The Sports Fans Dilema

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There was an article written recently in the Wall Street Journal about a regional sports TV battle in Houston,Texas. Houston is a top 10 TV market, it has multiple pro franchises (baseball, basketball, football and soccer along with collegiate sports) and is the hub for the energy industry. Yet a line has been drawn in the sand by cable and satellite providers in regards to how much they’ll spend for TV rights and the overall question has to be asked, ‘Are fans being priced out of sports?’

Attending a sporting event has never been more expensive. From tickets to parking to food. It’s not getting cheaper for you to attend a game. Add in the ‘new normal’ economic situation of slow growth and higher than average unemployment and you can see why there are more empty seats at games than ever before.

Seattle Mariners Thursday Game

Take the Seattle Mariners. A middle of the pack baseball team in the AL West. Sections are closed off and seats are left empty during a recent Thursday night game against the Minnesota Twins. The Mariners signed a regional sports TV deal earlier this year with an estimated value of $2 billion over 17 years. The Thursday game had 18,135 people. Is the fan at home more important, more profitable than the one at the game?

Is the person on the couch at home more important than the one at the game? Are butts in the seats really all that important? The answer seems to be yes and yes.

Not many people can imagine Alabama’s stadium half full. Nor can people imagine the Mariners selling out 81 home games. Therein lies the balance between the person at the game and the person at home.

New York Red Bull vs Columbus Crew
New York Red Bull vs Columbus Crew

Both are fans and both “pay” for the right to watch their favorite team. The one at the stadium is contributing to the team by buying a ticket, food and a beer while the person at home is supporting by sitting through commercials in a day and age where it’s very easy to skip over them.

Is it cheaper to stay home? Yes, and it’s more convienet. The flip side to that is if the atmosphere is horrible at the game because no one is there, will that cause the person at home to change the channel?

Some of these questions do not have immediate answers. In some cases there is no right or wrong answer. One solution may very well be to downsize stadiums. This would keep the atmosphere and at the same time allow people to attend. But do you see Jerry Jones shrinking Cowboys Stadium?

More to come on this soon.

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College Football Uniform Revolution

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

It seems that every program in college football is getting a uniform overall. From the originators of the trend, Oregon, to traditional powers like Nebraska. Now it seems like everyone is in on the multiple new uniform game, except for some old southern folks. Why? They might be happier with championships.

STYLE OF THE QUACK ATTACK

When Oregon let Nike begin playing around with their uniform looks people didn’t know what to think. Nike led the way. Over the years Oregon’s uniforms got flashier (with God knows how many combinations) and other schools began to follow suit. From Virginia Tech to SEC power Georgia, it looked like everyone was going jump into the flashy uniform revolution. But a funny thing happened on the way to fashion heaven, people in the South didn’t care for it very much.

On Halloween night of 2009 the University of Tennessee ran through the historic Pride of the Southland Marching band Power T onto the Shield-Watkins Field with black jerseys on. Not flashy neon orange or some matte finish color, just black jerseys. Tennessee had worn the jerseys back in 1921 and new head coach Lane Kiffin was trying to bring a little bit of swagger back to Rocky Top on Halloween.

He failed.

BACK IN BLACK

The base revolted. The old timers were outraged. The ‘how dare you’ lines came flying out of the mouths of a very proud people. Tennessee has yet to go back to the jerseys and Kiffin has moved onto USC.

Meanwhile the rest of college football has embraced the trend from West to East, North and South. Oregon State has redesigned their digs (not as dramatically as their in state rival but a redesign none the less), Virginia Tech now has a helmet that features turkey feet, Georgia Tech’s embraced the honeycomb look, while Indiana went the red, white and stripes route. Baylor, Oklahoma State, North Carolina (complete with great dance moves), Stanford, Boise State, Houston, Missouri and even Texas A&M and Johnny Football got some variety in their unis.

Some notably absent names? Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Texas, Penn State (minus the names on the back of the jerseys) Ohio State, Florida, LSU and USC have all shied away from the trend. Sure they have made some tweaks here and there but nothing wholesale like Oregon.

What’s funny about all this? The teams that haven’t changed uniforms dramatically have won the last 7 National Titles. Can you see Bama in a black jersey and a matte crimson on the helmet? Maybe. It might look cool. But would the Bama base go for it? Nick Saben might have to change his phone number.

However, the first time Georgia broke out the black jerseys in 2007 it was a big deal…and they lost the game to Auburn. When Georgia let Nike break out some odd black & red combination in an early season match up against Boise State a few years ago guess what happened? That’s right, they lost.

Georgia Black

While new, flashy uniforms are a very cool thing to do for the players, recruits, and fans some teams can get carried away. New uniforms don’t win games. Players and coaches do. While having a ‘3rd kit’ that you can break out like they do in soccer might be s fun thing to do from time to time but it’s not really necessary. For comparison sake, when Sporting KC broke out their ‘3rd kit’ against the Portland Timbers earlier this year in Kansas City guess what happened? That’s right, they lost.

The Tax Savy Hockey Player Or Is He Just Homesick?

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Ilya Kovalchuk retired recently from the New Jersey Devils. He is leaving some $77 million on the table. That’s right, $77 million US dollars. The thing is, he may be taking a pay raise.

Kovalchuk claims that he wants to move back to Russia and be closer to the family. A legit admit claim. One cannot ignore the fact that Russia has a general flat income tax rate of 13%. According to a short article in the Wall Street Journal, Kovalchuk would have made $46 million in the next 4 years if he stayed with the Devils. He would have ended up paying $23.45 million in federal and state taxes. Moving to Russia appears to have been the right move economically speaking.

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He didn’t win a Stanley Cup while with the Devils but it’s not like he can’t come back. In fact, he can come back to the NHL and ‘un-retire’ when he’s 35 and give it another shot. what do the Devils get? A big hole on their roster and they are out of pocket $300,000 a year until 2024-2025 season.

It is totally understandable if Devils fans are upset. Not only did one of the worlds best players decide to leave but his timing couldn’t have been worse. It was done late in free agency and after the draft. Leaving the Devils even further behind the 8 ball.

However you cannot ignore his reasons for leaving. He wants to be in Russia. He wants to be home. For as upset as some Devils fans may be, and teammates for that matter, there had to be a little sympathy for the man if not sheer appreciation for financial maneuvering by his accountant.

Staying Classy in San Diego

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

On Saturday night the San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres. The game took place in San Diego but it sounded more like a Giants home game. The Padres fans, and Giants fans, were on their feet while Lincecum was recording the final out. For the last hitter the home team’s TV booth silence.

Dick Enberg is the Padres regional TV play by play guy. It’s an awkward position of him to be in, announcing a baseball rarity against the team he commentates for on a daily basis. However he did it with class, by being quiet.

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While most broadcasters, radio and TV alike, would have racked their brain looking for the right thing to say while Lincecum closed out the game, Enberg was silent. Allowing the crowd to tell the story. No words, no commentary. He just let the moment speak for itself.

Enberg has been in broadcasting longer than most. From the global level to the regional one. He made the veteran move by staying quiet and only an experienced broadcaster would have made that move.

There is nothing wrong with commentating during a moment like that. It deserves it. Enberg’s position as the broadcaster for the opposing team is a tough one to be in in a moment like that. He relied on his experience and expertise to do something that is sometimes lost in this day an age, he showed class by not saying s word.

Stay classy Enberg.

How Stars Got Their Shine Back

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Saturday had a slew of sports on tap. From the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) in Gold Cup play to baseball to Canadian Football. Two people in particular stood out on Saturday. Two former players whose stars have diminished recently, Landon Donovan and Tim Lincecum.

Landon Donovan

Early in the day Landon Donovan helped lead the USMNT to a 4-1 win over Cuba and helped lock up a spot in the next round of the Gold Cup. Donovan got the US on the board after nailing a stoppage time penalty kick at the end of the first half. It was his second goal in as many games. He also has two assists.

Timmy Lincecum

Tim Lincecum is not the same pitcher that won back to back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He has lost some of his velocity off of his fastball and has struggled to keep his ERA below 4 runs a game in the last two years. However Saturday night he made baseball history by becoming the 218th player to throw either a no hitter or a perfect game. While perfect games are rarer than no hitters it is an exclusive club none the less. It was the first of his professional career and he threw some 148 pitches in the process which is unheard of in this day and age.

Both of these players have a long road to haul to regain that dominance they once had in their respective sports. But they are evolving. Donovan is becoming more of a complete player on the pitch and Lincecum into a veteran starting pitcher who is learning how to out smart hitters as opposed to overpowering them.

The question now becomes, can they capitalize on this recent run of success and transform themselves into the veteran winners that their teams need them to be. It’s a tall order for two men who have reached the pinnacle of their sports already.

When It All Goes Wrong Again

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

No one likes to lose especially in sports. Those in sports love to compete plain and simple. Whether it’s on the field, on the ice or in the Octagon. Being a competitor means two things, you like to win and you hate to lose.

The July 4th weekend saw a lot of streaks come to an end and some bad ones continue. Competitors who have been so use to winning finally lost. UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva lost his belt to the undefeated Chris Weidman. It’s the first loss for Silva in his 17 fight UFC career and his first since January 2006.

A streak of a lesser note came to end in MLS where the Portland Timbers lost to the Columbus Crew 1-0. This ended a 15 game unbeaten streak for the Timbers who have been the surprise team of MLS so far this year.

On a bad continuing note, the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants continued their losing ways. They have not won a series since mid May and since June 1st they are 11-25.

Winning is contagious but so is losing. When things are going well, they go really well and vice versa. Baseballs find the gaps, punches find their mark, and passes are crisper. But all streaks eventually come to an end and bad streaks can begin if you’re not careful.

The Timbers and Giants have immediate opportunities to turn it around while Silva will have to wait a while for another chance at the first man to defeat him in over 7 years.

Canada’s Summer Football Gift

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

July 1st marks the beginning of a slowdown of sorts in the US sports world. The NBA and NHL have finished their seasons off and the NFL is about 20 days away from the opening of their training camps. That leaves just MLB and MLS for your sports fix…and now the CFL.

The Canadian Football League has always been a fringe sport in America. It tried years ago to jump into the American football psyche with US based teams. That experiment failed and the CFL almost went under. Few people follow the legue and until recently it hasn’t been readily available on American television for sometime. That all changed a few years ago and now the CFL is available on not just ESPN 3 but also on ESPN 2 and the NBC Sports Network.

CFL

It shouldn’t seem like much of a surprise that the CFL is now on American television and online. What is a surprise is that it has taken so long. With so many national and regional sports channels hungry for content it is really surprising that the CFL hasn’t had more of an American footprint. Was there some other football league playing competitive games during the summer that we didn’t know about?

ESPN and NBC Sports Network have also figured out how to do this on the cheap. They are not paying for any of the production (that we know of). They are merely taking the TSN signal and then breaking off during commercials and at halftime. In this day and age of leaner media organizations you can see how this is a win-win.

America is a football nation but the NFL and college football only play 5 months out of the year (regular season and post season). This leaves a CFL sized field (110 years long and 65 yards wide) pretty open space to run around in.  Broadcasters seem to have figured out how to fill the void now the question remains will American fans tune in?