Social Media: The Game Changer in Sports

ImageCurrent estimates of the world’s population are in the neighborhood of just over 7 billion people.  With a number like that, anyone that continues to doubt the impact of social media in today’s world is in denial.  For perspective, Facebook announced in the first quarter of 2013 that they are at 1.11 billion users; that’s roughly 1 out of every 7 people throughout the world.  YouTube isn’t too far behind with 1 billion users, but each user apparently watches an average of 4 videos daily because they guesstimate 4 billion views per day.  What is a bit of a surprise is the distance created thereafter with Twitter falling in third at 500 million users and the 343 million users of Google+.

With the staggering numbers that it brings to the table, it’s been amazing to witness social media’s impact and effect on our world at a global scale.  More specifically though, think about the impact that social media has had on the world of sports.  The NCAA has had to modify policies in order to make room for social media.  For instance, the University of Southern California acknowledges that, “Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have increased in popularity globally, and are used by the majority of student-athletes here at USC in one form or another.”  USC’s Social Media & Policy Guidelines for Student-Athletes also provides examples of why students should be cognizant of the information they share and explains what content is deemed to be inappropriate in accordance with university policies.  While many NCAA institutions have individuals within their athletic department to monitor compliance, Arkansas has become the 6th state to take a slightly different approach by becoming “the latest state to enact legislation that bans schools from deploying social media monitoring firms to track their students’ personal digital accounts.”  The ultimate purpose of these laws is to save collegiate institutions around the country hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance costs, legal fees, monitoring and compliance.

What is a bit surprising is the NCAA’s Social Media & Blogging Policy.  The NCAA states that, “A credentialed media member may blog or provide updates via social media during any NCAA championship event, provided that such posts do not produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event as determined by the NCAA in its sole discretion.  If the NCAA deems that the credentialed media member is producing real-time description of the contest, the NCAA reserves all actions against the credentialed media member, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.”  The NCAA’s leniency is significant because it is nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and almost unheard of, when compared to professional sports.  The NBA, for instance, states that, “The Holder agrees not to transmit, distribute, or sell (or aid in transmitting, distributing, or selling), in any media now or hereafter existing, any description, account, picture, video, audio or other form of reproduction of the event or any surround activities (in whole or in part) for which this ticket is issued (the “Event”).”  Surprisingly, many fans probably don’t realize that these terms and conditions are made very clear on the back of their ticket as they sit in the crowd uploading photos, video, and updates to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts; among others.  While he wouldn’t say it, we also know Mike D’Antoni wasn’t thrilled with Kobe tweeting from his couch.  That said, it could actually be good for professional sports to embrace the actions of guys like Kobe Bryant tweeting in-game tips and suggestions.  The NBA has to remember that this was a good thing, because it engaged even more fans while providing them unique access to a world they wouldn’t normally get a glimpse of.  Plus, it’s not as though this is a real distraction for the players in the middle of the game while they’re following the game; not checking their Twitter accounts – hopefully.  Even Major League Baseball recognized the power of social media during the 2011 MLB Home Run Derby – and that league is about as old-school as you’re going to get in American professional sports.

Fortunately, the likelihood of our professional leagues cracking down on fans for sharing this information in the social space is unlikely because it’s actually a good marketing tool for the league; nor is it hurting the league from a profit standpoint.  Not to mention reality has shown us finding a wireless or WiFi signal when surrounded by thousands of fans trying to do the same thing is challenging in and of itself.  Fans uploading real-time information to the social media space really should be the least of league concerns at a sporting event.  However, that priority may change once stadiums and arenas have really perfected WiFi access for all in attendance.  Until then, it makes more sense for sports to wait till they get to that bridge before deciding whether or not to cross it.  Regardless of what the future holds though, you’re naïve if you don’t think social media is the way of the future for public relations in the sports realm.

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Field of Jeans: Are Sports Sponsorships Always a Good Fit?

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Think about what you could purchase for $200 million.  I can contemplate my approach, only to realize how challenging it would be to wrap my head around this sum of money.  Thing is, when your name is Barclays and you’re engaged in the business of financial services with an extensive international presence, $200 million is hardly an overwhelming figure.  It is for this reason, among many others, that Barclays uses the medium of sport to enhance its affiliation and direct associations with specific entities in a manner that will capitalize on the benefits related to the affiliation.  In a way, it explains Barclays’ motivation to come to an agreement with Brooklyn Nets’ ownership and spend $200 million over a period of 20 years on the naming rights for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.  Surprisingly, “Barclays Bank originally agreed to pay a record $400 million for the 20-year naming rights deal.  But two years later, with the economy slumping, the deal was renegotiated with arena developer Forest City Ratner, and the price was sliced in half to $200 million.”  I can only imagine how thrilled Nets ownership must’ve been when they heard the deal that was originally going to cover 62.8% of arena construction costs would be slashed to a measly 31.4%.  This is under the assumption that the Barclays Center cost of construction was only $637 million, even though there is speculation that final costs tallied well over $1 billion.  Either way, this just comes to show that Sports Sponsorship isn’t just big business, it’s massive!

The problem with sports sponsorship, regardless of initial intent, is that not all deals pan out to be good deals.  Consider the multitude of incidents when naming rights agreements caused issues for the sport entities that sold the rights because the sponsor that purchased the naming rights fell into financial disarray.  Just two years ago, January of 2011, the Sacramento Kings ended their 25-year deal with ARCO in order to make room for Power Balance.  No more than a year and a half later, Power Balance realized they tried to bite off more than they could chew and would join the ranks of companies such as Enron, PSINet and TWA; all of which at one time held arena naming rights prior to filing bankruptcy.  Despite all of the mistakes made by the aforementioned companies in the 1990s, errors in judgment continued to be made all over again.  One of my personal favorites took place shortly after the financial meltdown in 2008 when our government provided bailouts to a number of financial institutions.  How in the world could CitiBank afford a $20 million annual naming rights agreement with the New York Mets, despite requiring a government bailout just to stay afloat and continue with their day-to-day operations?  It’s good to know Congress was just as confused as the rest of us.

As a result of these mistakes, sports franchises now include clauses designed to ensure they’ll be able to re-sell the naming rights to their stadium or arena, for free, should the company holding rights to their current agreement become insolvent.  In addition to protecting their brand, franchises would want the prospective sponsor proposing naming rights to also align with the brand in a manner that will mutually benefit both parties when these deals are executed.  Regardless of the mistakes that have been made, it’s intriguing when you take in to account the number of franchises that do not have stadium naming rights in their sponsorship inventory.  In fact, of the thirty Major League Baseball franchises, seven do not have naming rights in place for their stadiums.  That is a significant number when you consider how lucrative naming rights deals can be.  While I know these franchises would at least listen to sponsorship proposals, it is telling when you consider four of these seven teams are ranked in Forbes Top 10 of MLB Team Values.  Despite the rankings, there are occasions when a franchise may make decisions that seem out of character and raise a few eyebrows.  Especially when you learn the San Francisco 49ers, ranked 9th on the Forbes list of NFL Team Values, agreed to terms with Levi’s to name their newly constructed Santa Clara Facility “Levi’s Stadium” in one of the biggest sports marketing deals to date.  I understand Levi Strauss first opened a dry goods store in San Francisco back in 1853.  With Santa Clara being nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, you would think one of the tech companies might take offense to this.  NFL writer Chris Wesseling did raise a good point when he said, “We just hope the 49ers don’t decide to emulate Boise State’s blue turf.”  Either way, the jokes are already in full-effect following Niners’ owner Jed York calling it the “Field of Jeans.”

‘Phins Out of Water

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We’ve heard quite a few NFL players voice mixed opinions about the power that current NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, holds.  Judge, jury and executioner have even been used on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, for Goodell, this assessment is accurate when you take in to account his neglect for a built-in “check and balance” system.  The Commissioner currently will assign a committee to investigate the actions of players, where he then assesses the evidence provided and then delivers what he deems an appropriate punishment.  Who are coaches and players supposed to appeal to when they do not agree with the sanctions that they face?  Oh yeah, the guy that delivered them in the first place.  I don’t know if this confuses the rest of Sports Nation, but I know it leaves me scratching my head.

Meanwhile, Goodell takes it upon himself to convince the Miami Dolphins that they needed to upgrade Sun Life’s Stadium from its current state so that the stadium could have a chance of hosting a Super Bowl.  Goodell would go on to suggest to Rick Scott, current Florida Governor, that, “a new stadium would send a strong message to owners preparing to vote on the next two Super Bowls.”  Is that so Roger?  Why did Sun Life Stadium get to host the Super Bowl in 2010 and suddenly they aren’t good enough to host another unless there are $400 million in upgrades?  Roger, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news in South Florida over the past five years, but taxpayers really aren’t all that excited about spending more money on stadium upgrades after being duped in to paying for the Marlins new home.  To make matters worse, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee went on to say, “We will not put our own money into our own stadium, and since the taxpayers won’t pay for it, we’ll threaten to move.”   Hey Mike, I have a suggestion – GROW UP!

Despite the immaturity of a 49 year old CEO and a Commissioner that thinks he’s the Godfather, the Dolphins may have some hope in the form of the NFL’s G-4 Stadium Loan Program.  Since publicly financed stadiums are hardly the most popular topic in South Florida at the moment, I think this could be a more viable option for the Dolphins to consider.  That is, once Mike Dee removes his head from his ass and quits telling people “that the lack of renovations or a new stadium could jeopardize the team’s future in the city.”  It feels more like a conciliation prize, but at least Stephen Ross’ stance is, “Let the voters vote and decide.  This is a tremendous economic impact to Miami-Dade County and we’re just asking to allow the voters to vote.

I’m sorry South Florida, but you deserve better than this.  Maybe one day the politicians will wake up and quit treating you like puppets.  In the meantime, go enjoy the sun and sand!  Football season is right around the corner!

Changing Landscapes: ATL Style

ImageIt’s funny how a building or structure can not only captivate an audience, but in many respects be iconic and define a city.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Architecture worth great attention.  It is then among the most important arts: and it is desirable to introduce taste into an art which shews so much.”  Perhaps The White House as we know it is not quite what President Jefferson would have experienced when he first moved in back in 1801, but it is certainly a landmark that draws immediate associations with Washington, D.C.; along with so many other cities.  San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge.  New York has the Statue of Liberty.  Chicago has the Sears Tower.  Atlanta will have its new stadium…wait, what?  I’ll give you a moment to process this as you rack your brains…

I don’t know how that curveball made you feel, but trust me, I feel the same way after reading this story multiple times.

Okay, so it may not even be built yet.  However, judging by the proposed stadium designs for the new Atlanta Falcons facility, it’s not a question of if it will make many architecture lists, but rather under what name.  The two current options out there are:

  1. The Atlanta Pantheon
  2. The Solarium

The name isn’t all that important right now because they are both pretty outrageous designs.  The first design features what looks like a giant metallic starfish lying on top of a relatively normal stadium design – with an “oculus” that opens up in the middle of the roof.  This is a great feature for those of you that have spent any time in Georgia during the summer months, but the thing is, it’s not nearly as hot when football season roles around.  In any case, the second design goes in a very different direction of retractable roofs and creates what looks like a ginormous greenhouse/airport hangar.  I personally think the first option would be more intriguing if the City of Atlanta is really looking to stretch the limits of architecture.   Mostly because the second design already has a somewhat similar feel to Chase Field in Phoenix.

Creating an iconic design doesn’t end with the exterior though.  Especially when Arthur Blank and his Atlanta Falcons want to create something that will bring sports fans out of hibernation from their man caves and back to the stadium.  Some of the proposed features include:

Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons CEO, would go on to say, “It has to move the needle with respect to the fantasy experience.  It has to be a game changer, not just when it opens and everyone goes “wow”, but as you move forward.

Regardless of which design the Falcons and City of Atlanta decide on, they’re definitely going to end up with something pretty radical.

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.

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.