With Andy Murray’s exit from the US Open, I’d like to reassess this year’s Sports Personality of the Year award. Please feel free to add a Comment if you think I’ve missed anything.
These are the best available odds on the main candidates (NB some of them are Betfair odds, i.e. minus 5%, or 4.99% if you’re practically professional):
Jenson Button 10/3 9/4
Jessica Ennis 4/1 5/2
Andy Murray 4/1 49/1
Andrew Flintoff 8/1 8/1
Andrew Strauss 12/1 11/1
33/1 bar 41/1
The Big Night is not until December 13th, so it’s not too late for another serious contender to emerge, but the chances of that are fast diminishing. In fact, I can't think of a big event taking place in the next three months that could do it. (Again, feel free to correct me in a Comment!) If the end of the Formula 1 season springs to mind, I’ll come to that in a minute.
My analysis (hoping that that’s not too scientific a word).
People sometimes bemoan the fact that the Sports Personality of the Year doesn’t always have much of a personality. I’m sure you realise that that’s not the point, any more than the Eurovision Song Contest is a song contest. My own definition of a “personality” may not match yours, and in any case let’s not forget that this is simply a popularity contest whose title uses the word “personality” because it’s a bit clunky to call it the Sports Person of the Year.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m going to list the main factors that can significantly affect a SPOTY candidate’s popularity. Any or all of the following can help a candidate to win votes:
· Achievement in the year in question
· Achievement in previous years
· Significance of the year in question (for instance, a retirement)
· A family story (family tragedies, poignant love stories, etc)
· Celebrity status (a certain showjumper springs to mind!)
· A record of overcoming misfortune (injuries and so on)
· The media coverage of all the above
· How much and how good their coverage is on the night – which partly depends on whether the candidate participates in a BBC sport
· Yes, their personality, and how they come over on the TV
· Most importantly, the competition, in the form of other British sporting achievement. (For instance, it’s usually difficult for non-Olympians in an Olympic year, and no one other than an
We can all think of recent examples where one or other of the above factors seemed to be particularly important. I hid it in the middle of the list, but I believe that increasingly in our celebrity-dominated culture, we have to take into account the importance of Celebrity Status. So, bearing all this in mind, who should be the front-runner in this year’s competition, and are the current odds justified?
In 2007 and 2008, something quite unusual happened in Formula 1. A British driver dominated both seasons, coming 2nd and then 1st. The last British Formula 1 Champion was Damon Hill in 1996. Hill won the SPOTY even though it was an Olympic year (Steve Redgrave came second). He also won in 1994, without winning the Formula 1 Championship.
But Damon Hill was already a genuine TV personality, and frankly, Lewis Hamilton was not. Given the deterioration of Formula 1’s image in recent years, and the fact that Button is even less of a “personality” than Hamilton, I think the best that Button can realistically hope for is that a Formula 1 driver comes second in the SPOTY for a third successive year.
Candidates from athletics benefit from the fact that it’s a BBC sport, but it’s still unusual for an athlete to win the SPOTY in an odd-numbered year – you have to go back to Jonathan Edwards in 1995.
Like Ennis, Edwards came to prominence by winning World Championship gold. Could this be enough, as it was in 95? Well, Philips Idowu won gold this year too, but he’s not even in the running. I’m sure he’s a great bloke when you get to know him, but I don’t think the BBC voting public are quite ready for his combination of pierced tongue, eyebrow spear, and godbothering. (The odds would seem to bear this out – as I write, he’s available at 169/1.) By contrast, Ennis is a charming and attractive “girl next door” character. I think she has every chance of emulating her recent predecessors in this role, Paula Radcliffe (2002) and Kelly Holmes (2004).
In my view,
And in those days Rusedski and Henman were both genuinely popular personalities.
In 2009 we have a newly-emerged “personality” in a BBC sport, and
Of course, the fact that
As soon as Flintoff declared his intention to retire from Test cricket, he became a contender. When he ran out Ricky Ponting, allowing the mainstream media to portray him as
He won the SPOTY four years ago, the last time he was the Ashes Hero, but that was the first time we’d won it for a generation. Without the open-top bus tour this time, he hasn’t yet achieved the same level of public and media acclamation as last time. But it could yet happen, perhaps on SPOTY night. It can certainly happen to a larger-than-life character who’s already a Celebrity.
Frankly, if the SPOTY was decided on merit, Strauss would have a great chance. But it’s not and he doesn’t.
I’ve never been convinced of the merits of the other main contenders, and I believe it’s a straight race between Flintoff and Ennis. A lot hinges on how the actual programme goes on the night. Will they both come over well? Will Flintoff blow it by appearing too arrogant, or Ennis by being too nervy? Ennis has had less practice in the spotlight, so perhaps her poise will desert her on the night. But in the end, I believe the SPOTY will go to either her or Freddy. In the absence of other indicators, I expect name recognition and Flintoff’s prior celebrity status to swing it in his favour.
True to Smithsonian tradition, I will declare my bets:
Back in January when Strauss was appointed England Test captain, I got a small amount on at 50/1, just in case. I am now considering laying off, but I will probably leave it. Again, just in case.
In July, when the Athletics World Championships squad was announced, I put small amounts on Radcliffe (335/1) and Ohuruogu (235/1), and a larger amount on Ennis (12/1). Any one of them could have become “the story”, and it turned out to be Ennis. I have since topped up at shorter odds.
I hadn’t expected
I have no money on Button or Murray.
Obviously my Ohuruogu and Radcliffe money is already up in smoke, but I’m happy with my other investments. In recent years I’ve made a good profit on every winner except Calzaghe. I will now decamp to somewhere quiet and await the Button landslide!
When not poring over the SPOTY odds, Robert Barnes spends his time managing www.AscotBusinessTraining.com