Archive for November, 2011

This past weekend featured some of the biggest rivalry games in all of sports as Ohio State fell to Michigan in the 108th installment of “The Game”, Alabama defeated Auburn in the “Iron Bowl” in their 76th meeting and Oregon clobbered Oregon State in the 115th “Civil War”. In a couple weeks one of the longest running and well-known rivalries will take place when Army takes on Navy for the 112th time.

In football, most major rivalry games take place at the end of the regular season. In my opinion, ALL major rivalry games should take place at the end of a season! By having the game as the final game it gives both teams something to look forward to despite their results during all of their other regular season games. If a team has a terrible regular season, much of that can be wiped out and forgotten with a victory over their rival. On the other hand, a loss to a rival after a successful season hurts even more. For my fellow Ohio State fans out there, how did it feel when John Cooper was head coach and OSU had outstanding regular seasons but got beaten by Michigan in The Game 10 out of 12 years? AWFUL!

For anyone who’s ever been a part of a huge rivalry as a player, coach, or fan there is no more exciting time than the weeks and days leading up to a rivalry game. Every big rivalry from the high school to the professional level features traditions, pranks, trash-talking and hope. Here in Ohio, high school football is king and there are hundreds of huge, long-running rivalries including my alma mater the New Philadelphia Quakers and our rival the dover Tornadoes. That’s not a typo. Since I was involved in this rivalry I’ve been writing dover with a lower-case “D” that’s how much I hate them. I HATE DOVER. Ask anyone from New Philadelphia…they’ll tell you the same. Ask anyone from dover what they think, they’ll tell you they hate New Philly…and that’s how it should be. During dover-Phila week each school has different themes each day for their students centered around beating the other school. On Thursday night it’s the annual bonfire and pep-rally. Then on Friday night it’s game time! The winner on Friday night goes home with bragging rights and memories for a lifetime. The loser…disappointment, tears and a different kind of memories.

For me, I was 0-2 in my final two games against dover but I’ll never forget those two games. Freezing temperatures, a borderline-illegal play and a 0-14 defeat as a Junior. As a Senior, dover was 8-1 coming into the game and we were 2-7. We didn’t have a chance right? If it weren’t for an errant extra point we may have won that game, but instead fell 6-7. My final play was an interception which ended with me getting tackled and then illegally “speared” after the play with a 15-yard penalty for dover. For me, a hip pointer and I was done for the game. Watching dover score their only touchdown while I was standing on the sideline was more painful than the injury itself.

The point of me telling you this? If you’ve never been a part of something like this you wouldn’t understand. If you have, I hope you can take 5 minutes to think about when you were part of the rivalry and think about how it felt to be part of something bigger than yourself, your team and your school. Every year when rivalries are renewed, entire communities and fan bases relive their experiences through the current players on the field. It’s not quite the same as playing, but it sure feels good when your team wins!

PS – I still hate dover!


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When the college football regular season is over in a couple weeks 95% of us will be complaining again about the BCS and the fact that there is no playoff system. The 5% who won’t be complaining are the fans of the two teams who are in the BCS title game.

For anyone who follows college football, we all know why there isn’t a playoff in place yet…it’s all about the C-A-S-H. The NCAA isn’t smart enough to figure out a way to come up with a playoff system that will generate more money than the current BCS bowl system.

The current BCS system includes four major bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Orange & Sugar) plus the BCS Championship Game for a total of five games involving 10 teams.  It also involved automatic qualifiers from six major conferences. Last year, the automatic qualifiers provided the BCS with a team ranked #13 overall, Virginia Tech, and an unranked team in Connecticut. I know VT has a strong following, but those two teams don’t quite provide the star power you’d hope for in a post-season atmosphere. Plus, with the craziness surrounding conference realignment in college football, it’s time for a major change.

I would propose an eight-team playoff of the top eight ranked teams in the final BCS standings. The team ranked #1 would play the team ranked #8, #2 vs. #7, #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5. Not revolutionary I know, but here’s the catch which the NCAA is missing. The NCAA and BCS are worried about losing the television revenue from the “Bowl system” if a playoff was in place. The solution, host each playoff game in the venues associated with the BCS bowls. With an eight-team playoff there would be a total of seven games played (compared to only five BCS games currently). The first four games would be played at the venues associated with the current BCS bowls and could still be called Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl. These bowls could still award their championship trophies and treat the games as they would any other year. The second round of the playoffs would be hosted at two of the four same sites (ex: Rose and Sugar) and the championship game would be hosted  at either the Fiesta or Orange Bowl site. In this format, three out of the four venues would host two games each post-season and one venue would host one game. The NCAA could rotate this each season so that over four years each venue would host the same number of playoff games.

In regards to increased revenue from a ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and sponsorship perspective there are seven major games to generate revenue as opposed to the current five. Where the real money would come is in the television rights fees. Currently, ESPN is paying approximately $125 million per year for the rights to the BCS games (~$25 million per game). If you take those figures and go to seven games instead of five that’s an additional $50 million right off the bat. That’s assuming the same interest level and television ratings as before, but both of those are guaranteed to skyrocket with a playoff. Think about this…right now, if I’m a Stanford or Michigan State fan and my team makes the Rose bowl, do I really care about an Orange Bowl game between Clemson and Cincinnati? Not a chance. If the winner of the Orange Bowl was slated to play the winner of the Rose Bowl would I pay a little more attention? ABSOLUTELY! You know what that means…higher TV ratings which means $$$$$!

Lastly, and most importantly to college football fans and players, a three-week, eight-team playoff gives eight teams, instead of just two, the opportunity to try to prove they are the best team in the country and earn the shot at the National Title.

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Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you’ve heard about some of the head-scratching contracts handed out to professional athletes over the years. Whether it’s A-Rod’s $250 million contract or Albert Pujols asking for $30 million PER YEAR there are plenty of big contracts in all of the major sports. The first huge contract I remember was Kirby Puckett getting $3 million per year in 1989. I couldn’t believe a team would pay that much money to a player who plays a game for fun. Good gig if you can get it!

The contracts that drive fans nuts however are the guys who are drastically overpaid such as Rashard Lewis for the Orlando Magic ($19.5 million), Mark Sanchez for the NY Jets ($14.5 million) and there are dozens in Major League Baseball including Barry Zito’s contract with the San Francisco Giants for $126 million over seven years!!! Since being signed by the Giants he’s 43-61 with an ERA near 4.50.

The one thing many fans don’t talk about are the handful players who are actually worth what they are being paid. On the surface, paying an athlete $20, $10 or even $5 million a year sounds ludicrous. But when you look at the financial impact that player has on his team’s bottom line there are actually some players who earn every penny they get. Here are just a couple who come to mind immediately:

1. LeBron James – you hate him, I hate him, all of NE Ohio hates him, and even some Heat fans hate him right now but the guy earns his $16 million per year. In ticket sales figures alone, the Miami Heat’s attendance increased by 84,000.  Take that times $50 per ticket and that’s $4.2 million alone. Those people weren’t paying to see Chris Bosh – it was all LeBron. Tack on another $15 per person in food and drink for those people and that’s another $1.3 million. On the other side of the ledger, after LeBron signed with the Heat, they sold out of season tickets and then let go of 30 full-time sales staff. At an average of $35K per year per person in savings that’s $1 million in savings. Next, how many Miami Heat #6 jerseys do you think were sold last year? This number isn’t easy to find but I’d guess very conservatively 100,000 or more at about $75 each – $7.5 million. Another tough number to estimate is sponsorships, but I’d guess on the low end they made an additional $2.5 million from advertising sales. Finally, the Heat played 11 home playoff games in 2011. With an average revenue of about $2 million per game that’s another $22 million. Total financial impact: $38.5 million. This doesn’t even take into consideration the increased value of the Miami Heat franchise or ancillary revenue generated by surrounding businesses such as parking, restaurants, bars, and street vendors. If you didn’t hate him already…maybe this will help convince you to come to the dark side.

2. Albert Pujols – another superstar, another $16 million salary. By MLB standards, Pujols is underpaid compared to his peers such as A-Rod ($32 million) or Ryan Howard ($20 million). With Pujols reportedly asking for $30 million annually as a Free Agent this year it begs the question, “Is he worth it?” There are rumors that the Miami Marlins (who have sweet new uniforms if you haven’t seen them – they are very “Miami”) who are opening a new stadium in 2012 have been talking to Pujols. If I’m the Marlins I’m looking at it this way…attendance has been terrible so as soon as they sign Pujols I’d estimate they’d see an additional 5,000 fans per game. The average ticket price in MLB is $30 per ticket so that’s an additional $12 million in ticket revenue. On top of that, I’d guess it’d be a little easier trying to sell luxury suites with Pujols on the roster, so add five extra sold suites at about $1 million per year for another $5 million. All those extra people have to eat and using $15 per person there’s another $6 million. Do you think many Marlins fans would buy a Pujols jersey??? Of course…let’s call merchandise sales another $5 million. Additional sponsorship revenue would come in around another $2.5 million.  So far that’s $30.5 million. Did I mention he also might be the best hitter of all-time and might help you win a few games? Make the playoffs and that’s another $3 million or more for EACH home playoff game.

My final thought, some fans are irritated with players because they make so much money but they tend to forget that behind every contract is a general manager and owner who approved that deal. How can you be mad at A-Rod for making $32 million per year? Jealous maybe, but someone had to offer him that contract so more power to the players for taking as much as they can get.

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Between my eight baseball seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens and the four seasons I’ve spent with the Lake County Captains my favorite question I get every fall is “So…what do you do in the off-season?” I can’t tell you how many people literally think we take the entire fall and winter off and then show up in the spring a couple weeks before the season starts.

Every sports organization has a front-office staff ranging from two or three full-time staff up to 100+ full-timers in a Major League organization. In the Minor Leagues, where every employee wears numerous hats, we do more work on a day-to-day basis during the off-season than many days during the season when we’re working 14+ hour days!

When the season ends we spend a couple weeks wrapping up paperwork and playing bill collector before the planning for the following season begins. We review attendance from the previous season, talk about what promotions and theme/group events worked well and which ones were flops (see exhibit “Wings and Wine Wednesdays”). From there, it’s a major brainstorming session related not only to promotions, but more importantly on how we can make more sales and generate more revenue.

For most employees we have a sales component to our jobs (tickets, sponsorships, non-gameday events, food & beverage) and that’s where the bulk of our time is spent during the off-season…making sales. For me, it’s calling and meeting with businesses who already advertise with the Captains or talking with companies about advertising during the following baseball season. It’s a little tough selling baseball in Ohio during December and January when it’s 20 degrees (if we’re lucky) and have a foot of snow on the field, but I think that’s one of the reasons we, as Minor League Baseball employees, are some of the most creative and fun-loving people you’ll ever work with. We have to be in order to convince people to buy baseball tickets when all they can think of is shoveling their driveway and freezing just from walking from their car to their front door! (Why do I live in Ohio again?)

Once the snow melts hopefully all of our hard work, phone calls and meetings in the Fall and Winter translate into signed agreements in the early Spring. Then we cross all our T’s and dot the final I’s which may include anything from sending out season tickets to designing and producing an outfield fence sign to writing copy and recording a radio spot for an advertiser.

Finally, April rolls around where we hold our breath that it doesn’t snow on Opening Day when we embark on another 70-game season. It’s all worth it though when you see kids, young and old, on Opening Day who can’t wait to get into the ballpark for the unofficial Kick-off for Spring and another season of America’s pastime.

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Why is it that anytime an athlete says something stupid or commits a crime it always goes back to the head coach and/or administration? I’m not saying this is the case at Penn State with the mess they’re going through right now, but when is the last time you read about a player getting into trouble without the head coach being somehow mentioned or blamed somewhere in the story?

A perfect example of this happened in our own backyard with Ohio State and Jim Tressel. First, let me start by saying Tressel made plenty of mistakes in how he handled all the controversy at OSU over the past season. He’s no saint but hear me out.

When five players, including Terrell Pryor, were first busted for receiving free tattoos in exchange for autographs and memorabilia Tressel was mentioned in all initial stories. When it later came out that up to 28 OSU players may have done the same thing over a 10-year period, it all went back to Tressel.  Any time a player got into a fight or at OSU or busted for underage drinking or a DUI it was somehow Tressel’s fault. “He’s losing control of the program” is what the media would typical say about Tressel and Ohio State. I know he’s the figurehead for the program, but how can ONE person babysit 100 college-aged kids 24-7?

If I, or a co-worker, went out and got into a fight or a DUI would it be my boss’ fault? If a factory worker at the Ford engine plant in Cleveland gets a DUI does his boss get reprimanded? I know these industries aren’t nearly the same profile as Ohio State football, but why should head coaches take all the blame for mistakes made by 18 and 19-year old college students at 2:30 AM on a Saturday night?

We all know why…because it moves the ratings meter for TV, radio and newspapers even if it happens to be at the expense of a coach’s reputation.

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The ongoing and growing debate on whether or not college athletes should be paid may never end. Some say yes, others say no. The problem is, those who say yes can’t figure out:

A. How much?
B. Which sports?
C. Who is paying them?

My solution is for the NCAA to take the money they earn from their very lucrative television contracts (football bowl games and the NCAA basketball tournament being the primary sources of funding) and create a pool of money from which they can LOAN money to student-athletes. These would be low-interest loans similar to a government-backed loan program and could be repaid over 10 to 20 years. These loans would be available to ANY student-athlete, not just those from revenue-generating sports such as football and basketball.

Recent studies suggest athletes may need between $2,000 and $5,000 annually to pay for expenses not covered by their athletic scholarships. Using those number, I would set the maximum loan amount per year at $10,000 per student (double what they may need for expenses). 99% of the loan requests under $2,500 should be approved with few questions asked. Requests between $2,500 and $5,000 would need a few more questions asked before approval. And finally, any request for more than $5,000 would require more steps in the approval process and would look at criteria such as financial background, reason for request over $5,000, and should even take into consideration PRO POTENTIAL of the athlete. This way, if Andrew Luck from Stanford or OSU star basketball player Jared Sullinger want to live lavishly in college with this extra money they can do so…they just need to pay it back when they are in the pros. Additionally, this loan program should have a system in place where the interest rate on the loans goes down if/when the athlete graduates. I’m not naive enough to think this is going to drastically increase graduation rates, but it does reward those who do finish their degree.

This solution not only helps student-athletes by providing them with money they may need to get through school but it is also another long-term revenue generator for the NCAA as they will earn interest money from these loans moving forward.

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