True cost of brave Bruno experiment

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The Independent Online
FRANK BRUNO crossed himself seven times as he approached the ring of terror in Las Vegas last week and this was rightly interpreted as an indication of the extent of his apprehension. I can reveal, however, that the final one was a cross for no publicity. Alas, the gesture was too late to save him from the public ignominy in which he wallows and which curdled the dawn in all those British households who had paid to be part of the historic debut of pay-per-view.

Sky are hailing the venture as a great success. They are referring not to the event itself, for which, of course, they would claim no responsibility, but to the numbers who showed willingness to sacrifice a night's sleep to watch the bout and pay a tenner or more for the privilege. The man who coined the phrase "there's one born every minute" is considering revising his estimate sharply upwards.

Last week, I questioned whether Sky would be willing to reveal how many customers they had tempted. Had there been few takers they might have been reluctant to share the information. As it was, they could not release the figures quick enough.

A total of 600,000 homes elected to receive the satellite signal from Las Vegas and 2,000 pubs and clubs also availed themselves of the opportunity. This represents an income of around pounds 6.5m, which are pickings of a very encouraging size to the Murdoch empire and to any other organisation contemplating a future in providing pay-per-view opportunities. I hope there are plenty.

The number of people who actually saw it is far more difficult to establish. Some calculate 2 million while others put it as high as 5 million. How many of those who sat down to watch had their eyes open during the vital moments is even harder to guess as is the percentage of those who had their eyes open but were incapable of absorbing what they were seeing.

The pall of gloom that hung over Britain on Sunday was not centred just on the Bruno household. I know of several pay-per-viewers who slept through the entire proceedings. You can multiply that figure by thousands. The fact that the bout didn't begin until nearly 5am exposed many whose stamina had long expired. Among those who used drink to fortify themselves to stay the distance, tempers were apt to fray. In one bachelor flat in my locality, fractiousness led to a fight that ran parallel to Bruno's and, according to other members of the group, was all that justified the effort of staying up.

Only the hardy who watched in an alert and calm manner would be able to confirm if their time and money had been well spent. The one statistic that can't be provided is the number of satisfied Sky customers there were. It is doubtful if there were many. Any impression that these words are being written in the smug manner of one who resisted the temptation to invest in a view of the carnage is wrong. The fight cost me more than the pay-per-view fee and this brings me to another, more worrying aspect of the event. The fears I had previously expressed about the amount of hype involved were justified by the load of finely tuned tosh emanating from Nevada.

Newspapers have never been shy of building up interest in a sporting event. It is part of the job. Indeed, as in life, there's often more pleasure to be had from anticipation. But an unusual element was present in the preamble to the Bruno fight. Sky is part of a media organisation that includes four powerful newspapers. I am not saying that these proud organs volunteered themselves as recruiting agents for pay-per-view but, whether they liked it or not, every newspaper did.

The Sun had Bruno signed up exclusively, which prompted their rivals to mount big coverage operations themselves. The rest of the press joined in with varying degrees of enthusiasm and the result was almost two weeks' hype of a volume that was excessive even by world heavyweight title standards. What's more, it was hype of the highest quality. Gnarled old boxing writers of my acquaintance tell me that the two boxers were less available to the media at large than at any title fight in living memory.

This led to a clamour of other voices being heard, not least the unlovable Don King's. From Tyson's camp came tales of surliness and good judges such as Eddie Futch and Glenn McCrory started to give Bruno a puncher's chance. My regard for Bruno as a boxer is roughly equivalent to my admiration of Paul Gascoigne as a perfect human being. Then I discovered that bookmakers in Las Vegas were offering 10-1 on Bruno winning inside the distance. He was never going to win on points but one well-delivered punch on the jaw of a man who hadn't taken a decent shot in four years . . . ?

Bookies over here were offering some derisory prices about Bruno, which is why a powerful amount of money that should have belonged to them winged its way across the Atlantic. It included $20 of mine.

Bruno's mother must have been bitten by an optimist while she was carrying him because he is still contemplating fighting on, but I doubt whether he will ever figure in a pay-per-view deal again. No one can doubt, however, that the concept is here to stay. If that number of folk will pay good money to stay up all night, how many will pay for a top football or rugby match?

And since pay-per-view is bound to be in the sights of every ambitious communications conglomerate, including BBC and ITV if they have any sense, one is forced to consider whether the level of pre-event hype by associated media outlets is going to distort the prominence naturally given to our big events.

The advent of pay-per-view is to be welcomed in every household that values the freedom to choose what it wants to watch. But that freedom may well bring some unwholesome accompaniment.

JURGEN KLINSMANN is one of our favourite Germans, but the sight of him piling two goals on to Nottingham Forest's agony in the Uefa Cup last Tuesday was hardly endearing. After the match, however, Klinsmann appeared to have more of a grip on reality than most of our football pundits. Every time one of our teams is on the receiving end of a thumping, as Forest were against Bayern Munich that night, the amount of teeth-gnashing, breast- beating and shirt-tearing that ensues is embarrassing. We have been repeatedly reminded for 50 years that our footballers fall well short of those of countless foreign countries in skill and technique, and yet it still comes as a surprise. One television gentleman called it "disturbing".

Truth is that Forest did well in the first leg to get an away goal and on Tuesday pounded Bayern for 30 minutes in which they could have scored twice but did not have a shred of luck, as Klinsmann confirmed. Then Forest's goalkeeper, Mark Crossley, made an appalling mistake to let Bayern score and 13 minutes later another crappy goal gave the Germans a lead that could only be overtaken if Forest risked everything in attack.

Bayern took full advantage and scored five goals on the night. In that context it was hardly a disaster, but to listen to the BBC and to read the newspapers the following morning you would have thought that some appalling catastrophe had overtaken us. In the war we'd have had them shot as quislings.