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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.

Your Pre-Olympics “Cashing In” Preview

16 Jul

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we’re thinking of declaring a 6-week vacation for the Olympics…like the WNBA.

One of the things I find most fascinating about sports and marketing is how little-known athletes can do something great and burst onto the scene, become national darlings, cash in on their fame with one or more endorsement deals and then fade away almost as quickly.  Sometimes these figures become enduring legends (think Mary Lou Retton or Brandi Chastain), and can parlay their accomplishments into a lifelong career.  But most of the time, the only things these athletes have after 6-12 months are the medals they won and the cash they earned while they were still in the limelight.

Each time an Olympics comes around, I try to predict which athletes will emerge in similar fashion.  So…which under-the-radar athletes will captivate America, get their face on a Wheaties box and cash in on their fame during/after the 2012 London Olympics – and maybe even become a legend?  Try these three:

1)  Jordyn Wieber, gymnastics.  This one’s easy, folks.  Every four years America’s Fabulous Five dominate discussion for 1-2 weeks, and at least one of them becomes one of the faces of the Games for the USA.  In Beijing, it was Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.  This year my money’s on Jordyn Wieber.  She’s as accomplished, rock solid and cool under pressure as any member of Team USA – which is why she has emerged as the de facto leader of the squad.  And it doesn’t hurt that the team is favored to win gold.  Talk about photo ops.

2)  Missy Franklin, swimming.  She dominated the Olympic trials and will be swimming about as many events in London as Michael Phelps – so the Olympics should be her coming-out party on the big stage.  Natalie Coughlin, Phelps and all the USA swimming greats call her the next big thing.  And she’s 17, meaning she should be no flash in the pan.  Get ready to hear about Missy for a long time to come.

3)  Ashton Eaton, track and field.  He’s the best athlete you’ve never heard of – he’s a top decathlete, and a world record holder in the heptathlon.  If he lives up to form and can win gold in the decathlon (and officially earn the title of world’s best athlete), why can’t he join sprinters like Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin on the track and field mantle?

Honorable Mention: Ryan Lochte, Allyson Felix and Hugh McCutcheon.  But these athletes and coach aren’t really under the radar…

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Blake Griffin.

(Photo Credits: all photos from

So, for Penn State Football…Now What?

12 Jul

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the ESPYs were cancelled years ago.

Beaver Stadium on gameday (photo credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP)

The big sports-related story today, of course, is the announcement of the report detailing the results of Louis Freeh’s (and team’s) investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.  I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll suffice it to say for now that once again today I’m absolutely sick at what happened.  I hope that proper respect and restitution is paid to the victims, and I hope that those who are guilty pay the appropriate price for their dastardly deeds.  I think Christine Brennan of USA Today makes a pretty good statement here too…

Today, I’d like to focus on one (and perhaps under-reported, if that’s possible) angle of all this: sanctions on the football team itself.  The question has come up whether or not the NCAA or another governing body will impose any sanctions on the football program for the misdeeds of administrators and Paterno.  I’ve heard it argued both ways…but most of the talking heads right now don’t seem to want current program members to pay for the mistakes of those before them.    An interesting take, considering all that’s at stake here.

Personally, and with my PR hat on, I don’t think the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and anyone else with a pulse has a choice: they have to punish Penn State, and come down hard.  The University, AND the football program.  Think of it from a public perception; unless you’re an alum, or a former PSU player, or someone with direct ties to the program, you identify most with the organization responsible for this scandal through its appearance on the field on fall Saturdays.  To the average Joe (no pun intended), to recruits and to the broader community, that IS Penn State football.  So, if no punishment is imposed that affected the program on the field, the average participant might not think anything happened at all.  Which, of course, isn’t even on the same planet of relevance…considering this is the most significant sports scandal of our time, and maybe any time.

So, what type of punishment is appropriate?  Obviously, punishment should be commensurate with the crime…and programs have been given the death penalty for less.  I’ll leave it to others to make this decision, but I think it would be well within the means of the NCAA and the Big Ten to shut down PSU football for a year or more until things get sorted out, the program and culture change, etc.  It would be an incredibly drastic step, one I’m not sure they have the cajones to take given the significance (and revenue-ability) of PSU football.

It’s unfortunate that innocent players, coaches, gameday staff and the like would have to pay for the mistakes of others, sure.  But let’s keep this in perspective, people…innocent people already have paid for mistakes.  Kids were raped.  By people who they trusted to keep them safe.  The abuse was covered up.  More kids were molested after the cover-up occurred, according to today’s report…which means that at least one if not several rapes should have been prevented.  This is as low as it gets, and it just so happens that it’s tied into Penn State and its football program.  The real victims here are the kids and their families, and to suggest anything else just seems to me to be out of whack.

That’s all for now.   I’m out like the American League.