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The Match: Tiger Woods v Phil Mickelson’s criticised pay-per-view might well be the future of sport, just ask Floyd Mayweather

  • Golf’s first ever pay-per-view saw Mickelson take the US$9 million prize pot in Las Vegas
  • Broadcasters looking for new ways to find viewers will push sports towards gimmicks like The Match
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 3:05pm

The Match. It’s a singular name for what might not be a singular event.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shot it out in Las Vegas last Friday while the rest of the country recovered from their Thanksgiving excesses.

The real turkey was the day after in a match that did not live up to the hype but still might point the direction of sport in the near future.

Golf’s first ever live pay-per-view event had its teething issues but it will be back, one way or another.

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This is the direction that sport is going, the grand event designed to get as much attention as possible but instead of getting those people into the stadium, they want their pay-per-view dollars.

What would happen if the 150m race between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson took place now? Or the 1973 Battle of the Sexes between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King?

Look at the money generated by Floyd Mayweather Jnr v Conor McGregor last year – and, no doubt, against whoever they fight next.

Television channels have always wanted the viewers and now with pay-per-view and the internet there is more competition than ever.

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“I have raced the fastest swimmers on the planet,” said Michael Phelps in 2017, “except one.” He was promoting his race against a shark for the Discovery channel’s annual Shark Week.

In Phelps Vs Shark, the most decorated Olympian of all time did not race a real shark, instead he was pitted against a virtual rendition but he lost all the same.

He was always going to, even with the aid of a monofin to get his speed closer to that of a Great White, but it did not stop viewers tuning in to break Discovery’s Shark Week ratings record, even if many vented their frustrations on social media that it was not a real shark.

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National Geographic did something similar with Usain Bolt in 2014, pitting the world’s fastest man against a cheetah in The Battle of the Mammals as part of their Big Cat Week.

This was a simulation but they are not always.

In 2013, again for Big Cat Week, NFL players Devin Hester and Chris Johnson raced an actual cheetah at Busch Gardens Tampa, with a wall separating their tracks.

Fox put US gymnast Marshal Erwin up against an orangutan in their Man Vs Beast specials, which also saw a sumo wrestler take on an orangutan in the tug of war.

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It’s not all that far removed from the long bloody history of men taking to the ring to take on bears in wrestling or boxing.

From the carnival barkers and bare-knuckle prize fighters of the recent past to the gladiators of Rome, there has been a thirst for this kind of gimmickry for many years.

Roman satirist Juvenal claimed the public in ancient Rome wanted only “bread and circuses” and it seems that 2018 is not that different.

Then again why would it be?

There have been thousands of years of human history and we have had organised professional team sports for little more than 100 of those.

What we consider to be sport is actually the blip, the aberration, the outlier from what the public have always desired.

In modern Rome, and the rest of Italy’s bookmakers, customers can already bet on a totally virtual Serie A match.

The gambling industry has the money to invest in the technology to push this sector and it can’t be long before we reach a stage where like in the film Rocky Balboa the world tunes into computer simulations of fights between boxers of different generations.

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Betting was certainly an element in The Match. Aside from the millions spent at the bookmakers, there was US$9 million on the line for the winner and they made various proposition bets along the way, with the winner of those taking it for a charity of their choice.

It can’t be too long before that gambling element takes over these broadcasts and a modern-day version of four time World Series of Poker Champion Amarillo Slim could take advantage.

In his 2005 autobiography, In a World Full of Fat People, he claimed to have beaten tennis champion Bobby Riggs at table tennis using a skillet, using a broom to beat Minnesota Fats at pool and besting Evel Knievel at golf with a hammer.

Those contests have pay-per-view success written all over them.

If August’s fight night at a packed Manchester Arena headlined by KSI and Logan Paul, a boxing match between two YouTubers, can pull in 20 million viewers then how can it not?

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We have long left the days when just miles from that venue Manchester United’s players travelled to Old Trafford on the same buses as the fans with the words of manager Matt Busby ringing around their heads.

“I’ll never forget what Sir Matt said to us one day when he pointed across to Trafford Park, which at the time was the largest industrial estate in Europe,” Bobby Charlton said at a service marking the 50th anniversary in 2008. “He told us: ‘The people over there work hard all week long and it is your job to go out on the field and provide them with some entertainment’.

People still want their entertainment, just in different ways and there will be more like Tiger, Phil and the minds behind The Match taking a swing at providing it.

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