I will not buy another pair of Nike shoes again however I concede that after today I think I will be much more likely to shop online than hit the shops.

Operation100.com

Just a short note to let you know I have kicked off a new blog to chart my progress on my quest to lose 28.3 kilograms and get my weight down to 100 kilograms.

The website is operation100.com and I would be delighted if you would take a moment to have a look at it over the coming months.

I am also committed to this blog and have decided that starting tomorrow I will be posting on this blog on, as a minimum, a weekly basis with the prospect of more posts during particular periods.

As always, thank you for honouring me with your readership and I would be delighted with any feedback you might have about this blog or operation100.com.

Cheers,
Stephen