There was a time, not very long ago (OK, a decade or more ago) when an Australian in New York in need of a televised sports-hit other than the satisfying last two minutes of NBA games and the final 57 seconds of the Superbowl had to search far and wide.
When it came to coverage of cricket, rugby, Australian rules football, Oz soccer, international basketball and rugby league, videos from home (if your VHS-challenged father actually managed to press ‘record’) were often the best way to stay connected although persistence, also known as bar hopping, was sometimes rewarded.
Faux Irish pubs in midtown Manhattan and jolly West Indian eateries in the bowels of Brooklyn and Queens offered morsels: the pubs showed international rugby at ten to 20 bucks a hit while the Caribbean bars, restaurants and, on one memorable occasion, some Jamaican guy’s front room, were known to feature cricket pinched from satellite signals, using advanced illicit technology and, I think, wire coat hangers.
Aussie rules would pop up as a novelty somewhere every so often and occasionally broadcasters were fooled into thinking league was actually union and ran a couple of games (the NRL was the best overnight viewing a few years ago) but for the most part Australia’s dominant winter sports and certainly cricket, netball, Australian basketball and soccer didn’t appear too often if at all.
This thing they call the Internet has changed that a little, as has the power and influence of cricket-mad Indians, yet sports still appear and disappear from screens without fanfare or warning and with the start of a new footy season looming, it looks as disorganised as ever.
Aussie rules, which I‘m pretty sure the locals think is rugby, seems to be in limbo. After enjoying a consistent presence as an overnight option on the ESPN network for a few years, plans for 2012 appear to be, well, grim, an ESPN spokeswoman confirming: “At this time, ESPN3 will not be distributing the AFL.”
Barring a Russell Crowe intervention, rugby league won’t be a handy option on US televisions either. So hardcore fans of the big footy will be mostly limited to squinting at a couple of subscription websites (LiveNRL.tv and LiveAFL.tv) or suffer VHS tapes from their fathers.
Rugby union, which I’m pretty sure locals think is Aussie rules, looks to be in better shape, although the best online options (Setanta Sport in the US and rugbyzone) no longer exist. A cable station, Fox Soccer Plus and its online cousin foxsoccer.tv show English, Celtic and European competition games. ESPN also shows an occasional Top 14 rugby game from France via its Internet service.
BBC America (a cable station showing endless repeats of Top Gear) is presenting one Six Nations game per round rather than the three tests being played. No doubt they don’t want to take up precious air time with first class rugby and risk losing those seven fans of Top Gear episodes from 1986.
Directv, a satellite provider, shocked last year by suddenly showing a flood of rugby including the Super 15 in its entirety; Currie Cup matches from South Africa, the New Zealand national championship and the Tri-Nations on a dedicated rugby channel (490) that has nothing else except horrendous muzak on it when the season is done. Just as it should be.
(The guys at Fox — and they are guys — apparently had the rights to southern hemisphere rugger but in their wisdom decided matchups like Glasgow vs Treviso were about as much excitement as a US rugby followers deserved, thus, no Super games).
Not everyone has Directv as their platform (cable TV is the dominant offering). My investment in a house in upstate New York a few years ago was not a prudent one, however, it is blessed with Directv, which is one, cripplingly expensive way to ensure I remain a rugby tragic.
NBC, a real broadcast network available everywhere including in some foods I suspect, has recently committed to showing the IRB Sevens Rugby World Series (albeit mostly recorded highlights). Unfortunately seven-a-side is a stupid game, although it now has the nod to be part of the Olympics and is very likely to best way the sport can get a reasonable foothold in America.
Cricket has always been at the margins over here. Too long, too complicated, too English. Americans think every sport that’s not basketball, baseball, American football and ice hockey is only played in England.
But the growth of the emerging Indian middle class and the country’s massive diaspora has shaken things up. A couple of one day World Cups ago, the only way to see the finals in NYC was to get a ticket to a ‘live’ screening at cinemas that usually showed Bollywood movies.
On occasion a few Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants on Lexington Avenue would get hold of international games, perhaps using methods hastily learned from the coat hanger masters of Queens. The curry was great, the reception awful.
Now there is an online site, Willowtv, offering games from all over the world. Yes, even Hobart. You can get more or less the same coverage (for additional money) via Directv too. Being able to flick between live rugby and cricket at 2am while it’s snowing outside in the Catskill mountains is weirdly satisfying, though financially hazardous.
In terms of other sports: tennis. Well, there’s a tennis channel, but the grand game strikes me a little like one-day cricket series and Major League Baseball these days — too many fixtures of little consequence. And I ask you, what good is tennis without full coverage of the inanity of tournament press conferences? A while back, just one irrelevant answer from Mark Philippoussis or a blank stare from Anna Kournikova was enough to recommit to the sport for another year.
Soccer is all over the shop. Lots of English Premier League, South American, Italian Serie A — and the home grown MLS is becoming a tolerable spectacle, especially since they stopped calling a draw a “tie”. Fox Soccer Channel provides good coverage of the sport and the A-League gets an occasional gong.
International basketball manages an appearance every so often but the NBL is as non existent here as it is in Australia (a bloody travesty, I say). The international body, FIBA’s online site has some subsciption offerings and the NBA has a dedicated channel that, during downtime, shows games from Lithuania or somewhere.
I’m told by disreputable people known to me only by bogus names like LivestreamingLou and Harvey the Hacker, that you can easily, illegally haul in free streaming of international sports. But really, is that virus worth it? And surely it can’t be good for your computer either.
Bottom line is if you hold a power drill to the head of your TV cable guy and that sensationally boring computer geek/whiz person from next door and explain slowly that you want every international sport available “from England” you’ll get a pretty impressive array these days.
Things ain’t what they used to be and this expat is thankful, even if the AFL & NRL are less accessible than sumo wrestling. The option to never leave one’s own miniscule apartment in Manhattan is now possible, although a pie and Coopers at Matt Astill’s midtown pub watching seven screens of different dumb Oz sports is a hell of a drawcard for a lonely, sad middle-aged man (you not me).
Go the Tiges.