Augusta National Gets in Touch With its Feminine Side

21 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where Eddie Vedder is a Twins fan…and rocked a Twins batting helmet when the Twins played in Seattle last weekend.  This time, dear readers, I’m not kidding.

Sweet! (credit: FSN North)

The big news in the golf world yesterday was not Sergio Garcia winning a golf tournament (unfortunately for him).  It was Augusta National tossing aside its long-standing rule regarding female membership and inviting Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore to join the club.  I think I join most red-blooded humans in celebrating this watershed moment, and saying…it’s about time.

Yet, while we smile and pat Hootie Johnson and crowd on the back, I think there might be more to this than meets the eye.  You know I’m a cynic when it comes to PR and marketing…well, I read this situation as possibly being a play to make even more money from the Masters and other tournament and course-related assets.

Remember back to last April, when debate raged and a PR firestorm was created about whether or not IBM and its new-at-the-time female CEO would be welcome at The Masters?  Or whether or not IBM should pull its sponsorship of the tournament (one of the biggest there is) over the membership rules?  It didn’t really come to a head or affect the tournament at all, but the seeds were planted for similar debates to take place every year going forward.

Since then, more women have ascended to corporate executive and board roles.  Take Yahoo and now Carlson, just for example.  This was not an issue that was going to fade away…just the opposite, in fact, as more situations like IBM arose between other current/potential sponsors and advertisers.  It’s logical, then, to assume that eventually the club’s stance could have caused one or more sponsors or advertisers to back out…or prospects to drop away.  And that would have ripple effects…if demand is down, then each individual sponsorship/advertisement isn’t worth as much…and CBS also wouldn’t exactly be pleased as the tournament’s exclusive TV partner.

I’m not saying this was the primary reason for the decision…at least, I hope not.  I just pose the thought – did Hootie and company finally recognize that the only check/hindrance on the revenue growth around the tournament (and possibly their own financial interests and/or societal status as club members) was their ancient membership policy, and change it accordingly so they could reap the benefits?  It seems all too plausible to me that this was at least another motive for the move.  The PR boost, in this case, is really just the icing on the cake.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The Gameday Experience’s Effect on the Bottom Line

16 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the Rose Bowl is within sight.

A full, rowdy TCF Bank Stadium (photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune)

Any of my regular readers are aware that I’m a die-hard Minnesota Golden Gopher sports fan, due to my having gone there and having been so involved in the band and other things.  So what I’m about to say hurts me to the core: Gopher football is broken and needs serious help.

Why do I say this?  It goes way beyond that the team hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since the early 1960s.  Despite preseason on-the-field optimism, a new athletic director and a second-year coach who is clearly making a positive impact, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today that only 2,000 student season football tickets ($84 for 7 games) have been sold to date, with the first home game just three weeks away.  That’s a sharp drop from just under 6,000 last year.  And overall attendance in the U’s new, 50,805-capacity TCF Bank Stadium is down almost 10 percent since it opened in fall 2009.

It’s an appalling reality, even though there should be a bump when incoming freshmen arrive.  It’s even more startling when you consider that Wisconsin sold out its allotment of 13,000 student tickets in 30 minutes…and Indiana, a team with fewer wins than the Gophers in recent years, less tradition, a much smaller market base and less hope/prospects for success in the short-term future, has even sold 12,000 student season tickets.

A primary reason for this undoubtedly is the fact the team hasn’t been very good recently, or very fun to watch.  But I think these numbers speak to an underlying and bigger concern – people, young and old, alumni and not, simply aren’t invested in Gopher athletics and/or having a good time at/around the games like they used to.  THIS is where I think progress can be made quickly…and where PR and marketing can have a real impact.

Tons of marketing literature/research suggests that people buy into products/organizations when they have a positive experience with it.  For people like me, re-upping my (full-priced) season tickets is a relatively easy decision because of my involvement with the program.  But what is the University and the athletic department doing to ensure that new/casual Gopher fans enjoy their experiences with the team?  While wins and losses matter, so too (or even more) does the band, the pre-game tailgate, the community, the atmosphere and everything else that the gameday experience can feature.  Giving away tickets might get people there once…and having football players exhort their fellow students to come out looks and sounds good.  But none of that ensures that students will have a good time or a positive experience.  This is where investments need to be made, before the trends hold and numbers add up and there isn’t a next generation of Gopher football fans to support the program.

Of course, there are also the residual effects of non-attendance.  Parking spaces aren’t being filled.  Local businesses aren’t being patronized.  Merchandise and in-stadium concession revenue could be much higher.  The noise level and overall atmosphere suffers…and the 12th-man effect is minimized.  And – ultimately – the players notice and underperform.  Recruits love the stadium…but notice all the empty seats and choose instead to play somewhere else where they feel their efforts are valued more and they have a better chance to win.  It’s all happening at the U of M.  Today.

This story – and these facts – should be the last straw.  The red alert.  The defining moment that shifts Gopher football, Men’s Athletics and Gopher football die-hards everywhere into quick, bold and absolute action.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Tyrann Mathieu.

The London 2012 Medal Ceremony for…TV Announcing

15 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we thank the London Olympics for quite ably helping to fill the annual “Dog Days” sports abyss.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media during the Olympics.  I didn’t want to see any spoilers, and even more frankly, I didn’t want my experience of the Games ruined by the constant NBC-bashing that went on.  It wasn’t that bad, people.  Sure, they made some hard decisions, and they could have done better.  But they didn’t exactly have it easy: sponsor/advertiser demands, the advent of social media and – most challenging – a 6-hour time delay.  It’s a lot harder than it looks, folks…and if you want live coverage, go online.

Still, I watched a lot of coverage, and I tried to see all sports at least once.  So I feel I’m able, as well as anyone, to award medals in the spirit of the Olympics to some TV announcers who I felt did a particularly good job.

Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines by the pool (photo courtesy of

Gold – Swimming.  Sure, the USA has a ton of compelling storylines/material in the pool to show off, but Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines are as good at mentioning-yet-not-overplaying storylines and calling the action as it gets.  Hicks has a knack for saying memorable (and not cheesy) things as big news happens, and Gaines provides the emotion and context – exactly what he’s supposed to do.  Take a bow, guys.

Silver – Track and Field.  I’m not as wild about Tom Hammond as other people are, but the fact is he’s a solid play-by-play guy who never gets it flat-out wrong.  He had some big moments with Usain Bolt and company, and did well with them.  And Ato Boldon might have done the finest work of any color announcer in London.

Bronze – Judo.  I watched Kayla Harrison’s gold medal match and victory live, and I was beyond impressed with how a lower-tier, inexperienced announcing team could bring home the match and moment in a way that caused tears. They helped a complete judo novice like me understand the sport, how you score points, etc.  And then they put Kayla’s accomplishment in the proper context both emotionally and athletically.  Big points were scored by the men in the booth.

And then…there were some Not-So-Great Announcing Efforts too:

  • Brandi Chastain, soccer.  She knows the game as well as anyone, and is a flat-out icon for her role in the U.S. 1999 World Cup win.  But that almost always results in her speaking to the viewers in jargon that most of us don’t understand.  Plus, she’s unable to separate her emotions from an objective broadcast, which results in ruined goal moments (with “OH!” and other missteps) and scenarios like the extra-time exhaustion in the semis against Canada where I felt like I was being shouted at for the last 30-40 minutes of the game.  It was intense and memorable, yes, but describe that with words…don’t just raise your tone, say the same things constantly and sound out of breath.  The Hope Solo fiasco didn’t help either.
  • Cynthia Potter, diving.  She was actually better in London than I’ve heard her in the past, but she’s still the quickest trigger color commentator when it comes to seeing something happen and then immediately criticizing it.  She usurps Ted Robinson, a very good play-by-play guy, in doing so, which only reinforces the impression that she’s the ultimate know-it-all.  Again, there were times when she let the action breathe…and the viewer actually watch the action before she told us how we should intepret it.  But those times were few, and it was incredibly grating.
  • Al Trautwig, gymnastics.  Nowhere in its coverage portfolio does NBC build up stories – and edit out/around the competition – more than in gymnastics.  And Al is more than willing to play along, never letting a chance pass to remind the viewer about a key storyline.  He also had perhaps the worst call of any historic moment in London when he said “The Fab Five are going gold.”  Yawn.  Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlagel are intense, but I think they are wonderful when it comes to explaining why something is good or bad and how judges arrive at their scoring decisions.  Tim’s insight into what it’s like to be a gymnast – and in the gymnastics community – is terrific as well.  Too bad it’s all overshadowed by Al’s cheese.

So congratulations to the above for their accomplishments.  We’ll have to see how NBC handles Sochi 2014.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Michael Phelps.

Your Post-Olympics “Cashing In” Guide

13 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the Olympic flame never goes out.

The London 2012 Olympic Cauldron (photo courtesy of

Before the Olympics, I wrote a post highlighting some of the athletes with the most to gain financially from their performances at the Games.  Now that the Games are over, it’s time to look back and see who truly did the most to create a brand for themselves that they can benefit from in endorsements, etc. now that they’re coming home.  This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but it does name some of the biggest winners in my opinion.  So, with no further adoue:

  • Andy Murray.  For years, he’s been the clear fourth-best tennis player in the world, never able to win a major event because Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have dominated in a way tennis buffs have never seen.  Well, that changed in a big way, as Murray beat the two  of them who were in London on his way to the gold in singles.  The man who had the entire weight of Britain on his shoulders when playing at Wimbledon…should now have the weight of all that cash on his shoulders now that he can show off a gold medal to the cameras.
  • Missy Franklin.  I called this one before the Games, but this 17-year-old phenom put herself on a Phelps-like pace with five medals at her first Olympics, and most of them gold.  She’s incredibly likeable, fun-loving (have you seen the “Call Me Maybe” video?) and incredibly talented.  The only way she won’t cash in is if she chooses not to – as a high school senior-to-be.
  • Gabby Douglas.  It’s obvious, really, but the rags-to-riches story combined with all-around and team gold is a powerful combination.  In my own chats with friends and family, everyone seems to be most impressed by her.  That means green.
  • Allyson Felix.  That smile, and her performance, should make her a prime candidate to be USA Track and Field’s most marketable name.
  • Kayla Harrison.  If anyone can break out from a “minor” sport to fame, it’s her.  She’s the first American to win gold in judo, and her story of overcoming sexual abuse is jawdropping.  Her winning celebration was tearjerking, and one of the best moments of the entire Games.  She’s also incredibly likeable, and proved it when she did the “Today” Show and other media.  She’s one of my favorite athletes from London 2012, and I hope she’s able to generate some well-deserved cash from her efforts.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like anyone running against Usain Bolt.

Is the NHL On Ice?

23 Jul

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where leads (especially in major golf tournaments) are always safe.

NHL Players Union chief Donald Fehr (Getty Images)

Despite having the best trophy in sports (the Stanley Cup, of course), the NHL has had its share of struggles.  And now, another lockout is looming…this summer, NHL owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman are  preparing to go to war with players over a host of things, especially the percentage of revenues that go toward paying players’ salaries.  Currently, according to some reports, the number is around 58 percent (that’s high for ANY kind of business, much less a struggling sports league) – and owners say it needs to get down around 46 percent.  Yeah, right.  Posturing aside, that’s one massive difference to bridge, especially when the players have noted union boss Donald Fehr (yes, he was as responsible as anyone for the 1994 baseball strike) leading the charge.

What’s clear here is that the NHL doesn’t have its financial house in order, and that poor management over a long time will hurt the owners’ negotiating position this time around.  That’s nothing new though.  While we might take a look in future posts at how to create a better league (read: contraction!), today I want to relate a simple story.

We, here in Minnesota, live in the State of Hockey…and we’ve been starved for a winner.  Our beloved Wild went out and created some July 4 fireworks, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals…immediately catapulting the talent level on the ice and expectations off the ice.  Everyone’s chomping at the bit to get on the ice and see how this team does this season…yet the lockout could stop that plan in its tracks.  The best thing for the long-term success of the Wild franchise is to get the players on the ice…and fast.  With a training camp.  And exhibition games.  And everything else as normal.

A team and league so desperate for excitement can’t afford to have any labor strife, no matter how bad teams’ and the league’s pocketbooks are.  With a lockout this year, the NHL will officially be an endangered species.  And that’s the last thing we hockey fans want to see, in Minnesota or elsewhere.  So get it done!

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Philadelphia Phillies.