Enough of the peanuts and Cracker Jacks already!

ImageDo you ever hear people talk about preferring to stay home and watch the game because they get to relax in the comfort of their own home while getting a better view of the game anyway?  I hear it; a lot.  Everyone has their reasons for avoiding sporting events, some of which include: avoiding the $20 parking fees, trying to reach their seats as though they were salmon in a migration pattern, and crappy food offerings.  On a side note, Bleacher Report is apparently incompetent when it comes to rating the “Best Stadium Food in America”.  Do they honestly believe I’m going to buy in to a shitty hotdog from Chavez Ravine or pulled pork from Bank of America Stadium as being some of the best food stadium food in the country?  They’re out of their f’ing minds.  I’m also amazed that in a city that prides itself on having some of the best food in the country, garlic fries from AT&T Park is really the best we’re going to get.

I know I’m not that far off the mark when I say good food should be available at a ballpark.  Shoot, there’re pretty much always a handful of solid restaurants and bars around the corner from most of the city centre-type stadiums: Petco Park, Wrigley, Fenway, and Yankee Stadium (you get my point).  So why is it that we don’t see a reflection of the local fare in our favorite ballparks?  Part of it is the politics that go on behind the scenes as far as determining food costs and royalties, among other things.  I believe that it also comes down to fan demand – people just don’t know what’s good for them.  There is no doubt hotdogs, peanuts and watered-down light beer will always be available, but that doesn’t mean those with more sophisticated tastes should be shunned or alienated.

Yankee Stadium was recently criticized for offering what they considered craft beer: Blue Moon and Leinenkugel.  Once again, this made me shake my head.  If you sell a product that is nationally promoted with commercials up the wazoo, you are not a craft beer.  Seriously, if you claim you’re selling “craft beer” that is in fact owned by Anheuser Busch or MillerCoors, you have just offended a heck of a lot of beer drinkers and me.  That said, it is good to know cities like Detroit and Seattle aren’t willing to settle.  In fact, your only hope of finding some of the beers sold at Comerica Park and Safeco Field will be either going to a ball game or visiting your local BevMo! or Total Wine.

While I know it will take time and patience, it’s good to know that there is at least hope.  I also can’t say whether or not subtle changes like these will really make a difference in the grand scheme of things.  However, my hope is that for the sake of sports-loving-foodies out there, these changes might actually encourage them to re-consider their choice to stay home and watch the ballgame.

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Here! There! Everywhere!

ImageIs it subliminal messaging?  No, not really.  Is it targeted messaging?  It can be if you want it to be.  Is it the next step in a state-of-the-art delivery system to showcase digital content within stadiums and arenas?  Yeah, that sounds more like it.

With corporate partnerships across sports looking to create new and innovative ways to increase inventory while simultaneously providing a more engaging medium, these venues are seeing a significant increase in very customizable digital messaging.  No, this won’t be the final frontier in stadium and arena digital technology.  Like all technology, it’s a work in progress.  What it does do though is create sponsor messages that can be simultaneously showcased in high-traffic areas around an entire arena.

In Honda Center’s case, their partnership with CISCO has allowed them to create a delivery system called StadiumVision.  It is designed to create a more subtle, yet brilliantly vivid, form of message delivery to Ducks fans (and other Honda Center events) through “a fully integrated marketing solution that displays video and digital content throughout the facility in an easy-to customize format.”  While this technology is currently being used in high profile stadiums in MLB, NFL, and NHL/NBA arenas, Honda Center is actually the first arena on the West Coast to utilize the technology and only the 2nd in the NHL.  One of the greatest benefits specific to the Ducks is that it creates opportunities for as many Corporate Partners as they choose to offer this new form of inventory to.  Although, I have a hunch that they wouldn’t want these slots to get out of control because the fewer number of “openings” that they provide, the more value their corporate partners will see in it, which should hopefully translate to more money being spent.

I feel that it’s a tremendous asset to have because of the ease in which commercial slots and static artwork can be switched in and out; a feature that will absolutely allow each specific partner to showcase their message for as long as they choose to do so.  Corporate partners want to focus on maximizing customer engagement and this technology really allows them to create the innovative and dynamic visuals to do just that.  Going hand-in-hand with the ease in which messages can be interchanged, this also allows them to create entirely new slots for digital marketing based on in-arena events and campaigns.  Having more than 550 HD screens located around the arena, the Honda Center should easily be able to reach over 1.5 million guests on an annual basis.  If you’re looking for opportunities that will allow your brand to dominate while generating strong awareness and lasting impressions, look no further than the Honda Center!

Online Gaming Revenue is More Than a Fantasy.

ImageConsumer engagement, in a nutshell, is the manner in which marketers captivate an audience by utilizing associations with a product and drive interaction with the brand.  Living in the digitized world that we do, this interaction may be no more than the tap of a smartphone away from not only understanding the individuals thought process, but also generating more participation from the consumer.  This has become the butter to social media’s bread when companies are looking to boost traffic and product recognition.  However, it has been a painstaking process utilizing significant man-hours and a fair amount of trial and error over the years.  So why did consumer engagement from a fantasy sports perspective take off like wildfire?  Look no further than your basic economic factors.

Demand has grown at an average annual rate of 12% over the past six years because there isn’t a limit on supply, per se, and barriers to entry are relatively low.  If you think about it, all of our major sports (football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, etc.) all have some variation of a fantasy sports league; many of which are mainstream and can be found on sites like ESPN, CBS Sports, and Yahoo! Sports.  But don’t worry, the fun doesn’t end there because you can delve a little deeper in to the more obscure sports if bull riding, Iditarod and even darts are your thing.  I’m curious as to why fantasy lawnmower racing hasn’t been given more love if lumberjacking makes the list.  Back to my original point though; assuming there is a slight decline in anticipated growth of only 8.8% over the next five years, it is still safe to say revenues could increase by as much as 50% because mobile apps have significantly boosted accessibility and there is substantial room for growth with expenditures by the female audience.  If this increase plays out, we are talking about a $1.7 billion industry come 2017.

Technology also plays an essential role as far as increasing revenue opportunities and their return on investment when we look at how the games are played.  Selecting a group of players and winning or losing based on the cumulative end result seems almost obsolete because that’s how everyone does it.  Sure it’s easy because results are measureable, but this is a world that is all about progression.  Twitter and SnappyTV connect an audience in real time, so why not take a cue from them and reevaluate our participation in fantasy games.  After all, they allow users to interact in a live format and could redefine our perspective of fantasy sports; once again exponentially boosting consumer engagement.

The Social Snafu

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There’s an old saying that goes, “no news is good news, and good news is no news.”  There was also a time in journalism when writers loosely followed this rule.  Shocking, I know.  This doesn’t mean that the new wave of social media is necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it’s great; when it’s accurate.  Problem is, our society has grown impatient and so accustomed to immediate results, that even when mistakes are corrected; it is likely at least a few eyeballs witnessed the initial oversight.

Amateur bloggers are more likely to be in the clear following those little snafu’s, but we still underestimate the damage that can be done; even when there wasn’t malicious intent.  It is this kind of misinformation that can ultimately, especially in the world of sports, affect an athlete’s credibility and checking account.  Whether it be initial speculation as to why Tiger Woods “lost” control of his Cadillac Escalade or fellow partiers taking pictures of Michael Phelps allegedly taking hits from a bong at a college party, these stories create social media firestorms that have contributed to the loss of some major endorsement deals with their respective sponsors.  I’m not by any means condoning their actions, but I do think it’s unfair that athletes are always under a microscope (yes, I know they choose their profession) and have the potential to lose some of the things they’ve worked so hard for because some jackass at a college party thinks it’s appropriate and/or funny to post said pictures on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (you get the idea) accounts for all of their friends (and the world shortly thereafter) to see.

Those amateur actions become nothing but amateur though when you compare them to the individuals representing an organization’s image via social media accounts.  This became painfully clear for StubHub on October 5th, 2012, when one of their digital media account users wrote a Twitter post that read, “Thank fuck it’s Friday!  Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.”  I think someone forgot to log out of their company Twitter account and in to their personal account; and proceeded to get fired the following day.  Unfortunately, I’m certain mistakes like this occur more often than we realize.  Fortunately, the end result (or aftermath) isn’t always as damaging to an organizations reputation.  It is ironic that Bleacher Report can write a story called The 5 Worst Stadiums in All of Major League Baseball and people laugh because they know it’s true.  Yet when the Angels Baseball Twitter account (yes, user error again) makes comedic observations about Padre fans and Petco Park on the company account instead of their personal, it is seen as offensive because it’s a message “from” the organization, not the individual.  This just tells me that it wasn’t a big deal to the Padres organization and it shouldn’t be a big deal for you because you’ll have to dig pretty deep on Google or Bing if you want to find this blooper.

Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire: Collegiate Edition

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Divorce is never a fun topic.  Some of the first thoughts that may come to mind are: difficult, hurtful and for some, heartbreaking.  Whereas, the first adjective that pops in to my mind is expensive.  No, I’m not talking just sort of expensive; I’m talking millions of dollars expensive.  This is essentially what has become of modern conference alignment in collegiate sports.  Shame on you for sitting there thinking I had any intention of talking about our nation’s marital status and the greater than 50% divorce rate that we have become accustomed to.

As we sit here and ask ourselves, what happened to the good old days when conferences were determined by geographical location and an institutions ability to sponsor a pre-determined number of sports for men and women?  We are reminded that collegiate athletics have become less about the experience and instead shifted the focus toward monetary results.  If you think about it, collegiate conferences, like marriage, were about commitment and supporting one another in an effort to make the union stronger.  Now we look at the so-called transition toward “Super Conferences” and we’re stuck with what feels more like a dating game driven by money instead of loyalty.

This lack of commitment is why I was thrilled to see the Atlantic Coast Conference decided to follow in the footsteps of the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten and put a stop to the essential musical chairs-type of activity and halt the departure of universities to other conferences.  Since you still probably have marital divorce on your mind, what the ACC has done is basically create a prenuptial agreement to protect their conference long-term (through 2026-27).  Just like you would be, the ACC grew tired of schools coming and going at will and taking the earnings from their media rights in their previous conference with them.  I think this is a pretty fair concept.  If you play in our conference, we’ll be more than happy to share our earnings, and give you a $20 million slice of our pie.  “A Grant of Rights, in basic form, is written permission from league members to relinquish control of television rights to the league for the duration of the deal.  If a school leaves, it forfeits those earnings to be spread among the rest of the conference.”  This will effectively protect the ACC, and other conferences, from conference realignment poaching.  Additionally, while the Grant of Rights should keep other conferences from attempting to pluck the ACC’s members, the $52 million exit fee that they’re now enforcing should effectively keep the conference intact for years to come.  While the revenue structure of the Atlantic Coast Conference has been on the lower end when compared to other major players like the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the adjustment of their model should increase their revenue stream by a substantial amount.

Need a Role Model? Try Kelly.

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How often do we hear about athletes being labeled heroes or role models?  Even worse, think of all the instances when players referred to their upcoming Sunday as going to war.  Kellen Winslow Jr. is still one of my all-time favorite examples.  I guess it’s just weird to me that having grown up in San Diego County, 30 minutes South of Camp Pendleton, he still didn’t understand that there are millions of individuals (in reference to our American military personnel, Fire Rescue, Police, etc.) braver than he is; many of whom actually know what going to war means.  I don’t think most athletes deserve the hero title because most athletes will never do what Pat Tillman did for our country.  At least Drew Brees took the time and made the effort to spend time with our troops.  Now go ahead and jump across the country to Brevard County, home of Patrick Air Force Base, and you’ll find yourself in Kelly Slater’s neck of the woods.

If you’re looking for the connection between Winslow Jr. and Slater, outside of being athletes, there really isn’t one.  The reason I bring up Kelly Slater is because I do believe that athletes can be role models.  Unfortunately, the surfing world is one full of stereotypes and misnomers.  Which is why we need to then refer to the old adage, “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it”.   Yes, Kelly has had an extraordinary career (11 titles and counting), but it’s his actions out of the water that really personify who he is as a person.  I am by no means saying K.S. is perfect, because he’s human just like the rest of us – sort of.  However, Kelly plays guitar and is a darn good golfer – just North of scratch from what I’ve heard.  He chooses not to drink or do drugs, instead focusing on a more organic lifestyle with regular yoga in the mix.  You’ll even score some pretty good recipes if you follow his Twitter account.  While I don’t personally know Kelly, I think what makes him a viable role model is a sense of responsibility that you find in good parents and people in general.  Speaking of Twitter, I guarantee having a teenage daughter influenced his decision to speak out against bullying in a recent tweet about an incident involving a girl that committed suicide after being bullied and raped.  But you know what, teenage bullying and suicide aren’t just stories to be found in the news.  They’re a very real issue that occur daily and need all the awareness they can generate.  Whether or not it’s intentional, Kelly has a way of responsibly using social media and I can only hope our youth, among others, recognize this.

I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with Chad Johnson tweeting every 5 minutes.  I think it brings a human element to a digital world.  I’m also not a parent and I don’t always understand what parents go through (although I do get a kick out of reading CrappyPictures.com).  One thing I do know is that the world can never have enough role models responsibly convey their message.  With that being said, choices are something we all face and maybe the next time your child is confronted with a difficult one, they’ll ask themselves, “what would Kelly do?”

Can you stream me now?

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Major League Baseball Advanced Media is second to none when it comes to innovation and setting trends not only within the sports realm, but also digital media advancement as a whole.  In 2000, all 30 Major League Baseball clubs unanimously voted to create a separate entity that would house all digital media services for the entire league and MLBAM was born.  Being home to MLB technology, digital information, and online ticketing services, MLBAM has been able to create MLB.tv, web streaming services and a variety of mobile applications for smart phone and tablet devices.  All of which can be used by fans to get up to the minute scores, highlights and a variety of audio and video coverage of MLB games.

The next venture for MLBAM is now the recent partnership with Qualcomm, a leader in next-generation wireless technologies, to improve mobile access and performance at MLB Ballparks.  The idea is that ballparks will now extend the limits of digital expectations and the ability to maintain a mobile infrastructure that will meet fan expectations during their ballpark experience.  A major part of this agreement is the engineering team representing this partnership will assess and plan for increased access at select ballparks over the next two years.

Now for the spoiler alert – while increasing data demand by an impressive 1000x, MLBAM’s partnership with Qualcomm is already behind the times.  This feat has not only been undertaken by Santa Clara Stadium, but is already in the process of being implemented for the 49ers opening season in their new facility.  Not only will Santa Clara Stadium have a capacity of 68,500, but it will also provide simultaneous wireless connectivity to every single one of those individuals; without any limits on downloads or uploads.

This was primarily possible as a result of the efforts of Santa Clara Stadium’s CTO Kunal Malik and Senior IT Director Dan Williams; neither of whom have conventional sports technology backgrounds.  Instead, they spent five years at Facebook building what is currently one of the largest and most efficient website networks in the world.  The idea behind their undertaking is that Santa Clara Stadium will provide around a terabit of capacity while providing the experiences that users would more commonly receive with long-term evolution (LTE) services.  The issue with most stadium designs today is what Dan Williams calls sub-optimal locations for wireless access points and the addition of more of these access points doesn’t necessarily generate more signal strength.  In a manner to overcome the obstacles that traditionally hinder Wi-Fi access in stadiums and arenas, Santa Clara Stadium will evenly distribute these points around the stadium in a format that will efficiently provide the same wireless signal to all stadium guests.  While specific information as to how this network will be established is proprietary, it seems fair to say that Major League Baseball Advanced Media has some catching up to do.

Fish Stories: Marlins woes continue…

 

 

 

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Professional sports can be a very weird world sometimes.  There are teams such as the Lakers and Yankees that have a total of 43 championships between the two of them.  That’s as many wins as the Cleveland Browns have earned (…or at least finished with) over the past 8 seasons.  Thing is, the Browns weren’t always terrible.  In fact, they’ve even won 8 championships as an organization; all of which were won prior to Barry Bonds and José Canseco even being born (I’m sorry, I know the rest of the world was hoping we would never speak of those names ever again); which is probably why no one remembers.  The point is, some teams are terrible now, but have at one point or another shown flashes of brilliance.  With that, I was trying to think of what organization is as guilty as any for accomplishing such a fall from grace and flat on their face.  I had to double check and make sure they were still playing at the big league level because I had assumed they would have been dropped to high rookie ball by now, but yes ladies and gentleman, the Florida…I mean Miami Marlins…are still a professional ball club.

 

Once upon a time, the Marlins had won not one; but TWO World Series.  To be fair though, the 2003 World Series was probably a greater win than the 1997 World Series because Wayne Huizenga didn’t buy that championship.  Since then, the Fish have been little more than a flop.  Personally, I don’t think it’s fair that an art dealer that grew up cheering for the Yankees had to be the one to go out and purchase the Marlins.  He’s responsible for changing the name of the ball club, strapping nearly $2.4 billion in debt to Miami-Dade County, and worst of all, changing the Marlins logo to one of the most hideous logos in professional sports.  Do you really think it’s a coincidence that José Reyes only spent one season playing in Miami?  Of course these guys aren’t going to take as much pride in winning, I would be embarrassed to play in those jerseys day in and day out too.  Back to my point though, it must be difficult and at times unfair to call yourself a fan of this club when year in and year out they build up talent and then hold a fire sale.  You look around the league and see names like Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Aníbal Sánchez, Josh Johnson, and Dan Uggla (Juan Pierre came back while Luis Castillo and Carlos Delgado had to retire on me); only to be reminded what the Marlins once had in their possession.  I know you could probably make the same type of comparison to any organization in professional sports.  But the thing is, the only owner that has historically had less of an interest in winning than Marlins ownership over the past decade is that Donald Sterling guy in L.A.  In the meantime, you have your Panthers…just kidding!  But really, I meant the Dolphins (sorry, bad joke again).  Seriously, the Miami Heat are your only opportunity to watch a professional franchise in South Florida with any real success lately.  Hang in there Marlins fans, maybe one day you’ll take a page out of the Clippers 2012 playbook and be back to your winning ways.  In the meantime, one thing you get to compete for with the Tampa Bay Rays year in and year out is the lowest attendance record in Major League Baseball.  Congratulations, you have something to brag about.

 

 

 

Rice’s reputation flushed down the kitchen sink (after throwing everything but the kitchen sink).

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Dodge Ball is a game in which players on two teams try to throw large balls at each other while avoiding being hit themselves.  This is perfectly acceptable – while playing Dodge Ball.  Why Mike Rice, former Rutgers Basketball Head Coach, thought it would be okay to incorporate “Dodge Ball” in to his basketball practices and peg players in the head is beyond me.  Yes, there have been tough coaches such as Vince Lombardi and Mike Ditka.  However, jump over to the other end of the spectrum and you’ll find the John Wooden and Tony Dungy’s of the coaching world.  All of whom shared one very important common denominator – success.

College basketball, while very different from professional football, is still a demanding environment to coach in because of the pressure to win, and win often.  Collegiate institutions no longer cut these men and women the slack that their predecessors would have been entitled to because athletics play such an integral role in the financial success of colleges and universities today.  Tubby Smith brought Minnesota Basketball back to relevancy.  Despite this accomplishment, Smith was still fired after posting a 124-81 record following six seasons with the Golden Gophers.  Meanwhile, it took three seasons and a record of 44-51 before Rutgers University finally fired Mike Rice.  This is of course in addition to the physical, verbal and emotional abuse that he subjected his players to for those three years.

There is the assumption that players know and understand what they’re walking in to when they commit to a program and are given an athletic scholarship.  I don’t disagree with this assumption, but after witnessing the actions of Mike Rice, it’s clear that recruits had to be unaware of how quickly a great opportunity would deteriorate in to a nightmarish situation.  It is one thing to yell and scream at players, but I’m pretty sure laying your hands on players and labeling them with homophobic slurs such as “fairy” and “faggot” don’t exactly fall in line with University policy (once again, I’m going out on a limb here).  Not only was Rice using a deliberately abusive coaching style, it is pretty clear that his intentions were to instill fear in his players.  This clearly wasn’t an effective coaching tool when you revert back to his sub-.500 record.   Yet, Rutgers University allowed these actions to continue for over two years before suspending Rice for three games, fining him $75,000 and ordering him to attend anger management classes in November of 2012.  Rice must have really been shaking in his boots, which I’m sure he threatened to shove up a players ass on more than one occasion, all while simultaneously throwing balls at the heads and groins of other players.

I understand it would be difficult for these young men to come forward for fear of being labeled “soft” and thinking they may lose their scholarship.  However, the moment video was released showcasing Rice’s actions; there should have been an immediate termination, not just a slap on the wrist.  Mike Rice is absolutely correct, there is no explanation for attempting to karate kick one of his players during a practice.  What was that anyway, Mortal Combat for middle-aged coaches?  I personally believe athletics should be a two way street and coaches need to respect their players just as much as the players are expected to respect their coaches.  With that being said, I personally think it would’ve been awesome if one of Rice’s players snapped and “finished him”.  But I suppose his termination will do.