Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Amateur – a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.

I made it clear from the start that this blog would cover professional sports and public relations, not just sports in general. That’s because non-professional sports, which in the United States refers almost entirely to college sports, involve mostly people my age who shouldn’t be held to the same level of public scrutiny as their professional counterparts. Simply put these amateurs are younger, less mature, and as such can fly under the radar.

However, college athletes aren’t the only amateurs in the world of sports. I’m stretching the definition a little here, but NFL referees are amateurs as well. That may come as a surprise to some of you, who assumed that refs would be full professionals just like the players they officiate. It’s true though, NFL referees are part-time employees. Yes, they derive financial benefit from their services, but they are not referees by profession. They either work other jobs in addition to reffing or are retirees looking for something to do with their free time.

“Ok, NFL refs are amateurs, so what? Why does this matter?”

Well, how many times have you heard about questionable decision making and blown calls by the referees this season? There have been several instances of bad reffing this season, and many are calling for change. The NFL has enough problems on its hands as it is, and throwing consistently bad officiating into the mix is enough to drive millions of football fans away from the game. Professional athletes shouldn’t be held back by amateur officials; it cheapens the sport and simply isn’t fun to watch.

This goes beyond a simple “integrity of the game” problem though. The NFL gets flooded with bad press every time a ref blows a call, which in 2016 at least has been on an almost weekly basis. This is a PR nightmare and unless the NFL does something soon, lower TV ratings might be the least of their problems. Am I saying they should make NFL reffing a full-time job? There might be too many roadblocks to make that happen, but at the very least they need to address this as a league, to prove that they actually care (and are working on some sort of solution). When certain crews are becoming known for bad officiating, it’s time to make big, permanent changes before fans decide that they’d rather just watch college football, where the players are amateurs as well.

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Know News is Good News

If I told you, with explicit transparency and detail, everything that was going on in my life, how would you feel? Grossed out? Entertained? Honored? Would you get tired of hearing about it all, or adjust to the constant flow? Would you be critical or laid back?

I ask you this because with modern professional athletes being multimedia celebrities, every single action in their lives is up for discussion. Everything from satirical Twitter accounts to real news websites can and will pick up these stories and run with them in whatever direction their writers feel makes the most sense (or will draw the most readers). In some cases they are kind with their “analysis,” and sometimes they are not. What’s ultimately important with these “stories” is that they are mostly spread by people like you and me, and it’s easy to understand why. Human interest is one of the core newsworthy principles; we like to hear about other people’s lives and compare them to our own, even if this happens subconsciously.

In this day and age, there will always be someone, somewhere, writing and posting about your life (if you’re at least a moderately athlete that is). The reason this doesn’t get overwhelming is because we, as a massive group of connected individuals, filter out the crap from the not-as-crap and share the things we like with everyone else. Simply put, the good and/or important stuff rises to the top, and that’s the athlete/celebrity news that we see every day.

Now that I have that bit of talking out of the way, allow me to shift to the next: Abby Wambach. In case you hadn’t heard, she’s dating a christian mom-blogger now. Why do I know this? Well I didn’t, at least not until one of my professors suggested I write about this story and its impact on Wambach’s public image. What is that impact? Positive, and here’s why:

As a result of my personal network of friends and acquaintances, the specific media platforms I use, and the specific sports I personally follow, I barely hear anything about Abby Wambach or the US Women’s Soccer Team. Oh by the way, she retired over a year ago. I didn’t know that until I started doing research for this post, and I would hazard a guess that the majority of you didn’t know that either. News about her gets to me, and many other Americans, infrequently at best. The last big news story about her was her DUI arrest last spring, so until now most of my opinion of Wambach was based on that one small part of her life. I read the headline and a couple sentences of the article then moved on with my life, keeping that tidbit in the back of my mind.

When you hear something new about a person monthly, weekly, or even daily, you are constantly getting new information to judge (or not judge) them by, and you have a wider base of knowledge to draw from when deciding what kind of person they are. However, when you only occasionally get tidbits about someone, no matter how important they may be, you are pretty much always going to get a rather incomplete picture. Up until now I had kind of thought that Wambach was going off the deep end after retiring from international soccer, when in reality that wasn’t much more than an outlying mishap.

This is why the news of Wambach dating someone new is good for her from a PR standpoint; it gives an update to the masses that don’t keep up to date with her life, and helps to move her into a more positive light when compared to her past problems. No news isn’t good news when you’re famous and the last anyone heard from you was a DUI from a few months ago.

USA v Japan: Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

Real Friends

Isn’t it cool how certain smells, sounds, and names can trigger some incredibly vivid memories? That one song comes on the radio or that one scent floats by, and all of a sudden your brain reacts and you’re transported back in time. Actually, let’s test this out right now. Try this one on for size: Lance Armstrong.

Wow, that’s a trip. Everyone knows that he’s a (former) seven-time Tour de France champion that went from American hero to fallen idol after he admitted to cheating a couple years later, but that’s not what comes to mind when I hear his name. All of a sudden I’m a little kid again, getting up early with my dad to watch him race on the other side of the planet. Me and everyone else at my school had the yellow rubber LiveStrong wristbands. Lance Armstrong WAS professional cycling to me (and many other Americans) back then. Here was this guy from Texas, a cancer survivor, going out and consistently beating the world in this fringe sport that very few people in the states had cared about until he came along. But as we know now, it wouldn’t last.

Lance Armstrong, the hero, admitted to doping and had all seven of his Tour de France titles stripped from him. “Good riddance” many of you might be thinking, “he ruined the integrity of the sport.” Well, it turns out that doping has long and involved history in cycling. Like it or not, cycling is definitely one of those sports where “If you’re not cheating you’re not trying” is more than an old joke. That doesn’t change what Lance did though, and it certainly doesn’t change the consequences he has faced. It’s only relatively recently that he has come out of his exile, so to speak, with his own podcast in which he interviews pretty much whoever he wants, including NFL players and politicians. It’s wonderful that the internet gives everyone that wants one a platform, but should Lance Armstrong really be producing a podcast? Wouldn’t that just attract more vitriol? Is this a good move?

Long story short: Yes, definitely.

Long story medium: How many of you can honestly, hand over your heart, say that you hate one of your friends? Now, how many of you can say that you hate someone you don’t really know that well? It’s much easier to dislike someone when you don’t know them, which is part of the reason Lance basically got crucified over the doping scandal. Yes, what he did is absolutely, objectively wrong, but our opinions of people are mostly based on the subjective. For better or for worse we’re emotional beings, and pretty much the only way to get that real human attachment is direct interaction and communication. With this podcast (which isn’t about the scandal at all, by the way) Mr. Armstrong can talk to thousands if not millions of people without ever leaving his house in Texas. If you’ve ever consistently listened to a podcast or radio talk show, you know just how close you can feel to someone you’ve never met. If you haven’t it’s a lot like talking to your friend from out of town on the phone once a week, except cooler because they’re famous and you don’t actually have to talk.

To sum it up, Lance needs all the friends he can get if he wants to salvage his public image, and this podcast is a massive step in the right direction. It gives him an outlet and will gain him sympathy and support from thousands of people that he doesn’t even know exist. Will there still be haters? Always, but with the help of his podcast they can become the minority. With any luck, in ten years the name Lance Armstrong will trigger memories of honesty, redemption, and friendship instead of cheating and betrayal.

Lance Armstrong stripped off Tour de France titles

Making Data Beautiful

As all of you should know by now, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series a couple weeks ago. I’ve even already written about that here, but that’s not the only work I’ve done regarding the historic series. As luck would have it, that same week I was required to make an infographic relating to professional sports. While many people were still unsure where to start in their chosen fields, it took me all of two seconds to decide to take this opportunity to put the Cub’s achievement into perspective. I have included an image of the final product below, but before that I wanted to offer some advice to all the would-be infographic makers out there. So without further ado:

JACK’S TOP TIPS FOR TOP INFOGRAPHICS

  1. Pick a strong color scheme.
    • This may seem like an odd choice for the first thing you should think about, but I’m going off of the assumption that you can figure out how to pick an interesting and/or relevant topic. A strong color scheme makes your infographic eye catching and interesting while still being easy to read. It’s also important to pick a color palette that is not only relevant to your topic but that includes complementary colors. People don’t like looking at something that has clashing colors, it’s just unpleasant. In my case I went with the Cub’s colors, good old red, white, and blue.
  2. Don’t be afraid to change everything.
    • Sometimes when you’re being creative you get most of the way down the path you had envisioned only to discover that it doesn’t really lead anywhere. This is a problem, especially if you want your infographic to have a main driving point behind it. In this case, you have two options: Try to fix the mess, or throw out the mess and start again. The first might seem like an easier option, but I would highly recommend starting fresh in this scenario. Oftentimes you have worked yourself into a corner, and so it will take more work to break down those walls than it would to just walk in a different direction. Also, as my dad always says, you can polish a turd but it’s still a turd.
  3. Take a step back.
    • Literally print it out in the size you want, take a step back, and just look at it. Text, vector art, and picture scaling all look very different on a screen, and so it is very helpful to see it all from a distance to better gauge proportions and organization. Immediately after I printed out my first draft I realized that ALL of the text on my infographic needed to be larger, when I had previously thought it to be perfect. This even applies if you are designing for the web; not everyone is going to see your infographic in the exact same setup as the one you are editing it from.

So there you have it, go make beautiful things and check out my final infographic below!

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“It’s Gotta be the Shoes!”

The combination of cellphones and social media has allowed professional athletes to establish an incredibly strong connection with their fans, but they aren’t the only two things that make the average joe feel close with their favorite player. The other two? Left shoe and right shoe! But not just any old worn out sneakers; since the 80’s signature shoe lines named after the best professional athletes have become a multi billion dollar industry, with the likes of Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan contributing their names and influence to companies like Nike and Adidas. But so what, they’re just shoes right?

Wrong. Jordan has gone from just being the last name of a legendary basketball player to being the first name of one of the biggest clothing brands on the planet. People who have never watched MJ play a game wear shoes and shirts with his name and logo on them, and do so proudly. This is a bit of an extreme example, but the massive success of the Jordan brand is what paved the way for other athletes to put their name out there as well. Take Kobe Bryant for example; one of the best to ever play the game and a legend in Los Angeles. I’m from Los Angeles and grew up watching Kobe in his prime, but I never really liked the guy no matter how much I respected his talent. That changed when I got my first pair of Kobe shoes though.

Nike has been making Kobe branded shoes for more than ten years now, with multiple variations available every year. The difference between Kobes and Jordans is that Kobe’s shoes are made exclusively with performance in mind; they’re not a simple fashion statement. They’re shoes for people that really need the next level grip, lockdown, and support that they offer. I don’t play basketball, but for years now Kobes have been the absolute best shoes for volleyball. That first pair I got back in high school was a revelation, and I’ve worn nothing but Kobes since. This hasn’t just made Kobe Bryant a few dollars though, it’s gotten him a new fan. I’d never say that Kobe is my favorite athlete or even basketball player, but over the years I’ve gone from generally disliking him to being a big supporter, and I know that the shoes have played a part in this.

Here’s the thing; playing in his shoes multiple times a week for the last four or five years has made me feel connected with the black mamba. The shoes are designed specifically for Kobe, and I play in them constantly and love them more than any other pair of shoes I’ve ever worn. This makes me feel like I have some things in common with this superstar from a sport I don’t even play. As corny as it sounds, sometimes when I step on the court I feel like Kobe, and it’s hard not to like someone you feel that connection with.

Signature shoes have become a massive industry, especially in the NBA, and it’s easy to see why. Basketball more than many other sports gives superstars a huge chance to showcase their individual skill, and people are always going to want a piece of what sets them apart. Sure, the shoes probably have relatively little to do with their abilities, but if you want to have the authentic experience it’s gotta be the shoes. Combine this with the feedback loop of fame -> merchandise -> name recognition -> fame and it’s easy to see why having your own line of shoes is one of the best PR moves you could make. You just have to be an incredibly talented athlete first; no big deal.

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Death, Taxes, and Bad Internet

The one constant across every sporting event I have ever been to is something you might not expect: It’s not beer, pretzels, or yelling really loud. It’s bad cellphone service.

I would bet that a decent number of you just nodded after reading that last sentence; anyone that’s tried to use their phone at a large event knows how impossible it can be to get anything through. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the cellular network or the arena WiFi, tweets won’t send, Facebook won’t load, and there’s no way in hell that you’ll be watching any videos. “Wait a minute though” some of you might be saying, “shouldn’t you be watching the game anyway? Isn’t that the whole point of buying a ticket to one of these things?” Well, yes and no. Obviously you’re there for the game, but it’s also a largely social event; you’re there with thousands of other people to talk to and cheer with, so with the advent of social media it’s a great big thing to share with all of your followers. Also, who doesn’t like to brag at least a little bit about how cool their Thursday has been?

A recent article by Todd Leopold of CNN touched on this, and he spoke about how many stadiums and arenas are updating their wireless technology to match the rapidly rising demand of fans:”Certainly, newer facilities are focusing on multimedia fan experiences. Levi’s Stadium, where the 2016 Super Bowl will be held, was called ‘the most high-tech sports venue yet’ in a 2014 Time article — which only makes sense, since it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley.” This is a great move both financially and from a PR standpoint. People will be more likely to buy tickets if they know that they’re going to have a good experience, and in this day and age being on your cellphone is a large part of that experience. It also shows fans that the team in question listens to what their fans want, and is willing to provide that for them. So, more butts in seats, generally better opinions of the franchise, what’s not to like?

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t really work, at least not so far. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help sports franchises sell more tickets or gain favorable attitudes; the technology itself doesn’t work. As mentioned above, Levi’s stadium, the second newest stadium in the NFL, was designed to have excellent internet access for everyone there. I know multiple people from the bay area that have been to multiple games in that stadium, and all of them say the exact same thing: “Yeah no the reception there is terrible, can’t really do anything on your phone.” So while these franchises may think that their improvements are enough, they clearly aren’t. Do I think that they should stop trying? Definitely not; as I said before this is a great move in a couple different ways, they just need to be a little more zealous in their efforts.

Luckily, one arena has already done this. The Sacramento Kings just completed their new Golden 1 Center, and a core part of the technology there is a wireless system that is “17,000 times faster than the average home network” and can “handle more than 225,000 posts on Instagram every second.” Whether this holds up under real world use is still to be determined, but it’s definitely a big step up from nearly all current offerings, and the fact that they are trumpeting these advancements far and wide will undoubtedly be a monetary and attitudinal boon to the franchise.

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It’s Time

“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. The wounds remain. Time – the mind, protecting its sanity – covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”

-Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

If there’s one thing that the Chicago Cubs and their fans have in common with Rose Kennedy, it’s this quote. 108 years sure didn’t make the longest championship drought in professional sports history any less painful. So if time won’t help, what will?

“It has been said that winning heals all wounds. I agree.”

-Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, probably.

While it definitely took a lot of time to happen, winning is what ended the Cubs’ drought. Winning is what eased the built up pain of over 100 years of waiting for Cubs fans. Winning is why athletes go practice, train, and compete. It definitely isn’t the only reason since sports are inherently a lot of fun, but anyone that says athletes are just out there to enjoy it, win or lose, you should take that and everything else they say with a grain of salt. Winning is always the goal, simply because winning is really fun and losing is really not. Winning makes you forget that injury you’ve been fighting, losing is like getting injured all over again.

This works on a larger scale as well. No one wants to watch their team lose, regardless of if they’re watching in the stadium or from their couch. Sure, there are plenty of fans that will watch anyway, but nothing fixes falling attendance and ratings quite like winning games. The Cubs winning isn’t only going to heal their wounds though. It might just be what it takes to heal the entire MLB. People (myself included) have been saying for years that the MLB is slowly dying out. I’m not foolish enough to think that it would ever completely disappear, but it has definitely been losing ground to the likes of the NFL and NBA, which have grown to be industry dominating forces in the last fifteen years.

However, the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years could be a major turing point for professional baseball. Game seven, which aired on a Wednesday night, was the most-watched baseball game in 25 years. It was also more watched than game seven of the most recent NBA Finals game seven between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. That game drew 44.5 million people at its peak; the Cubs game drew 49.9 million. Interestingly enough both of these games involved teams from Cleveland, but that’s besides the point.

This is a golden opportunity for the MLB. The world just saw one of the best World Series games of all time, and it was to break the longest championship drought in sports history. It had everything; a come-from-behind tie, a rain delay, multiple home runs, and an incredible historic backing to boot. This could be the final push that puts the MLB into gear. If the MLB had a torn meniscus before, this single win could be the arthroscopic surgery that allows it to run again. They have the players, the games, and the history, now they just need to sell that to everyone while we’re still hanging around talking about that game. Hopefully they can capitalize and turn this RBI single into a grand slam.

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