Rob Minto

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Sport Geek #84: dynasties, nationalism vs globalism, and clay

WORLD CUP

Is it starting? I hadn’t noticed… Sifting through the trillions of WC pieces, here are a few worth your time.

I like this – is it nationalism or globalism? Or both? via the NYT.

Forget the pundits! A quick round up of what economists think will happen at the World Cup, from the FT

The decline of the World Cup manager: why talented international coaches have become a dying breed. (via the Indy)

What makes a country good at football? Various things, says the Economist.

Why isn’t the US there? The inside story of how they screwed up.  From the Ringer.

MONEY MONEY MONEY

Me, on the Forbes rich list and what it tells us about sport.

BASKETBALL

What does LeBron James do next? (NYT) And how great is he anyway? (Guardian)

The curious case of Bryan Colangelo and the secret Twitter account. From the Ringer again. A good story.TENNIS

TENNIS

Why is Nadal SOOOOO good on clay? CNN takes a look.

CYCLING

How Chris Froome won Giro d’Italia thanks to ‘spectacular’ stage 19 victory. (BBC)

ICE HOCKEY

From a while ago, but worth a read. Is the Vegas Golden Knights’ run as amazing as Leicester City’s? (538)

LASTLY

We want sport to be competitive, don’t we? Or not – an interesting essay on why we demand sports dynasties, not parity.

Parsing the Forbes sports rich list

I always enjoy the Forbes Sports Rich list. It formed the basis for a chapter in my book, and tells you a lot about sport once you dig into the figures.

For instance, looking at this year’s list, here are a few observations.

  • Roger Federer is a sponsorship machine. $65m in endorsements puts him $13m higher than LeBron James in second place.
  • American football players don’t get marketing dollars. The highest-sponsored is Drew Brees, and he’s on $13m in endorsements, which is less than his salary.
  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather still rakes it in – his $275m in pay is three times more than any one else. It pays to punch, with Conor McGregor fourth in the overall list.
  • Basketball pays overall – 40 of the top 100 represent that sport.
  • There are zero women on the list. That’s not good. In previous years, at least a few female tennis players made it. We seem to be regressing, either in who we value in terms of marketing or how we pay sports stars.

The most interesting way of ordering the list, in my view, is by the ratio of endorsements to pay.

This naturally shows up individual sports where some players have had poor seasons but are trading on reputation – Tiger Woods, Novak Djokovic. There are sports people where the sport pays (relatively) poorly, but profile is high – Usain Bolt, Virat Kohli.

But it also shows how some stars are not making the most of their winning seasons. For instance, golfer Justin Thomas won $21m in prize money, but netted just $5m in sponsorship. Surely he’s going up? And if Lewis Hamilton can get $9m in sponsorship, how is Sebastian Vettel getting only $300k? They get the same pay, according to Forbes.

Here’s my Endorsements / Salary list – for those where Endorsements are higher than Salary.

Overall Rank Name Pay $m Salary/Winnings $m Endorsements $m Sport E/S
16 Tiger Woods 43.3 1.3 42 Golf 32.3
45 Usain Bolt 31 1 30 Track 30.0
35 Kei Nishikori 34.6 1.6 33 Tennis 20.6
86 Novak Djokovic 23.5 1.5 22 Tennis 14.7
26 Rory McIlroy 37.7 3.7 34 Golf 9.2
22 Phil Mickelson 41.3 4.3 37 Golf 8.6
7 Roger Federer 77.2 12.2 65 Tennis 5.3
83 Virat Kohli 24 4 20 Cricket 5.0
23 Jordan Spieth 41.2 11.2 30 Golf 2.7
20 Rafael Nadal 41.4 14.4 27 Tennis 1.9
6 LeBron James 85.5 33.5 52 Basketball 1.6
11 Kevin Durant 57.3 25.3 32 Basketball 1.3
8 Stephen Curry 76.9 34.9 42 Basketball 1.2

And here’s the sports list.

Basketball 40
American Football 18
Baseball 14
Soccer 9
Golf 5
Boxing 4
Tennis 4
Auto Racing 3
Cricket 1
Mixed Martial Arts 1
Track 1

Lastly, here’s the forbes rich sports list as an Excel file.

Sport Geek #83: back again…

I’ve not done this newsletter for a while, due to work and stuff; but let’s not worry, here are some things to think about while thinking sport.

TENNIS

Nadal was nowhere a few years ago. Now? He’s arguably better than ever on clay.  Here’s a good archivey piece on Roger and Rafa’s simultaneous revivals.

There are some great nuggets in here. I know she’s very wealthy etc, but It’s quite hard being Serena Williams, I think.

How do you measure aggressive returning? Here’s how.

This is insane. The story of a tennis rally of 642 shots. That’s not a typo.

BASEBALL

HELLO LONDON!

GOLF

Rory McIlroy said it’s all about the Masters. So here’s a decent case for the Open.

FOOTBALL

A great summary of the tactical tide of football, esp looking at Klopp’s Liverpool. Talking of which, are their opponents in the CL final Read Madrid ruthless or just lucky?

I love this from Sean Ingle – why not just make World Cup / Olympic hosting bids done by auction? At least put the money front and centre.

I can’t see why everyone was worked up about selling Wembley. Seems like a good idea to me – get an asset that is costly to maintain off your hands, making back a pretty good amount of the total build cost, and get money for grassroots. What’s not to like? Few have been in favour though. Here’s one.

This is such a mismatch it’s boggling. The cup final of PSG vs Les Herbiers – a budget of €2m vs €540m.

A nicely Economist-ey piece on goalkeepers being undervalued. Great pun headline too.

CRICKET

It’s all about 6s.

BASKETBALL

Who is Luka Doncic?

How ‘idiots’ created the NBA’s best team and revolutionised the game.

That’s it.

You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.

How long do Home Secretaries last?

So farewell, Amber Rudd etc.

Quick quiz – how long do Home Secretaries last? The BBC notes that “During one period under Labour, there were six home secretaries in eight years.”

That makes the job sound precarious. While it’s true that it’s pretty easy to trip up, the idea that the Home Sec doesn’t last that long is nothing new. In fact, Theresa May was in the job for over 2,200 days, the second longest holder of the office since 1900. Many of the shortest holders were in the early C20.

Amber Rudd? She had a fairly brief stint of 655 days – but certainly longer than half of her 10 predecessors. The average of the last 10 Home Secretaries has been 951 days – omit Theresa May, and it’s 755.

On these averages, Sajid Javed will last until mid-2020. The next General Election isn’t due till 2022, so that would mean him slipping up in the meantime.

Source: Wikipedia | Click for full size image

 

Jordan Peterson bandwagon: a media product

I don’t write to praise Jordan Peterson, nor to bury him. In fact, I don’t care about him at all. What I’m interested in is why everyone else is interested in him.

Lots of articles have been written about Jordan Peterson. If you haven’t heard of him yet, consider yourself lucky: he’s a one-man Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. You’ll see him everywhere now. Outside of the usual suspects of Trump and Megan Markle, he’s possibly the most-profiled figure of the last year, certainly of 2018.

His opinions aren’t important here. Sure, he’s got stuff to say that seems highly relevant in the current cultural climate. He opines on transgenderism, gender pay gaps, free speech, feckless male youth. He’s like a human Rorschach test – you can see whatever you want in Peterson. He’s a feisty Canadian professor fighting battles on campus, a self-help guru, a fraud, a clinical psychologist, an intellectual, an alt-right darling, a free-speech muscle-for-hire. Take your pick.

(The other thing to note is that Peterson has one key skill. Like Malcolm Gladwell, he makes the reader or listener feel cleverer, as if they are in on a secret. It’s the opposite of patronising. It might be superficial, or bogus – or insightful and brilliant. I don’t care. It’s very effective. )

He isn’t necessarily the “Intellectual we deserve“, as Current Affairs put it – he’s the intellectual we currently want.

Or he’s the intellectual we think we want. Or, perhaps, the intellectual the media think we want. I’ll show you how.

How curious about Jordan Peterson are we, and how has it changed? Let’s see what Google has to say:

Source: Google Trends

Worldwide, there’s been a big late January / early February Peterson interest spike. I’ll discuss why later.

And how many Twitter followers has Peterson had over time?

Source: Socialblade

Same again – late January he gains a lot of followers.

Is our interested piqued by the media, or do the media follow what we search? Here’s how many times he’s been mentioned in the press over the last year.

Source: Factiva

Again, 2018 is a big leap in articles mentioning Peterson. Crucially though, the spike here predates the online interest. There were 300+ mentions in November, way more than any other month, although January and March are second and third (with 225 and 198).

It all adds up for Peterson. Here are his book sales for 12 Rules for Life.

Source: Novelrank

Book sales in March catch up after the interest online and articles. (That’s not a surprise.)

In the charts above there is a clear spike. And that is one of the key moments of 2018, in late January. This is the date of the (in)famous Channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman. It’s been watched 9 million times. That’s a lot for a head-to-head.

The interview has been described in very unfavourable terms for Newman. Her questioning was, I agree, poor. But it has become more than an interview: it is now a rallying cry for those who see the media as biased; it gained Newman horrendous criticism and attacks; and it has been dissected to the nth degree, far further than it merited.

It also is a catalyst for Peterson interest. Without that interview, would we have had the flurry of articles, the profiles in the Telegraph, BBC and Guardian among so many others? The key thing to note here is that although the bigger profile pieces have come recently, the highest point in terms of article mentions was in November.

Peterson’s popularity has been talked of in viral terms. The data would suggest otherwise – the media articles came first, and the online spike in interest is clearly after the C4 Newman interview. He is a product of a traditional media bandwagon, not an online phenomenon.

I believe this is a case of filling a vacuum. Politics has become ever more polarised, distrust of media is high and rising, and there is a dearth of public intellectuals. We are crying out for this stuff. It’s intoxicating. But the media spotted it first, not the other way around.

 

Titles make great players, not the other way round

Blip?

I was at the ATP Finals at the O2 on Sunday, for the excellent Goffin – Dimitrov final. As good as the match was, there was a feeling that the understudies were taking centre stage. No Rafa, no Roger. No Murray or Djokovic.

The lack of “Big 4” players at the end of year finale was acute, made real by their selling power. Djokovic was omnipresent at North Greenwich tube, fronting a Lacoste ad. Inside the 02, the merchandise stall was selling flags – but only the Swiss and Spanish. No Belgium or Bulgaria, the nationalities of the finalists.


Men’s tennis has become complacent. In the year-end tour finals, six of the last 10 years have been exclusively between the Big 4. Their dominance in the Grand Slams is well documented, but as a reminder, since 2006, it’s been only Wawrinka (x3), Cilic and Del Potro that have broken through the hegemony.

Perhaps complacency is harsh – the men’s game has been lucky, blessed even. So when injury and upset take out the big guns, it’s hardly the fault of the men left that they lack gravitas. As several people pointed out, it was the first ATP tour final between two non-grand slam winners.


Ironically, that had become more likely by the dominance of a few players in the slams. What did we expect? Federer and Nadal to go on for ever?

We have entered an unprecedented stage in tennis. With Federer and Nadal on 19 and 16 majors respectively, and Djokovic on 12, they have transcended the prestige of the events themselves. A final without any of the big 4 (or 5 if you want to count Wawrinka) is somehow diminished. It’s easy to be dismissive. The 2014 US Open final between Cilic and Nishikori? A blip. The ATP Finals with Goffin and Dimitrov? Interesting, but so what?

If Dimitrov lands a major or two in the next few years, it will be tempting to post-rationalise the final just gone as a watershed moment; equally, if he doesn’t, it’s just another of the occasional outliers.

As fans and writers, we need to remind ourselves that it is the title that confers greatness on the players, not the other way around. We do get one-off winners of major titles, and it is legitimate to say that they are not a truly great player until they deliver on the big stage again. But we should be careful not to diminish the achievements of yet-to-be-great players along the way. As much fun as 2017’s greatest hits has been with Federer and Nadal ruling the roost, I would love to see the majors go to a few new winners.

Sport Geek #79: 9,000 yards, arm wrestling, and an Apple Watch

The US Open is underway, so nothing recommended here other than to stay tuned. FWIW I think it’s been a hugely interesting event, with the women’s draw wide open, and one half of the men’s reading like a minor ATP 250 event. Great story lines: CoCo, Venus, Kanepi, that DelPo match. Tennis has entered a weird period with ageless veterans and a unknown emerging pool.

I’ve not done a round up for a while (summer and all that) so here’s a few things recent and not quite so.

UGLY

Stealing signs in baseball with an Apple Watch? Yup.

The Guardian looks at how Bahrain uses sport to whitewash a legacy of torture and human rights abuses.

TALL TENNIS

Are tall players the future? The NYTimes looks at the height thing. Plus the Economist looks at Zverev, who is both tall and possibly the Next Big Thing (pun intended).

LONG GOLF

Do we really need to lengthen golf courses? Golf Monthly asks the question. Some have already made their minds up – 9,000 yards?

NFL

Top read: Aaron Rodgers, unmasked.

FOOTBALL

Neymar: crunching the finances is Nick Harris in the Mail. Forget the shirt sales argument, for one.

Expected goals starts to move into the mainstream.

How do you quantify finishing skill?

Penalty-takers: pure luck?

ARM WRESTLING

Go on.

ATHLETICS

Usain Bolt in charts.

WOMEN’S SPORT

Can it break through to become self-sufficient?

Cheers

The Olympics needs a new hosting blueprint. Here’s one.

Paris Olympics, earlier

The latest round of Olympic bidding has highlighted what has been known for ages: that hosting the Games is a BAD IDEA.

Paris and LA have been awarded the 2024 and 2028 events. No other cities were in the running, after several, including Rome, Boston and Hamburg dropped out.

The Winter Games bidding for 2022 was a similarly feeble contest, with Almaty and Beijing the last two standing. Beijing – a city with no snow – won.

Why has the Olympics become so toxic?

The main reason is cost. Who can sell the idea of spending anything from $10bn – $50bn to a population that is feeling the pinch? Even populist dictators might baulk at the expense.

But costs are OK if there are benefits. Clearly, the benefits have been exposed as a bit of a con. Soft power? There are cheaper ways. Tourism? It actually drops. Infrastructure boost? Do it anyway, if it’s worth it. Happy population? Not necessarily.

So what would be a better way of hosting the Games? Here are a few ideas that are frequently put forward, and my thoughts on their strengths.

Idea #1: pare it down

The Olympics is too big as it is. If you want to make hosting affordable, get rid of sports that don’t need to be there. Football, tennis, golf – there are bigger prizes in those sports. Politically tricky, but doable.

Problem is, that still leaves a lot of events, and in any case, the main costs always seems to be the centrepiece athletics stadium, the athletes village, and the infrastructure. Cutting out a few events won’t help here.

Idea #2: joint cities

This has a certain appeal. Joint city hosting would spread the cost, surely? Not quite. The only example of joint hosting of a recent major event is the World Cup of 2002 between Korea and Japan. That was not a great success, with both countries building expensive stadiums and infrastructure. Rather than splitting the cost, it merely added to it.

For the Olympics, it would present a tricky branding challenge – every Games is “City year” eg London 2012. I guess you could have Rome-Madrid 2036 or whatever, but it’s less appealing. The city backdrop is part of the experience – think Rio’s beach or Sydney harbour. While the World Cup hops from stadium to stadium, an Olympics has a ‘village’ and a base. Two bases would be odd.

Further, where do you have the opening and closing ceremonies? The 100m final? It would be fine to divvy up some events, but the location of the showpiece athletics would naturally make the Games forever associated with that host, not the other.

Idea #3: spread far and wide

An Olympics with events around the globe sounds inclusive and idealistic, but it would have all the problems of idea #2 and more. One of the main ideas is that spectators can visit the city and see a range of sports, not just one. There would be no cohesive experience which would annoy lots of fans. Broadcasters would hate it – it would be far more expensive and hard to cover.

The experience of the Euro 2020 will be interesting in this regard – it’s taking part in 12 cities. If it somehow works (big if), spreading the Olympics *might* become an idea that takes off. Unlikely.

Idea #4: permanent hosts

Some have suggested a single permanent Summer and Winter host. I think that’s a bad idea, for several reasons. One, monotony. Two – it places quite a burden on the host city. Instead, the IOC should pick five cities that rotate the Games. Each would represent their continent, and the IOC would be have the extra incentive to invest some of the broadcast revenue in keeping the infrastructure maintained.

This has a lot of appeal – theoretically no more white elephant stadiums, crumbling facilities or overspending.

There are downsides: with a gap of 20 years, it’s possible that things fall apart anyway. The Olympic roster changes, which means new facilities would always be needed; stadiums will still be unused (or underused) for two decades.

However, picking the right hosts would mitigate those downsides. Cities that are big enough to cope with the set-aside of facilities could easily be found – London, Tokyo, LA would be great candidates.

The downside is regional jealousy. China would want to be a permanent host, for sure. As would the US. That might annoy Canada or Japan. But given that there is a dearth of cities with the current system, it might be a better plan.

The other positives to a permanent city plan is that it would kill off the expensive bidding process, which also would stop the bribery and backhanders. The IOC would have to reform from a princely tour of spoilt delegates to a proper administrative commission – a far better outcome. Cities would have far longer to plan, meaning cost overruns should be a thing of the past, or at least less likely. Hosts wouldn’t have to cut corners to get the Games ready. In any case, it would be a question of upgrading facilities, not a rush job of building from scratch in 7 years.

The benefit of putting on an Olympics is pretty small. Tourism suffers, rather than getting a boost. Countries that want to boost their profile have any other number of ways to do it – host a world championships, finance a Grand Prix, host an expo or something. The Olympics is too big to be used as a political tool anyway.

The other upside of permanent hosts is that it is also closer to the original Olympic ethos, which was to have the Games in the same location each time. Evolving that into five Olympic hosts – one for each of the rings, which could be a nice marketing touch – makes sense.

Anyway. Don’t hold your breath.

 

Sport Geek #78: worst 20s, Venus rising, a breakdown breakdown

WIMBLEDON

It’s on, Murray is out, and there’s lots to talk about. What can we do about retirements? Here’s a good run down of all the options – and which might be least bad. Of all the 30-year-olds still at the top, the resurgence of Venus Williams is perhaps the most remarkable.

During the Nadal-Muller match, my wife remarked that it was surely a big advantage for Muller to be serving first in that marathon 5th set. So is it? Apparently not. Although that analysis is a few years old, it won’t have changed much. And lastly, does the Wimbledon seeding system work?

FOOTBALL

So how does a football transfer really work? Key feature: WhatsApp.

The worst 20 seconds of football ever? As several people pointed out, it’s hard to tell who’s actually attacking…

RUGBY

A fantastic anatomy of a rugby turnover – if you will, the breakdown of a breakdown – all the bits that lead up to it. The English isn’t perfect, but stick with it.

OLYMPICS

Why any city wants to host the Games is beyond me. Of course, dictators are usually up for it, but Paris and LA? They hardly need the exposure. Here we go again. This sums up many feelings.

BASEBALL

People really care how far home runs go. I don’t get why – it’s a home run, just enjoy it. Anyway, the stadium kinda gets in the way, leading to lots of clever maths.

CRICKET

T20 and data. T20 and data! Nerd heaven. And lastly, why are there so many South African cricketers in England?

Sport Geek #77: 15 from 1, 700th in the world, and nothingness

Good afternoon sports fans.

RUGBY / LIONS

As the Lions prepare for the second test, the greatest challenge in world rugby since last week, here are two questions to ponder. One, should the Lions pick 15 players from one team (via Economist)? In terms of results, it might be better; in terms of ethos, I say – what’s the point? The other is why the All Blacks are so good. The FT has a stab at answering.

GENDER TENNIS

Was McEnroe right to say that Serena would only be around 700 in the world on the men’s tour? To my mind, it’s a non-starter. Comparing across the sexes is pointless, and only gets people unnecessarily annoyed. Anyway, Vox has a good explainer here.

NFL ECONOMICS

How much is a quarterback really worth? Nobody actually knows, even with Derek Carr’s contract. Here’s a great rundown via the Ringer.

BASEBALL AND THE ABSENCE OF ACTION

What happens to a sport when nothing happens? Sports Illustrated gets existential.

BOXING

Remember when Mike Tyson took a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear? the Guardian goes back in time.

Cheers

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