The Sporting Scene, Volume II

In the course of a business day, I’m asked many questions. New business questions. Recruiting questions. Creative questions. Marketing and advertising questions. Sometimes it seems as if my entire day is spent answering questions — via email, IM, Skype, AIM, text, tweet  and believe it or not, the telephone.

Not all these questions are business questions — being known as a kind of “sports guy”, I’m often asked questions about sport. The Sporting Scene, Vol. II will examine some common and interesting sporting questions I’ve fielded in the past few weeks. Staying true to the mission of, each answer will ultimately address the marketing and advertising ramifications for each topic question.

As a prelude, athletes are brands. Professional franchises (sports teams) are brands. The leagues– MLB, the NFL, the NBA, et al, are brands. Coaches are brands. Educational institutions have become brands, largely because of their athletic programs. The money involved is staggering. When a college basketball coach is the highest-paid state employee (not the highest paid university employee, but the best paid STATE employee), you know there’s a lot of money involved. That coach is Jim Calhoun and that state is Connecticut. He is probably not the only one.

Lots of questions, so let’s go:

1. Will Tiger Ever Win Again? Will Tiger Ever Win Another Major?

Ok, that’s two questions. But both run rampant in the Palma pipeline. And they both have a similar answer. In short, I think “yes” to both. But, neither is a lock. The game of golf is 90% mental. Winning a professional golf tournament requires a clear mind, supreme confidence, a killer instinct and the ability to stay in the present. No golfer, not even Tiger Woods, can overcome the loss of any one of these four critical winning attributes and win. This is not your local municipal qualifier we are talking about — this is the PGA Tour. Have you seen some of these young whippersnappers? Dustin Johnson? McIlroy? Watney? Ricky Barnes? These guys are really good. Not to mention the previous wave of young talent that has now hit its prime — Furyk, Cink, Harrington, Kuchar, et al..

“The field” has become so talented and equipment has become so technologically advanced that it’s nearly impossible to win a tour event without your “A” game. And to have an “A” game going — you need the four mental cornerstones — a clear mind, supreme confidence, a killer instinct and the ability to stay in the present. Doesn’t it seem as if Tiger has lost all four? It reminds me of David Duval. “Double D”, also a former #1 Player in the World — a guy who once shot 59, lost it the “other way” (he dropped out of sight to raise a family). But Duval’s fall from grace is instructive — once it goes, it may be gone for good. Can we imagine Duval ever winning again? How about a Major? THAT’S how fragile the golf swing is. I think Tiger wins again in two years. But, it’s NOT a lock. He can easily be the next David Duval.

Marketing Spin: Funny how Duval laid low, raised a family, got into health foods, lost weight, quit smoking. Nobody cared about his lifestyle. He stopped winning and consequently lost most of his endorsement deals. Nobody cared. But, Tiger’s saga — EVERYBODY cared about that. He flew in $15,000 per night hookers from Italy, had a harem of porn stars and seemingly had carnal knowledge of half of Orlando. Yet Nike stands behind him. Oh yeah, I know, he lost AT&T, and a few others. But the big one is Nike. Their golf brand IS Tiger Woods. They drop Tiger Woods and they might as well get out of golf. Heck, they have essentially lost Michael Jordan. They cannot withstand losing Woods too. Without Woods and Jordan, Nike might as well go back to being a running shoe company.

2. What Happened To the Red Sox?

The better question may be, What Happened to Baseball? Doesn’t it suck? The infrastructure. The imbalance of finance and power. The ballpark experience. The umpiring. The product itself.

Okay, back to the question. Boston had a rash of injuries to key players, yes. And not just 15-day DL stints — but broken bones and surgeries.But, injuries are a part of the game — even A LOT of injuries. No, the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of two starting pitchers — Josh Beckett and John Shellackey. Those guys have even an average year and there’s fall baseball in Beantown. The good news? Theo Epstein can begin rehearsing his set  for the Hot Stove, Cool Music fundraiser.

Marketing Spin: With their cable deal with NESN and the age-old curse twice-broken, guess what — Boston doesn’t NEED to win anymore. TV ratings are down, scalper’s ticket prices at Fenway are down and the Pink Hats have taken over. Look for the Sox to play it safe financially in this new decade and be content to be more of a “brand” than a team focused on winning.

The bigger concern is the game of baseball itself . The attrition and fallout from the Mitchell Report has finally caught up with the game. I can’t remember a season that was so uninteresting. The biggest story was an umpire’s call. Or Roger Clemens’ Federal Indictment. Or was it George Steinbrenner’s death? But, it was anything but a positive baseball story. The game will undoubtedly survive, but it needs some fixing. A good place to start would be to speed up the games by enforcing the rules. I never believed in a salary cap before, but it’s working for the NFL and the NBA. Baseball’s financial infrastructure isn’t — I mean we have a team going to the playoffs that can’t make payroll without Chapter 11 protection (Texas). The Dodgers are part of a divorce settlement. The Yankees… well, that’s all you really have to say … they have become synonymous with wretched excess, like Lehman Brothers and the rest of the Wall Street pigs. It’s almost embarrassing being a baseball fan these days. It hurts me to say that.

3. What Do You Think of LeBron’s Move to Miami?

Didn’t it seem as if LeBron James was trying to miss shots in the playoffs? Hey, he earned his right to free agency via the collective bargaining agreement. Free agency begins with the word “free” — he is free to do whatever he wants. What sucked was the nationally televised public humiliation of an entire city — the heart of rock and roll — Cleveland. Yes, James is ruthless. But I blame ESPN. How tasteless. Most surprisingly, LBJ didn’t take the NY money — that proved to me it wasn’t about the money (although $111 mil is not pro bono wages). This Heat team reminds me of the ’68 Lakers — the triumvirate of Wilt, West & Baylor, seemingly a dream team. Guess what? They lost. Why? The rules only allow one ball on the court. LeBron may well turn into this generation’s Chamberlain — the poster boy for losing.

Marketing Spin: Even if he wins, he loses. And if he loses, he’ll be branded a loser. A sure recipe for disaster. However, he will not suffer greatly in the world of endorsements. Yes, his image will take a hit. But, he hasn’t been busted for drugs. He hasn’t gambled on the game. He hasn’t contracted HIV. He hasn’t had affairs with multiple porn stars. Nope. He signed a free agent contract with the Miami Heat. I can’t see any sponsors outside of Cleveland, Ohio taking umbrage with that.

Next: The Ryder Cup and a Preview of the Harvard/Yale game.

2 thoughts on “The Sporting Scene, Volume II

  1. Martin Buchanan

    I think you have hit upon a great blogging combo: sports and its marketing implications. Keep it up. I look forward to the next Sporting Scene. Good stuff.


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