Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

Not Buying In: Manchester United Fans Boycott Sponsors, Send Message to Ownership

Sports fans are among the most loyal and intense people you can find.  How else to explain people showing up to support a team that hasn’t won a championship in over a century? (Looking at you, Cubs fans)

But just because sports fans are loyal doesn’t mean they always agree with every decision their favorite team makes. Case in point: Manchester United fans calling for a boycott of sponsors’ products to persuade ownership to rethink its plans of a shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors. United fans are reportedly unhappy about the British club’s association with an American company, preferring to keep the Red Devils in ties with local companies only.

Manchester United fans are loyal, but a boycott shows they have a mind of their own.

This isn’t the first time ManU fans have voiced displeasure with ownership over the club’s business. Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who also owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has owned United for almost 10 years but fell into $1.6 billion debt in 2010 stemming from loans related to their shopping mall businesses in the U.S. The Glazer family has not been popular with Manchester United fans, who have pressured Glazer to sell the team to a more interested and trustworthy owner.

Co-sponsorship deals often put fans in unusual situations. On the one hand, supporting a product or sponsor associated with a team generally means you are helping the business interest of your team. More money typically leads to more success. But some owners only care about the bottom line rather than results. So just because you put your money into sponsors doesn’t mean your favorite team will win more. In fact, it could send the wrong message to ownership that wins and losses don’t have an impact on revenue and income.

That’s what makes the boycott by ManU fans interesting. The message has been sent to ownership that club supporters will not be blind sheep and will not buy into everything the ownership tries to sell to them. Not seeing fans open their wallets is sure to get the attention of ownership and prompt change.

A similar scenario is unfolding in Boston. The Red Sox were purchased in 2003 by John Henry, a trading advisor who had previously held partial ownership of the Yankees and Marlins. Since Henry took over the club, the Sox have enjoyed remarkable success, winning two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 and enjoying the longest consecutive home sellout streak in U.S. sports history.

But all is not well in Red Sox Nation. Henry, since buying the Sox, has also obtained ownership of NESN, NASCAR teams, and most notably Liverpool FC, a major European soccer club. With multiple business interests, Henry’s time devoted to the Red Sox seems to have waned, as has on-field performance. The Sox have not won a playoff game since 2008, and last season endured a 7-20 month of September to miss the playoffs, one of the worst collapses in sports history. This season Boston is hovering at .500 but doesn’t have the look of a playoff team. All the while, the front office has remained quiet, save for an open letter of confidence sent to Sox fans by team president Larry Lucchino.

So what is a Sox fan to do? It seems clear the dual-ownership experiment is not working out at the moment, and many are calling for Henry and company to make a change. But the best way for Sox fans to get the attention of ownership is to do what United fans did and boycott the product. That means stop going to games (and break the sellout streak), stop watching games, stop buying merchandise, etc. When ownership sees numbers dipping, they know they will need a change. Asking this is a tough thing for Red Sox fans to do, however. Fans were rewarded for 86 years of faith with the 2004 championship, and even though the current club is treading water it remains within striking distance of a wild card spot. Besides, stopping support aimed at management change creates a negative impact on players, who have no say in ownership decisions.

Manchester United fans have made it clear they want change and have put their money where their mouths are. Unless things change quickly at Fenway Park, restless Red Sox fans may be taking a cue from restless Red Devils fans across the pond.

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

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent?: Roger Goodell and the Saints’ Bounty Scandal

Monday was expected to be the appeal day for suspended NFL players Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith. The four were in New York to appeal their respective suspensions, handed down in early May for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Fujita, Hargrove and Smith chose not to attend the appeal session and instead released a joint statement criticizing Goodell for his handling of the situation, and especially his withholding of evidence against the players. Vilma meanwhile showed up to the appeal with is attorney, but left after only an hour at the league offices, telling the media outside that the process was “a sham.”

CBS Sports managed to obtain a copy of the league’s evidence against the players, which includes a $5,000 knockout pool for injuring a quarterback, but nothing else. If there is more evidence against the players, the NFL isn’t releasing it.

The most striking quote from today’s events comes from Vilma, who questioned the players’ ability to get a fair trial through due process.

“I don’t know how you get a fair process when you get [Roger Goodell as] judge, jury and executioner,” Vilma said.

That begs the question: Is Roger Goodell too powerful? Certainly Goodell is not the only commissioner in major professional sports who has the power to suspend players. Bud Selig hands out punishment in Major League Baseball, and David Stern does the same in the NBA. But these sports, by their nature, don’t have the amount of incidents that would warrant suspension.

Hockey and football do, and in the NHL there is a separate executive in charge of suspensions. Brendan Shanahan, who played 21 years in the league and won three Stanley Cups, is the league’s Senior Vice President of Player Safety and hands out suspensions, each with a video explanation  he posts on his Twitter page. Shanahan’s decisions are not without outcry from players and teams, but at least it is handled by a former player who understands the game and not commissioner Gary Bettman.

In just over five years as commissioner, Goodell has already handed out more suspensions than any other boss in NFL history. He isn’t called “the most powerful man in sports” for nothing. But for all his power, it’s clear Goodell has made some enemies during his tenure, and that’s not good for the future of the league.

The players are understandably upset, but they agreed last summer to have Goodell continue overseeing discipline when they signed the new collective bargaining agreement. As CBS Sports’ Clark Judge pointed out, Vilma and others signed off on Goodell’s power, so they should direct their anger elsewhere.

This may be true, but it’s not what’s best for the league going forward.

Garden State Goes All In: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Seeks to Add Sports Betting

If you’re anything like the average sports fan you probably filled out a bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness. You also probably entered a pool — whether with your friends or your family or your co-workers — and put some money on it. And unless you saw those upsets by Norfolk State and Lehigh — be honest, no one did — then your bracket was busted and you lost.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is challenging the federal government on sports betting.

Losing bets aside, Chris Christie invites you to bet some more on other sports, no matter what the federal government says. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, said his state will allow people to bet on sports despite the ban set by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which outlaws sports betting outside of Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.

Here are Christie’s thoughts on the ban: “If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us.” Not exactly conservative rhetoric from a Republican during an election year, huh?

There are signs the state was pushing closer to this, most notably the non-binding referendum on betting and a vote that passed 2-to-1 from the public.

Early reaction seems generally positive on the move, pointing to the fact that states should have a choice on the matter and that allowing public betting will take away the dangerous underground nature of the practice that already exists.

If this goes through, this would be huge for the popularity of sports. Think fantasy sports on steroids. It would give casual fans another reason to lock their attention on a Week 6 NFL game or check their smart phones for the score of the late-season NHL contest. Of course regulating the practice would be a hassle, which is why many are skeptical of the proposal passing.

Either way, Christie has gone all-in on sports betting.

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

A House Divided: NFL, Players Association Feud Could Spell the End for Football’s Fortune

On the outside the NFL is the cash cow of the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). A recent study by Plunkett Research, Ltd. shows the NFL exceeds the other leagues in every monetary category. Football ranks first in overall revenue ($9 billion), operating income ($1,069 million) and average team value ($1 billion). The league has captured the attention of sports nuts as well, accounting for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts from Sept. to Dec.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized heavily by the NFLPA, even in what was billed as a decade of labor peace.

The good times might not last much longer, however, if the league and players association can’t get along. Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, this power duo is showing signs of a breakup:

First, there was the lockout. For 136 days from March to mid-July, the NFL and NFLPA sat on opposite sides of a debate on league revenue, the longest in league history. After a heated summer of negotiations, the pair finally agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

Next, benefits for retired players. Football is a violent game, and many players have experienced health issues after retiring from the sport. Ex-players say the NFL doesn’t care about the health of retired players and doesn’t do enough for them. The recent suicides of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau show the effects the game can have. As much as this is an issue for the players union to handle, the NFL will continue to look bad if it doesn’t do its part.

This leads to player safety issues. This has actually been a testy topic for the past three years. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been committed to making the game safer, as evidenced by his harsh punishment for the Saints bounty scandal. Goodell has already levied more fines against players than any other commissioner in league history, leading to criticism from players such as James Harrison and a defamation lawsuit from Jonathan Vilma.

Finally, two separate issues emerged on Wednesday that further strained the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA. The players union is unhappy about the league’s decision to make thigh and knee pads mandatory for the 2013 season, claiming such a rule should be negotiated. Also on Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly setting a $123 million salary cap in 2010, which was supposed to be an uncapped year. By secretly setting a cap, the NFLPA claims the league and its owners confided to keep player salaries low.

It’s unsettling for football fans to think that all this is happening in the first year of what is supposed to be a 10-year window of labor peace. Matters only seem to be getting worse, arguably more so than during the lockout last year. It’s not a stretch to imagine another lockout occurring in the next three to five years if matters don’t improve.

Through it all the sport remains as popular and successful as ever. Perhaps the two sides should take a lesson from The Beatles and let it be.

Photo (cc) by Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

West Coast Bias: Los Angeles Becomes Center of Sports World for One Weekend

The Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles has seen its fair share of activity since opening in 1999. The arena has hosted events such as the Grammy Awards, Democratic National Convention and concerts from the likes of Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Jackson.

The Staples Center could have used an Easy Button during a busy sports weekend.

But nothing could have prepared the Staples Center for what it experienced this weekend: Six NHL and NBA playoff games over four days. The NHL’s Kings made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals and hosted Games 3 and 4 at the arena on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers — who both play at Staples but use different courts and arena setups — played their respective Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals between Friday and Sunday night.

In order, the arena transformed from Kings to Lakers to Clippers to Lakers to Kings to Clippers, and each time roughly 20,000 fans filed in and out for each game. The changeover is grueling for the 45 arena workers in charge of making the switch between games. The change from basketball to hockey is considered the most difficult, taking roughly two hours and 15 minutes to complete.

The NBA and NHL weren’t the only attractions in town, however. The MLB’s Dodgers hosted a three-game series with the defending World Series champion Cardinals from Friday to Sunday at Dodger Stadium, just over four miles away from Staples Center. Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy hosted rival Chivas USA on Saturday at the Home Depot Center, only 20 minutes south of L.A. in Carson, Calif. Throw in the Amgen Tour of California Bicycle Race, which ran through the downtown area, and you have a sports fans’ dream weekend all in one location.

Revenue numbers are still being tallied up, with the Staples Center events expected to net between $15 and $20 million for the six games. The biggest gain, however, could be seen on the gridiron. Los Angeles has been without an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams departed in 1994. Los Angeles city councilwoman Jan Perry called the busy weekend a “test case” to see how the city could handle major congestion and if a football stadium could co-exist downtown. Farmers Field, a roughly $1.25 billion football stadium and entertainment complex, has been proposed for construction downtown to be completed by 2016, but is awaiting city government and taxpayer approval. Michael Roth of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Staples Center, said the weekend’s activity was a “success on all levels.”

For one weekend at least, Randy Newman had sports fans singing along.

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

Tebow Time? Not for Reebok: Licensing and Lawsuits Between Sporting Companies

Tim Tebow has already made it well-known he is “excited” to be a member of the New York Jets after being traded from the Denver Broncos on March 21. The excitement for the quarterback’s arrival in the Big Apple led to a court battle between athletic companies Reebok and Nike.

Tim Tebow's trade to the Jets incited a lawsuit between Nike and Reebok.

Reebok has been the exclusive maker of licensed on-field apparel for the NFL since 2002 after agreeing to a 10-year, $250 million pact. Company rival Nike struck a five-year deal in October 2010 to replace Reebok when the contract expired. Nike was set to take over as the NFL’s exclusive partner on April 1.

Like he has done to opponents on the field, Tebow took the companies by storm when he was shipped to New York with 10 days remaining on Reebok’s apparel contract. In an effort to capitalize quickly on the Tebow trade, Reebok mass-produced Jets Tebow apparel to be sold in stores. In the first weekend after the trade, sporting goods retailer Modell’s reported selling more than 4,000 Tebow items.

The sales bonanza led to a legal battle between the companies. Nike requested and was granted a restraining order against Reebok on March 28 to cease sales of Tebow apparel. In the suit, Nike claimed that Reebok misappropriated publicity rights and interfered with business relationships. Reebok claimed it had an agreement with the NFL to continue selling items of up to five players who changed teams until its contract expired.

On Wednesday, that temporary order morphed into a preliminary injunction against Reebok, ordering that all Tebow-related apparel manufactured after March 1 was to be recalled. From now on, all Tebow products will be made by Nike, which unveiled its new uniforms for all 32 NFL teams on Tuesday.

Legal questions aside, the interesting aspect to the Tebow saga shows how significant an impact a player can have on sales. Nike knew it would eventually be able to start selling Tebow apparel once its new contract with the NFL kicked into gear. However, the instant demand for Tebow items was so high that it feared Reebok would garner all the possible profits from his move to N.Y. This is perhaps another reason why teams are willing to pay big money for a single player.

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

Power Struggle: Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. Set to Challenge ESPN

Since its inception in 1979, ESPN has been the undisputed leader in sports coverage. It isn’t called “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” for nothing, with viewership in over 100 million American homes and presence in print, radio, online and multimedia.

If there's one man crazy enough to challenge ESPN, it's Rupert Murdoch

ESPN has dominated the sports market, but media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is hoping to change that. Word spread on Wednesday that Murdoch and his News Corp. are interested in starting a new cable sports network to rival that of ESPN’s. With many sports fans growing tired of ESPN’s programming decisions (read: Tim Tebow), some say the time could be right for a major ESPN competitor.

As other networks have already learned, taking down ESPN is no easy task. NBC Sports, a joint venture between NBC and Comcast, launched on Jan. 2, but has failed to provide much of a challenge. NBC has exclusive rights to broadcast the NHL, Indycar racing, the Tour de France, Notre Dame football and recently also acquired MLS broadcasts. While these are nice pieces in the portfolio, they simply do not drawn the attention of the NFL, NBA and MLB, three sports which ESPN has a strong hold on.

Thus far the only acquisitions by News Corp. include college football games and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but it will take more than that to topple ESPN. As some have pointed out, the new sports network would need the right personalities. ESPN grew to enormous popularity with hosts such as Chris Berman, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott and more. Right now the biggest name NBC has is Bob Costas, and he simply doesn’t measure up (and not just because he’s 5-foot-7).

I, like many sports fans I presume, am hoping a serious ESPN contender joins the fray. As much as I like ESPN, I feel it need to re-evaluate its coverage and spend less time on tabloid-style storylines (do we really need to see aerial coverage of Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis?) and more on stories that actually matter.

Hey News Corp. How about giving Ron Burgundy an audition? After all, he won’t be allowed back at ESPN.

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