Saturday, February 23, 2013

it's a knockout, except when it isn't

One of the things I quite like about the World Matchplay Championship that's currently underway in Arizona is how straight knockout tournaments like this one fuck with the American idea of how sport is meant to work, i.e. that it should be driven by, and be a less-important adjunct to, the relentless selling of stuff, principally the sponsors' products.

After all, what sane corporate executive would design a tournament where Tiger Woods could go out in the first of the six rounds? And not only Woods, but his successors as world number one Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, and Luke Donald in round two as well. I mean, Stricker, Garrigus, Kuchar, these are all solid guys, you know, and your very own Poulter and McDowell, but they're not really going to play in Peoria. I think we need to get the marketing guys on this one and see if we can work Tiger back in somehow. Maybe a kind of plate contest/repechage kind of thing, leading to a lengthy series of end-of-tournament play-offs which last until we get the winner the guys on the board wanted all along.

It is of course true that (sticking with golf for the moment) your more standard four-day 72-hole strokeplay tournaments can be won by unexpected people - who would have foreseen the Elephant Man winning the recent Northern Trust Open, for instance? - but in general the format does tend to flatten out the unexpected stuff a bit. Obviously the major tennis tournaments work in the same knockout-y way, but I would suggest that the pool of potential winners there is much smaller, particularly for the men, so the scope for big upsets for the top seeds in the early rounds is lower. I'm not going to do the legwork and calculate how many of the recent men's Grand Slams have featured, let's say, at least two of the big four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) in the semi-final line-up, but I imagine it might be a while back before you find one that didn't.

There are many weaselly ways of wringing out as much money as possible from a sporting event, almost always at the expense of what you might call the "purity" of the sport, and, more importantly, good sense. The classic one is to have what you advertise as a season-long league contest, run it as one for the first 99% of the season, and then piss all over the value of all that by having a contrived "play-off" thing, just so you can have the whole thing culminate in some sort of Grand Final at the end. Leagues, after all, are sometimes won before the last day of the season, and sometimes the vital points are gained in games not featuring two of the top teams, or even on a day when the winning team don't actually have a game at all! How you work out where and when for Justin Timberlake to whap one of Janet Jackson's tits out and jiggle it about under such a system doesn't bear thinking about. The Aviva Premiership (i.e. English rugby union) has worked this way for ten years or so now, and the slightly more complex FedEx Cup play-off series that follows the main golf season on the PGA tour is basically the same thing.

The other seemingly compulsory thing for team events that work this way is to adopt some sort of ludicrous team name. It's not sufficient for your team name simply to reflect the name of your local area, hell no. It's got to have some other meaningless bit attached to the end. of it. Now this isn't just some reflexive anti-Americanism, because I'm aware that this is an American thing, and in its original form allowed teams to have meaningful "nicknames" that eventually became part of the official name, and that's all fine: Boston Red Sox, Houston Oilers, Dallas Cowboys, etc. etc. It's a bit silly, but I'm not complaining. Requiring a suffix to your team's place-name and then just making up any old shit entirely unrelated to the place is very silly though: Sale Sharks? Sussex Sharks? I mean, sharks are cool and all, but that's just ridiculous.

I'm not sure I really have a point here, other than to say that money is usually a corrupting influence on sport, and in a wider sense Rupert Murdoch is a corrupting influence on pretty much everything.


The Black Rabbit said...

As you've suggested.
It's not sport any more.
It's fackin mannny.

(But as for the rugby thing, it's certainly not just the premiership (or Bris would have been back in the Premiership by now). The powers that be (including some of Will Carlings "old farts") tend to take a lot of their stances from New Zealand especially but also a lot from the southern hemisphere big three in general, both in terms of rule changes within the 80mins and also seasonal structure (playoffs etc). It seems to have been this way for some time.

electrichalibut said...

I'm actually mildly surprised (and grudgingly impressed) that the English football premiership hasn't gone this way (yet), what with footie being much bigger business than rugby, and with teams increasingly being owned by American and Asian business types who undoubtedly don't give a rat's ass about tradition and Corinthian ideals and all the horseshit.

As you say, this isn't new - the World Series and Super Bowl in America are essentially play-off-esque things tacked on to the end of a standard league season as well.