Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Delayed Reaction: Tape Delays, Social Media Create Challenges for Olympic Followers

Every four years the Olympic games capture the attention of sports fans, both casual and hardcore, across the globe. The excitement of seeing big name athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Hope Solo and LeBron James compete for gold is must-see television.

No need for the update, Bob, we already saw the results on Twitter yesterday.

Since 1988, NBC has been the exclusive TV home of the summer Olympic games, and in 2002 became the home for the winter games as well. With its headquarters in New York and its audience predominantly American, NBC has strived to broadcast the games so that major events are seen in U.S. primetime slots. But with a five-hour time difference between London and the Eastern Time Zone, NBC is forced to resort to a dreaded television phrase: tape delay.

Tape delays are nothing new, but they certainly aren’t popular. People have an insatiable need to hear the latest news as it happens, not wait five hours to hear about it. So when NBC resorted to tape delay in order to put events in primetime slots, the reaction was understandably negative. NBC used tape delay for the 2008 summer games in Beijing, but the advent of social media has created a host of issues in 2012.

Take for example the highly anticipated 400-meter freestyle relay race in men’s swimming. In 2008, the U.S. edged France by .08 in the race, coming from behind and winning by literally the margin of a fingertip to claim the gold. Both the U.S. and France squads were in this summer’s 400-meter relay, and the rematch figured to be close once again. Due to tape delay, the race was not shown on NBC until the evening, even though the race was completed hours earlier. With real-time updates from journalists on site, followers on Twitter and other social media platforms learned the French turned the tables on the U.S., coming from behind to win gold by .45. That took all the drama out of seeing the event that evening on television.

Updates on social media have put Olympic followers in uncharted territory: To follow or not to follow? Many Twitter users have unfollowed users who have updated from the games so as to keep the results a surprise when they see them at night. One Twitter user even had his account suspended when he went too far in criticizing NBC for using tape delay. The best outcome of the tape delay so far has been the parody account @NBCDelayed, which has over 20,000 followers since launching in the past three days as it gives mock updates that happened previously (Bush beats Gore in 2000 Election, U.S. wins “Miracle on Ice”).

Despite the issues, NBC seems to be doing fine. The opening weekend drew the biggest TV ratings in Olympic history. Though it may be frustrating for athletes and hardcore fans, the fact remains that tape delay helps draw bigger ratings, and that in turn helps the games generate more interest and more money. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one for NBC.

This proves once again that the Olympics are not about sports or even politics, they are about money.

Photo (cc) by Doc Searls and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Ice Cold Interest: NHL, Stanley Cup Playoff Ratings Fail to Score

In mid-April I posted about how the Stanley Cup playoffs were primed to draw big TV viewer ratings based on the lack of activity among other sports and the bevy of talented players in big markets. It appears my prediction missed the net, at least in terms of the Cup Final.

Apparently the NHL didn’t account for Spongebob Squarepants when it scheduled its Cup Final games between the Kings and Devils. Deadspin found that on June 9 — Game 5 of the Final in which the Kings had an opportunity to win the Cup — more people watched an episode of Spongebob than the Stanley Cup. Ouch.

In addition, this year’s Cup Final had significantly less interest than last season’s Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks Final, down 29 percent in ratings. Overall, the Kings-Devils matchup was the least-watched Cup Final since 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators.

That’s not to say the playoffs were a complete disaster, however. Games aired on NBC and NBC Sports were up 4 percent in ratings from last season, and the addition of CNBC to the lineup allowed every game to be seen in every market. But the Cup Final numbers undoubtedly cast a shadow on an otherwise entertaining postseason.

These numbers show why leagues internally hope for certain matchups. Last season the Bruins and Canucks was a good draw because it featured an Original Six team in a hockey market craving for its first Cup in 39 years (Bruins) against a Canadian team looking for its first Cup and featuring arguably the two best players in the sport (Canucks). Though this year’s Cup features two big markets in Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey, neither fan base is that big into hockey. L.A. is dominated by the NBA’s Lakers, and the Devils aren’t even the most popular team in their own market (that distinction goes to the Rangers).

Meanwhile, the NBA is thriving with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat in the Finals. Game One on Tuesday was the highest-rated Game One on ABC ever. With star players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s an enticing series for sports fans to watch, especially for the anti-Heat crowd.

You can be sure NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is crossing his fingers that big market teams (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York) and star players (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos) find themselves playing for the Cup.

Altered Reality: The Question of the NBA’s Legitimacy

Within a matter of four hours on Wednesday the NBA suffered a potential loss that won’t show up in any box score but could cost the league a lot of money. It’s loss: Integrity.

At 8 p.m., the league held its annual draft lottery to determine which team would get the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. To prevent teams from losing on purpose to secure the top selection, the league instituted a lottery in 1985 to make the choice random. Of the 14 teams that do not make the playoffs, their odds of winning are weighted according to record.

David Stern has come under fire recently with allegations the NBA is “fixed” or “rigged.”

This year the Charlotte Bobcats finished with the worst record in the league at 7-59, and therefore had a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. The Washington Wizards had the second-worst record at 20-46 and therefore had a 19.9 percent chance of winning. The order continues, with each improving record holding a statistically lower chance of winning. This year’s winner was the New Orleans Hornets, who had the fourth-best odds of winning at 13.7 percent.

A stroke of good luck for the Hornets, right? A little too lucky, many say. The Hornets filed for bankruptcy in late 2010, and until April of this year were owned collectively by the NBA until a new owner was found. Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, agreed to buy the team for a reported price of $338 million. The sale has not been finalized, however, meaning the league still technically owns the franchise. Winning the No. 1 pick — expected to be Kentucky star Anthony Davis — makes the Hornets better and a more valuable franchise, and therefore easier to sell. How convenient for the NBA, huh?

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece on a refrain that has been sung many times before: The NBA rigged the draft lottery to get the result it wanted. Wojnarowski quotes a number of unnamed league executives who believe the lottery was fixed so that the Hornets would win. Similar conspiracy theories relate to the 1985 lottery being fixed so that the New York Knicks would win (note the bent edge of the envelope that is picked) and the 2008 lottery being fixed so that the Chicago Bulls would win. New York and Chicago are No. 1 and No. 3 respectively in TV markets, so the better these teams are, the better the ratings for the league.

League executives aren’t alone on the conspiracy theory. Ten league players took to Twitter to voice their opinion on the lottery possibly being fixed. In addition, a poll from USA Today found that 83 percent of people think the lottery is fixed or could be fixed. Think about that number, 83 percent. There are perhaps more people who think wrestling is real than think the lottery is void of being rigged.

All of this happened prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, and this game only added fuel to the fire. In Game 1, the C’s were whistled for some very questionable technical fouls, including one that head coach Doc Rivers called the “worst I’ve ever had.” In Game 2 Rajon Rondo put on a show but was on the wrong end of some calls — a loose ball foul that went against him rather than LeBron James — and a no call that did not go his way. Overall through two games, the Celtics have not been beneficiaries of the officials whistles. Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch put together a fantastic Storify of reactions to the game, including the officiating.

First on the technical foul issue: Ira Winderman of Pro Basketball Talk points out how there was no fine for Rivers after he chastised the refs for his Game 1 technical. In the previous playoff round, both Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra were fined for comments about the officials. Perhaps Rivers wasn’t penalized because his comments were dead-on.

Next, on the calls going Miami’s way: There is speculation that the NBA would prefer the Heat in the NBA Finals so the attention is once again on James’ quest for a title, and the officiating hasn’t done much to quell this notion.

So there you have it. On one single night, the conspiracy theorists were given heavy artillery on their quest to prove that David Stern and the NBA are playing favorites rather than letting the games be played.

Personally, I’m not on this bandwagon — yet. Still, it’s hard not to look at shoddy officiating from past games (2001 Eastern Conference Finals, 2002 Western Conference Finals, 2006 NBA Finals, 2007 Western Conference Semifinals, 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals) and start to question what you’re seeing.

My point in all of this is that this is a dangerous time for the NBA. When fans begin to question the legitimacy of a sport, you have a major issue. If fans don’t think what they’re seeing is real, they’ll stop watching and tune into something different. The league’s integrity is suddenly a real concern.

So what do you think? Is the NBA in the business of “fixing” to get the results it wants? And how does this affect your level of interest in the league?

Photo (cc) by Cody Mulcahy and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Internal Struggle: Dwight Howard, Stan Van Gundy Saga Shows Players Have Control

Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy found out the hard way on Monday that sometimes your toughest opponent can be on your own team.

The 52-year-old Van Gundy was fired by the Magic on Monday, finally ending long-held speculation that star player Dwight Howard wanted Van Gundy gone if he was to sign a long-term deal with Orlando. General manager Otis Smith also parted ways with the team on Monday as well.

Player-coach feuds are nothing new in sports, and Van Gundy certainly isn’t the first coach to leave a team because of a spat with a player. What makes this case so bizarre is that Van Gundy publicly acknowledged that he knew Howard wanted him gone, and did so during the season with the team in contention. Van Gundy did this with Howard right next to him.

With the grievances out in the open, the Magic had a decision to make: Keep Van Gundy, the winningest coach in team history, or keep Howard, the 26-year-old franchise player with six All-Star appearances to his name. In the end, Howard won and Van Gundy was gone.

Early reaction to the decision seems to be negative. Many feel sympathy for Van Gundy, noting that through the turmoil Howard put him through the Magic were still contenders. Others point out that re-signing Howard is no sure thing, and that even with the coach gone the player could still bolt for another team. If that happens, the Magic will have entered the worst-case scenario.

No matter how you slice it, this is a sad state of affairs in today’s sports world. Van Gundy and Howard had their moments together and came within three wins of a championship in 2009.  Somewhere along the line the relationship strained and Howard hinted at a departure from Orlando unless Van Gundy was gone. The Magic, seeing how a star player’s departure can ruin a franchise like LeBron James did to the Cleveland Cavaliers, chose the player over the coach.

The Magic saga is simply Exhibit A in how players have taken control over a team’s decisions. It used to be the general manager or owner who had the final say in personnel, but the threat of free agency makes teams cautious of losing their prized player, and therefore losing big money. To prevent losing him, they’ll do anything to please him, even if it’s not the decision they want to make.

There’s a saying in sports that “players play, coaches coach” and that each sticks to their own job. It appears as though Howard is performing double-duty, and he’s surely not the last to do so.

Don’t Tax Me, Bro: The Impact of Taxes on Free Agents

Tuesday marked the first day of free agency in the NFL, meaning players without a contract could officially begin negotiating with teams for the upcoming season. I was watching some of the NFL Network’s coverage of free agency this afternoon and heard the analysts mention an oft-forgotten factor: taxes.

Thanks to his move to Miami, LeBron won't be paying taxes for dunks like this.

Nine states do not have an individual income tax, and four of those states (Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Washington) are home to major professional sports franchises. That means athletes signing to play for teams in these states could save a lot of money that would go to Uncle Sam elsewhere.  Some say the absence of taxes will have an impact on where Peyton Manning signs.

How much do taxes mean to athletes already making millions? Taxes may have played a role in LeBron James’ “Decision” to sign with the Miami Heat in 2010. Even though James could have gotten a bigger contract had he remained with the Cleveland Cavaliers, income taxes would have cost him $9,900 per game with the Cavs and nearly $25 million over five years. Yet because Florida has no such income tax, James could keep all his money by signing with Miami. This likely wasn’t the deciding factor in James’ decision, but he is pocketing more money in South Beach than he would in Cleveland or New York City.

Manning and James are not the only athletes who have Tax Day on their minds when inking free agent contracts. Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee was a free agent target for the Yankees in 2010, but Lee and his wife Kristen were rumored to be weary of New York’s high tax rate. Lee eventually settled with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Pennsylvania’s flat tax rate of 3.07-percent allows Lee to keep most of his money.

So how much of a factor are taxes in free agency signings? Studies seem to show states with low income taxes sign better free agents than states with higher income taxes. One study found that in the NBA, the cities with the 10-highest tax rates had a combined winning percentage of 39.3-percent in 2010-11. Meanwhile, the cities with the 10-lowest tax rates had a combined winning percentage of 57.8-percent.

Another study — this one with much more data and mathematics — by Timothy Zimmer looks at how tax policy in different NBA cities impacts teams’ success. Among Zimmer’s findings was an inference that teams located in states with higher taxes “impose a burden on the ability of team ownership to attract the best resources in order to achieve success.” Translation: Athletes want to keep their money, and taxes are a hard sell in luring free agents.

Of course there are a number of other factors that go into a player’s decision to sign with a team. Playing time, coaching, fan support, location, weather, traffic, etc. There are any number of reasons why a player chooses one team over another. In most cases taxes are likely not high on the athlete’s list of considerations when signing free agent deals, but don’t overlook their impact on the sporting landscape.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.