Pit bull savages ratings as a pointless exercise

Did some unwitting sports reporter – was it you, Barry Newcombe? Stephen Jones, was it you? Or was it Charlie Sale? – dare to score Brian Moore a mere 2 or 3 out of 10 when he was playing hooker for England?

Points to prove: Brian Moore in his playing days
Points to prove: Brian Moore in his playing days

We only ask because Moore, the rugby pundit for BBC television and TalkSport, was in typical pit-bull mode on Twitter yesterday, dismissing player ratings by mere “hacks” as a waste of space.

“Player ratings – What some hack, who hasn’t played and might have a click-bait agenda, writes is to be ignored. I refuse to do them,” Moore announced in the aftermath of England’s defeat to Wales in Saturday’s gripping World Cup clash.

Scoring player performances in team sports, mainly football, has been a mainstay of our national papers for decades, often providing a graphic element to break up a spread of coverage of a big match, and sparking bar room debates in thousands of pubs up and down the country. These days, the ratings sometimes provide the points scoring for Fantasy Football games, and for the Rugby World Cup, at least one national paper’s sports pages have started offering ratings of players’ form before matches.

Player ratings are no longer the sole preserve of tabloids, and are an integral part of most newspapers’ coverage. Certainly, the public wants them.

For many professional sports journalists, player ratings have a Marmite feel to them. Some sports sections might enjoy the luxury of being able to cover a game with more than one member of staff, even if the player-ratings guy is chained to his keyboard, ducking backwards and forwards to get a clear view of the office telly.

But for most match reporters, covering a game alone, the ratings can be regarded as a troublesome extra aspect of what they are expected to deliver, alongside the live tweeting, writing their runner, attending the post-match press conference, grabbing the nannies, live blogging and doing their re-write, never mind giving some thought to their follow-up. It’s astonishing that during the 80 or 90 minutes of a game, the hard-working reporter ever gets a chance to look up from their laptop or tablet screen to assess the performances of the individual players performing in front of them.

Carson Wishart, who is doing some stadium work at the Rugby World Cup, seemed to agree with Moore on player ratings: “I banned them when I was a sports editor in newspapers, but readers want them. Impossible for writer to track every player!”

That is the point, says Moore: “They are vague impressions, no more.” Though surely most newspaper readers realise that the markings are subjective snap-shots?

Wishart points out that the “writer is already too stretched doing online text commentary, post-match interviews, considered piece for paper”.

Mark Smith, a North-East based sportswriter who works for the Newcastle Chronicle, spoke for many of his colleagues when he chipped in: “Journos hate them, readers love them. Agree it’s impossible to do properly. I’d drop them in a heartbeat.”

Paul Morgan, a former editor of Rugby World magazine, now communications director at Premiership Rugby, had a different view: “They are the first thing people read. They key is send a journalist just to do that job.”

But Moore still wasn’t convinced: “I’d say it is almost impossible even with that.”

Gareth Rhys Owen, a presenter and commentator at BBC Wales Sport, tweeted: “We wouldn’t have had this: ‪@Graham_Thomas‬ beauty X: started slowly then faded 5.”

Dishing out merit marks can indeed be awkward. Thomas, who works for Sky Sports News and the Sunday Mirror, responded: “That was fun – until I bumped into the player.”

And if the ratings really are generating website clicks, then their worth in every other regard won’t matter, at least not to the accountants who have taken over our business.

  • What do you think of player ratings? Have you had a horror story from a press box when filing your scores? Do you think your sports pages would be the poorer without the ratings? Post your comments below.
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