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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Commentary on commentaries

During my high school days, one of the primary books that i had to cover is William Shakespeare's Macbeth. At that time, one couldn't really grasp the prowess of his words and phrasing that captured every essence in life. I guess you really need life's experiences to complement such classic literature.

I can still easily recite some of the soliloquys from the main character. One of my favorite quotes from Macbeth is in Act V, Scene V, where Macbeth, upon hearing the death of his wife, cited:

"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The last line has multiple layers of meaning to it. The layer that i'm focusing on this post is about the comment that Shakespeare made on what constitutes good drama. I believe that the comment applies to sports, and other areas as well.

Being a boy in his teenager years in Singapore, chances are that he would be playing football (aka Soccer in USA), and would have been watching the Big League Soccer from the UK. At that time, the telecast would be a straightforward showing of the football match, with minimal commentary. Similarly, the football World Cup matches would be shown on TV right at the minute the matches started in the host countries. You'd watch the game, have a break during half time, and finish the game right at the final whistle.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see a pre-game show that lasts for an hour. Sometimes for big events like the World Cup final, the pre-game show might be three hours for a 90 minute match! A big team of former players, commentators, "experts" and other guests will be sharing their points of view with one another.

Similarly, during the actual match, the commentators will start to cite tons of metrics, for example:

1) how many assists each player make this season

2) how many tackles (successful/failed)

3) how much playing time each player has

4) so on and so forth....

I wonder how all these metrics actually matter. At the end of the day, isn't the one important data point is whether one team scores more goals than the other? Team A can make 1000 assists, has 100 shots at goal, make 100 successful tackles, and ran 10000 yards during the 90 minutes, but if Team B can make their 1 shot at goal count, nothing else matter. The top scorer in the World Cup 2006 was Germany's Miroslav Klose, who had a two goal lead against the next set of top scorers, but the final was between Italy and France.

What all the pre-game/post-game shows and the in-game commentaries have done is to create a huge and profitable market in terms of allowing these non-playing "experts" to give their two cents' worth of opinion in as many media channels as they can.

I recalled that there was a series in probably early 2002 that had two sets of commentators that were spouting different "data" on the same players in the same season. One set would say that Zola passed 212 times in the month of August, while another set said it was 195 times. It became a farce when they started arguing about the definition of a pass from their respective point of view!

Is there any real value added to the game? No. The unnecessary hype of such useless metrics not only do not add value to the game, but rather, shifts people's focus off the most important goal, which is, who score more goals!

This also created some false sense of authority on these "experts". Again, the ones that gained from these "sound and fury" are the ones that go around spreading sound and fury. I pity the players that are doing the actual sports. At least in terms of football players, most top league players are getting rich enough that they can afford to ignore this kind of distraction.

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