Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hello Europe

I grew up watching basketball stars like Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. All great players- yes. One thing that started their careers though is that they never went to college. They went from doing high school math to staring at millions of dollars. Three years ago, the NBA made in mandatory for high school graduates to go to college for at least one year before entering the draft.

As a result, highly talented high school basketball players, while some still went to college, found a way to get the immediate payday they desired. Many of the high school stars are African Americans from tough financial situations, and money for their family can't come soon enough. High school graduates have been going to Europe to play for a year instead of college. They are able to see the world, gain experience, and make some money. Most notably, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings did this last year. He was drafted 7th overall with many scouts surprised he went so high. Why? Because he only averaged single digits points in Europe league for an entire year. Although athletes make money, many NBA scouts feel like the European game is much different than the NBA, and attribute a lot of European busts, like Darko Milicik, to the game being so different.

However, a trend may be starting. Jennings is averaging over 20 points a game in his first NBA season. He has lead the Bucks to a winning record and proved he was worthy of a 7th pick- thus far. What's alarming is the implications this could have for the NCAA. They are losing talented players to Europe that bring them millions of dollars from advertising college basketball games and the March Madness tournament. What the NBA should do is let college kids go pro after graduating. The NBA claims they're not mature enough. But if you wanna see mature players, check the list at the top of the page. The NBA has brought in many stars from high school. After all, can't 18 year olds make their own adult decisions?

Tiger-less Tour

For the past few weeks, many people have been cracking jokes about the once beloved Tiger Woods and his private life chaos. Tiger was one of the most respected athletes in the game. He always had a smile on his face and the right things to say. After admitting his involvement with women besides his wife and being questioned for hitting a tree with his car at two in the morning, Tiger seems to be on heading on a slippery slope. He has lost sponsorship with Nike and Accenture, and is facing the loss of more. However, Tiger is worth a few billion dollars, and the sponsorships, although damaging to his reputation, don't affect his financials.

It's not Tiger's situation that should worry people, it's the amount of time he may be off the course to deal with the issues. When Tiger wasn't on tour last year for knee surgery, viewing took a major hit. People barely wanted to see tournaments unless Tiger and his fist pump were present. It's the loss of viewers CBS and other stations will lose that's troubling. Just as Tiger had more young kids interested in golfing, he ruins his reputation AND isn't going to be on TV for possible months. The situation, in reality, is tough for Tiger. Especially since most think he is such a good guy. It's implications to the golf world and the upcoming tour, however, is far worse to the sports world.

A New Face for Nascar?

For years NASCAR has been growing. Fans have been able to connect with driver's and NASCAR has done a great job with sponsorships, new camera angles, and finding ways to make 3 hours of racing laps exciting. Over the past few years, however, NASCAR has lots its edge. NASCAR focuses most of its marketing attention on lower class citizens. People who know what it is like to sit around and enjoy a beer or work on their car on Saturday. Because of this, the sport has seemed to level out in growth. Most of NASCAR's growth started with them bringing more people to the sport, including African Americans and other minorities in the late 1970's. Perhaps, in today's setting, there is another marketing idea that could have NASCAR back into growing mode.

On the other side of things, in the world of Formula One, Danica Patrick has been climbing the charts of success. She has even been talking to NASCAR lately about joining, which make her the first female ever. This is a great idea for NASCAR. It allows women to connect with the sport more, and opens up marketing opportunities for NASCAR as well. Marketing a young, sexy women in the sport will draw attention from males and females alike. She has a zest to her, including an altercation with another driver in Formula One where she brushed his shoulder. This move would have NASCAR back on its feet, and just as it was with minorities and the sport years ago, this is another move NASCAR can make to prove to the world they accept everybody.

Monday, November 2, 2009

We Miss You Brent

As I woke up this morning, I grabbed my bowl of cereal like I always do. I hopped in the shower, got dressed, and clicked on Yahoo! sports home page like I normally do. While I found headlines of Alex Rodriguez's biggest hit of his career and the Yankees ninth inning rally to go up three games to one on the Phillies in the World Series, it was not the story that dominated the front page of sports. Rather, it was of Brett Favre's first game played at Lambeau field not wearing green and yellow. Just a day earlier, during the early slate of NFL games, I saw each TV at a sports bar change to Favre entering Lambeau field from the locker room. Conversation in the room went dead for a second before people exploded with opinions on his return.

But wait. This is a week eight regular season football game. What's the big deal? How can this take precedence over a World Series game decided in the ninth inning? Well it turns out that Brett Favre has turned into a classic example of how involved and emotional football fans are with athletes. This was bigger than Raider Nation, bigger than the Dog Pound in Cleveland. This was Brett Favre trying to prove to 71,000 screaming fans that he still had what it takes to demoralize a stadium of fans that saw him for 16 seasons and enjoyed a Super Bown in the process. While most fans at Lambeau field booed and sported "we miss you Brent" shirts, there were also fans who welcomed him back with open arms. This collection of fans, however, was hard to find. Fans in Green Bay, as well as the rest of the country, have been wrestling with their opinions on if Brett Favre is a class act player who has had perhaps the most successful career of any QB in NFL history; or if his swaps between retirement and unretiring and signing of a contract with Green Bay's rival Minnesota makes him less respectable and an outdated sports idol.

It does not appear to matter that Favre fired four TD passes on Sunday in the Packer's victory over Minnesota. Nor does it seem to matter that the Packers were out to prove they could win with his replacement Aaron Rodgers. Furthermore, there seemed to be no attention to the Vikings being 7-1 under Favre's rule. The attention, rather, resided in the emotions of 71,000+ and countless millions around the country witnessing a Green Bay hero not in a Green Bay uniform.

The game yesterday only begins to dig into the intensity of emotion that sports fans feel with athletes. The game was marketed heavily and dominated the 4:15 airtime for Fox Sports. Fans were seen with intense rage at Favre's return while others loved him all the same after 16 years of winning in Green Bay and a Super Bowl. Whether love or hate, the emotions and abundance of opinions on Favre's role in football and star status has dominated sports conversation this weekend. It goes to show just how connected fans can be with an athlete and what that connection can mean for marketers of magazines, TV shows, and radio shows. Favre's second comeback has sold magazines, jerseys, game hype, and overwhelmed analyst sites and shows with juicy debates. Yesterday's game has already shown that star power and fan connection points with an athlete can bring out the most intense emotions in fans and analysts; not to mention the numbers it draws from viewers.

Whether or not someone agrees with Favre's decisions to come back for a rival is not important. It is not important that you think Favre is a class act or a backstabbing star driven by selfishness. What is important is that situations like his are gold mines for the NFL and companies that market NFL games and athletes. Not only are people intrigued by the situation, but the emotions of people not even involved with the NFC Central teams or the Green Bay Packers is astonishing. Every football fan seems to have an opinion on Favre, and this fan-driven pool of emotions allowed for a much anticipated game when he returned to Lambeau. Hell, it even stole the spotlight from the World Series. Stories like this keep my love for football in tune, and although I hate both the Packers and the Vikings, you would have found me glued to the game just as everyone else was. Just another reason the game of football is so important to so many people; and a big reason why the NFL continues to be one of the most successful sports organizations in the world.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Past Time Past its Prime

For most of the 20th Century, baseball was America's sport. It was tradition to go to the ballpark and watch the game; and eat a hot dog while singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Players like Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig were legends and dominated talk around town throughout the year.

As time has progressed, baseball has taken a back seat to many new, high intensity sports. The emergence of the NFL and NBA has drawn people away from baseball. Basketball and football have speed and tempo; and big name athletes that can dominate games at any given second. Fans of baseball stars don't get to experience this star power because their players are only batting in about a third of the innings or pitching once an inning for sometimes half the game. You can't turn on the TV and watch a star be a part of every single play in baseball.

It has become increasingly difficult for sports fans to pick up the remote to even turn on the World Series or know who is still in the playoffs. With today's sports fan being driven by entertainment and speed, baseball has simply lost its edge. While attendance at baseball games is still high due to the ballpark experience, TV ratings have suffered detrimental hits. While there will always be fans out there that hate the Yankees, there are few teams in baseball that hold the power or reputation to even be worth talking about once your hometown team is out of the mix. Some teams don't even have high profile stars. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for example, have a well-balanced lineup from top to bottom and are becoming a successful franchise; but they lack the big names to draw country-wide attention.

Another thing hurting interest in baseball is the replacement of baseball in kids' youth by sports like skateboarding, lacrosse, and soccer. While you will still find t-ball leagues across the country, there has been a big transition from baseball to these sports. Every year it seems that these sports elicit more and more interest and participation.

Furthermore, baseball's series of issues with steroids has hurt its reputation as a sport built on tradition and history. Many of the old records have been destroyed by modern players who take steroids. Mark McGuire broke the home run record (70) for a season; but is later sitting in front of Congress facing accusations of using human growth hormones. Barry Bonds broke McGuire's record with 73 HR's and then the all-time HR record; but again falls into the same position as McGuire and has a big asterisk put next to his name by many sports fans. Players like Bonds and McGuire hardly hit home runs in their younger years, and in recent years you could find them all buffed up and jacking bombs like they're hitting a golf ball with a baseball bat. The biggest problem is it isn't just these big stars using steroids. It has almost became a norm in the league today to use steroids for increased salaries and popularity. However, when players get caught, it doesn't just bring their career down, but rather they brings down the reputation and name of MLB with them.

The issue is what can be marketed to fans to bring baseball back? Can you market stars who use drugs? Can you market successful franchises without big names? How do you market a slow paced game of little scoring and variety? There are a few marketing strategies that seem to be yielding success for MLB. One strategy is individual teams that use campaigns to increase hometown support. The Detroit Tiger's executed a "Who's Your Tiger?" campaign that encouraged fans to associate with a player that also helped them connect with the game. A second idea is to continue to make the broadcasts of games more exciting. Slow motion cameras in between pitches, in-between inning interviews with managers, and sound bites seem to be reducing the struggle of fans sitting down and watch a three hour baseball game. without constantly flipping the channel. Overall, however, baseball truly has lost a step. The name of MLB has been tainted from steroids, young players are less abundant, and today's fast moving world has created a transition to fast, high flying sports action with big stars. Although marketing strategies may keep baseball dangling by a thread, it will never be the sport it was. But I guess if.... nope. Plain and simple, no matter how hard marketers and teams try, baseball is no longer "America's Past Time," and it is difficult to imagine it as America's future either.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fantasy Fortune

It has long been the tradition of most NFL sports fans to get home from church, watch their hometown team, and pass out on the couch for the rest of the afternoon; captivated by finishing the list of chores from their significant other by nightfall. However, the emergence of fantasy football has significantly increased the range of games, athletes, and teams sports fans are wanting to follow.

Fantasy football allows regular men and women to engage in the NFL to a remarkable degree. They are able to live and die by the same sword the athletes on their teams do. Fantasy football has owners constantly monitoring scores, stats, highlights, and games they would have never watched before. You can find people in Detroit with Randy Moss jerseys or people with Eagles gear in Oakland. Not because they necessarily have always supported the team, but because their involvement in fantasy football has propelled their interest in players and teams outside of what they grew up on.

Fantasy football allows people to connect more closely with athletes and teams. It contributes to accessibility and the complete football experience. Furthermore, many sports stations devote large amounts of airtime during the week for expert analysis on fantasy football. They are able to market big games based on what players are playing in them; catching the eye of fantasy owners who have that player. People play for money, enjoyment, and love of football. The industry has done nothing but grow and generate money for the NFL and companies like ESPN. Fantasy football appears to have a profound, addictive impact on the die hard football fan.

From a marketing standpoint, fantasy football has benefited the NFL and sports networks greatly. It has escalated jersey and merchandise sales and increased viewer ratings of games. Fantasy football has allowed people to fall in love with players and the star power they possess. Fantasy football has networks like ESPN filling time slots with analysis, predictions, and advice; all for a made up world of football team management. Participants are able to climb into the driver seat of football coaching and make decisions on who to start or sit; much like in real life coaching. Fantasy football has entire magazines dedicated to its followers. ESPN and Yahoo! have entire sections of their website for fantasy matters. It's hard today to talk about NFL football without the mention of the player who broke your team's season or your thoughts on the upcoming year's projections. Fantasy football has become a tradition for the football fan.

Fantasy football has added a kick to the NFL in terms of both profits and interests. It has replaced the historical traditions of only following hometown teams. You will find more people in today's world talking about their fantasy results on Mondays then the actual results of the game. People find themselves pitted against their favorite teams because their fantasy interest in the gain outweighs the support their favorite team. The interest fantasy football has generated for the game and its players is remarkable. It's economic impacts and marketing opportunities are equally impressive. Fantasy football does not appear to be going away anytime soon, which appears to be a positive statement for all parties involved.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's More Than a Ritual

My name is RJ Thebo and I am a marketing and finance major at Grand Valley State University. I have enjoyed (and suffered) from sports my entire life. Moments like Michigan great Mario Manningham's 2005 last second TD against Penn State have had me jumping around in joy. Or perhaps the Detroit Piston's 2004 heroic upset of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. I have also found myself on the other end of things, such as when the Detroit Tigers had their 2006 World Series meltdown and the NFL found its first ever 0-16 team, my beloved Detroit Lions.

Aside from the personal love and hate I experience with sports, I also believe in the power of sports. I believe in the power of athletes and sports teams to affect communities and cities through outreach. Furthermore, athletes and teams play a profound role in the economy and business world through ticket sales, merchandise sales, and other streams.

Whether you are referring to jersey sales, sports cards, betting lines, or ticket sales is not important. The important factor is that different aspects of sports turn a game, I said a game, into one of the most profitable and analyzed industries in the world. Aside from the influence sports have on personal emotions, they play a pivital role in the jobs and finances of literally millions of people.

While you may want me to keep going, I will save more for a later time. I have chosen ESPN Sports and YAHOO! Sports as my sports news feeds because of their reliability and range of stories covered. I chose DeadSpin as my sports blog because it covers more hype-related stories surrounding athletes and teams . BallHype and Work In Sports are my social media connections. BallHype focuses on interesting off-the-field implications sports play on the industry. Work In Sports is a site dedicated to the outlook of having a career in sports, which is something that interests me. On that note, I am retiring for the day. However, just like Brett Favre and Michael Jordan, it won't be for good...