NFL and Obama Team Up

By, Scott Mittleman

Co Founder SF Fun Raisers

It’s almost Black Friday and the official start to the holiday shopping season. As much as this marks the official shopping start, non-profits are also preparing for their holiday rush. During the holidays people often feel the need to contribute more and think of those less fortunate.

Many people and organizations are dedicated year round to making sure that others are aware of the need to support non-profits. As mentioned last week the NFL does a great job in donating to charities and being an advocate for them. This Thanksgiving the NFL and President Barack Obama are teaming up to create a PSA for the NFL Play 60 program. Together the NFL Play 60 and President Obama’s United We Serve  campaign encourage us to volunteer our time in the community.

“Designed to tackle childhood obesity, NFL PLAY 60 brings together the NFL’s long-standing commitment to health and fitness with partner organizations. Since the program was launched in 2007, the NFL has committed $200 million to youth health and fitness through programming, grants, and media time for PSAs.”

In support of NFL PLAY 60, all Thanksgiving weekend games will raise awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic and showcase the NFL and its clubs’ commitment to help reverse this trend. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day and continuing throughout Weeks 12-14, teams will designate a home game as an ‘NFL PLAY 60’ game. Teams also will invite ‘NFL PLAY 60 youth ambassadors’ to run on-field and stand alongside players for the National Anthem.

During the holidays all of us tend to indulge a bit and make those new years resolutions to work out more and eat healthier. To avoid this constant struggle the NFL is helping kids learn early on how to achieve healthy habits for exercise while having fun. Don’t forget to get out there and help your community, the NFL and President Obama are doing it so should you!!

NFL Play 60 PSA with President Obama

MLS Follow Up

Sunday night, ESPN broadcasted the MLS Cup between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake in primetime , putting it in direct competition with Sunday Night Football on NBC. The game received a 0.9 Nielsen rating, which was up from the 0.7 in 2008. It was also the fourth highest attended game in the history of the MLS Cup with 46,011 fans, with the highest attended cup coming in 2002, when 61,316 fans watched the Galaxy beat the Revolution in overtime at Gillette Stadium.The MLS couldn’t have asked for a much better game, as Real Salt Lake, a huge underdog, beat the Galaxy in penalty kicks. The league had probably its most marketable team (Galaxy), with its most marketable player (David Beckham), playing in the stadium the recorded the highest attendance this season (Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Sounders). However, the TV ratings are still low, moving up just 0.2 in the Nielsen from 2008. The 0.7 rating in 2008 was the lowest rating ever in the history of the MLS Cup.

The question still remains: Can soccer ever become popular in the United States? I still believe there is a market for it and that it can grow. There still seem to be more people in the United States who would rather watch English Premier League games, because they feel this is a better brand of soccer. More Premier League jerseys than MLS jerseys are sold every year in the United States. I think that the team in Seattle turned a lot of heads this year, with record attendance and a great fan-base who even turned out for a game where there team wasn’t playing. The MLS will shy away from the neutral site championship games next year, and the team with the highest record of the team teams in the MLS Cup will play host. As seen with the attendance at Gillette the year the Revolution were in the final, this has worked in the past.

The MLS has to continue to work to attract top players like Beckham into the league. Even for those who hate Beckham, no one can deny he brought attention to the league itself. Without the money that European teams have to throw around at top-notch players, it is difficult for the MLS to compete. However, I feel it is moving in the right direction, as more teams build soccer-specific stadiums and gain sponsorships to bring in money (Xbox was very prominent throughout Qwest Field on Sunday night). Although the talent may not be there, the MLS is still a very exciting brand of soccer as we saw in the playoffs. Hopefully, after the exciting championship we just saw, more people will give the MLS a shot.

MLS Season in Review

As I sat and watched the MLS Cup, and yes, some people did watch the game, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw in Seattle. With an attendance of over 46,000, which I imagine is a record for an MLS Cup game, the stadium looked absolutely packed with fans, and the atmosphere felt much more like a major championship game than in the past. The MLS got what it wanted (partly) with LA  in the finals although I’m sure they would have preferred a more watched team than Real Salt Lake going against the Galaxy.

While there were some great things that could be seen from the game last night, the girls who brought in the MLS Cup not being one of them, it is apparent that the MLS still has a long way to go if it is to be considered one of the big boys of pro sports. The fact remains readily apparent that the quality and level of play in the MLS is still very inferior to foreign leagues and that the viewership suffers because of this. We have seen that European soccer is actually quite popular in this country and this is largely due to the level of play. Now I’m not saying that the MLS needs to try and get players like Ronaldo, Messi, etc. as the money is obviously not there. But to create a culture built around quality, they have to put the money out there to keep players like Clint Dempsey, Josy Altidore, and Oguchi Onyewu who have all gone to Europe to play. In my opinion, the MLS would be better served keeping players like that in the league than paying Beckham what they pay him. You have to build a loyal fan base, like the Seattle Sounders have done, to become a profitable team/league.

I could write a whole lot more but I truly believe the key to the MLS succeeding is talent on the field. They must keep talented young American players in the league to truly have a shot at taking out something like the NHL or NBA.

Early Season NBA Attendance

“90% of life is just showing up.”

-Woody Allen

The current NBA season has been noted more for off-court economic issues than on-court performance.  While the league product has been great, with a number of exciting young players and teams, the recession has put a damper on the excitement around it.  People are spending less of their disposable income on entertainment, according to a March Zogby poll.  Subsequently, NBA teams have faced a noticeable decline in attendance.

Last season, NBA teams averaged 17,520 fans each game over the course of the year.  This season, however, the NBA has already seen a significant drop in attendance.  Through about 14% of the games this year, the attendance is down 3.5% from last year.  This projects to about 750,000 fewer fans over the course of the season.  At an average ticket price of about $50, according to the Fan Cost Index, this leads to a $37.5M revenue shortfall.  Add another $23 per fan for food, souvenirs, and such, and the shortfall rises to $54.75M.  While some teams can absorb these losses, a lot of them are experiencing cash flow problems due to the lower attendance.  This precipitated the league to secure a $200M line of credit to allow teams to meet these shortfalls.

This decline in attendance, though, does not necessarily equate to a loss in fan interest.  While in-game attendance is down, the television ratings are up.  According to Sport Media Watch, the TNT broadcasts of NBA games are up 36% over the same time period last year.  Realizing that the NBA likely cannot renegotiate the TV rights deal that they signed two years ago, it needs to find a way to take advantage of this increased viewership to replace the lost revenue of lower attendance.  One way might be to increase advertising revenue, due to the increased exposure that sponsors can leverage.  Or the NBA could undertake an aggressive campaign to increase NBA TV’s viewership, in order to increase subscription and advertising revenue.  However the NBA decides to tackle this problem, the answer could lead to how well the NBA can take advantage of the exciting on-court product it has to offer to increase its fan base.

The league office, however, can only do so much.  Individual teams will need to address the issue also.  Next week, I will look at some team-specific marketing campaigns to try and overcome the early season attendance and revenue short fall.

Why NFL On-Field Disciplinary Fines Matter

By, Scott Mittleman

Co Founder SF Fun Raisers

Each week the NFL does it’s best to protect the leagues image along with safety on the field.  Issues such as uniform violations, late hits, and gestures by a player or coach that Roger Goodell deems improper can result in a fine. 

Last Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans involved the only two remaining owners from the AFL, Ralph Wilson owner of the Bills and Bud Adams owner of the Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers.  These teams have had a long history between the greatest comeback in football history and the Music City Miracle!! View the links at the end of the post to relieve joy or suffering. 

After the Titans had won the game owner Bud Adams felt it necessary to show the Bills and owner Ralph Wilson exactly what he thought of their team with a gun slinging middle finger salute from his luxury box!!  Sure he was happy the Titans had now won 3 in a row after losing their fist six but was his middle finger shooting really necessary?  Regardless of why he did it or what anyone thinks about it his actions the NFL imposed $250,000 fine has benefits that many may not be aware of. 

Here is a tidbit of where the on-field disciplinary fines go “In addition, NFL Charities has traditionally donated funds to charitable causes from revenues generated by annual on-field disciplinary fines of players and coaches. On-field fine money has netted over$2 million per year for charity in each of the past four years. Each year, one-quarter of the fine money received by NFL Charities is donated to support former players in need through the NFL Player Association’s Players Assistance Trust (PAT). In the last fiscal year, that amount totaled more than $827,000. Other organizations that receive funds through NFL Charities from the player fine pool include the Partnership for Clean Competition, the Brian Piccolo Memorial Fund and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Care Center”  

The Players Association’s Player Assistance Trust (PAT) just by name doesn’t really explain what a valuable non-profit it is.  Former NFL players are left with debilitating injuries due from the beating their bodies took while playing football. I could write about this topic non-stop but just wanted to point out that the NFL is not donating to some super rich retirement fund for ex-players living the good life. 

While the NFL continues to be referred to as the No Fun League, no one can question its support of non-profits through a multitude of programs.  In future posts I will explore these programs along with the players and teams making it all possible.

Bills Greatest Comback Ever

Music City Miracle

Bud Adams Flipping off  The Bills (Only open if you don’t mind his quick draw middle figer gestures)

4th and 2 from the 28

If it wasn’t for the three super bowl rings and the great legacy Bill Belichick has already left, that could be the title of his autobiography: 4th and 2 from the 28. For any other coach or team, the decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 28-yard line with 2:08 left and a six-point lead with Peyton Manning waiting to get the ball may have defined a career. However, Belichick and the Patriots have a great decade of football to fall back on. But, in a way, it does show the kind of coach Belichick is. Despite his calm demeanor and vague answers at press conferences where he never takes credit or blames anyone, Belichick has an ego. He feels he’s a genius and wants to be seen that way. Although he is one of the best coaches of all-time and will find himself in the Hall of Fame when his time comes, sometimes his ego can get in the way. Maybe going for it did give the team the best chance to win. Manning did drive the Colts down on the previous two drives without much resistance from the Patriots defense. The Patriots offense is still one of the best in the game, and putting the ball in Tom Brady’s hands is never a bad idea. It was a do-or-die play. By going for it, it was pretty obvious that Belichick did not believe in his defense. They knew that, and therefore had even less confidence when they had to take the field to stop Manning with a short field. It was inevitable that they would score. Belichick now has to win back his defense, after sending a very strong message that they were not ready to help them win the game. This could be something that haunts the team for the rest of the season, with a crucial game against a conference rival coming next week. Maybe this is a sign that times are changing. Manning led a ferocious comeback against the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship game as well, leading to a Colts Super Bowl victory. Manning changed his legacy from a great quarterback who couldn’t perform in the playoffs to a clutch quarterback. He showed that once again Sunday night, leading another great comeback with the Colts entering the 4th quarter, trailing by 17 points. I’m not saying that it was a bad call or that I don’t see why Belichick did it. But it does bring to question if the crown has been turned over. It takes a lot to win a Super Bowl, and the Patriots have not done it since 2004. There is a long way to go in the season, but plays and games like that can send a team in one of two directions. Belichick will really show himself as a coach if he can bring this team back from that loss and go deep into the playoffs, with a chance at a rematch of Sunday’s game in Indy for the AFC title.

Statistically Insignificant Thoughts

“The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present.”

-John Naisbitt

The NBA season is upon us and it is important for a franchise to understand where they are and where they are going, in order to make sound business decisions.  As any good statistician will tell you, 6-9 games are too small of a sample size from which to pull any significant insights.  So with that disclaimer, here is a look at some teams, records in parentheses (all stats from Basketball Reference):

Phoenix Suns (8-1) – Phoenix has been the talk of the NBA.  With an older roster seemingly rejuvenated, their explosive start has been head-turning.  However, it has come with a relatively easy schedule.  Five of the teams they have faced are in the bottom 10 of the league, according to SRS, with only 2 games against top 10 teams (Miami and Boston).  A fall may be coming soon.

Boston Celtics (8-1) – Boston has been more than impressive, with a point differential more than 50% than any other team (currently +16.2).  However, they have played only two above-average teams (Cleveland and Phoenix).  Though SRS still has them way above the other teams, we will see how they hold up when the harder part of the schedule arrives.

Miami Heat (6-1) – Of the four one-loss teams (the Lakers being the fourth), Miami has been the most under the radar.  Currently, they have the second best point differential, and a difficult schedule, having faced only one team from the bottom 10.  Their defense has been stifling, so if they keep that up, they may be in for an unexpectedly great year.

Orlando Magic (6-3) – Orlando has to be worried about their defense.  Last year, their top ranked defense carried them through the playoffs.  As of today, their defense is below average.  If they do not improve, Orlando’s season will be a lot shorter this year.

Cleveland Cavaliers (5-3) – Cleveland has to be the biggest disappointment so far.  Their defense has been stellar, as usual under Mike Brown, but their offense is currently below average.  John Kuester, the de facto “offensive coordinator” last year, left to become the Pistons head coach, and the Cavs have felt it.  They have also had a relatively easy schedule so far, having played only one top ten team, so Cleveland may be in for tough times ahead, if they do not fix their offense.

Chicago Bulls (4-4) – Chicago is similar to Cleveland (great defense, no offense), but they have had a more difficult schedule thus far, putting them in a solid position.  They could be a top playoff team, though they will have to improve their offense to do so.

Washington Wizards (2-6) – So far, Washington has faced 6 of the top 11 teams so far, without Antawn Jamison and with a new coach.  So of all the teams with poor records, they are the most likely to bounce back and make a run for the playoffs.

The NBA season is shaping up to be an exciting one, with lots of great teams and players.  Is any one watching it, though?  Next week, I will take a preliminary look at attendance at games this year.

Coach Lewis Impacts The Community

By, Scott Mittleman

Co-Founder SF Funraisers

It’s that time of the week again to look at sports and philanthropy working together.  This week, I will shed light on a coach’s community foundation devoting their efforts to numerous causes. 

Last week, I mentioned The Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy and the Red Sox winning the team award for 2009.  The individual award for 2009 went to Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and the Marvin Lewis Community Foundation.   

The Marvin Lewis Community Foundation is not just something that Marvin Lewis considers a side project.  He devotes as much time and effort to the foundation as he does to coaching the Bengals.  The foundation has worked on many projects involving youth camps, after school learning and breast cancer prevention.  Despite a struggling economy and internal hardships with their executive director passing away, the foundation has still prospered. 

I know first hand the difficulty of running a non-profit while having a full time job.  People might think, ‘oh a football coach, that’s not a real job’ and of course Marvin Lewis should have a foundation.  The fact is it takes true dedication to run a foundation that consistently goes above and beyond to help the community.  Thanks to Marvin’s leadership and a wonderful staff, the Marvin Lewis Community Foundation continues to be a leader in sports philanthropy. 

Seeing how the Red Sox and The Marvin Lewis Community Foundation are making a difference inspires me to do even more for non-profits and bridge the relationship between sports and philanthropy. 

Read my posts each Wednesday for insight into how Sports can effect more than just a score!! 

Related Links:

Press Release

Radio Interview: The Front Row with Betsy Ross on NPR affiliate WVXU interviewed Greg Johnson and Carlette Patterson

NCAA too Strict?

A recent case involving an Oklahoma State pitcher and the NCAA has once again demonstrated the problems with NCAA rules and how they hurt more than help student athletes. The case involves Any Oliver, who was the second round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the most recent Major League Baseball amateur draft. Oliver was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, and was actually selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2006 draft. Oliver hired Tim Baretta of Icon Sports Group to help with contract negotiations at the time he was selected by the Twins. Baretta was present during the negotiation with the team, which turned out to be in violation of NCAA Bylaw that states “ a lawyer may not be present during discussions between a student-athlete and a professional team or have any direct contact (in person, by telephone or by mail) with a professional sports organization on behalf of a student-athlete.” Oliver decided not to sign with the Twins and decided to pitch for Oklahoma State instead. During his time there, Oliver decided to change agents and sign with the Boras Corporation. Subsequently, angered by the change in agency, Icon disclosed their relationship with Oliver to the NCAA. As a result, Oliver was suspended for a year (usual suspension is to take away all eligibility), which was eventually reduced to 70% of one season. Oliver then went on to challenge the decision in the state court of Ohio where he was granted injunctive relief and the suspension was nullified. The state court of Ohio determined that the NCAA bylaw was arbitrary and capricious and that it limits the players’ ability to effectively negotiate a contract. This was a big ruling against the NCAA, however they said that they would stand by the bylaw and that it still applied to student-athletes in the other 49 states. Oliver continued with a case that sued the NCAA for damages, but the NCAA settled out of court for $750,000. As part of the settlement, the NCAA bylaw would continue to be upheld in all 50 states. Oliver agreed to the settlement because the NCAA said that they would just keep appealing the case and tie it up in courts for years. To me, this is just another case of the NCAA bullying student-athletes and using rules that do more harm than good. There is no way for the NCAA to police all student-athletes who may be negotiating contracts as to whether they have had a lawyer present or not. The only way the NCAA finds out is if someone turns the player in, as Icon Sports Group did. Eighteen-year-old kids and their parents cannot be expected to negotiate contracts with professional teams. Also, it is foreseeable that more athletes will change their mind like Oliver did and decide to attend school as opposed to turning pro. Again, someone who is only eighteen does not necessarily know exactly what they want to do with their lives. Having a lawyer present to protect a student-athlete should not mean that the athlete loses his or her amateur status. The NCAA needs to take a step-back and look at how they can better help the athlete instead of sticking to rules that are outdated. The bylaw is ridiculous and cannot be policed. Amateur status should only be taken away once an athlete actually turns professional. The NCAA has to consider the student-athlete.

Public vs. Private Financed Arenas

Designing your product for monetization first, and people second will probably leave you with neither.

-Tara Hunt

Last week, I talked about the documentary Sonicsgate and how the public battle over the Sonics would likely cause a team trouble if it relocated to Seattle.  This week, I will examine the issue at the heart of the Sonics move, the public financing of NBA arenas.  In Seattle, both Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett’s ownership groups called KeyArena obsolete and asked the city to finance a new arena for the Sonics.  When the city refused, Clay Bennett took the team to Oklahoma City.

Over the last decade, the NBA, led by David Stern, has been pushing cities to publicly finance new arenas for NBA teams, with the threat of relocation if they do not.  Of the last 8 arenas built (including the new Amway Center for the Orlando Magic, set to open next season), 7 arenas have had at least 50% public financing.  The question is, with legislatures throughout the country tightening their budgets, can the NBA keep pursuing this line of strategy?

The main benefit to the NBA for public financing is the bonds used for financing are usually tax-exempt, saving the NBA a lot of money.  However, in the wake of the Sonics ordeal, the NBA needs to reevaluate its strategy since the battle for public financing may produce more drawbacks than advantages.  Tax payers in the cities are now organizing to prevent their tax dollars from being spent on NBA arenas.  For example, in Seattle, the “Citizens for More Important Things” led an effective campaign against the NBA.  These citizens would rather spend tax dollars on things like healthcare, especially as the budgets get tighter and tighter.  The NBA’s only legitimate argument against these groups was that an NBA team would provide an economic benefit to a city. However, in the trial in Seattle, the NBA undermined its own claim.  Clay Bennett’s group (which had the support of the NBA) had expert witness Brad Humphreys, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta, testify that the Sonics leaving “won’t have an impact on Seattle’s economy,” that the money not spent on an NBA team would just be spent elsewhere.

So, going forward, the NBA needs to be careful about its overt push for public financing.  Since statistically, there is no difference between public and privately financed arenas, in terms of revenue, income or franchise value, the NBA does not need public financing.  By pushing the issue, the NBA risks tarnishing its image, making it seem a greedy enterprise that does not have the fans interests in mind.  This will turn off casual fans, a key demographic for the future viability of the NBA, which may cause more losses than they would save through tax-exempt bonds.

Next week, I plan to take a look at the early part of the season, highlighting important stories and trends.