The county champions could receive £1M ($1.4M) in prize money if "new proposals to replace the present divisional structure of domestic cricket with a conference system are adopted" by the England & Wales Cricket Board, according to Paul Edwards of the LONDON TIMES. Further details have emerged of the plans "by which the 18 counties would be split into three six-team conferences of roughly equal strength," with the teams playing one another home and away. Depending on "their final positions in each of these groups" after 10 games, the counties would "then be divided into three further conferences and would play the other teams in that conference just once." The new proposals have been drawn up by Yorkshire CEO Mark Arthur and Headingley Dir of Cricket Martyn Moxon, although both men "stress that they are acting in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of the county club." The hope is that the system "will revive interest in four-day cricket among a few counties" in Division Two that currently appear to have "slim hopes of winning promotion and little chance of keeping their best players, many of whom have progressed through their academies" (LONDON TIMES, 1/18).
Events and Attractions
The Australian Open "stepped up efforts to lure Chinese tennis fans to Melbourne Park by boosting broadcast and sponsorship deals," according to Melanie Burton of REUTERS. More than 59 million people in China tuned in to watch the Australian Open in '17, up by more than 84% on the year before, and organizers are "banking on numbers rising again." The Asia-Pacific grand slam expanded a long term relationship with Chinese digital broadcaster iQIYI to '21 and launched a five-year deal with premium mineral water supplier Ganten from this year. It has four Chinese broadcasters as partners and a year-round social media team on Wechat and Weibo. Australia is hoping the country's premier tennis event will "turn viewers into visitors from what is soon to be its biggest tourism market." Tourism Australia GM of Media Leo Seaton said, "Events like the Australian Open ... play a particularly important role in encouraging repeat visits." As part of its plan to attract more visitors, organizers "have tied up with online China travel agent Ctrip" (REUTERS, 1/18).
PRIZE PURSE: The BBC's Russell Fuller reported former tennis player Martina Navratilova urged Novak Djokovic and other male players who want higher prize money to "get together with the women." Djokovic used last Friday's ATP players' meeting at the Australian Open to propose the "formation of a union to fight for greater financial reward." Navratilova supports that but warned the 12-time Grand Slam champion "paying men more than women is not the answer." Navratilova said, "We really need to pull together and not against each other. I think it's great that the players should be getting more. The percentage of the money the majors give to the players is less than it ought to be." There is no suggestion that last Friday's meeting discussed "increasing men's prize money at the expense of the women's tour," but the issue "remains a subtext to the debate." There is a "significant number of men who think they should be paid more" (BBC, 1/18).
'TAKING A RISK': In London, Simon Briggs reported Gaël Monfils warned Australian Open organizers that they were "taking a risk" by asking players to compete in a "brutal Melbourne heatwave." Monfils said that he had experienced "a small heat stroke" as he faced Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena, where on-court temperatures were reported to have climbed to somewhere between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius (113-122 degrees Fahrenheit). Although he eventually regrouped to complete his second-round match -- which Djokovic won by a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 margin -- Monfils "looked like he might be forced to retire early on." At the 4-3 changeover in the second set, Monfils told chair umpire John Blom, "If I can't take longer than 25 seconds between points, I am going to collapse" (TELEGRAPH, 1/18). In Sydney, Scott Spits reported the "brutally hot day at Melbourne Park" resulted in Garbiñe Muguruza receiving "treatment for blisters caused by the hot court surface" during her second-round loss to Su-Wei Hsieh. Muguruza said, "It's terrible, very, very hot, and it's easy to get blister and red" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 1/18). In Melbourne, Anthony Colangelo reported the crowd of 38,072 "was down about 10,000 people" on the two previous daytime slots (THE AGE, 1/18).
Vietnam "appears to be on track to get a slot" on the Formula 1 calendar, with sources suggesting there "could be an announcement about a street race" in the country in the coming weeks, according to Christian Sylt for FORBES. This emerged from "a busy day of meetings in London" at a gathering of the Formula One Promoters Association in the Sofitel London St. James hotel. One source said, "Vietnam street race is what they are going to announce." It "is believed that the race is planned" for the streets of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, but it has "not yet been officially announced so it could still fail to get to the finish line." It is "no secret that a plan for a race in the country is in the works." Former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said that he "declined the chance to meet the president of Vietnam and sign a race in the country," even though Vietnam "would have paid" an estimated $391.2M over the 10 years of its contract. A track "was due to be built near to Ho Chi Minh City" in '10 but "hit the buffers." Vietnam's first race track, which opened in '16, has standards that "are far below F1 specification." A track that would meet F1 standards "was reportedly under consideration" in '16. It is understood that a foreign group "was seeking investment to build it in Hanoi and carried out a feasibility study" (FORBES, 1/17).
ManU is "set for crunch talks with UEFA over escalating ticket prices" in the Champions League, according to Jack Gaughan of the London DAILY MAIL. ManU execs have reportedly "instigated a meeting" with UEFA "following the fiasco surrounding next month’s tie against Sevilla." Sevilla announced before Christmas that traveling supporters "were to be charged a whopping" £89 ($124) to watch the first leg in Spain on Feb. 21. ManU was "incensed" and committed to refunding fans £35 ($49) to bring the cost down. That move is being subsidized by "hiking prices up for Sevilla’s contingent at Old Trafford." But ManU’s grievances "go further than Sevilla, with fans insistent they are constantly ripped off on the continent because of the club’s prestige" (DAILY MAIL, 1/18).
PRICE INFLATION: In Edinburgh, David Bol reported rugby fans "will be left out of pocket as touts cash in on inflated prices for Six Nations tickets." With "no tickets remaining for Scotland’s two home clashes with England and France, desperate fans have been left with no alternative" but to pay up to £2,200 ($3,000) for "a chance to enjoy the action." Ticket website Viagogo is offering tickets for the Calcutta Cup clash with England for £2,200 -- with the cheapest tickets available for a "whopping" £340 ($472) (EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS, 1/18).
Formula E "will not replace" its canceled Montreal doubleheader and will end a 12-race season in N.Y. in mid-July. The series "has been evaluating what to do after the Montreal mayor announced last month the city would scrap its contracted season finale." The options being considered by Formula E reportedly "included a race in Birmingham" (MOTORSPORT, 1/18).
More than 30 competitors withdrew from last weekend's Siberian Indoor Championships in Irkutsk "when drug testers arrived at the two-day event." The Russian Anti-Doping Agency will reportedly "be given the names of the athletes who left the regional competition" (BBC, 1/17).
Newport County "will use a temporary stand to allow 1,000 extra supporters" to watch its FA Cup fourth-round clash with Tottenham at Rodney Parade. The stand behind the North Terrace will provide 1,072 extra seats for the match. Tottenham received an allocation of 1,640 tickets for the FA Cup clash and the temporary stand "will nudge the attendance" toward 10,000 (BBC, 1/17).