The March Before The Madness

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My bracket from last year, or an example of how you can waste so much time and still be so wrong.

The NCAA Divison-I Men’s basketball tournament is quite possibly the most exciting event in American sports. From middle of nowhere David stunning Goliath blueblood programs, great teams chasing history, to some of today’s best players flashing their greatness for the first time on center stage. You can find just about every cliche sport narrative you could ever dream of in the 68 team field.

 

In years past, you’ve probably tried your hand at filling out a bracket in hopes of winning that $100 from your office pool. Myself? I don’t even want to think about the “analysis” I’ve put in trying to hit the 1 in 1,610,543,269 odds in coming up with the perfect bracket. Hell, even President Obama himself gets a segment on ESPN every year for his picks. For many schools, the tournament will be some of the best exposure they’ll get all year long and the results speak for themselves. For those schools to earn that right, however, they must go through a little madness before the dance and they have no problem with that.

For schools in conferences outside the “Power Seven,” end of the season conference tournaments are their only chances at grasping the nation’s attention for a night as they battle for the single automatic bid given to every division one conference. There is an argument to be made that this format waters down the NCAA tournament because it allows teams that wouldn’t have qualified on their regular season merit take a spot away from a more deserving team. The Ivy League offers an alternative example by simply not holding a tournament and giving the bid to the regular season champion. But conference championships are more about exposure than crowning a champion.

Less recognized conferences usually begin their tournaments before larger ones do and some even conclude before the big boys end their regular seasons. For example, the regular season officially came to a close tonight and as of this moment, five teams (Since this page will most likely be updated by the time you read this, those schools are: Florida Gulf Coast University, UNC-Asheville, Yale, Northern Iowa University, and Austin Peay University) have already punched their tickets. This strategy leads to a cohesive flow that benefits the large majority of college basketball. While the larger conferences are preparing for their tournaments, the national stage is left wide open. Smaller conferences utilize that time to get the audiences they desperately want. The power conferences have no qualms with all of the lesser guys getting out of the way early because it allows them to maximize viewership later on when their tournaments are underway.

I think if you looked at the NCAA tournament in a vacuum, the Ivy League’s format is the most logical and rewarding system. Yale earned its bid this year over the course of two months, not one week. However, the world doesn’t work like that and TV time is of incredible value to small programs. Tournaments are the tools these conferences use for exposure by building an exciting story with strong implications and delivering it at the most opportune time. If they lose the chance to put their best programs on the larger stage, so be it. The value in reaching new publics with conference tournaments far outweighs the risk of putting out an undeserving product for these lesser known conferences. You know, cinderella rode in a pumpkin carriage before she danced at the ball. Enjoy the ride.

How the 24 Hour News Cycle Killed Athlete-Media Relations

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Can we get a good soundbite, please? Photo by Ivana

In response to the growth of social media, sports media in this age has become a race of who can deliver the news the fastest. Oftentimes at the expense of the truth. Beginning with the internet boom of the 2000s, the relationship between media and athletes has become hostile and downright invasive at times. What was once a day to day news cycle has become a 24/7 news breaking debacle.

The media chews athletes up and spits them out as quickly as they can. Yesterday’s Tim Tebow has become today’s Johnny Manziel in which the media builds athletes up in images they fully construct themselves. I don’t consider it entirely the media’s fault. As the age old saying “If it bleeds it leads” suggests, there is a negative feedback loop between public opinion and media. The media delivers what we’ve proven we want in our habits.

I think the best example of what sports media has become in the internet age is LeBron James’ entire career in the spotlight. James first gained fame in 2002 during his junior year of high school when he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The magazine declared him “The Chosen One” drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan his entire career because of it. He’s been forced to meet a certain expectation and drawing unreasonable ire ever since. The beloved Michael Jordan would have gotten eaten alive in today’s media world because numerous reports indicate he’s an asshole. James’ success paved the way for media in the internet age to follow potential stars from the earliest sign possible, potentially harming their chances in the long run. But the media doesn’t receive the backlash from it, it’s just another washout story for them. LeBron and every superstar in between were built as the next Michael Jordan. Today, top basketball prospects are billed as the next LeBron James.

If we want lazy and dishonest journalism to stop, our habits need to change. A long time ago as a self-righteous teenager, I vowed to never read an online article by The Oregonian sportswriter John Canzano (I’d link him, but you know, morals yadda yadda) ever again because I felt like he produced shoddy biased work. I was going to stick it to the newspaper right where it hit them: revenue. Even though I failed in reaching my goal of getting him fired (in fact he actually has a radio show now, so he’s done quite well for himself despite my noble stand) I’ve held strong in my beliefs because views and shares run media today. If we want better player relationships and interactions, we need to change. If not, prepare for more Marshawn Lynchesque interviews.

 

Rebuilding FIFA’s Reputation

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Will a new president bring the change FIFA needs? Or will he just be the next one up for a deeply corrupted organization? Photo by Wayne Roddy

The global soccer governing body, FIFA, announced this past Friday that current UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was elected to be the next president of what is likely the most powerful organization in all of sports. FIFA has been under immense scrutiny ever since the May 2015 arrests of seven top officials on corruption charges in Switzerland and subsequent charges made by the United States government. Infantino’s election comes in light of former president Sepp Blatter and heir apparent Michael Platini’s eight-year bans from all FIFA events. The scandal has been a public relations nightmare for FIFA, including public reprimands by some of the largest corporations in the world, severance of partnerships from others, and the release of arguably the worst movie of all time. The ruling body that is capable of bringing North Korea and the United States together on a grassy field needs Infantino to right a ship that has been sailing crooked for far too long.

From the looks of it, Infantino is starting his tenure off on the right foot. As he helped open a new FIFA museum in his first act as president, he declared his intent to implement reforms to the ruling body. It is important in this time of change that he reiterates that the organization is making the changes its publics need to see for reassurance. In what was a massive part of the previous regime’s abhorrent corruption, Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010 despite its complete lack of infrastructure at the time. To meet the promises it laid out in its bid, the nation has embarked on an incredibly horrific migrant worker system that has left thousands dead already. Huge sponsors including Visa, Coca-Cola, and Adidas, are calling for Infantino to address the human rights issues FIFA has turned a blind eye to thus far.

Infantino and FIFA have a massive hill to climb in righting the wrongs of its previous leaders. In my opinion, stripping Qatar of the World Cup bid it won would be the strongest and most symbolic act Infantino could make at this time. It would show the world that FIFA is making the necessary changes it desperately needs to make during this period of mistrust from its publics and also that it values the rights of the voiceless. Realistically, I don’t see a shake up that large happening, but I do hope Infantino takes a page out of NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s playbook and levies a heavy hand early to set a tone.

How the NBA Uses All-Star Weekend as a Public Relations Tool

 

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All-Star Weekend is a hit on all fronts for the NBA. Photo by Daniel.

The NBA All-Star weekend came to a close Sunday, Feb. 14 following the Western Conference’s All-Stars’ defeat of the Eastern Conference All-Stars in an exhibition game composing of some of the league’s best talents. The jam-packed weekend was highlighted by incredible dunks, immensely talented shooters, the always amusing All-Star Celebrity Game and the 65th All-Star Game.

 

All-Star weekend hasn’t always been filled with such a variety of entertainment. In fact, many events were introduced and have gone through a number of formats as a response to declining viewership and ratings of the All-Star Game itself. The NBA’s course of action in implementing new features to the weekend festivities has proven to be a hit for the league and broadcasters.

The NBA All-Star game was first introduced in 1951, but it wasn’t until the ’80s that the league introduced the Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point competition. The two games stand in almost stark contrast to one another. The dunk contest showcases the raw athletic potential of its athletes and leaves viewers in awe that the human body can reach such incredible highs. On the other end of the spectrum, the Three-Point Challenge displays the pure skill that players have developed from countless hours spent perfecting their games in the gym.

In 2003, the NBA introduced the Celebrity All-Star Game. Celebrities from wide-ranging fields such as government, entertainment, retired NBA legends and WNBA stars typically compose the rosters. I think the game is wildly successful because it reaches audiences who have little to no interest in watching basketball. For instance, Justin Bieber participated in the 2011 celebrity game and put on a pretty respectable show. Despite his mediocre performance and place on the losing side, the pop icon was named MVP as a result of his legion of fans swarming the vote. While I’m making very sweeping generalization, I think it is safe to say that Bieber’s demographic and the NBA’s demographic don’t overlap that much, so the relationship between the two was beneficial for both. The NBA gained an audience it was desperately trying to reach in children and young adults by making the connection with Bieber, and he used the nationally broadcast game as a platform to “sell” himself to his publics. This year, the Celebrity All-Star game audience continued to grow and continues to be a hit for the league.

For the NBA, adding these events opened up more opportunities to generate revenue during a period in which no games are played. For instance, this All-Star weekend was flanked by two days rest before the All-Star game and three days after it. That was six days of no regular season action. From the players’ perspectives, the All-Star break is a chance to rest and get away from the grueling work and travel they experience. By packing the weekend with events, the NBA can give back to its employees in time away, which keeps them happy.

What started as a dream game showcasing the best players in the NBA has turned into three-day extravaganza for the league. The festivities brilliantly allow the NBA to reach new audiences, maintain good relations with current audiences, and satisfy its employees with a week-long break in the middle of the year. The NFL could learn a thing or two.

The Importance of the Student in Student-Athlete.

 

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The dark side of college athletics can be nasty. Photo By Kim W.

While the nation was entrenched in the Super Bowl two weeks ago, a small but very important anniversary in the sports universe went largely unnoticed. Feb. 7 marked the first anniversary of the death of Dean Smith, the legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach. A man revered for his commitment to integrity and the importance of academics in collegiate athletics, Smith and the powerhouse UNC program he built were shining examples that excellence on the basketball court could coincide with excellence in the classroom. Today, the university that Smith helped forge an impeccable identity with finds itself embedded in one of the largest academic scandals in NCAA history. As details continue to pour out, the university is tasked with maintaining its reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in the country and reassuring its audiences that academics do not take a backseat to athletics.

 

The scandal revolves around the African-American Studies department at UNC and scam classes that have become known as “paper classes.” These classes never met and simply required a single paper to pass. On the surface, the classes don’t sound entirely like shams– just somewhat. But when you see what passes for an A grade and the demographics of them you see exactly what they were created for. They were simply meant to maintain NCAA eligibility requirements and move athletes right along.

PR wise, the scandal is an utter disaster for not just UNC, but also the NCAA ruling body. One of the chief concepts (that is highly debated) behind collegiate athletics is that the education scholarship athletes receive are proper compensation for their work at the school. But what happens when that education is diluted by grade mill classes? It just further amplifies the public perception that schools are using athletes as profit and exposure generators.

The University of North Carolina’s responses up to this point have been about as good a university charged with “lack of institutional control” can be. In 2013, the Chancellor of UNC, Holden Thorp, stepped down and in his place stepped Carol Folt who implemented 70 reform plans. The reforms were made to ensure the public that serious changes were being made in light of the scandal.

One of the best ways the University of North Carolina has responded to the scandal was launching a portal on the school’s official website regarding the issue in 2014. The page lays everything out for you, from press releases to university progress reports. The Carolina Commitment page serves as a form of transparency and is used as a communication channel for the university to speak directly with audiences seeking information. Chancellor Folt releasing statements on the page about any updates is a great example of good crisis response work by the university. It shows from the head down that the school is making efforts in ridding the university of institutional dishonesty. The transparency is important because it shows that UNC is not shying away and hoping for the scandal to just disappear. Instead, UNC is taking action and showing you the reforming work the school has implemented and the progress it is making. That transparency shows is mutually beneficial for UNC and its publics because the feedback its audiences gives in response to the school’s strategies shows what is working and what needs changing.

I can’t imagine that if Dean Smith was still alive he would feel much pride toward UNC for the fact that it allowed this to even happen in the first place. However, I think he would have appreciated the work the school has put in righting its wrongs. In the meantime, at least its not SMU.

Championship Parades and How Franchises Celebrate with Their Publics

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Championship parades bring the whole city to a standstill. Photo by Griszka Niewiadomski

Watching your team win a championship is the ultimate dream of every sports fanatic. The confetti, the trophies, the awkward kind of/maybe/probably name-drops of companies you have stakes in. Nothing feels better than reveling in your team’s climb to the top.

Last week, the Denver Broncos captured Super Bowl 50 and with that, the opportunity to host one of the largest parties in sports: A Championship Parade.

With streets and sidewalks shut down for the event, over one million fans stuffed the streets and Civic Center Park of Denver to celebrate, listen to members of the organization speak and catch a glimpse of the Lombardi trophy. An event of such magnitude requires a lot of communication between an organization and its publics. These events are used by franchises as ways to express the organizations’ gratitude to its supporters and allow them to celebrate together. For instance, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock roared to those in attendance last Tuesday “Let the nation hear you! You are world champions! Make … some … noise!” The Broncos purposely used the mayor to express its thanks because it roots the organization into the fibers of the city and strengthens its special connections with the community. It is always important for an organization to acknowledge the importance its publics have in the successes it finds because without them, there is no franchise.

My first taste as a champion came last Fall when my favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, broke through and won the World Series for the first time in 30 years after falling just short the year before. Even after I spent over $200 on champions emblazoned clothing, my thirst for celebration lived on. Going to school in Eugene, Ore., close to 2,000 miles away from Kansas City, Mo., there was obviously no way for me to celebrate alongside the reportedly 800,000 people who packed downtown that day. To put that number and excitement in perspective, Kansas City has a population of 467,000. Thankfully in this day and age, I watched the rally from the comforts of my home thanks to a live stream of the events by the Fox 4 affiliate in Kansas City.

I will always remember the images from that day and how outside of select restricted spaces, there was no visible standing room in the fields of Union Station where the ceremony ended. I hope the next time one of my favorite teams wins it all, I can be right there with the rest of my millions of friends celebrating the team’s efforts.

How Minor League Baseball Draws out Attendance

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Take me out to the ballgame. Photo by Kurt Krejny

To this point, I’ve really only focused on football on this blog. Ironically, football is a sport I am becoming less interested in as the years go by. Something that has caught my attention lately is baseball and specifically the way minor leagues attempt to get your butt in their seats.

 

The Minor league baseball system consists of 176 teams spanning 15 leagues across North America. As a result of having so many leagues and teams, in 2014 MiLB reported over 40 million turnstiles were walked through. Needless to say, that’s a lot of competition for your viewership. To draw your attention, teams will often host promotional nights as incentives for you to come out. In between your run of the mill dollar beer or bobblehead giveaway nights, organizations will sometimes come up with genius publicity stunts.

Throughout last year, for example, Star Wars Nights were raging across the nation in anticipation of the movie. Many teams even went so far as to include one-off uniforms for the night. Teams will often try to draw your attention in using any and all popular culture references. 2015 was the year the movie Back to the Future II traveled to and many organizations took advantage of that opportunity for promotional purposes. Holidays were no exception. One of the most outrageous promotions I have ever heard of came out of Lake Elsinore, Calif. in 2011, when on Cinco de Mayo, The Storm hosted “Charlie Sheen-co de Mayo.”

Promotional nights in the minor leagues aren’t always just wacky stunts to get you to come out and attend a game. They can also be used to promote good causes and raise awareness of issues. In 2014, The Myrtle Beach Pelicans won 2014 MiLB promotion of the year for its Prostate Cancer Awareness Night that included a live prostate exam for the team’s GM during the seventh inning stretch. The event drew attention from the media sources the likes of ESPN, The Today Show, and even across the pond from The Daily Mail in England. Not only did the event promote awareness of prostate cancer, but the team raised $6,500 in support for Fallon Emery, a local ten-year-old girl who was battling brain cancer. You could say the event was a home run for everyone involved.

So get out and support your local minor league team. Chances are you live very close to at least one. Promotional schedules should be coming out soon, so you can target dates if you’re interested in a free swag bag or want to support an issue you’re passionate about.