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Flick of a boot or twist of a joystick: What might 
sport look like in the future?

PUBLISHED: 13:27 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:27 14 February 2019

Aerial view of Carrow Road. Picture: Mike Page

Aerial view of Carrow Road. Picture: Mike Page

Mike Page

Globally, nationally and locally, sport is evolving. But what might it look like in years to come? As part of our focus on the future of Norwich, Chris Lakey reports.

ESports are becoming a major industry. Picture: Joe BradyESports are becoming a major industry. Picture: Joe Brady

Have you come down from the Derby Day high yet?

If so, there’s a burning question for you: will Norwich City be promoted this season?

If the answer is yes, then will it be automatic promotion, or via the play-offs?

If the second answer is: ‘don’t care, as long as they go up’ then maybe, like us all, you have the short-term picture in your mind.

Teemu Pukki has proven to be a huge hit at Norwich City since his summer arrival on a free transfer. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesTeemu Pukki has proven to be a huge hit at Norwich City since his summer arrival on a free transfer. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

But what of beyond the summer, when all roads might, just might, lead to the Premier League?

Have you ever sat and wondered what is beyond the immediate joy of reaching the promised land?

Two decades ago, City were facing a home game against Grimsby Town in the old Division One. This week, they are coming off the back of the euphoria of a derby victory over Ipswich.

It’s a multi-billion-pound business, but the fortunes of a football club may come down to something as simple as the swing of a boot, the eagle eyes of a referee, or the cunning and gamesmanship of an opponent.

If City are successful in their promotion bid, they will become one of the increasingly smaller fish swimming among sharks in an ocean of money... and the predators are scooping it all up. They will need to learn how to survive and grow, rather than die and drop to the sea bed. They will need money to compete in what, season by season, looks more and more like a closed shop.

And if they ever do find themselves swimming with the big fish, there is always the prospect that they will be discarded, thrown overboard as the sharks play amongst themselves. If you wondered where the fish metaphors were going, then it is the European Super League. It will happen one day and City won’t get a look-in, no matter how goes the survival battle.

City are where they are because of the philosophy of self-sufficiency as laid down by the club owners, their will carried out by sporting director Stuart Webber. But because it is working, Webber – like the 20-goal-a-season player or the brilliant flying winger – becomes valuable. To someone else. Those damned sharks again. The good players aren’t safe as well: it’s a vicious circle this self-sufficiency lark.

And, again, if the City model works and the success comes, will the owners be able to match the ambitions of the fans?

The sight of Teemu Pukki peeling away to celebrate has been a regular feature of Norwich City's 2018-19 Championship campaign. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesThe sight of Teemu Pukki peeling away to celebrate has been a regular feature of Norwich City's 2018-19 Championship campaign. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

This is purely hypothetical, but in a decade or two, there may be new owners with very different views in a footballing world with different rewards and challenges. Will City forever be at Carrow Road? And will Carrow Road remain Carrow Road or will its name fall to the clutches of a rights holder?

Foreign ownership works for some, not for others.

And what of the fans – not just of Norwich but any club? What sports will sports fans of the future be interested in? It seems like football has been well supported for decades, but sporting trends are changing: commercial interests can push a sport to the forefront. American sports are not a Channel Five novelty, they are common everyday viewing on sports channels.

They have glitz and glamour, excitement and a social media awareness that makes them open to all. And their image remains largely untarnished, unlike football, which is analysed and probed and prodded to such an extent that its dirty washing is there for all to see - its world governing body was rotten from the top down for goodness sake.

It was certainly a feisty affair as Norwich City beat Ipswich Town at Carrow Road, in the 107th East Anglian derby. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesIt was certainly a feisty affair as Norwich City beat Ipswich Town at Carrow Road, in the 107th East Anglian derby. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Will a teenager in 2019 be watching Norwich City in 10 years time? Or will they be safely cosseted away, perfecting their eSports skills? Computer gaming: clean, warm, cosy, no need to exercise, no wind and rain. And safe. You can learn in your back bedroom. If you’re good enough you can turn professional.

ESports leagues are being launched, US sports franchises are jumping on board - Michael Jordan has invested – and as many people (100m) watched the Super Bowl as watched eSports’ ‘League of Legends’ World Finals two months ago.

Manchester City have their own eSports team. Gaming is worth more than video and music sales combined.

It’s got the International Olympic Committee in a tizzy - they see the games which were the foundation of eSports as too violent for the Olympics, but at the same time know it could be a key to its future.

“We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination,” said Thomas Bach, president of the IOC last year. “They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”

But eSports will be a medal sport at the Olympics-affiliated 2019 South East Asia Games.

ESports debuted as a demonstration sport at the Asian Games last year with high hopes it will be part of the official roster for the 2022 event in Hangzhou, China.

Last year, a survey, by internet service provider Plusnet, of 1,000 fans who like gaming and football revealed a startling result: 72pc said they prefer video games to playing for real.

And that is where we may find ourselves at a curious cross roads: what’s going to be more 2029, the flick of a football boot or the twist of a joystick? A muddy ball smacking against a forehead, or a player adjusting his wireless headset?

Will you go to Carrow Road or just switch on your screen for your kicks?

I doubt very much it will come to that - but the spin-off may have a serious effect on your sporting viewing.

Is it all a flight of fancy? Think on... after all, if we can have drone racing we can have anything...

Esport image by Joe Brady.

• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking here is recommended.

• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).

• We’d love to know your views - share them in the comments below.

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