Monday, July 31, 2006

Poking the Bear... is a story that could become extremely ugly in the coming weeks. Multichannel published the following article today, "Time Warner, NFL Network Butt Heads." Time Warner is about to open up a hornet's nest. The story reported:

"The operator may punt the network away from systems owned by Adelphia Communications that it is acquiring, including those in such National Football League markets as Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; and Dallas...Time Warner is considering dropping NFL Network from systems in Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles, the Carolinas and Maine that are currently carrying the service as early as Aug. 1, following the expected July 31 closing of Time Warner Inc.’s and Comcast’s purchase of Adelphia, according to sources at both parties."

It was bad enough for Yankee fans when Steinbrenner created the Yes Network and Cablevision (I believe) stated it would not pay for the station so three million fans couldn't watch the Yankee games. Wait, that may have been a good thing...

At this time, football is the number one sport in the country and is the number one sport in Buffalo, Cleveland and Dallas. Los Angeles, may not have a team, but it is the second biggest market in the country. How are sponsors going to feel if they can't promote products to LA viewers?

Thankfully, the NFL knows how to handle these types of issues including:

"In response, the (NFL) network -- which added an eight-game, late-season primetime package -- is preparing a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to run throughout the pro football season if necessary against Time Warner, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks and other cable operators that are not carrying the 41 million-subscriber channel.

Meanwhile, NFL Network will run TV, radio and print ads -- as early as this coming week -- identifying operators that are currently not carrying the service. The network was expected to run ads this past Sunday in newspapers reaching NFL markets, including Green Bay, Wis. (Time Warner), and Tampa, Fla. (Bright House).

NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said the service is prepared to execute a multimedia marketing blitz for several months, if necessary, adding, 'We’re prepared to go as long as it takes, but we hope it’s only a one-week period.'"

Wow --if I were one of these cable operators, I would sit down and hammer our an agreement with the NFL. I don't think a cable operator really wants to go toe-to-toe with the NFL.

Cycling Sponsors Are Getting Antsy....

According to the NY Times, cycling sponsors are pulling their marketing dollars out of the sport. Surprised? Nope. The International Federation of Cycling needs to get out in front of the media to diffuse all this negative press. Have you heard from this international organization? Have they released any important statements? The story stated:

"Marketers that put up big bucks to sponsor cyclists in major races are having second thoughts. Their hesitation follows a string of doping scandals that have plagued the international sport. The most recent incident involved Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, whose test results after the race revealed abnormally high testosterone levels. The list of sponsors that support riders and teams is a long one and includes T-Mobile, Computer Sciences Corp., Liberty Mutual Group, and Phonak AG, a Swiss hearing-aid maker that sponsored Landis and his team. Some companies have cut their losses and left cycling. Others are trying to get involved in projects designed to rehabilitate the sport."

It is extremely tough to have a sport like this without sponsors spending millions of dollars helping to support the individual teams. Why wouldn't sponsors be skeptical -- look at all the scandals that have taken place recently in sports: Olympics, track and field, Italian soccer and tennis. According to ESPN, nine top cyclists were suspended from this year's Tour de France before the race started due to doping. If I were a sponsor, I would definitely pull out my company’s marketing dollars until the sport cleaned itself up.

Who is handling crisis PR for this sport? What I am missing here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Speaking With the Media 101

Below are two interesting and extremely different quotes from NFL rookies that I read today in the Boston Globe. After you read both quotes, you can see one player has spent time working with their college's sports information department or NFL PR team to prepare for media interviews while the other needs some serious PR help.

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Santonio Holmes:

Santonio Holmes, offered no apologies, or excuses, for being arrested twice since being the first receiver selected in April's draft. “I haven't gotten any negative feedback from any fan I have seen around the city since I've been here, which is about a month and a half,” Holmes said. “So I don't think I have anything to say to those guys. They know what I can do on the field, what type of person I am on and off the field.”

New England Patriots third-round pick David Thomas:

”It was a heck of a throw and it's my job to catch it,” said Thomas, who left the University of Texas as its all-time leader in receptions by a tight end (98). “That's a play Tom expects himself to make and a play I expect myself to make to be successful at this level. With the circumstances being what they are, I've been given a chance out there that a lot of rookies don't get, so I'm just trying to work hard and do my best.”

Both of these players went to top ten college football programs -- Holmes (Ohio State) and Thomas (Texas). I am shocked that no one in Holmes' camp (agent or team's PR staff) has not sat him down and given him a couple of partylines if reporters ask him about being arrested. If they did speak to him and he still offered that quote, the Steelers should keep him away from the media. If he was arrested twice, he needs to make a public apology to the team, his teammates and the fans. He is paid an obnoxious amount of money to play football. Someone needs to talk with him.

Like it or not, other than a player's performance on the field, the media is integral in helping to create a positive image which can lead the marketing dollars for athletes in the future. Thomas is on the right track, but who knows where Holmes will end up.

Speaking With the Media 101

Below are two interesting and extremely different quotes from NFL rookies that I read today in the Boston Globe. After you read both quotes, you can see one player has spent time working with their college's sports information department or NFL PR team to prepare for media interviews while the other needs some serious PR help.

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Santonio Holmes:

Santonio Holmes, offered no apologies, or excuses, for being arrested twice since being the first receiver selected in April's draft. “I haven't gotten any negative feedback from any fan I have seen around the city since I've been here, which is about a month and a half,” Holmes said. “So I don't think I have anything to say to those guys. They know what I can do on the field, what type of person I am on and off the field.”

New England Patriots third-round pick David Thomas:

”It was a heck of a throw and it's my job to catch it,” said Thomas, who left the University of Texas as its all-time leader in receptions by a tight end (98). “That's a play Tom expects himself to make and a play I expect myself to make to be successful at this level. With the circumstances being what they are, I've been given a chance out there that a lot of rookies don't get, so I'm just trying to work hard and do my best.”

Both of these players went to top ten college football programs -- Holmes (Ohio State) and Thomas (Texas). I am shocked that no one in Holmes' camp (agent or team's PR staff) has not sat him down and given him a couple of partylines if reporters ask him about being arrested. If they did speak to him and he still offered that quote, the Steelers should keep him away from the media. If he was arrested twice, he needs to make a public apology to the team, his teammates and the fans. He is paid an obnoxious amount of money to play football. Someone needs to talk with him.

Like it or not, other than a player's performance on the field, the media is integral in helping to create a positive image which can lead the marketing dollars for athletes in the future. Thomas is on the right track, but who knows where Holmes will end up.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Future of Cycling...

What an unbelievable bad blow to the world of cycling. Who knows if Floyd Landis is guilty or if he really has a testosterone imbalance. Fair or not, Landis reputation will be tarnished forever. Depending on the results of his upcoming hip replacement surgery, he may never ride again. That may be a good thing for him and the sport in general. Anytime he races in the future, people are always going to ask about his testosterone imbalance.

What needs to happen moving forward:

* If Versus (OLN) was smart, they would be jumping all over this story. They should be offering updates throughout the day on the status of Landis. Hard core cyclists watch Versus every night the Tour de France is held. This is a perfect way to keep viewers. They should interview Amstrong, Lemond, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. They should also speak with doctors, scientists and people who knew Landis. Editor's Note: Yes, I know this is definitely "outside the box," but they need to do something to generate interest in the station.

* The cycling federation needs to bring in the Olympic drug testers to "clean house." The cycling federation got off to a great start before the race when they did the following:

"The news of Landis' test has rocked the cycling world, already under a cloud following a wide-ranging doping investigation in Spain that led to the barring of several of the world's leading cyclists from the Tour.

On the eve of the Tour's start, nine riders -- including pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso -- were ousted, implicated in a Spanish doping investigation. Their names turned up on a list of 56 cyclists who allegedly had contact with a Spanish doctor at the center of the probe. Landis was not implicated in that investigation."

The Olympics drug testers need to test Landis immediately, and moving forward, should be the only organization to test cyclists. People around the world agree that the Olympics have the toughest standards when it comes to drugs and steroids and that is what cycling needs to buidl trust in its fans.

* Last, and this is strictly to rebuild the sport, the cycling organizers should give a select group of media outlets: Versus, SI, ESPN, USA Today and the top French sports newspapers with the opportunity to see the results of Landis' next test immediately and have the opportunity to watch the whole process -- from getting the blood to analyzing it to getting the result. The French newspapers will kill Landis and the sport of cycling until a clear-cut answer is determined.

This testosterone imbalance is the worst possible PR scenario for cycling. People will always question Armstrong and they will now do the same with Landis.

Harold Reynolds Saga Part 2

Below is an interesting blurb from regarding Harold Reynolds and his future.

" has learned that Harold Reynolds, who was fired last week by ESPN as one of its major league analysts for alleged sexual misconduct and told a newspaper that he's fielding several other job offers, will not be joining one of baseball's other national broadcasters, Fox Sports or Turner Sports, any time soon.

'We are very happy with our current stable of MLB broadcasters,' said Dan Bell, vice president of communications for Fox Sports. Turner Sports also says it has no interest now. 'We respect Harold Reynolds' baseball knowledge and his quality of work as an analyst,' said Turner Sports executive producer Jeff Behnke. 'At this point it is way too early for us to look at talent hires for the 2007 season and our playoffs package.'"

Something just doesn't add up with this whole situation. People in the broadcast community must know something the average viewer has not been told. He worked at ESPN for 11 years. Like him or hate him, you have to be doing something right to be on the station for that many years. Reynolds had also worked at a commentator for the Little League World Series. ABC would not let anyone work on that telecast who might have a questionable background. Um..let me take that back, hasn't Marv Albert worked for ABC?

It will be interesting once we find out what is really going on with this situation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Baseball Continues to Gain Popularity

Baseball may be making a strong push to become the number two rated sport in the United States. I don't think it will ever surpass football, but it will be impressive to see the sport move past NASCAR and basketball. Interesting couple of paragraphs from John Donovan's article in SI today:

"The game [baseball], even without all the talk, already is in pretty good shape. Every team with at least a clue of how to do business still has a chance at a postseason spot, and that's with almost 2/3 of the season gone. Attendance has never been higher. More than 45 million already. Television ratings are strong. A new long-term, multi-million dollar TV contract was just approved. Commissioner Bud Selig said the other day that the game will pull in more than $5 billion in gross revenues in 2006. Interest in baseball, it can be argued, is at an all-time high.

That's never been more evident than it is right now, in the frenzy surrounding the July 31 trading deadline. Every sports radio talk show, every broadcast of a game, every sports section of the local paper, every Internet site that touches at all on baseball is all over any scent of a deal that may take place between now and the deadline."

Great to see baseball is back on stronger footing.

Harold Reynolds and ESPN No More...

As you have probably already heard, Harold Reynolds was fired from ESPN. His last show was Baseball Tonight on Sunday. No one is saying why he was fired, but the rumors are already flying around the Internet. A couple of thoughts:

* Everyone who I have talked with who knows Reynolds says he is one of the nicest people in the game. He was a former Roberto Clemente Award (RCA) winner while he was playing with Seattle. The RCA recognizes the player who has given the most time and energy to their community in a given year (it's a community service award). Reynolds understands the importance of being a positive role model.

* Why did he get fired? There are two rumors making the rounds. One is sexual harassment and two is that he did not get along with Steve Phillips, another commentator and someone had to go.

* I have read that Reynolds made inappropriate comments to a production assistant. He may have been warned before, but was finally let go this week. ESPN has been known as a place where sexual harassment has taken place. If you have a chance, you should read the book on the first 20 years at ESPN. You would be shocked at the amount of stuff that has gone on at that company. Think about it. The company is in the middle of nowhere, for years the staff was predominately men who played sports and enjoy watching sports. It is a recipe of disaster.

What doesn't make sense is that ESPN kept Mike Tirico around for years -- a well-known sexual harasser -- and Steve Phillips was fired from the Mets for making inappropriate comments. I missing something.

* The second rumor seems a little weak, but it is possible. Certain ESPN announcers put clauses in their contracts that other announcers cannot work with them. Karl Ravech, for example, has a clause in his contract that select ESPN announcers are not allow to host Baseball Tonight if Ravech is not available (This is a fact).

* How are ESPN and Reynolds going to handle this issue? Someone is going to have to release a statement in the coming days to control this story. Reynolds does not want inaccurate rumors floating around to tarnish his image.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Reebok is Back on Track

Great article in today's NY Times on Reebok, the NFL and advertising during the upcoming season. The piece, titled "Football Calls, and Reebok Responds," offers some interesting tidbits:

* "Reebok will introduce a major branding campaign in September that will feature Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts; Vince Young, quarterback of the Tennessee Titans and the hero of the last Rose Bowl; Steve Smith, a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers; Torry Halt, a wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams; DeAngelo Hall, a defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons; and Roy Williams, defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys."

* "Based on industry formulas, the company probably generated more than $700 million last year, after royalties, in revenue related to the N.F.L. arrangement."

* "Stephen Greyser, a professor specializing in sports marketing at the Harvard Business School, said Reebok should benefit from its ties to the N.F.L. 'Being the official outfitter for the N.F.L. is one of the most important marketing partnerships any apparel company can have, since the N.F.L. is the most popular league,' he said."

How much interest will Reebok receive from this advertising campaign? Are they making a big enough splash to make a dent in Nike's market share? The verdict is still out. I am excited to see that Reebok pitched this advertising campaign to NY Times, and most likely, other publications as well. If they can generate a little buzz beforehand with the media, on Myspace, other social networking sites and YourTube, it could offer Reebok strong profits in the future.

Marketing Gone Mad...

I think the marketing executives at U.S. Airways have lost it. Check out the following article when you have a chance -- "US Airways to Put Ads on Air Sickness Bags."

The article states:

"US Airways is set to sell advertisements on those expandable pint-sized bags stuck in the seat pocket that airline passengers hope to never have to use: air-sickness bags.

Of course, the handy little bags get used for plenty of things other than their true purpose: crayons, Legos and other kids toys; carrying home a little goodie bag of extras from the snack service; wet washcloths from cleaning dirty hands. So, they do get eyeballs beyond those passengers nauseous enough to grab for the bag."

The only type of company who should be advertising on these types of bags are companies that develop medicine for upset stomachs. Why else would any other company really want to advertise on these bags? Here is the analogy I keep thinking about:

When you go out drinking, consume too much of a certain drink and then throw up, most times you are turned off from consuming the drink in the future. Let's switch back to the airsickness bags. You feel sick and you unfortunately have to use the bag while in flight. As you are throwing away the bag, you see an advertisement on it. This is not a positive experience for the consumer and they make think negatively towards the advertiser as well. Moving whenever the consumer sees the product that was advertised on the bag, they are going to remember the airline experience.

The company many gain some exposure from the people using the bags to store “crayons, Legos and other kids toys; carrying home a little goodie bag of extras from the snack service; wet washcloths from cleaning dirty hands.” The positives do not outweigh the negatives in this situation.

Personally, I would recommend almost every company to stay away from this marketing opportunity.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gold Star Goes to Nike

If you have a chance, read the following story from Business Week titled, "Nike: It's Not A Shoe, It's A Community." The article noted that Nike created ", a social networking site for soccer fans it quietly launched in February with Google."

Other interesting tidbits:

* "Nike officials say they reached their World Cup goal of signing up 1 million members by mid-July, when the tournament ended."

* "It created JogaTV, a virtual soccer TV station, where it releases a new video clip every few days and fans can upload their own clips."

This idea is an amazing "outside the box" marketing tool. There are some many different ways that Nike can connect with the users of the site. Hopefully, they will be smart and not commercialize the site so much that its users turn away.

Nike can use this social networking site for the following:

* Research: How do these fans view soccer, its players and Nike products in general?

* Future Marketing: How to reach these fans -- via channel (Internet, TV, Print) and tone

* Product Testing: Gauge the communities’ feedback on certain products

We all can see that social networking is the next big "it" Internet craze. Nike deserves a gold star for recruiting over one million users to the community as well as securing a decent amount of coverage in the last few weeks. If their PR department is smart, they are pitching one of the executives as a "thought leader" in the social networking craze so reporters want to talk with Nike when discussing this phenomenon. If the executives participate in interviews, even if it is only twice a month, they are still keeping the site “top of mind” to the average soccer fan.

If more companies are smart and are willing to take a risk, they will review and try to develop their own social networking community. The positives outweigh the negatives by far. Other than blogging on a company site, this is a smart way to connect with your customers.

OLN's Name Change in September

Drum roll please....OLN will change its name to Versus on September 25, 2006.

Comcast Vs. ESPN...

In the next year or so, I would not be surprised to see Comcast create a national sports station. At this point, they have regional sports networks (RSN) in Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Sacramento and New York. Those are some of the top major markets in the country that are important to advertisers. If Comcast buys Versus (OLN), that will give the company over 60 million additional subscribers. Comcast considered purchasing Versus last fall.

Editor's Note: Last week "CSTV NETWORKS ANNOUNCED WEDNESDAY THAT cable operator Comcast has a 50 percent stake in its sports network devoted to the Mountain West Conference that launches Sept. 1."

ESPN has such a stronghold on fans watching its stations, I wonder if Comcast would be able to pull in any of ESPN's viewers. Comcast's RSNs have decent agreements with local sports teams, but who knows if they would be able to show the games on the new stations. Comcast might have to renegotiate a lot of television contracts with the different leagues. The other concern is that Versus sports programming isn't that exciting to the average viewer. They would need to spend a lot of money to recruit NASCAR or the NFL -- highly unlikely.

In the end, Comcast has a plethora of money so they might make a run at ESPN. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

Friday, July 21, 2006

ESPN Pulling the Plug on its Mobile Phone...

There have been some interesting articles over the last few days regarding ESPN and its mobile phone. An article from Friday's MediaWeek titled, "Merill Lynch: Time to Pull Plug on Mobile ESPN," noted:

Merrill added that while Disney significantly reduced the cost of the handset in April, dropping the price of its Samsung model to $99 after the original Sanyo handset launched at $399, “the model does not appear to be a particularly attractive use of capital,” as the reseller business traditionally offers a low return on investment. (Incidentally, the bulkier Sanyo is now available free-of-charge after a $29 mail-in rebate.)

Cohen and Kopelman now estimate that ESPN Mobile will lure a mere 30,000 subscribers over the course of this financial year, well below their original estimate of 240,000. Along with the losses generated by a second Disney-branded phone service, ML expects that the Mouse will lose $135 million on its experiment in FY06.

From the PR I did around Motorola iDEN phones, people in the U.S. use cell phones for the following:

* Call someone
* Walkie Talkie
* Text Messaging
* Download music

Consumers are just not interested with Web access on their phones. The main reason is because it's easier for consumers to use the Internet via their computer. I have read that it is easier for people in the Far East to use a phone to access the Internet.

It is absolutely baffling that "ESPN Mobile will lure a mere 30,000 subscribers" this year. For the amount of money ESPN spent with those Super Bowl commercials, which were created by Hill Holiday in Boston or those cheesy Trey Wingo ads on ESPN, one would believe they would have more subscribers.

Other than gamblers, who really needs this type of phone. Don't get me wrong, when my phone subscription is up, I am definitely looking into purchasing one of these phones. Then again, I may have a problem.

It will be interesting to see how long they keep selling this phone. I wonder why they didn't give the phone to Simmons and have him review it online. A positive review from Simmons could have brought in thousands of subscribes. I wonder what type of guerilla marketing campaign they are using? Did they ever come to Fenway before a game to promote the product? What about at college campuses before a big sporting event?

Overall, I think the phone has potential, but ESPN needs to figure out how to market it correctly to its core audience.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sport teams and the Internet....

Most of the people who read this blog are ten times more technologically savvy than I am. It will be interesting to see if I am correct with the following ideas.

It is amazing that some professional sports teams do not spend more time marketing their product to the online community. How hard can it be? You hire some kid just out of college to handle all your online activities – with the help of someone from the PR department. You pay the kid peanuts and free tickets to watch the team. It's a win/win situation.

Q&A Events

It is great to see some teams have finally grasped the importance of holding online Q&A sessions with fans. The Bruins, Celtics and Sox each do this regularly throughout the year. I doubt the Patriots will do this sort of thing, unless it is with its season ticket holders. They have 50,000 people waiting to buy season tickets. They don't need any more coverage.

Teams should conduct at least three Q&A sessions during the year -- once during spring training, once during the season and once during the off season. Ideally, they should have a couple of more sessions if they are trying to generate fan interest. While most executives are willing to participate in these types of events, the teams should also have one or two athletes answering questions as well. These events are extremely easy. The team gets to choose the questions they want to answer and the PR person is the one really answering the questions. You will also make a person's day by answering their specific question during the online session.


I do not understand why teams do not create blogs on their team Web sites. This is one of the easiest ways to connect with their fans. Teams should create blogs for the following reasons:

* To discuss issues affecting the team and to ensure the right message is presented to the public. A team is always in a better position if they cut out the middleman (media). A team can discuss anything from an injury or the reasons why they made a certain trade.

* Sell unused tickets before a game. This would be a great place to post information about discounts on tickets if they team is trying to sell out a game. The team can create a link where people who read the blog can purchase tickets. This would also encourage fans to view the blog on a daily basis.

* The blog might be a place for the team to discuss upcoming events with its sponsors or charity events in general. Fans want to be informed about these types of activities.

It's important to note that 90 percent of the time, a senior executive does not write his blog. I know, you are shocked. Sun Microsystems' Jonathan Schwartz created a blog over two years ago. He does write some of his blogs, but most of the time they are written by one of my former managers who now works at Sun. It is really easy for a PR person to write blogs as long as the blogs don't have a PR tone to them.


I don't know how long Myspace will stay on as the top site for online social networking, but teams MUST develop pages on this site. Myspace is the ideal place for teams to connect with people under 25 years old. A team needs to spend significant time cultivating new relationships with youth. Most of today’s youth finds most of its information and new interests online. Teams can offer youth discounts to games or to be a part of the fan club or to plan events just for them.

I don't know if any teams are already on Myspace, but they should all be on these types of sites moving forward.

Online Video

Teams will never be able to post video on YourTube since it does not accept copywritten material. Teams do need to consider posting the video from the press conferences after the games onto their sites. Posting this information online should be extremely easy and it would offer fans with additional opportunities to view their heroes.

Teams need to find new marketing avenues to connect with their core and new audiences. One hopes in the next year the teams place more emphasis on Internet marketing.

Fenway Park: Stop and Shop Sign Coming Down

Interesting item in today's Boston Globe Sox notes article:

"After hearing complaints from Sox players that they could barely see the pitches of Royals lefthander Mark Redman, Epstein instructed ballpark workers to take down the Stop Shop sign that was on the center-field fence."

I was at the game yesterday and that sign offered Stop and Shop amazing visiblity during games and possibly when highlights are shown. I am not surprised the sign was taken down since it was right near where the seats are covered for day games.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

MLB's Baby Steps

Bud Selig is starting to offer some opinions about the Barry Bonds saga. Other than speaking at spring training/Opening Day, the All-Star Game and the World Series, it is rare to see the commissioner comment on an issue. From an executive platform standpoint, it is imperative that he offers comments on behalf of MLB in regards to Bonds.

Later this week we will find out if Bonds is indicted on tax evasion and perjury charges. In yesterday's USA Today article entitled, "Bonds could be suspended if he's indicted," Selig stated:

"...Commissioner Bud Selig said Monday that he has yet to make a decision on Bonds' fate. 'There is precedent for that,' Selig told USA TODAY. 'We've already looked into it.'"

"When asked whether Bonds would be suspended, Selig said, 'I'm not going to get into it, I'm just not. I'm in a sensitive spot. And frankly, sitting around and speculating on that is not fair to him.'"

While this story is extremely sensitive, the commissioner needs to take a stand. He needs to be prepare to hand down a sentence if Bonds is guilty, and be prepared to deal with any public backlash.

Selig has definitely had some highs and lows as MLB commissioner. Other than overseeing the All-Star Game that ended in a tie, Selig will always be remembered for how he handled this issue if he has to suspend a player on track to break the home run mark.

At this point, Bonds is about 30 home runs from breaking Aaron's record. If the steroid saga had never come up, papers around the country would be following Bond's pursuit on a daily basis. I believe MLB is hoping Bonds does not reach Aaron.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Saga Continues "Feeding the Monster"...

My sources tell me that Red Sox senior management is already denying certain passages from the new book entitled "Feeding the Monster." Hmm...are you surprised they are denying negative stuff that could open old wounds?

This all doesn't make sense and here's why:

* The Sox don't need additional positive coverage. They have Red Sox Nation and fans that come to games all over the country. Red Sox players have said that fans in opposing parks cheer so loudly for the team, that the home team tries a little harder than normal to beat them. Have you ever watched the Sox play at Tampa? You can hear the Red Sox chants on TV.

* After the Sox won the World Series, there were between 30 and 40 books that were published which detailed the season and the team winning the World Series. They were pumping out positive coverage.

* So Seth Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, negotiates an agreement with the Red Sox to be allowed "inside access" during the 2004/2005 season. At the time, this may have seemed like a great idea -- show how the front office has changed from the Harrington/Duquette days and what the future holds. I understand the team is always looking for positive ways to make more money, but the only way I would have signed a deal with Mnookin is if the Sox had final review of the book.

* Once things became dicey and public between Theo and Larry, they should have revoked Mnookin's access to the team. Note: They may have done this, I don't know. The team should have known this "drama" would have been covered in any book.

I am baffled that the Red Sox didn't try to take a more proactive stance to nip this book before it was published. I really believe the team's front office chemistry is going to be hurt once more people ask questions about the book.

Monday, July 17, 2006

NASCAR in New England

Last week NASCAR rolled into New Hampshire for the first of its two yearly events at NHIS. I would like a show of hands to see how many people knew NASCAR was at the Speedway.

Here is what I don't understand. On race day, there are 110,000 people at the track. For one day, the speedway property becomes the second largest city in NH. How much coverage did the race get in Boston? The Globe and Herald had reporters covering the race. CN8 was there. I don't even know if WBZ, WCVB, FOX or NESN even sent a camera to cover the races.

Since NASCAR first competed at NHIS in 1993, the public relations department has always tried to find ways to generate interest with the Boston media. Editor's Note: I worked at the Speedway for nine summers. Some activities that took place in the past included bringing down drivers for press conferences or bringing down a team and showing the media first-hand what happens when a car pits during the race. These were great ideas and they did generate some interest.

This is what NHIS and NASCAR need to do to generate interest in Boston. This is the most important market in New England. If the sports media starts covering these races, over time, people are going to become interested in the sport.

They need to create a FanFest type event the week before the race in Boston. They could hold it at the Hynes Convention Center or in a part of the new convention center near the waterfront. NASCAR could easily secure a top sponsor for the FanFest event. What sponsor wouldn't want the opportunity to get in front of fans in a new market. NHIS could have buses bring people to Boston for the day who have camped out at the track. Bostonians, who do not know anything about the sport, could learn first hand. Last, the media would attend the FanFest since it is slow close, which equals more coverage in the long run.

It should be noted that Concord, NH use to hold a FanFest type event on the Thursday before the race by shutting down main street and that event would draw anywhere from 20 to 30,000 fans. How many more fans would come to Boston?

Marketing Gone Mad...

Every once in a blue moon, I will blog about something non-sports related, but that is somewhat relevant to the site. Did you see the article in today's NY Times entitled, "For CBS’s Fall Lineup, Check Inside Your Refrigerator" noted, "The network plans to announce today that it will place laser imprints of its trademark eye insignia, as well as logos for some of its shows, on eggs — 35 million of them in September and October. CBS’s copywriters are referring to the medium as 'egg-vertising,' hinting at the wordplay they have in store. Some of their planned slogans: 'CSI' ('Crack the Case on CBS'); 'The Amazing Race' ('Scramble to Win on CBS'); and 'Shark' ('Hard-Boiled Drama.'). Variations on the ad for its Monday night lineup of comedy shows include 'Shelling Out Laughs,' 'Funny Side Up' and 'Leave the Yolks to Us.'"

Maybe I a too old fashion, but seriously, this is marketing gone mad. You have to give CBS credit for creating this "out of the box" idea, but I would think this would hurt your credibility and not help it.

How many people really want to see ads on their eggs. Some people aren't going to care, but I expect it will bother others. Isn't this the network that has moved into first place with its prime time shows?

A senior executives should have killed this before it went to print. I will be amazed if this idea really gains positive traction for the station.

Friday, July 14, 2006


So if you read the following blog you may roll your eyes and think I have lost it. Then again, don’t answer that loaded question. Anyway, in the late 80s and all through the 90s, the NBA was the leader in marketing and branding of a League, its players and its teams. The executives in the commissioner’s office spent a plethora of time overseeing all the little aspects of the League to ensure everything was perfect. Did you know every year, the NBA develops a list of the top ten rookies who should speak to the media and the top ten rookies who should not speak? I've seen the list. Image is everything with the NBA.

Where am I going with this? When it comes to the first pick in the NBA draft, 90% of the time, I do not believe it is luck. The NBA gives the first pick to certain teams for a variety of reasons – team needs a new stadium, team has new owners or there is new management. You may be reading this right now and think I am crazy. This isn’t some conspiracy theory. The League needs to continue to generate interest around the country and the world with new and interesting players. Some teams are always in the news, while other teams need “some help.” From a sponsorship perspective, why would you want to continually sponsor a team that never wins? The NBA commissioner’s office doesn’t run the teams, but I definitely think they whisper how things should be run at certain times.

If you want to market a league correctly, sometimes you need to bend the rules without anyone noticing. Let’s look back over the last 20 years at the outcome of the NBA draft:

1985 – New York Knicks – Patrick Ewing

Outcome: Please. Do we even have to address this pick. Media, to this day, still believe this pick was staged. Ewing was the most dominate player coming out of Georgetown and the NBA needed to do everything in its power to make the Knicks relevant again in its most important media market.

1995 – Golden State Warriors – Joe Smith

Outcome: “The Oakland Arena followed suit in June 1996 with a $100 million renovation. This project involved the complete demolition and concurrent redesign of the building’s interior. Capacity was increased by more than 4,000 to a maximum of 19,200 occupancy, plus 72 luxury suites and three exclusive clubs were added.”

I believe over the next few years, the first pick of the draft coincided with a team that was building a new arena or convincing taxpayers of the importance of a new arena. What is the easiest way to generate interest with the fans, media and sponsors? Draft an exciting college player to join the team. Smart move by the NBA execs.

1996 – Philadelphia 76ers – Allen Iverson

Outcome: Hmm…let’s ask: “what year did the Wachovia Center open?” Could it be…1996? How easy was it for the NBA to give the 76ers the first pick so they could draft a player from Georgetown? Fans would fill this new arena to watch a player they had seen regularly in college.

1997 – San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan

Outcome: This will pain Celtics fans until the end of time that Boston to not secure this pick. If you were in San Antonio in 1997, people were voting to see if they would pay a sales tax for the new arena. How great would it be if Duncan was able to play in this new arena? Oh, and doesn’t hurt that David Robinson, a role model for the NBA, plays for the Spurs. Wouldn’t it be great if Robinson could take Duncan under his wing to create another basketball superstar? Wow..what a surprise. Duncan is now one of the top players in the game. He plays the game correctly, without a lot of flash. The commissioner’s office must be disappointed with this outcome – not!

2001 – Washington Wizards -- Kwame Brown

Outcome: This was Michael Jordan’s first year as the president of the Wizards. You don’t think the NBA didn’t want one of its greatest players having the opportunity to make the first pick in the draft. I would not be surprised if Jordan didn’t ask the NBA beforehand to make sure this pick was possible before he joined the team. He is so competitive and proud, that I doubt he would accept anything less than the top pick.

2002 – Houston Rockets -- Yao Ming

Outcome: Ming had to go to a community that had a large Asian community. Where else could he have gone – NY or LA. I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t seem right to put him in one of those major media markets when he is trying to learn the game, while also learning a new language and culture. The NBA was smart with how they handled this one. They knew he was going to bring in the sponsors, but they wanted to make sure he developed into a bona fide star.

2003 – Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James

Outcome: Right…James grows up in Ohio, the Cavaliers are losing fans left and right and the owner is selling the team. Hmmm…what about having the best rookie in over 15 years play for his home team to generate interest. You could see this pick coming a mile away. If Cleveland had been in the playoffs, I can almost guarantee this pick would have gone to the Knicks.

2005 – Milwaukee Bucks – Andrew Bogut

Outcome: The team was put up for sale in 2004 and I believe it now had new ownership (2005). What a great way to start out on the right foot by getting the first pick in the draft.

2006 – Toronto Raptors – Andrea Bargnani

Outcome: This one may be a stretch, but I am still skeptical. Bryan Colangelo, a former executive of the year, leaves the Phoenix Suns to go jumpstart the Raptors. Now, basketball has never really flourished in Canada – Vancouver left for Memphis. The NBA knows they need to make it work in Canada before they can start developing teams overseas. Now that Colangelo was there, wouldn’t it be great if the Raptors finally got the first pick in the draft. Think about it. They have been awful for years and have always been in the lottery, but never a first round pick.

I may be completely off with this blog, but the NBA knows what they are doing from an “imaging” standpoint. Other than the actual games, all the other decisions (at the commissioner's office level) are reviewed carefully before they are made public.

Part 5: Demise of MLB...

Today I will address the steriod issue we all know is a problem. The real question to ask is how does MLB plan to contain the problem.

The Steroid Issue

MLB has also turned the other way when addressing the possibility that some players use steroids. Due to the fact that MLB’s commissioner’s office did not take a stand on this important issue and hoped it would quietly die down, we now have a period in baseball called the Steroid Era. During this time, players’ hitting and pitching statistics fluctuated from one year to the next. MLB promoted the fact that players were hitting home runs and presented an underlying message to its product (players) that the more home runs you hit, the more profitable you could become. For this reason, you saw players, who might hit 10 home runs one year, then hit 35 or 40 the next year.

Barry Bonds, the poster child for steroid use, has had to deal with a variety of different issues regarding possible steroid use. While Bonds continues to deny knowingly using steroids, all the evidence points to the fact he took illegal substances to help him become one of the greatest hitters in MLB’s history. [We can all agree Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he took steroids, but the drugs helped him rise to another level of play.] Some of these facts included a massive weight gain from his earlier playing days, an enlarged head and the ability to have his best batting years after he turned 35. Most players “top years” are from ages 28 through 32, not 35 through 40.

This is an extremely touchy issue since MLB, for over a century, did not have any official rules banning players from taking steroids. In 2003, the League began to test players to see if they were taking any illegal substances. As a society, people have been taught that using steroids can give an athlete an unfair advantage. The owners and senior management have looked the other way and hoped their players were not taking steroids when everything pointed to the fact that certain, but not all, athletes were using some illegal substances to try to get ahead. This strategic public relations plan to stay quiet and not address “the elephant in the room” has driven me up a wall. Once the commissioner’s office determined players were taking steroids, they should have taken a hard stand to remove illegal substances from the game

The Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch believes Selig needs to take a hard stance when addressing the steroid issue affecting MLB. In an article from March entitled, “Selig shouldn’t play ball with cheaters,” he wrote: “Any fair-minded fan should have the same reaction to this widening mess: If Bonds is going to be investigated (and possibly suspended) by Bud Selig, so should [Gary] Sheffield. Let’s corral all of the game’s tarnished angels and sort out who’s cheated us and who hasn’t. Selig needs to do this before baseball 2006 turns into one, long joke. Already, the sport is teetering toward oblivion.”

MLB needs to admit they made a mistake about not addressing this issue a decade ago. They need to ban any players using steroids and put an asterisk next to their statistical records. It is refreshing to see MLB has stated it will not organize a ceremony to recognize Barry Bonds once he breaks Babe Ruth’s home run record. Thankfully, they are smart to understand they should distance themselves from Barry Bonds and any of his home run records moving forward.

Allison Ford, who wrote an article for entitled, “Roids, Riches, and the Demise of Baseball,” agreed with my assessment on how MLB should handle the steroid era. “What should be done? First of all, Bud Selig cannot wait for the players’ union to agree to stricter testing. He is the commissioner of baseball, and his job is to make and enforce the rules, and in this case, to save the integrity of the game. Of course, the players’ union isn’t necessarily going to agree to more stringent testing—it knows players are using steroids, and it doesn’t want to see any of its own take a fall. It is time for Selig to take a stand, and take control of the sport he was entrusted to protect. Secondly, a zero tolerance policy must be employed.”

From a business of sports perspective, MLB needs to create the strongest drug testing rules to ensure all the players are competing on a level playing field. Players should be banned from the game for at least a year or two if they are caught using steroids. This will show the general public and their die hard fans they are serious about drug testing. MLB needs to work with the Olympic testing committee to learn how they test for banned substances. Whenever I watch a baseball player either have a huge statistical jump or drop in their performance from one year to the next, the first thing I wonder is if they are on or off steroids, not if they are in a season-long slump, playing for a bad team or if they need to fix some physical mechanics.

MLB’s Players Association may balk at the idea of stronger drug testing for its players [more than the new suspension guidelines for players who are caught cheating]. If this is the case, bring the issue to baseball beat reporters at national newspapers and television networks to let them know the Players Association does not believe it is important to rid the game of steroids. MLB must be proactive and put all the pressure from the media and the fans on the Players Association to ensure this issue is addressed correctly. There is no need to strike or to have a lot of negotiations. Image is everything.

Allison Ford added, “The corruption in baseball is undoubtedly already filtering negative principles into our society. How can we as parents tell our children not to use common illegal drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy, when their ‘role models’ are cycling illegal steroids during the off-season to improve their performances on the field? Should our children be taught that drugs yield success? That is certainly the message that Major League Baseball is currently sending.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

UFC and Sponsors....

I read an interesting AP article today on the growth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Below are some tidbits from the story:

* "Company executives wouldn't disclose what kind of audience their pay-per-view fights are generating but they did say recent numbers are at least comparable to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the WWE had four events that averaged 482,000 pay-per-view buys in the fourth financial quarter of 2006. However, UFC's cable ratings lag well behind the WWE broadcasts on USA Network."

* "For Spike, the series brought in serious advertising dollars targeting men between the ages of 18 and 34, the network's prized demographic. Burger King, the U.S. Army and Taco Bell are among the advertisers."

I must be jaded, because I bet there are less than 10 companies/products in the United States that would want to be associated with this League. I don't care if a half a million people watch an event, what happens when someone dies and the press decides to ask for a comment from the top sponsor of the event. I am surprised it is sanction in over 20 states.

Now, don't get me wrong, do to the fact that the boxing industry is in shambles, fans are looking for another violent sport to watch. It's a smart move for the U.S. Army to be an advertiser. Hell, I would even consider being a top sponsor of the whole League. This is the perfect target audience for them.

The Boston Globe noted earlier this year: "UFC has been spotlighted over the last year in Time, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many major daily newspapers around the country. The Las Vegas Review-Journal now has its chief boxing writer regularly cover UFC events and media outlets debate over how much space to devote to the results."

Not bad for a League is trying to make a name for itself with mainstream fans.
Companies/products that should be associated with UFC -- Maxim, Casinos, TAG, Budweiser (maybe), Certain hard liquors.

It will be interesting to see how this League grows. If they spend money on marketing and PR, and become legal in New York, they could become the next version of the AFL in four or five years. I would have to believe that their fans are extremely loyal and could be the perfect audience for a cutting edge, slightly risqué product.

Baseball's Popularity Continues

Now I know a plethora of readers will continue to say that the NFL is America's pastime. I hate to agree, but when you look at the numbers, that is the case. The number two spot is somewhat up in the air. NASCAR, which has the most loyal fans in all of sports, continues to grow every year. Developers around the country continue to create racetracks. I thought I remember reading that New York will have a racetrack and a NASCAR race by 2008. Where is that race going to come from since NASCAR doesn’t want to add any more races to the season. Hello NHIS, with its two races a year. If you are a sponsor of a Chase for the Cup race, where do you want the race to be held -- NYC or NH?

Editor's Note -- yes, that was a total tangent and I have no clue if this really will happen.

What I wanted to say is baseball may be moving back into the number two sport in America. Check out the interesting statistics from today's MediaDailyNews regarding the All-Star Game.

"A DAY AFTER FOX ANNOUNCED it reached a new deal to carry the baseball All-Star game for the next seven years, ratings for Tuesday's game could have validated the investment. The game posted a 9.3 household rating, 15 percent above last year's contest, while the performance in the 18-to-34 demo also saw improvements. Among adults 18-to-34, ratings rose 15 percent over 2005 to a 4.5, while in the male 18-to-34 segment, ratings jumped 17 percent to 6.2, tying a five-year high."

I know I am biased, but I don't think there is another All-Star Game in any sport that receives as much fan interest, media interest and sponsor interest as MLB's All-Star Game. Look how much money Chevy, Taco Bell, Century 21, etc put into All-Star Week festivities. I just wonder how MLB can bottle this interest and excitement all season long...

Part 4: Demise of MLB...

Some people may laugh at the following blog, but I really do think this could help MLB moving forward.

The Demise of Baseball Cards

You may be wondering how baseball cards are important to the future of MLB. During the late 1970s and all through the 1980s, baseball cards rose to the height of their interest with kids and adults alike. The baseball card industry was such a thriving business that numerous people made careers in selling cards. As I kid, I was always amazed to read the magazine stories of entrepreneurs who made a livable income selling sports cards.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the baseball card industry was close to an all-time high is consumer interest. Unfortunately, I believe the sports card companies became greedy and began to “chip away” at the viable business model that was created. From 1987 on, the sports card companies saturated the market with sports card that drove down the prices and the interest in the industry. Over the next ten years, numerous companies tried to bring different card sets to the market. This type of product development overwhelmed collectors, including myself, since there were so many different brands.

Last year, Erik Spanberg wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “An industry reshuffles to recapture its youth” about the future of sports cards and noted, “The baseball-card industry, once an innocent childhood realm and then a speculative hotbed for collectors in the 1990s, is now scrambling to regain relevance. Executives and veteran observers say the recent shakeup may help stanch the bleeding after years of saturation and soaring prices. At the same time, all agree that the demographic responsible for making baseball cards a flourishing enterprise - kids - must be courted in earnest.”

What is so important with baseball cards? These cards help kids learn about the game, learn about statistics and learn more about players themselves. If they know the names and faces of players, they are more interested in watching and possibly playing the sport in the future. From personal experience, I can guarantee I learned more about baseball history and its product (players) through collecting baseball cards. Card collecting offers kids the opportunity to have a hobby, learn about statistics, learn about free trade (trading cards) and can develop a stronger bond with a player or team.

What needs to be done to revitalize this hobby? It will be extremely challenging, but card companies need to limit the surplus of baseball cards that are developed moving forward to increase the demand and interest. They should also consider donating baseball cards to kids in school and to Little League teams to introduce and create excitement with sports card collecting. From an economic standpoint, this can help the card companies as well as MLB if more kids are interested in following the game.

Erik Spanberg reported the card companies understand it is important to gain a strong foothold with children moving forward. “The players association also favors a grass-roots approach. A recent test program provides card shops with starter sets provided by the players’ association for use with Boy Scout troop gatherings. The program emphasizes getting cards in front of children and explaining the various aspects of collecting and trading cards. So-called ‘pack wars’ create impromptu competitions to see who has the card featuring the tallest player or the one with the best batting average.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MLB Marketing....What Were They Thinking...

Did anyone else see how the umpires in last night's All-Star Game were wearing different colored wristbands (one yellow and one black -- Pittsburgh's colors). Are you kidding me? I understand you want to promote new products to a large audience, but making the umps wear wrist bands are a little much. If anyone really knows what the MO was with the wrist bands, let us know.

One has to give MLB create for always trying to think outside the box. Start in 1999 when they created the first All-Star Fanfest for fans before the All-Star Game. I may be incorrect here, but I thought they were the first League to create this type of event. Now all the Leagues have this type of event during their All-Star week festivities.

Move to the summer of 2002 when MLB negotiated a deal with the producers of Spiderman to put the logo of the movie on first and third bases during select games -- bad idea.

Move to 2005 when Chevy negotiated its three-year deal with MLB. The League and Chevy decided to create a "red carpet" parade before the All-Star Game where players would be driven around in Chevy's new line of cars. While there may have been some concern if the event could be pulled off, I have heard the event was considered a success -- they did the same parade this year. This type of "out of the box" event offers Chevy with some impressive branding opportunities at the local and national level. The car company hopes when people think of baseball, they will think of other American traditions like Chevy automoblies. You may have just thrown up a little in your mouth after reading that sentence, but to the average consumer -- this type of thinking just might work.

Part 3: Demise of MLB...

The Salary Cap:

One of the issues that has always hurt MLB is the discrepancies between the salary totals of the different MLB teams. A passionate baseball fan always knows the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to be in the top five in total salaries. The problem is teams like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Montreal Expos (formerly), Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals are never going to have a real chance to compete since they don’t have the same resources to spend on salaries. Over the last couple of years, teams like the Oakland Athletics, California Angels and the Minnesota Twins have made it to the postseason with smaller payrolls, but it is a rare occurrence. These lower revenue teams spend money drafting and cultivating players to compete against the higher spending teams. The problem is once the players become free agents, these lower revenue teams do not have the money to retain them.

While it will never happen (at least in my lifetime), MLB needs to consider adopting a salary cap in line with the NFL’s hard cap policy. At the start of the NFL season, you know everyone is competing on a level playing field due to the salary cap. Every week the underdog has the opportunity to win the contest. Look at the teams that have made the playoffs over the last five years. There are maybe five teams in the league who have not made the postseason in that timeframe. That is not the case for MLB.

Unfortunately, even with MLB’s new salary cap, the lower revenue teams really don’t have a fair chance at winning games. During a three game series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, the Royals might win one contest if a Yankees’ pitcher has a bad game. Due to the amount of money the Yankees have spent on players, they should have no problem winning two, if not all three games, easily. To the baseball fan, this is not an enjoyable product, if the underdog does not even have a chance to win some of the contests.

In 2002, Robert Trigaux, a columnist with the St. Petersburg Times, wrote an article entitled, “Is baseball’s brand strength enough to avert demise?” In the column, he noted how MLB must do a better job to ensure all the teams are even and competitive. “Sooner or later, Major League Baseball must fix itself. It must follow the leads of the National Football League and other pro sports that each season manage to offer fans a decent field of competitive teams. Baseball, on the other hand, tends to stick us over and over (with occasional exception) with postseason replays of the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.”

As MLB begins to negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement, they need to consider fighting for a hard cap to level the playing field for teams and its fans. The Players Association will balk, fight and threaten to strike, but MLB must hold a hard line on this issue. For the future of the game, and to ensure people still care about baseball in the smaller market, the owners must fight for a hard cap. What is the benefit to these small market/lower revenue teams to try to win every year? They know they are “behind the eight ball” before the season even starts. How do you think the loyal fans, or even the season ticket holders, feel about this no-win situation?

News and Notes....

* Did you know today is the only day of the year when all four professional sports (NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA) leagues are not playing at least one game.

* If you get a chance, read Jeff Pearlman's book, Love Me, Hate Me. It is a non-authorize autobiography of Barry Bonds. It is a quick, easy read and the book is impressive. Pearlman spoke with hundreds of people who have known Bonds throughout his life. He is definitely a complex person and someone I would not want to hang out with.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Smart PR by Bud Selig

It may be baby steps, but we all need to thank someone in MLB's PR department for taking a stand on an issue. From's Sox blog:

PITTSBURGH -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was still upset today about Manny Ramirez not coming to Pittsburgh for tonight's All-Star Game because of a tender knee. "Maybe I'm old fashioned, but if you are voted on the team, it's a privilege," he said. "You ought to be here. He's the only person who did not participate this year. Everybody else has been here and has been terrific." Selig pointed out that two Mets, Tom Glavine and Jose Reyes, were both in Pittsburgh although they won't be playing in the game.

Now, Bostonians could have told you this spring that if Manny was picked to play in the All-Star Game, he would find a way to back out by July. There is nothing wrong with this. The Game's outcome does have some postseason meaning, but other than that, it's a place for fans to network and for sponsors to have tons of events to generate interest in their product or services.

Here is what I don't understand. It's great to see Selig address an issue to the national media by taking a strong position. Why in the world can't he or won't he do this regarding the steriod issue or fixing staduim issues? As I have said before, MLB needs a strong spokesperson to take the lead from the commissioner's office moving forward.

Part 2: Demise of MLB...

Today I am discussing MLB's commissioner's office.

From all the articles I have read and stories I have heard, the commissioner’s office has always been considered the epitome of the “old boys’ network.” This is not something new and is a phrase that has been used to label the senior management of the league. While I don’t have exact numbers, it seems that once senior level executives joined the commissioner’s office, they stay for many years – excluding former commissioners Fay Vincent and A. Bart Giamatti. Why is this? From an institutional knowledge perspective, it is imperative to have executives who understand the overall baseball relationships with the teams and owners and the history of how issues have been handled in the past. On the flip side, it is essential to recruit “new blood” who can offer exciting, fresh ideas that can help enhance the League’s overall business model.

Throughout my years of being a passionate baseball fan, it always seems that MLB was slow to react to baseball-related issues. They seemed to take a reactive approach to media issues instead of a pro-active approach, which is a smarter business strategy to enhance a company’s image. Every year Commissioner Bud Selig is named in the top 15 of The Sporting News and Sports Business Journal’s list of the most important people in sports. I am amazed the commissioner has garnered so much respect considering the fact that he participates in little to no media interviews. The last time the public saw Commissioner Selig speak with the media [excluding one-off interviews] was when he wanted MLB’s Players Association (MLBPA) to accept a longer suspension for players who have been caught using banned drugs. This was a great media relations strategy. The commissioner presented relevant and compelling reasons why it was important to develop a stronger suspension program for players. The media and fans agreed with his ideas and he was able to generate the support he needed to pressure the MLBPA. Why can’t he do this on a yearly basis? People seemed drawn to him, but he doesn’t want to be in the public eye.

The commissioner’s public relations executive platform is extremely different from that of NFL’s Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NBA’s Commissioner David Stern. Two or three times a year, both of these commissioners are in the public eye taking a stand on an important sports issue. The fans see these commissioners speaking on a topic and know they are important decision makers and care about improving their sports. Commissioner Selig may be extremely powerful in the baseball world, but unfortunately, image is everything to the general public. Most fans remember him as the commissioner who couldn’t make a decision about how to end the 2002 All-Star Game. It frustrates me to no end since he really needs to make an effort to be in the public eye at least twice a baseball season.

David Heuschkel, the Red Sox beat reporter for the Hartford Courant, agreed that the commissioner’s office has not done the best job handling issues. He noted: “I don’t think Bud Selig and the people around him are smart enough to figure out a way to repair [baseball’s image]. The best thing baseball can do is tell Bonds to get lost, the same way David Stern told Michael Jordan when all those rumors about his gambling began to surface. It was a good excuse for MJ to try his hand at baseball. That’s the difference between a real commissioner like the late Bart Giamatti and a pseudo commissioner like Selig. Giamatti banished Rose from the game and Selig couldn’t do it with Bonds, which has hurt the sport by having him stick around.”

From a business of sports aspect, what needs to be done? The commissioner’s office must create a strong executive platform for its main spokesperson – Commissioner Selig, Bob DuPay, Tim Bronsan or whomever. This person needs to be positioned in the same way the other leagues position Stern, Tagliabue or other high ranking officials as strong leaders to the sport, the media and, most importantly, the fans. MLB also needs to reorganize and add staff to its public relations department. They have an amazing product with a rich history and a loyal fan base, but they do not present a strong executive leadership strategy that will help lead MLB to the forefront of American sports.

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup Winners....

People in the U.S. can complain all they want about their issues with soccer, but from an advertisers perspective, it is the Holy Grail if you want to get in front of a world wide audience. There is an interesting article in today's International Herald Tribune entitled, "On Advertising: Cup winners and losers."

The article noted:

Old media: France's surprising run showed that "old" soccer players like Zinédine Zidane, 34, can still perform at a top level. At a time when many viewers are turning away from mainstream media, the World Cup demonstrates the continuing power of live sports events to pull in the mass audiences that advertisers crave.

Kevin Alavy, an analyst in London for the media buying agency Initiative, said that through the semifinals, television audiences in 49 of the largest markets rose an average of 15 percent from the last World Cup in 2002. One reason for the increase was a more favorable time zone for viewers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas: The 2002 Cup was played in South Korea and Japan.

Compared with the 1998 World Cup in France, which was played in the same time zone as this year's tournament, average audiences were down by 3 percent to 5 percent, Alavy said. Still, given that the last eight years have seen a proliferation in the number of TV channels available to many households in Europe, "the World Cup has done better than a lot of other programming in dealing with fragmentation," he said.

Old media's successes were not limited to television. According to La Tribune, a French business newspaper, the sports daily L'Équipe sold 900,000 copies the day after France's quarterfinal victory over Brazil, nearly three times its daily average.

The Demise of MLB...

Since MLB's All-Star Game festivities are taking place today and tomorrow, I thought it would be a great time to discuss my issues/concerns with MLB. Baseball is the sport I follow most and I will follow it until I die. How the sport is marketed and branded sometimes drives me up a wall, but I still love it. Below is the first part in a series on what MLB needs to fix to return it to its former glory. A lot of this information is for a paper I wrote for my "Business of Sports" class. Enjoy.

What has happened to Major League Baseball? Less than 30 years ago, the sport was considered “America’s Past time” as its popularity with fans soared. Fathers and sons would play catch late into the night after work and all day during the weekend. Who has not heard a story or two about a father and son catching a baseball game at the local ballpark? One of the main objectives of Little League baseball has always been to turn boys into young adults through playing the game.

In the 21st century, where is baseball? The sport has seen eight work stoppages since 1972. The sport has lost its label as “America’s Past time” to the National Football League. Auto racing and specifically, NASCAR is making a strong push to secure the number two spot in American sports.

MLB has always been the number one sport that I have followed. Even today, I cannot offer a comprehensive reason why I enjoy the sport as much as I do. From the statistics, to the amazing history of the game, to the passion of Red Sox Nation, to the game-by-game strategy and unpredictability of the sport – it cannot be beat. Unfortunately though, in today’s day and age, it is really tough to argue that baseball is “America’s Past time.” Rabid supporters of the NFL can offer a strong case, with impressive statistics, as to why football has become the most popular sport in the U.S. The sport has the largest following of television viewers, the Super Bowl is the most viewed televised sporting event every year and the league continues to bring its teams a record amount of money every time the NFL negotiates a new television contract.

Where did baseball go wrong? Where to begin? Could it be the disorganization of the “old boys’ network” in the commissioner’s office? The fact that MLB has been unable to develop a hard salary cap like football and basketball? The fact that baseball cards have lost their luster to fans, especially children? Maybe it is the steroid issue that is crippling the league and its image? Or could it be the loss of national television exposure? There are other items one could address, but these are the issues that are really affecting the league at a time when it is trying to rebuild its tarnished image.

Some people may disagree with my argument and believe that I don’t know all the facts and I don’t understand the big picture. Recently I spoke with Matt Burton, a former public relations associate working in the Commissioner’s office, about the demise of MLB and he said, “This really is a difficult question to answer as many would argue given the attendance records, sales of licensed products, TV/radio deals and ratings that MLB has never been stronger…however, many people now consider NFL as the number one sport and that it has supplanted MLB as the national past time. Therefore, I really think you may need to change people’s perception in order to regain the status as the number one sport…this might prove to be an arduous task given the set up of the NFL’s schedule (i.e. playing one day a week) which makes every weekend an event.”

In doing research, I found an interesting blurb on the positive image of MLB from Wikipedia: “Baseball is most popular in the Americas and East Asia (although in South America only in the extreme northern portion). In Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, Nicaragua, South Korea, and Taiwan, it is one of the most popular sports. The United States is the birthplace of baseball, where it has long been regarded as more than just a ‘major sport’ - it has been considered, for decades, the national pastime and Major League Baseball has been given a unique monopoly status by the U.S. Congress; the total attendance for Major League games is roughly equal to that of all other American professional team sports combined…”

While MLB attendance is at an all-time high, there are a plethora of peripheral issues that must be addressed from a “business of sports” aspect to ensure the future strength of the League. MLB can become “America’s Past time” once again in time if they “move the needle” and make a couple of important strategic changes to its business model.

Tomorrow -- The Commissioner’s Office

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Smart Move By Anheuser-Busch

You have to give props to the sport marketing department at Anheuser-Busch. They know how to get the strongest ROI out of their sponsorships.

In today's Boston Globe article entitled, "Getting issue-oriented," it noted the following: "One trend that will continue is Anheuser-Busch's dominance among Super Bowl advertisers. The beer company has been the Super Bowl's exclusive alcohol sponsor since 1989 and recently ensured that would continue until at least 2013 when it signed deals with NBC for 2009 and '12. It already had deals with CBS for 2007 and '10, and with Fox for 2008 and '11. That's thinking ahead."

Smart, smart move. This is the third highest rated sporting event behind the World Cup and the Olympics. This is one of the only televisions where people stick around to watch the advertisements. I attended a Super Bowl party last year where the advertisements were more important than the game.

The NFL has created an image that is positive to companies who want to work with the League. While I personally don't believe Anheuser-Busch makes a great tasting beer, a lot of people are going to buy Anheuser-Busch products after watching the game.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

NBC Drops Arena Football

Last week NBC dropped the Arena Football League from its programming schedule. This is not a big surprise since NBC has Sunday Night Football returning in the fall. In the article I read, AFL games also appeared on OLN, ESPN, and the Fox regional sports channels. What does the future hold for the AFL?

What is so surprising is that the AFL has been around for 20 years, but has not been able to make "the jump" to become a top-tier league in the U.S. What do you really know about the AFL? The commissioner, David Baker, is 6'7 and his son plays college football at USC, Kurt Warner and Jon Gruden's brother were AFL quarterbacks and John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi are owners.

Over the last two years, the league has finally spent some money on marketing and PR to generate additional interest in the league. It's interesting, since most football fans get depressed the day after the Super Bowl and start counting the days until camps open in the summer. Why wouldn't hard-core fans turn to the AFL?

All right, it could be the level of play, the different rules or the fact that no one knows any players. From what I have read and been told, the AFL fans are as passionate and loyal as NASCAR fans. If that really is the case, then as a sponsor, I would want to be a part of the AFL. Check out this information from an ESPN research poll summary from 2004:
• The AFL indexes higher than the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NASCAR in the 18-34 male age category
• The AFL rivals the NBA in highest percentage of African-Americans among its fan base (18%)
• Overwhelmingly, AFL fans are more likely to try, switch and be loyal, to a sponsor’s product due to a sponsorship of an event/sport they follow
• AFL fans’ loyalty to sponsor’s products eclipse the more referenced and well-publicized NASCAR loyalty figures

What does the AFL need to do moving forward:

* Sign an agreement with Versus. This might be tough for Versus since their agreement with the NHL states if the cable outlet signs another league to the station, the NHL receives 15 million from Versus. This is the best platform for the AFL if they are interested in securing national coverage. They can still sign deals with the regional sports channels as well.

* Ensure they keep their contract with EA Sports. We know EA knows how to develop top football video games (thanks Oge) and video games fans are going to buy the football game moving forward. This can only help to introduce fans to the League.

* Try to develop an agreement with the NFL to become a "minor league of the NFL." Did you know there any nine NFL owners who own an AFL team? Now I understand NFL Europe is considered the minor league for the NFL. It has been widely reported that the AFL is the ideal place to groom quarterbacks. The AFL QBs need to make quick reads in a smaller field. The game is a little faster than the NFL because of the size of the field. It seems to me that some QBs would want to stay in the States to play football rather than going overseas. On the flip side, this would be a steal for the AFL since they would be able to promote known college players who are getting a year of experience in the League. At the very least, you would have the alumni of the QB’s college checking out the games.

* Find a national sponsor that will spend money on promoting the AFL and their involvement with the league. Consider including a logo of the company on the player's jerseys. The bottom line is this -- they must create promotional events in the top markets - NYC, Chicago, LA, Miami to generate interest in the AFL.

According to a report I read -- "The AFL entered into its first-ever exclusive ‘head-to-toe: uniform supplier and apparel partnership with a three-year marketing partnership with NIKE, who will serve as the AFL’s Official Uniform, Sideline Headwear, and Sideline Apparel Supplier through 2007.’"

Um..hello? The AFL should have taken little to no money, but DEMANDED that Nike create a huge marketing/PR campaign around its involvement with the League.

* Buy tons of advertising in SI, ESPN Mag, Sporting News,, etc. I don't care what anyone says, but if an advertiser spends a plethora of money in a magazine, they have the ability to have a story written about their company or product (I know from experience) -- that is what the AFL needs. They should also consider advertising during NFL games. Those are the fans they want to attract and the League doesn't play at the same time as the NFL.

* Last, and yes, I know this is not "really legal," but they need to find a way to get gamblers interested in the sport. Gamblers spend billions of dollars every football season watching games. You can't tell me if they started to gamble on the AFL that it wouldn't raise the interest in the sport.

The AFL has potential, but they need to revise some of their marketing and PR.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Red Sox Drama..Again

There was an interesting article in today's Boston Globe entitled, "Inner Workings Revealed." The piece reported "The breach in trust between Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino that led to Epstein's departure from the Red Sox, and how principal owner John W. Henry was able to persuade Epstein to return as general manager less than three months later, is explored in a new book by Seth Mnookin, who was given extraordinary access to the team's inner workings during the 2005 season."

Huh? What? I heard from multiple sources that one of the reasons Theo wanted to leave his position was that he spent too much time dealing with media relations-related responsibilities. Look at Theo in the media this year. How many times have you seen him quoted in print, on TV or on the radio? I know he calls a radio station or two for weekly chats, but that is about it.

The story in the Globe added, "'[Theo] explained how he'd felt left out to dry after the [Nomar] Garciaparra trade, how he felt increasingly isolated from much of the organization, how he felt that the team's obsession with generating more and more press coverage actually made it more difficult to focus on what he thought should be the team's primary goal: winning baseball games,' Mnookin writes."

When the new management took over the Red Sox, they wanted to fix the following: fan experience at the park, relationship with the media and (I believe) fixing up the character/chemistry in the clubhouse. By the end of 2004 season, they had addressed all these issues. In regards to media relations, I have been told they did a 180-degree turn from their former predecessors. Theo was available all the time, reporters could do live feeds from the park at 6 a.m. or 12 p.m. The relationship with the media was never better.

We all know what happened at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006. What I want to know is how/why they let Seth Mnookin have some much access when certain important people in the organization wanted to tone down the media activity in 2005? Did he know someone high up? Was he giving a boatload of money to the Jimmy Fund or the Sox? I am extremely interested in reading this book later this year.

Moving forward how should the Sox handle media relations activities in Boston?

* Face the fact that the Globe is going to have the inside track on stories. You know what. Why shouldn't they? Like it or not, their parent company owns 17 percent of the Red Sox. Is it a conflict of interest? Maybe, but I would definitely help out the owners of the team first.

* Define a clear-cut spokesperson for senior management. It seems Henry does not want to be in the public eye, Lucchino is trying to stay quiet after the battle with Theo this spring. What about Dr. Charles Steinberg, vice president of public affairs? He seems like the ideal candidate to be the clear/lone Sox spokesperson when Theo is busy or unavailable.

* Continue to do whatever to ensure leaks do not take place. If they think a story is going to break and it's true, get out in front of it. Be proactive, not reactive. The Sox don't need to pitch reporters to secure coverage. They get enough press every day. They just need to work with the media to make sure they have the "correct" story and do not write negative/inaccurate information about the team.

Editor's Note: I have no clue about the real inner workings of the Red Sox PR team/media relations plan, so my ideas may be completely off base.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

OLN's Tour de France Ratings Are Down...

Today, on MediaDailyNews they have an article entitled, "OLN Slowing On Tour de France Course." The article reports that "OLN HAS TAKEN ON SOME road rash for its 'Tour de France' coverage--down more than 40 percent in ratings after three days of the big cycling event. The cable network expected a significant ratings drop--especially in the post-Lance Armstrong era ... The event's first day this year on Saturday saw OLN's gross daily ratings sink 47 percent to a Nielsen 0.7 household rating from a 1.31 rating the year before. Sunday's numbers were a bit higher at a 0.85 rating, but down a hefty 41 percent from 1.44 a year ago. Monday's numbers pulled in a 0.81 rating, down from 1.67 a year ago."

Hmm..where to begin on why viewing coverage is down. If I worked in OLN's PR and Marketing department, I would be spending large amounts of money and time letting people know what stations OLN, or Versus, which is the stations new name this fall, is available on local cable. Do you know what station Versus is on your cable box? I don't. They should work with the top 20 markets to promote the station. Everyone knows what station ESPN is on with their local cable. It is just not the same with Versus.

It is interesting since Versus has a ton of potential. The Tour de France draws hard-core viewers which would be ideal to select target companies for marketing and advertising purposes. The NHL, which signed a three-year, $207.5 million contract last fall, has some of the most die-hard fans in all of sports. They are buying tickets to games in droves, but are not watching the games on TV. This is another extremely important market to advertisers.

Versus has jumped from 65 million to 70 million subscribers and should grow in the future. While I don't know a thing about running a cable company, it seems to me that one of the top three business objectives must be to raise the profile of the cable outlet. They can do this on MySpace, Versus Web site, Google, e-mail newsletters to subscribers or even ads in top tier newspapers letting people know where to find the station.

ESPN is the 500-pound gorrilla in the room and I would be shocked if some advertisers want to work with different media outlets to reach sports fans to create a relationship with their product or service.

You can agree with me or not, but the company has potential if it begins to place a strong emphasis on marketing and PR.

World Cup Mania in the United States

Over the last month, it has been really interesting to see how sports fans in the United States are dealing with the World Cup. On one end of the spectrum you have the diehard football fans who leave work to go watch the games, while on the other end you have sports fans who may check the score of a match if they are bored at work. Football, is without a doubt, the most popular sport in the world. Sports fans can argue all they want that the SuperBowl is the most watched sporting event, but it is not even close to how important World Cup matches are to other countries. Most countries completely shut down during the World Cup matches. If a country wins an important match, the government will order a national holiday the next day to celebrate.

If you are an international company, sponsoring events or advertisements during the World Cup is essential. The Olympics draws hundreds of millions of viewers, but countries that don't have winter sports may not be interested in watching the Games. Everyone plays soccer, everywhere.

What is it going to take to make soccer, and the MLS in particular, more popular in the U.S? Issues to review include fan interest, stadium concerns, media interest and the overall level of player competition.

Fan Interest:
In 1996, fans came out in droves to witness the first year of the League. According to a case study entitled, “Major League Soccer 1996-1998: Now, Later…Never?” it noted “At the league opener in San Jose, over 30,000 fans came to Spartan Stadium. In Los Angeles, the Galaxy drew 69,000 at their home opener at the Rose Bowl.”

In any sport, there is going to be a honeymoon period when people come out to view the new league. Everyone in MLS had high expectations for an increase in fan interest in season two, but the case study noted that isn’t what happened. “League-wide attendance dropped by 16%, from 17,416 in 1996 to 14,616 in 1997. The Galaxy, which drew a league-high 28,916 in its first season, fell 29% to a second-best 20,626 per game.”

Ten years later, MLS is still struggling to recruit more mainstream sports fans to attend their games. Fox Soccer Channel’s Jamie Trecker agrees that the League has problems appealing to general sports fans. “Most worrying is that they (MLS) seem to be unable to expand their core base. After ten years, MLS has been unable to convert significant numbers of youth soccer players into lifelong fans. Several GMs I talked to — including the L.A. Galaxy's Doug Hamilton, said their teams still depend on group sales to drive attendance. MLS gets little or no attention from the typical American sports fan, and the league seems unable — or unwilling — to market aggressively to them.”

Stadium Concerns:
When the League first started, the owners scheduled the games in American football stadiums. MLS needed to see if it had a viable product before building soccer-only stadiums, but they may have lost some fans in the first few years due to these playing conditions. The stadiums hold anywhere from 50 to 70,000 people and most teams would only have 18 to 20,000 thousand fans attend the matches. Fans want to be close to the action, and the way some football stadiums are constructed, fans do not have the opportunity to be as close as they would like.

Over time, MLS has built soccer-only stadiums for a large percentage of the teams. These new stadiums offer an ideal selling point to young fans and one of the major factors if MLS does succeed. Soccer Digest’s Michael Lewis noted, “Like it or not, the lack of soccer-specific stadiums is killing attendance. Teams can't always schedule games on weekends due to commitments these municipality-run stadiums have to other sporting events, concerts or other entertainment events. When the league moves into its most important part of the season - the homestretch of the regular season and playoffs - many teams can't always get prime weekend dates (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and many times have to settle for mid-week dates.”

Media Interest:
Before MLS played its first game, from a fan’s perspective, there was a noticeable increase in the amount of media coverage the League received. Sports fans wanted to know about the League, its teams and its player. This excitement ended soon after the matches started. Some teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy or the D.C. United had a strong following and might have two writers covering important games. Otherwise, most of the media didn’t care.

From a sports fan perspective at this time, there is a not a lot of articles covering MLS or its players in mainstream publications including ESPN Magazine and Sports Illustrated. Those publications cover the league, but they do not receive a lot of profile or feature-type stories.

Last year, the New England Revolution played in the MLS championship game. The mainstream media coverage surrounding the event was extremely small. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald only had one or two reporters covering the game. When the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots or Red Sox are in the playoffs, it is front-page news. I really wonder how many New Englanders knew about this important soccer match.

From a business standpoint, the lack of media interest is a huge, underlining problem for the league and, other than fan interest; it is the major reason why MLS has not grown as fast as they had hoped. The League wants the media to market its teams and players to the fans so they will be interested in coming to the games. The fans want the media to cover the games so if they miss a contest they can stay up to date on the results. The sponsors want their name to be mentioned within articles and television stories to increase their brand recognition and draw additional customers in the future. If the sponsors are not seeing a positive return-on-investment, they are going to end their relationship and thus would continue the downfall of MLS.

From a broadcast perspective, the television stations are having a tough time generating a profit and convincing sponsors to advertise with the League. During the first couple of years, I remember MLS was shown on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 pretty regularly to drum up interest. As ratings declined or stayed the same, the television stations pulled back the amount of games they showed. At this time, I do not know what days and times and on what stations the matches are shown.

MLS is at a crossroads in its quest to enhance the level of competition in the League. At this point, I view MLS as a minor-league to the European soccer teams. A lot of U.S. players compete in MLS for a couple of years and then are recruited and signed by teams abroad. A large percentage of U.S. sports fans want to become attached to one player over the life of their career and watch them play for one team.

The owners of MLS have voted to raise the salary cap for the players in the past, but they need to continue to raise that amount if they want to be able to keep U.S. born players in the League. From a business perspective, a company sometimes needs to spend money to make money. If they do not offer a competitive product, then soccer fans are not going to follow the matches or spend any money to attend the games. At this point, keeping the U.S. players in MLS is, by far, the most important issue and could make or break them depending on the outcome.

That is why soccer won't succeed in the U.S.

The World is Coming to an End...

So folks...the world must be coming to an end since I am now blogging. The computer illiterate is finally ready to blog and write about sports-related issues. Writing about issues affecting sports is what I know. I am not going to talk about why one team is better than another, but more about why something was marketed or presented to the media in a certain way. It should be an interesting ride so let's see how this works.