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Big Ten Expansion Eyeing Indiana Rivals?

November 12, 2011

Big Ten Expansion Eyeing Indiana Rivals?

June 9, 2010

Neil Netherton- Fast Touch Sports

NCAA football has looked more like a game of musical chairs than an athletic league over recent weeks.  Rumors have swirled that the Big Ten and Pac Ten conferences are looking to expand.  Ideas have ranged from simple shuffling of powerhouse schools all the way to adding new teams to the Division I level.  Even local schools Wabash College (Crawfordsville, IN) and Depauw University (Greencastle, IN) have been mentioned as potential Big Ten suitors in some scenarios.

The first volley in this exchange came weeks ago, as the Big Ten publicly announced interest in expansion.  Immediately, schools such as Texas, Notre Dame, Missouri, and Nebraska were tossed around as potential suitors.  Not to be outdone, the Pac Ten jumped into the fray by aggressively looking toward a sixteen-team mega-league, which would draw largely on Big Twelve schools from Texas and Oklahoma.

This pressure from the Pac Ten has the Big Ten scrambling to match the Pac Ten’s sixteen-team proposal.  Although the Big Ten could easily convince Big Twelve “leftovers” such as Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri to join its league, the key to matching the prestige of a sixteen-team Pac Ten is landing Notre Dame.  So far, Notre Dame looks like it’s happy to remain independent.  Head coach Brian Kelly recently commented, “There’s nothing better than being an independent football school.”  Indications from the athletic department point in the same direction, and Notre Dame’s exclusive TV contract with NBC runs through 2015, further complicating any potential switch.

Without Notre Dame, there are several scenarios the Big Ten could pursue to reach its goal of a sixteen-team league.  The most probable scenario involves plucking Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Kansas State from the Big Twelve, along with the Big East’s Pittsburgh, for a total of five new squads.  However, Kansas and Kansas State could be difficult to convince.  As Kansas State athletic director John Currie recently said, “With the recent emergence of powers from the Mountain West and WAC, along with their rapidly growing fan bases, we would carefully consider these and other options if the Big Twelve shrinks or disbands.”

If the Jayhawks and Wildcats decide to move their wagons west, two lucrative Big Ten spots are wide open.  Dozens of names have been thrown into the mix for these spots.  Among the most intriguing options are Wabash and Depauw.  As many fans know, these two storied schools are among the nation’s biggest football rivals, playing in each November’s Monon Bell Classic.  Although both school are tiny (combined enrollment of about 3,500 students) compared to Big Ten behemoths, the economics of inviting smaller schools to join the conference could work in their favor.  As Iowa athletic director Gary Barta explained, “The idea of a smaller school [joining the Big Ten] is not out-of-the-question.  The financials of this situation all hinge around television, so a smaller school with a smaller stadium could be appealing, as long as they bring eyeballs in big TV markets.”  Both schools have strong alumni bases in metro areas such as Chicago and Indianapolis, which could be appealing, especially considering the lackluster football histories of Northwester and Illinois (NCAA football programs with strong Chicago alumni ties).

More support for the small school option came from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney:  “Look at British soccer.  You’ve got Man U (Manchester United) playing in these tiny, 4,000 seat stadiums.  When they come to town, every pub is filled, and every TV is turned on. That balance of big-guy versus little-guy is great for soccer, so it could possibly work for us.”

Detractors of small school expansion point not only to the questionable economics of such a deal, but also to playing field inequity.  After all, how could a school with 1/20 the enrollment of an Ohio State or a Penn State compete?  This problem may not be as big of a roadblock as it seems.  In the 1970s, the SEC integrated Arkansas and South Carolina into its league when the schools had enrollments of just 3,000 and 2,700, respectively.  The SEC used a three-year “rolling” period during which the schools were able to recruit using Division I rules, but were not yet playing in the league.  A similar formula could bring Wabash and Depauw up to speed quickly, especially considering the high level of homegrown talent nearby.  As Illinois head coach Ron Zook said, “People talk about Florida, Texas, California as the big football states.  If you got every Ohio kid, every Chicago kid to stay in the Midwest and play ball, you could see the Big Ten as big, as fast, and as competitive as any conference in the country.”  Giving these Midwest players two more local, big-time options could be just the remedy for the recent outflow of Midwest talent to other regions.

Although the small school expansion scenario is unlikely, it has hopes flying high on smaller campuses around the Rust Belt and Grain Belt.  However, the reality is probably best summed up by Depauw president Brian Casey: “Depauw in the Big Ten?  I’m sure our alums would be thrilled to travel to the Horseshoe (Ohio State’s stadium), but hey, we’ve got to focus on our switch to the NCAC, so I’m trying to stay away from these rumors.”
Neil Netherton

World Cup 2010 Kits Tournament

June 7, 2010

Time for a World Cup tournament based solely on kits.  For the purposes of this tournament, I use only each team’s home jersey (not including shorts, socks, or other pieces of the uniform).  The tournament is structured the same way as the real World Cup (group + knockout), with the same teams comprising each group.

Here is how the groups shake out (teams listed in order of group finish):

(Scroll down to the bold “KNOCKOUT ROUND” if you want to get past my drivel and on to the good stuff)

Group A:

France (Adidas)- Adidas has mimicked the primary design feature from the 2006 France kit- stripes that start strong on the ribs and disappear into the ether near Franck Ribery’s abs.  I like this feature, and although the 2006 version was better, the 2010 design is strong enough to carry France through to the next round.  The other positive features of the jersey are the always cool FFF chicken emblem on the chest and the old-school red, white, and blue shoulder stripes.  The only downside of the jersey is the out-of-place font.  The numbers and letters look as if they were made from Play-Doh snakes.  The softness of these letters clash with the sharp lines of the design and FFF emblem.

Mexico (Adidas)- Although this jersey is similar to the boring South African jersey maligned below, the texture here saves the jersey.  The green color that dominates the jersey is accented with textured diamonds that evoke the thick leaves of a Yucatan jungle or the costume of an Aztec warrior.

South Africa (Adidas)- South Africa, as the hosts, could have afforded a much bigger risk here.  An airbrushed image of Charlize Theron?  Flank air vents that emit vuvuzela sounds?  Instead, South Africa chose an ordinary-looking yellow design with green Adidas tri-stripes on the arms.  The vents that curve from the abs to the chest give the jersey some decent texture, but overall, this jersey looks like a boring knockoff of the Aussie kit.

Uruguay (Puma)- I get the fact that Uruguay has a cool sun on its flag, but the watermarked suns on a baby blue jersey look like something the Snuggle bear would wear for pajamas.

Group B:

Argentina (Adidas): Great jersey. Argentina has always had a distinctive look with its trademark  thick white and baby blue vertical stripes.  Adidas wisely followed the old “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” mantra here.  The font here that hurts the French kit is an asset for the Argentinian shirt- the Play-Doh letters fit much better with the suave letters of the AFA crest on the chest emblem.

Greece (Adidas): Unless you really got into My Big Fat Greek Wedding, among the first thing that comes to mind when Greece is mentioned is the crisp blue and white buildings that cover the Cyclades Islands.  This jersey captures that very well.  The clean white base and flowing, thin blue lines suit this seafaring nation.

South Korea (Nike): Very cool tiger-stripe watermark that mimics that tiger on the chest emblem.  Visually, this is a great jersey, but in a tough group like this one, Korea falls just short of the knockout stage behind Argentina’s traditional look and Greece’s crisp simplicity.

Nigeria (Adidas): Normally, I love simplicity.  But c’mon, these guys are known as the Super Eagles.  It’s a shame their jersey is so boring.

Group C:

USA (Nike): Uncle Sam’s boys win this weak group running away.  It’s amazing what a simple sash can do for a jersey.  The sash gives the US kit a regal air of “we’ve been here before and we belong here now”.  I especially like the blue away jersey with the white sash, but the white home jersey with the light grey sash is charming as well.  As a bonus, I like the small dots on the numbers that Nike uses here and on other 2010 kits.

Algeria (Puma): I normally dislike Puma kits.  In 2006, they plastered each jersey with 3-4 Puma logos, which was distracting and made for a slew of bad jerseys.  The “Desert Foxes” continue this group’s white home kit theme, and qualify second due to the unique fox watermark on the chest/shoulder of the jersey.  The fox looks creepy, like an extra on the set of Lilo and Stitch, but big props to Puma and Algeria for taking the team’s unique nickname and incorporating it into the jersey.

England (Umbro): I’m normally a huge fan of England’s kits- great Three Lions chest emblem, crisp white color, and St. George’s Cross make for a unique jersey.  I also like Umbro.  Like most kids in my generation who played soccer in the 1990s, I owned a pair of Charlotte Hornet-colored Umbro shorts.  Despite that positive momentum, England’s 2010 kit leaves a lot to be desired.  There’s no St. George’s Cross, so the white, boring jersey ends up looking like a cricket shirt, er kit, er whatever the heck one calls a cricketeer’s top.

Slovenia (Nike): Slovenia’s home jerseys are plain white. Not much else to say.  I know I said that this is only about home kits, but Slovenia’s away kits warrant a quick look.  Two words: good grief.

Group D:

Germany (Adidas): Not bad.  Germany has done some good things and some not-so-good things with its great color scheme (red, yellow, and black) in the past.  This year’s thin, vertical stripes are a nice subtle tribute to these colors, but they don’t overwhelm the jersey like thicker red, yellow, and black stripes of the past.

Serbia (Nike): Although this jersey’s off-center cross is reminiscent of older English kits, I give it a good rating.  Serbia will look distinctive on the pitch in 2010, and this effort barely edges out a strong Ghanan jersey for the second slot in this group.

Ghana (Puma): Again going against my anti-Puma leanings, I find Ghana’s jersey strong.  The star watermark on the shoulder is not as unique as Algeria’s fox, but the Islamic-looking watermark designs on the back are a great touch.

Australia (Nike): Flat.  With bright yellow and green as the staple colors of this jersey, one would hope that Australia could make a jersey as fun as its nickname (the “Socceroos”).  However, despite the coolest chest emblem around (an emu staring down a kangaroo), a layer of green atop a layer of yellow makes this jersey just plain ugly.

Group E:

Netherlands (Nike): Everyone loves the orange Dutch jerseys, including me.  The vertical white stripes (tough to see in the link) are a nice touch, as is the boxy, robotic font on the jersey.

Japan (Adidas): Not a huge fan of this jersey, but it’s enough to get Japan into the round of 16.  The weird red square at the base of neck seems pointless.  The saving grace is the unique watermark, which looks like a paisley scarf and a bunch of broad-winged birds got caught in a blender together.

Denmark (Adidas): It’s “turn back the clock” night in Denmark.  This jersey would fit in better during a Retro Night friendly, not the world’s biggest soccer showcase.

Cameroon (Puma): Weak, crowded jersey.  This jersey is everything I normally hate about Puma jerseys- to many cats.  Look across the top of the jersey from arm to arm.  There are six different emblems/logos to look at, which makes the jersey crowded and unbalanced.

Group F:

New Zealand (Nike): The All-Blacks don’t just play rugby.  Cool, simple jersey that places the Kiwis at the top of Group F.

Italy (Puma): This is better than Puma’s normal Italy jerseys, because it has way fewer pumas prancing around than normal.   But, I am weirded-out by the He-Man ab and chest muscle watermark on this shirt.  Still, enough to get through this weak group.

Paraguay (Adidas): Paraguay will not be the Cinderella of this year’s tourney.  By my count, there are six different sets of stripes on this shirt.  The worst among these sets is the two short “bucktooth” stripes on the lower back of the jersey.

Slovakia (Adidas): Could not find this one.  Tear.

Group G:

Portugal (Nike): Nike knocked this one out of the park.  At first glance, this is a solid jersey whose broad green and red stripes are reminiscent of the Portuguese flag.  After taking  closer look, one notices the alluring dot pattern across the green strip on the chest.  This detailed set of blurry and clear dots mimics the need for focus for this squad that has underachieved in recent cups.

Ivory Coast (Puma):  Les Elefantes barely edge out Brazil’s classic yellows for the second spot in this group. Although the elephant watermark is not as cool as the Algerian desert fox, I like the bold statement made by this orange kit.  Ivory Coast will need to play as bold as this jersey, especially if it hopes to live past 2010’s undisputed “group of death”.

Brazil (Nike): Nothing fancy here, but when you’re the only team out there wearing yellow with five stars above your emblem, you don’t need anything fancy.  This is a strong, simple jersey that’s enhanced by small touches like the green stripes trim.

North Korea (South Pole): These kits have not yet been officially released, but early reports indicate they look like the shirt found in the link above.

Group H:

Honduras (Joma): In a very weak group, Honduras ends up on top.  There are a few too many slashes and curves along the flanks  of this shirt, but I like the chest design- a soothing blue wave that fades in and out to emphasize the Honduran footbal emblem smack-in-the-middle of the shirt.  The prominent Joma logo hinders the overall effect, but overall, the little guy triumphs here are Joma brings in a group winner.

Spain (Adidas): Spain is my favorite non-US squad, but these jerseys are too bland for such an exciting team.  I much preferred Spain’s Euro 2008 jerseys which had elegant thin lines along the flanks of each player.  This jersey has no distinguishing features to carry it through to the next round.

Switzerland (Puma): This Puma offering suffers from the same problem as Cameroon.  There are too many buttons to choose from at the top of the shirt.  In a neat little line of three, you see the Swiss flag, a Puma logo, and the logo for the Swiss soccer federation.  The white accents along the flanks and armpits of this jersey are nice touches, but can’t save the Swiss from a first-round exit.

Chile (Brooks): Really?  Brooks?  One look at these jerseys and you’ll realize why Brooks does not make jerseys for any other teams in this year’s final.  I bet there is a really interesting story behind how Brooks landed this contract.  I have not been keeping up with my gossip about the Chilean royal family, but my guess is that Randall Slattery (Brooks’ head of South Jersey and Latin American sales) has been knocking boots with one of Chile’s higher-ups.  (Faithful reader- when you read about this saucy tale on PerezHilton.com weeks later, remember where you heard the original scoop)

KNOCKOUT ROUND

Round of 16

1A France vs. 2B Greece

1C  USA vs. 2D Serbia

1D Germany vs. 2C Algeria

1B Argentina vs. 2A Mexico

1E The Netherlands vs. 2F Italy

1G Portugal vs. 2H Spain

1F New Zealand vs 2E Japan

1H Honduras vs. 2G Ivory Coast

Quarterfinals

1C USA vs. 2B Greece 

1B Argentina vs. 1D Germany

1E The Netherlands vs. 1G Portugal

1F New Zealand vs. 2G Ivory Coast

Semi Finals

1B Argentina vs. 1F New Zealand

1G Portugal vs.  2B Greece

Finals

1G Portugal defeats 1F New Zealand

MIT Sports Analytics Conference

March 7, 2010

Saturday I went to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.  Well worth it.  Normal tickets were going for $200, but as a current MBA student, I got a ticket for a reasonable $75.  This $75 included breakfast, lunch, snacks, a t-shirt, the hardcover Freakonomics sequel, some other random goodies, and some excellent panel discussions.  The keynote panel was by far the most fascinating, but we’ll take a chronological trip through the day to keep things organized.

On Friday night, I caught a train from New York to Boston with a couple of buddies from Wharton.  4.5 hours is a long time to spend in the café car of an Amtrak train, but we passed the time by talking about classic Schwarzenegger movies and mixing in naps.  Once I got to Boston around midnight, I cabbed it over to my friend Steve’s place (co-worker at Deloitte, current HBS student).  After a couple beers (very nice Harpoon Irish Ale), I got to bed at 3AM with a 7AM wake up call waiting for me.

Panel 1: Developing the Athlete’s Brand

The next morning, I packed my stuff and headed over to the conference.  I missed the opening remarks, but got a good seat for my first panel of the day- Developing the Athlete’s Brand.  The panel consisted of a couple agency execs, two basketball shoe execs, and Jackie MacMullan, of ESPN’s Around the Horn fame.  The most polished panelist was Phil di Piccioto- a president at Octagon.  He made some good points about the difficulty of building a brand around Olympic athletes (because their story needs to live beyond the 17 days in which they compete).  He cited Apollo Ohno’s foray into Dancing with the Stars as a good example of an athlete who made himself relevant beyond the Olympic stage.

The surprise of this panel was MacMullan.  I’ve never been particularly impressed with her TV work, but she really added some great color to the otherwise cliché-filled (“building a brand”, “being relevant”, “reflecting our values”) conversation.  In particular, she had an insightful story about Dennis Rodman (brown haired, Piston Dennis Rodman) crying in a locker room in response to an arena of boos directed his way.  His tearful question to MacMullan: “Why don’t people like me?”  Next, she made great points about Charles Barkley’s ability to be himself and be marketable, despite his array of flaws.  Finally, when pressed about what Tiger should do next to move on and restore his brand, she compared his plight to that of Mark McGwire, who “finally got it right” when he spoke openly about steroid use.  Perhaps too little too late, but at least the public got to see McGwire’s authenticity, whereas Tiger’s handlers have fueled this circus with carefully guarded secrecy and an insincere press conference.

Panel 2: International Expansion

Panel #2 was all about international expansion in pro sports leagues.  The three coolest panelists were Mark Waller (NFL CMO), Sunil Gulati (President of the US Soccer Federation and Columbia prof), and Maurizio Gherardini (SVP of Operations for the Toronto Raptors).

The first great point made during this panel came from the Italian.  When discussing differences between European and US fans, he dished out a great quote: “(In Europe) once the game has started, it’s like church.  You can’t get up in the middle to leave or get a hot dog.”  Waller concurred and offered a story about when he attended a Chelsea game with Roger Goddell.  Mid-game, Goddell asked his hosts if they could visit the in-stadium souvenir shop.  The hosts gave Goddell a puzzled look and responded, “The game has started.  The souvenir shop is closed.”

Gulati then made some good points about competitive differences between US leagues (especially the NFL) and the European club leagues.  The bottom line is that US leagues are structured to provide parity, while Europe revolves around a David vs. Goliath world in which each league is dominated by 2-4 teams, and no one complains.  The bottom-dwellers have relegation and local rivalries as motivating factors, which engage their fans.  In the NFL, there is no threat of relegation, but teams rely on league structures (salary cap, draft, etc.) so that an “any given Sunday” atmosphere prevails.

The final key point made by this panel came from Waller, who likened the NFL’s new strategy on international growth (i.e., putting its best product out on the field in foreign cities like Toronto and London, instead of pouring money into hapless teams of no-namers in NFL Europe) to Coca-Cola’s long-term pursuit of global market share.  He emphasized time and again that the NFL believes its game, although tough to learn (like cricket) is the best entertainment sport on the planet.  Similar to Coke, the NFL realizes that building global presence will take time and lots of touch points (participation, “showcase” games, marketing, etc.).  Overall, I think this is a winning strategy.  It’s better to take your time in converting people to Coke than it is to try to quickly hook them on a second-rate product.

Lunch

Lunch was a bountiful boxed lunch, accompanied by The Parthenon Group’s thoughts on whether sports spending will recover along with the general economy.  This presentation (led by Parthenon’s chief economist) was surprisingly enlightening.  He focused on two key points:

  1. Pro spectator sports have shifted from a distraction for the common guy to a luxury event
  2. Smart teams can still cater to both the white and blue collar fans, if they handle pricing correctly

On the first point, he highlighted historical data that suggested leagues that responded to economic downturns by lowering prices got hurt, while teams that raised prices were able to better weather tough economic times.  It’s hard to argue with his point about spectator sports becoming a luxury good as I walk to my seat at Conseco Fieldhouse carrying a $6 hot dog, $8 beer, and $7 nachos (plus the jalapenos for an extra $1).

Second, he discussed some of his consulting work for various NBA teams that focused on squeezing revenue from wealthier fans while keeping the rabble (to borrow Potter’s term) content.  To do this, teams inflate prices for prime seats (mid- court, 10 rows up), while keeping a ring of nosebleed seats at excessively low prices.  This allows maximum extraction from the less price-sensitive customers, while keeping the game accessible to die-hard fans and kids.

Panel 3: What Geeks Don’t Get: The Limits of Moneyball

This panel was loaded with stars- all guys I wanted to see.  Here is how each one stacked up on a scale of 1 to 10.

Panelists:

Mark Cuban (Mavs Owner): 8

Plenty of jokes about NBA referees, but he did not let his huge personality overwhelm the panel.  Great balance between his irreverence and his sharp insights (like the Random Walk on Wall Street comparison to the “ceiling” of sports analytical capabilities).

Jonathan Kraft (Patriots President): 7

I assumed he would be a paperweight sitting around his dad’s office, but he actually made some great points and interacted humorously with the other guys.  He seemed to have an excellent sense for the business side of sports, and enough of an understanding of the game itself to get by pretty well.

Daryl Morey (Rockets GM): 7

This guy is known as “the stats guy” in NBA circles.  He had some good anecdotes about being a non-athletic guy who has succeeded as a GM, and was a funny guy overall, but he got a bit overshadowed by Cuban’s star.

Bill Polian (Colts President): 10

Admittedly, I may be a bit biased, but if the tweets immediately following this panel are any indication, I was not alone in thinking that Polian owned this panel.  I knew he was a good GM, but listening to his simple way of explaining complex things like NFL matchups, tactics, and techniques was truly amazing.  I assumed a guy like him, especially an older dude, would talk a lot about “gut” or “feel”, but Polian was thoughtful and methodical when describing his methods.  He was more articulate and well-read on analytics than I expected, but he still finished up by saying that even the best drafters only “bat about .550” and that stats aside, there is a built-in, God-given knack for evaluating talent- “just like some people are born better singers or writers, some people are born with a better eye for evaluating talent.”

Bill Simmons (Sports Guy): 3

I generally like Simmons’ writing as the Sports Guy.  Today, however, Simmons was a dud.  Perhaps it’s not all his fault.  Although he’s a big name, he didn’t quite fit in on this panel.  He spent half his time asking questions and hijacking Lewis’ role as moderator, and the other half of his time repeating things that had already been said.  Additionally, the fact that he said the word “whatever” once every four words didn’t look too good compared with charismatic guys like Morley and Cuban.

Moderator:

Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side author): 5

The best moderator of the day was Boston Celtics play-by-play guy Mike Gorman.  He was pithy, kept the subjects moving,  and stayed out of the way of the panelists.  Lewis was the opposite.  He was long-winded, and let certain topics simmer for too long.  I think a better set up would have been to see Simmons moderate and Lewis panelize about his extensive research and experience in the world of sports statistics.

The highlights of this panel were the banter between Polian and Kraft about the infamous 4th and 2 call this year and Cuban’s thoughts on “protecting the moron”.  The Polian/Kraft discussion began with a careful analysis by Polian of the situation.  Polian cited the Pats’ depleted defense, element of surprise (they came out in a Brady sneak formation and ran a different play), the Colts’ hot offense, and Belichick’s historic 4th down success as reasons why he supported Belichick’s decision.  He closed by saying that he gets tired of hearing from researchers that teams should go for it on 4th down in X and Y situations, because each situation is unique, and certain factors (such as momentum, injuries, etc.) are not captured in these general statistics.  Polian quipped, “For a given in-game situation, the stats are not wrong.  They are just irrelevant to that particular moment.”  Kraft showed a healthy respect for Polian’s analysis and agreed that in that situation, he too would not second-guess the coaching staff’s decisios.  This playful, thoughtful interaction was only hampered by Simmon’s disagreement with Kraft and Polian.  Instead of making a coherent point, Simmons just insisted that he thought the Pats’ decision did not come from a “position of strength”.  Whatever the hell that means.

The second highlight came in the midst of a discussion about psychology in sports.  Cuban, Morey, Kraft, and Polian all discussed the rigor with which their organizations approach psychological vetting of their prospects.  Apparently, hammering junior high school teachers about a 22 year-old’s personality is pretty common.  Surprising when you look at how many personality busts happen each year, but sensible when you consider how many millions of dollars these guys are throwing at these players.  Cuban admitted that none of these tests are perfect, and that sometimes guys with bad attitudes or no brains sometimes slip through.  Because of this, Cuban pointed out that it’s important to “protect the morons” on your team so that when you decide it’s time to trade such players, you can dump them to another team at an inflated value.  Cuban cited players who can’t remember plays as soon as they break from a time-out as those whose lack of mental aptitude should be hidden as much as possible.

Panel 4: Social Media

The final panel of the day focused on a fascinating topic, but got stuck in the moderator’s (John Walsh of ESPN) lack of subject matter knowledge.  I think I heard a variation of the question “How should teams respond/have responded to social media?”.  Poor moderating aside, Jeff Ma (yes, the MIT blackjack dude who was portrayed in “Bringing Down the House” and later “21”) and Darren Rovell of CNBC put on a good show.  The Pittsburgh Pirates CMO was woefully uninformed about social media- he spent the 80 minutes throwing in clichés about surveying fans, being in front of social media, and “understanding his customers” in a dead-on Paul Giammatti voice.  Ma and Rovell provided the fireworks.

When another panelist brought up privacy concerns, Joe Kessler made a great point that younger generations don’t even think about privacy- they post their entire lives- pictures, status updates, and texts- to the world.  In the context of watching over players to make sure their tweets and other media are suitable for fan consumption, Kessler noted, “The idea of controlling this content is dead.”  Great point.  The teams that will get the most from this are the ones that will educate their players on how to tweet and post well, not the ones who curb their players’ creativity.

The final big takeaway from the social media panel came from Ma.  He was far-and-away the most tech-savvy guy on the panel, and his smarts and Silicon Valley experience came through when discussing cannibalization of traditional media (radio, TV, etc.).  Ma emphatically claimed that social media is actually additive, and not cannibalistic.  For example, when you are at home, you’re not going to watch the big game on your iPhone, and when you’re in your car, you’ll listen to the game on the radio.  In other words, teams and leagues should stop worrying about “protecting” their content and focus on pushing their content to fans in as many ways as possible, and only then worry about monetizing this content.

Conclusion

Big ups to everyone at MIT for putting this together.  Top-notch panelists, smooth logistics, and great discussion topics made this a very worthwhile trip to Beantown.  It’s just a shame I couldn’t stick around for an extra night.  I’m back on the Amtrak and feeling veeerryyy sleepy.

Best College Sports Nicknames (conference rankings)

February 11, 2010

Nicknames say a lot about a team.  Nowhere are nicknames more important than in college sports.  In the pros, nicknames are treated like pieces of property than can be bought, sold, moved, and changed at a moment’s notice.  Seriously, where else but in professional sports would you find teams with such backwards, misplaced names as the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Indianapolis Colts, and Dallas North Stars (yes, I know it’s just the Stars now).  Like a boy named Sue, all of these teams suffer from an identity crisis caused by a name that does not match their surroundings.  When I am commissioner of the NBA someday, my first order of business will be force the New Orleans Hornets and the Utah Jazz to trade nicknames.  No draft picks, no players, just a straight-up one for one name swap.  New Orleans Jazz.  Utah Hornets (it’s the Beehive State, after all).  Beautiful.

Enough about the shortcomings of pro sports nicknames, and on to the beauty of college nicknames.  College nicknames are not as fickle as pro nicknames, which help college nicknames to add to the allure and strengthen the connection with their local communities and fan bases.  Unless you are a Stanford, Miami (OH), or Hawaii fan, you have probably never needed to buy a new t-shirt or hat with your school’s nickname.  But importantly, these names have only changed for reasons of political correctness, not because of owners moving teams around like pawns.  Basically, nicknames in college sports are important to the fans, the school, and the identity of the organization.  With that in mind, I will assign a score to the nickname of each team in each of eight “major” college sports conferences.  Here is my method:

Conferences– BCS (i.e., Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC, and PAC 10) plus WAC and Mountain West.  I will use the most expansive definition of each conference across football and basketball (so the Big East, for example, will include Notre Dame, Providence, etc.).  I know this means we miss out on some great nicknames (e.g., Wichita State Shockers, Manhattan Jaspers, etc.), but I had to build walls around this somewhere.

Rating system– Nicknames are assigned a rating of 1-5 based on the following criteria and then averaged to determine a cumulative c0nference score:

1– Common nickname AND it has little to do with the college or location’s culture/identity

2– Common nickname with some tie-in to the college or location’s culture/identity

3– Uncommon nickname that may not tie well to college or location’s culture/identity

4– Completely unique nickname with poor local cultural ties OR uncommon nickname with substantial ties to college or location’s culture/identity (some nicknames end up here even if they are totally unique, but too obvious- such as Utes and Illini)

5– Completely unique nickname that ties in well with the college or location’s culture/identity

Note: I don’t care about the cute story behind the nickname at each school (because every school has such a story).  For example, just because a priest at Boston College came up with the Golden Eagle nickname as a symbol of power and freedom or some school newspaper held a nickname contest in 1921 doesn’t mean that a common nickname means anything to the identity of the school.  I am looking for nicknames that are both uncommon and “fit in” with the school’s local culture and/or identity.  Now that these perfectly  MECE criteria are set, let’s get on with it.

Final Tally:

1. Mountain West: 3.22– led by Horned Frogs, Lobos, and Aztecs

2. Big Ten: 3.18– led by Hoosiers, Buckeyes, and Boilermakers

3. Big Twelve: 3.00– led by Longhorns, Sooners, Jayhawks, and Cornhuskers

4. ACC: 2.67– Led by Demon Deacons and Tar Heels

5. SEC: 2.58– Led by Volunteers, Razorbacks, and Gamecocks, hurt by Bulldogs (2x) and Tigers (2x)

6. WAC: 1.89– Hurt by Bulldogs, Spartans, and Wolf Pack

7. Big East: 1.88– Led by Friars and Orange, hurt by Cardinals, Huskies, Bearcats, etc.

8. Pac Ten: 1.8– Led by Sun Devils, but hurt by Trojans, Wildcats, Golden Bears, etc.

Team-by-team breakdown (Conferences listed in alphabetical order)

ACC

Boston College Golden Eagles: 1

Clemson Tigers: 1

Duke Blue Devils: 2

Florida State Seminoles: 3

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: 2

Maryland Terrapins: 4

Miami Hurricanes: 2

North Carolina Tar Heels: 5

North Carolina State Wolfpack: 1

Virginia Cavaliers: 2

Virginia Tech Hokies: 4

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 5

Big East

Cincinnati Bearcats: 1

Connecticut Huskies: 1

DePaul Blue Demons: 2

Georgetown Hoyas: 3

Louisville Cardinals: 1

Marquette Golden Eagles: 1

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 2

Pittsburgh Panthers: 1

Providence Friars: 4

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 2

St. John’s Red Storm: 3

Seton Hall Pirates: 1

South Florida Bulls: 1

Syracuse Orange: 4

Villlanova Wildcats: 1

West Virginia Mountaineers: 2

Big Ten

Illinois Fighting Illini: 4

Indiana Hoosiers: 5

Iowa Hawkeyes: 3

Michigan Wolverines: 2

Michigan State Spartans: 1

Minnesota Golden Gophers: 3

Northwestern Wildcats: 1

Ohio State Buckeyes: 5

Penn State Nittany Lions: 4

Purdue Boilermakers: 5

Wisconsin Badgers: 2

Big Twelve

Baylor Bears: 1

Colorado Buffaloes: 2

Iowa State Cyclones: 2

Kansas Jayhawks: 5

Kansas State Wildcats: 1

Missouri Tigers: 1

Nebraska Cornhuskers: 5

Oklahoma Sooners: 5

Oklahoma State Cowboys: 4

Texas Longhorns: 5

Texas A&M Aggies: 3

Texas Tech Red Raiders: 2

Mountain West

Air Force Falcons: 2

BYU Cougars: 2

Colorado State Rams: 2

New Mexico Lobos: 4

San Diego State Aztecs: 4

TCU Horned Frogs: 5

UNLV Rebels: 2

Utah Utes: 4

Wyoming Cowboys: 4

Pacific Ten

Arizona Wildcats: 1

Arizona State Sun Devils: 4

California Golden Bears: 1

Oregon Ducks: 3

Oregon State Beavers: 3

Stanford Cardinal: 2

UCLA Bruins: 1

USC Trojans: 1

Washington Huskies: 1

Washington State Cougars: 1

SEC

Alabama Crimson Tide: 4

Arkansas Razorbacks: 5

Auburn Tigers: 1

Florida Gators: 2

Georgia Bulldogs: 1

Kentucky Wildcats: 1

LSU Tigers: 1

Mississippi Rebels: 2

Mississippi State Bulldogs: 1

South Carolina Gamecocks: 5

Tennessee Volunteers: 5

Vanderbilt Commodores: 3

WAC

Boise State Broncos: 2

Fresno State Bulldogs: 1

Hawaii Warriors: 2

Idaho Vandals: 3

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: 1

Nevada Wolf Pack: 1

New Mexico State Aggies: 3

San Jose State Spartans: 1

Utah State Aggies: 3

Super Bowl Ads- My Rankings

February 8, 2010

The Super Bowl is exciting for me, primarily because of the game itself.  Unless it’s a Steelers-Seahawks game or some other ungodly match-up, I tune in attentively for about 2-3 hours of pregame coverage, as well as the full game itself.  This year was of particular interest to me because my beloved Colts were gunning for their 2nd title in 4 years.  Obviously, they came up short, but I am happy for New Orleans, Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the prisoners at the Louisiana state lockup.

I’m also grateful that the commercials were fantastic (except for those aired in the 4th quarter, during which I was pretty much inconsolable).  Here are my rankings of the commercials across three categories: Best, Worst, and Funniest.

Best:

1. Google: Parisian Love

Google is known for being clean, simple, and non-obtrusive.  For these reasons, making it’s initial foray into advertising during advertising’s biggest stage was risky.  After all, Super Bowl advertising is the realm of beer jokes, hot babes, cute babies, and talking animals- which all fly in the face of Google’s no-nonsense simplicity.  One might expect Google’s entry into advertising to be a trendy, clever, viral campaign, not a mass TV ad during a 100M+ viewer broadcast.  Additionally, Google needed to worry about an ad on such a grand scale looking defensive.  After all, Google’s squeaky clean veneer has been under fire (albeit mild fire) recently due to competition from Bing (which I think is a fantastic search engine, by the way) and its controversial struggles with privacy in China.  Google claims the ad was not defensive, since it had been playing on Youtube for months prior to the Super Bowl.  I have my suspicions that the ad was a defensive maneuver, but this misses the point: the ad was a sweet, but not too sweet, sentimental reminder of how inextricably linked our lives are with Google.  The ad was Googly in all possible ways: clean, simple, clever, and with just enough of a twist (“how to assemble a crib”) to make you fall in love.  My only problem with the commercial was that it focused entirely on the search feature.  Although this is Google’s most well-known and widely-used feature, I am sure there is a way to integrate Gmail, Google docs, or some other feature without mussing the message too much.  But alas, the simplicity of the ad lies at the core of its appeal, so perhaps adding other features would have diluted the message.

2. Doritos: Play Nice

For all the hoopla surrounding PepsiCo’s withdrawal from Super Bowl advertising for the first time in 23 years, this amateur Doritos commercial was nearly perfect.  The difficult thing to do when it comes to marketing products targeted toward 16-35 year old males (Doritos, Axe, etc.) is that you need to capture the attention of both the consumer (the video game-playing, football-watching, DiligentOne blog-reading guy that will actually eat/drink/use the product) and the customer (who is often the consumer’s mom or girlfriend).  Therefore, even though you can always get the attention of guys using slapstick humor or T&A, it’s tougher to wrangle the guy while also making an impression on the girl.  This commercial hits both the consumer and the customer.  The consumer is drawn in by the honey dip, the videogames, and the slap of the face.  The customer is drawn in by the cute kid, the chivalrous dude, and the maternal instincts (“Jalen, are you playing nice?”).  Overall, a home run of a commercial in a category (beer, chips, soda) that can get stale easily.

3. Snickers: Betty White

You play ball like a girl!” Enough said- great commercial.

Honorable Mention: Kia Sorento: Joy Ride, VW: Bug Punching

Worst:

1. Dr. Pepper: Mini Kiss

Mini-Me was hilarious in the Austin Powers movies.  The munchkins were adorably creepy in the Wizard of Oz.  Sometimes, I even watch five minutes of “Little People, Big World” after I’m done watching Millionaire Matchmaker.  However, the little people in this Kiss commercial are not funny, nor do they tie well to the message of the product.  Dr. Pepper’s Cherry’s message is that it’s “amazingly smooth“.  The secondary message is that there is a “little kiss” of cherry flavor in the product.  However, for a commercial to be smooth, it needs a certain “ha- I never would have thought of that” element, which this ad lacks- big time.  Little Kiss= little people playing Kiss songs in full Kiss gear?  Not very smooth.

2. Dockers: Free Pants

This commercial could claim that it suffered from poor timing.  Seriously, who the hell decided to air this commercial immediately after the Career Builder casual Friday commercial (which also featured pants-less people)?  Probably Jim Nance.  But even without the tighty-whitey-filled precursor, this commercial was dead-in-the-water.  The concept is kind of funny, but it needed something else to link the bottomless guys to the final message of the commercial (“it’s time for men to wear the pants”).  Side note: I did love the guy in the commercial with his shirt tucked into his underwear.

3. Budweiser: Fences and Friends

Everyone looks forward to the Budweiser Clydesdale ad during the Super Bowl.  While there have been some great ones in the past (horses playing football, horses and dogs playing together, etc.), this latest edition was awkward.  The commercial begins innocently enough and offers some cute shots of a calf and a baby horse frolicking together.  Then, predictably, they get older and reunite.  As the horse runs along their old route, the bull joins in and crashes through the fence that held him back in the old days.  Fair enough.  However, the corny/out-of-place/confusing final line of the commercial (shared between two ranchers) ruins the whole scene: “Nothing comes between friends”.  “Even fences”  Are we supposed to laugh?  Tear up?  Go buy Budweiser?  I haven’t a clue.

Funniest:

1. TruTV: Punxsatawney Polamalu

I have no idea what TruTV is or what they do, but this commercial is a riot.

2. Audi: Green Police

We’re all getting tired of Al Gore, and this commercial captures that sentiment perfectly.

3. E-trade: Jealous Girlfriend

Great laugh-out-loud commercial, but limited by the lack of originality.

Honorable Mention: Homeaway.com: Hotels, Bud Light: Voicebox

Best and Worst NFL Helmets

January 21, 2010

One of my favorite things about sports is the uniforms.  I’ve never studied fashion, nor am I an especially sharp dresser, but uniforms fascinate me.  As a kid, I ordered a Randall Cunningham uniform from the Sears catalog.  Despite being a die-hard Colts fan, I loved the Eagles colors and the slick silver wing on their helmets.  My enthusiasm for the Eagles’ color scheme led to other foolish purchases such as green and silver Zubaz pants (they matched my Bret “The Hitman” Hart shirt so well).

If only Zubaz made visors...

I used four primary criteria to evaluate the helmets: simplicity, colors, and how well the helmet fits with the rest of the uniform and the city/team image.  Here are the worst three helmets in football, followed by the best three.

Worst helmets:

3. Baltimore Ravens

This one is tough because I like the Ravens logo- the purple bird with a red eye, a gold “B”, and gold and white accents.  However, there are two design elements on which the Ravens lose major points: the gold “B” and the helmet stripes.

The “B” is ok as a part of the stand alone logo, but when used on the helmet, it causes a problem.  When looking at the right side of a player’s helmet, the “B” faces the Raven’s beak.  However, when looking the the left side, the “B” faces the bird’s neck.  This confusing asymmetry always forces me to do a double-take.  We are used to seeing the “B” facing the bird’s beak, since that is how it’s presented on the normal logo, so to see the B reversed makes the whole logo look strange.

The helmet stripes are another issue.  The two stripes begin at the front of the helmet and get thinner as they move toward the back of the helmet, eventually disappearing near the top of the helmet.  There is nothing inherently wrong with tapered helmet stripes, except these ones seem out of place, since this design feature does not appear elsewhere on the uniform.  The Broncos, for example, pull off the tapered stripe well (despite the bright orange color) because the stripe reflects the tapered design of the jersey and pants.  The helmet would be better with no stripe at all, since the logo is sufficiently busy and a black, stripe-less helmet could look good with the all-black alternate uniforms.

2. Seattle Seahawks

The first problem with this helmet is the colors.  Lots of great artists have “blue periods”.  Picasso.  Van Gogh.  Gordon Gund?  Gund’s “blue period” led to hideous uniforms for the Cavs, as well as a court design that featured six different shades of blue.  Basically, they tried to do too much with a single color, which brings us to the Seahawks’ helmets.  The helmet features three different shades of blue, including a metallic one (which makes up a majority of the helmet) which glistens and changes color based on lighting.  I understand that the colors are supposed to evoke the Pacific Northwest’s crisp marine scenery, but three shades so close to one another make for an ugly helmet.

The second problem with this helmet is the wrap-around of the bird’s neck.  Most helmet logos stand alone.  However, the Seahawk logo wraps almost all the way around the back of the helmet to form a nearly continuous shape, which makes the bird look like a dissected worm with two heads.  Additionally, the colors that are stacked together on the back of the helmet hearken back to past uniforms that used stripes improperly.  Horizontal stripes are tough to pull off (with certain exceptions), especially on the back of a helmet.

The saving grace of this helmet is the bright green used to accentuate the bird’s eye.  The color is used nicely in small doses on other parts of the uniform as well.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

See Zubaz reference above…

There should be an official rule that the worse your team’s colors are, the less prominent those colors should be on your helmet. For example, the Dolphins are cursed with the hideous aqua and coral combination.  However, the team realizes this and takes a relatively conservative approach with the helmet.  Instead of featuring an aqua dolphin bursting through some waves and leaping through a coral ring of fire on an off-aqua backdrop, the team uses a white helmet with simple touches of coral and aqua.  The Bengals should follow this example from their sun-drenched colleagues.

The Bengals have ugly, but unavoidable colors.  Orange and black make a lot of sense since the team is names after jungle cats of the same colors.  However, covering the entire helmet is the wrong way to go.  We already “get” the stripes- they show up on the shoulders of the uniform AND on the sides of the pants.  If the Bengals really love the “our team is named after an animal, so we need to make our players look like said animal when they don the uniforms” approach, why not add a tail to the back of the pants?  I’m sure the NFL wouldn’t mind this alteration.  Plus, with a tail, these uniforms could be re-used as Halloween costumes for the dozens of Bengal offspring that are running around southwestern Ohio.

Since I have placed the Bengals as the worst helmet in the NFL, let me make a suggestion for a better one.  My first instinct was to go with an all-black background with some type of Bengals logo on the sides.  However, since the AFC North already has two black hats (Ravens and Steelers), the Bengals should not choose the same color.  So, here is my earth-shattering proposal: white helmet, this logo on each side, black facemask, and a black and orange tiger-patterned stripe down the middle of the helmet.  This way, the Bengals’ helmet uses less of their ugly colors and still scores originality points with the unique “striped stripe” down the middle of the helmet.

Dishonorable mention: Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns (yes, each AFC North team is here somewhere)

Now, on to the best helmets.

Best helmets:

3. San Diego Chargers

In 2007, the Chargers re-designed their helmet by looking back in time.  Many times, this can be disastrous, but for the Chargers, this worked out beautifully.  After all, when most of the country thinks about San Diego, they think first about “Anchorman” and Ron Burgundy’s scholarly insights into the etymology of the city.  After that, people think about the beach and the immaculate weather, which is why the white helmet (instead of dark blue) and the light blue accents within the lightning bolt fit the city and the team much better.  On top of that, the helmet is clean, simple, and fits well with the other lightning bolts on the uniform.

P.S. Despite the fact that I like the helmets, I hate the Chargers.

2. Dallas Cowboys

The greatness of this helmet rests in its simplicity.  Think of all the things the Cowboys could have on the side of their helmet: a lasso, a cowboy hat, some weird design in the shape of Texas, a spur, a flaming horse… You get the point.  By choosing a simple, star logo, the ‘Boys look good in their hats.  The star is excellent because it subtly hints at several things: America’s team (stars on the flag), Lone Star state (Texas’ team), and even the badge of a wild west sheriff, all of which fit the team well.

The only downside to this helmet is how well it fits with the rest of the uniform.  The helmet is one shade of silver, while the pants are completely different– almost a periwinkle shade, instead of silver.  However, this article is focused on helmets, so the Cowboys get big props for their classic choice.

1. New Orleans Saints

No other helmet better fits its team and city.  The Fleur-de-lis and gold color recall the royal French beginnings of Louisiana.  This flowery emblem also perhaps hints at the traditional softness of Saints (‘Aints) teams.  The black color touches on the swampy, dark, voodoo-ness which makes New Orleans so fun and intriguing.  These rich symbols and colors are all then combined into a simple, symmetrical dome-piece that looks classic and truly captures the history and tradition of the city.  The team has yet to live up to the lofty history of the city, but at least they look good while doing it.

Honorable mention: Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts (now that they have the gray facemasks)

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January 17, 2010

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