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Lockout…Yes!

17 Nov

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where Tebowing has been taking place for years…long before some guy named Tim Tebow emerged on the scene.

My friends will tell you I’m not the biggest NBA fan of all time, but as a sports fan I’m sad to see the lockout drag on and threaten the entire season.  There are thousands of good, honest people across the nation who are underemployed at best because of it…and I’m not talking about the players.  Here’s hoping the lockout ends sooner than later, and everyone can get back to work.

There aren’t many winners in this lockout, but I’ll give you one: the NHL.  I can’t remember a fall season in which the NHL has earned as much national mindshare as this one.  In lieu of NBA highlights, ESPN has to show hockey (or NFL analysis, but that’s another story).  Instead of fantasy basketball, uber-fans are trying fantasy hockey.  Instead of franchises like the Knicks, Bulls and T’wolves doing their thing, the Rangers, Blackhawks and Wild are doing theirs…and capturing a lot of bandwagon-jumping casual fans by getting off to terrific starts.  If the lockout drags on, and the NHL can deliver some good, dramatic hockey through June, it stands to gain bigtime.

If that happens, of course, NBC would be very pleased as well.  They own Versus, and produce the Winter Classic, and televise weekend and playoff games…those properties stand to be much more popular this year.

We’ll see how it goes with the NBA.  But one thing’s for sure: Christmas came early this year for Gary Bettman.

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

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Scandal in State College

9 Nov

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where children and their well beings are revered, valued and defended no matter what.

I have to start by expressing my revulsion and utter disgust at the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University officials.  Reading the 23-page indictment report made me want to vomit.  I think ESPN said it best so far: if true, what has allegedly happened at Penn State is a true American tragedy.  My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and my sincere hope is that swift and appropriate justice is rendered to anyone who may be guilty of or complicit to these heinous crimes.

Professionally, I think this still-breaking scandal at Penn State is all by itself on a whole other level of scandals – far worse than Ohio State, Miami, USC and other recent rulebreakers.  Nevin Shapiro is one slimy guy, but he’s no child molester…and Jim Tressel covered up some things, but he didn’t allegedly kick the can down the road when sexual abuse was happening under his roof.  This scandal’s reach permeates into the community much more than others because of the nature of it…many more stakeholders of all kinds are involved here, and any response/communications strategy needs to address each of them appropriately.

So far, I would argue Penn State gets a D- for its handling of the crisis.  First and foremost, I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone involved or any representatives of Penn State apologize for anything.  It’s as if PSU President Spanier thinks this will just go away in a week or so.  Second, they’ve puckered up tighter than a snare drum, cancelling scheduled news conferences, offering short statements, etc.  Just last night I saw a statement from the Board of Trustees expressing horror at the allegations and promising action…that’s the only thing saving PSU from an F grade in my book.  But that’s it…the key parties aren’t saying anything, and as such they project guilt (because, quite possibly, they are guilty).  Worst yet, they’re appearing to be completely out of touch with the widespread grief and anguish that every single member – students, staff, the community, alumni, etc. – of the Penn State community is dealing with.  The only person who seems willing to talk is JoePa himself, but his handlers have had other ideas…a late-night address to a support rally at his house doesn’t quite count.

Adding yet another hint of impersonality to the situation, has anyone else noticed how Scott Paterno – Joe’s youngest son – has been calling his own father by his first name?  He’s not saying that “his father,” or “Dad,” is doing anything – it’s always “Joe.”  Maybe this is completely normal behavior, but Paterno family dynamics aside, this makes JoePa seem even more distant to the public – especially the extended PSU and national community who doesn’t know him as well.

PSU officials would be wise to think about every single stakeholder group at the university and in their community – and then devise messages and communication to every one of them…and fast.  They’d also be wise to say something…anything really, but something more than nothing.  Their first and only goal should be reassuring victims, students and other key constituents that these charges are being taken extremely seriously and will be handled appropriately – not worrying about whether or not the Nittany Lions can remain on track to play in the Big Ten title game next month.  I think these officials are failing to recognize that the prestige and reputation of their university, and the perceived value of a diploma from their institution, is at stake.  This is a crisis that goes way beyond the football field, directly challenging the mission and business of Penn State University.  Officials have to do what they think will help them uphold that reputation now, next week, next year and beyond…or the aftershocks will reverberate well beyond Beaver Stadium.

What a nightmare situation this is.  Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  I hope I’m wrong.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like a sense of humor from any part of this post.  It just wouldn’t be appropriate, I think.

The Impending Honeymoon Dilemma

8 Nov

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where teams don’t go from scoring 62 against one winless team one week and then lose to another the next.  Listening, New Orleans Saints?

Cardinals star Albert Pujols (posted on Whig.com)

Imagine this scenario for a minute: one of the best players in a sport, and the face of his franchise and the biggest sports face/name in a major sports market, leads his team to a championship.  But he’s a free agent, so he signs with another team in the offseason.  And when the team raises their championship banner and hands out rings on Opening Day, that superstar is in another city, opening with another team.

It may sound a bit improbable, but that’s exactly what could happen with Albert Pujols and the Cardinals.

Now Pujols isn’t exactly the same as LeBron was to Cleveland – he’s not a hometown son or anything to St. Louis.  But just imagine how Cards fans – as good as any fans anywhere – would feel if he wasn’t there next year.  Talk about a buzzkill. 

Right now, the Cards are entering a so-called “honeymoon period” – the team can do no wrong, and everyone’s on Cloud Nine.  Well, that goes out the window the second Pujols takes his Hall-of-Fame credentials out of town.  I can’t imagine a bigger downer for a championship team and its fans than to have its leader walk away.  And the last thing Cardinals management needs, especially right now, is to do anything to cause their fan base to doubt them or the future of their team.

It’s for this reason that Cardinals management has only one option in the Pujols case: pay him whatever he wants, and make sure he’s on the field for Opening Day.  It’s either this, or they’ll have the shortest honeymoon period of any team I can remember.  Not exactly what the Cards need as they ride high from a title.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Wisconsin Badgers.

Charl Schwartzel’s Year – A Missed PR Opportunity?

13 Sep

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where my favorite college football team never loses at home. To a team that went 2-11 last year and plays in the WAC. And ran for 6 yards the week before. And while the head coach has a seizure on the sideline. What an incredible debacle it was.

Charl Schwartzel Gets His Green Jacket (photo credit: Orlando Sentinel)

Charl Schwartzel has had one incredible year on the golf course.  It began with a win at Augusta, and a few other key top tens and now a strong run at the end of the year.  He’s the leader in this clubhouse for 2011 Player of the Year honors.  Yet, when I put my PR hat on, I might remember him more for what he did off the course than on it this year.

Consider this story: within 24 hours of sinking his winning putt in Augusta, Charl was on a plane to Malaysia to take his spot in the Malaysian Open field.  He did a few radio interviews and the usual press conferences when he arrived, but he turned down Letterman and many other media opportunities.  Turns out he tied for 11th place, a solid finish that might have been good for US $200,000 or so.

Now, I’m not going to criticize anyone for honoring their commitments and following through on their word.  I’m not even going to suggest he change his personality, which appears to be reserved and all about letting his play do the talking.  He surely doesn’t owe me a press tour or anything.  But he might have cost himself a lot of money by doing as little as he did.  No matter what the media and resulting exposure would have equated to, I am pretty convinced it would have totaled more than he won in prize money that week in Malaysia.

He could have been himself, Mr. Shy, on Letterman and the Today Show and potentially put himself in line for more excellent endorsement opportunities.  With that golden smile of his, he could have extended an image of confidence and grace to a much wider audience and further increased the demand for his services, whether it’s a charity luncheon, a graduation speech or an exemption to a future tournament.  With the year he’s having, he’d be considered a top frontrunner to replace Tiger as the Chosen One of the golf world.  Heck, he could still go to Malaysia…satellites would have enabled major media interviews or even a remote Letterman Top 10 list reading from anywhere.  Surely something could have been done so to capitalize more on such a unique earning and image opportunity. 

Yet today you’re not hearing much about Charl, except for analysis of his still-incredible golf game on Sunday golf telecasts.  Despite one of the most remarkable Masters finishes and calendar years of golf in recent memory, it seems to me like he didn’t maximize the opportunities he had while his star shined brightest. 

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Indianapolis Colts.

PR Post-Mortem on the NFL Lockout

8 Sep
Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where planes never crash.  Our thoughts are with the families of those killed in Russia, and everyone affected.
 
The Saints take it to the packers (credit: New Orleans Times-Picayune)

It’s Opening Day for the NFL.  The packers and Saints will kick off another season tonight, and fans everywhere (yes, even here in Minnesota) are optimistic for another day at least.  It almost didn’t happen, of course, with the owners and players locked up in one serious off-field battle. So let’s take a moment to look back on the lockout and see who won the PR war.

From the beginning, I thought the players had the edge.  When billionaire owners are trying to hold onto more millions, I don’t think the average NFL rube feels too sorry for them.  The players didn’t play their cards perfectly, and cost themselves some momentum throughout the spring and summer, but all in all…

Seriously, what PR war?  Did either side’s image suffer from the lockout?  Take a look around.  Fantasy football drafts are going strong.  The games that count are starting as scheduled.  Free agency, the draft, training camps…it all went off without a hitch.  As far as the fans are concerned, there wasn’t even a lockout because nothing of consequence was cancelled, delayed or even threatened.  Both sides won, because both sides averted the damage that could have been caused by not resolving their differences in time for everything to go off smoothly.

All is well in the NFL.  Skol Vikings.  One bold prediction: the Detroit Lions get back to the playoffs this year, taking a wild card. 

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Peyton Manning.