Archive for September, 2010

One Week Off

Dear Readers,

The new – and final – semester has begun and its time to finish off my coursework with some “panache.”  I will take a week off from posting to focus on the start of this semester and begin work on my thesis.

In the meantime, all articles are available by clicking through the categories in the right margin and are there for your reading pleasure.  As always, thank you for your readership and participation by comments and email.

I will add the final edits to my most recent NASCAR article soon.

See you next week.

Best regards,

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Mickey Mantle: The Man, the Myth, and the Writers

The great Yankee icon, Mickey Mantle. A man who was both very real and truly mythical.

Through the first half of the twentieth century, America’s sportswriters played the roles of Thucydides and Homer by inking the history of baseball under bold headlines on the morning papers and celebrating athletes’ warrior-like exploits for all to enjoy early in the day.  Since antiquity, Greece has followed Odysseus, one of Western civilization’s greatest heroes.  In a similar tradition, from the 1900s to 1940s, American sportswriters traveled and shared experiences with the baseball giants of yore and created a mythical greatness around our country’s titans of sport.  The 1950s saw a gradual change in how these and other popular columnists, led by Walter Winchell, represented their subjects and the way in which fans learned about the mythical champions who battled with wooden bats and leather armor on fields of clay and windswept grass.  Mickey Mantle’s picture did not bear the bright halo of exemplary behavior that always graced Stan Musial’s iconic portraits both in magazines and popular memory, but it reminds Americans of how baseball was once covered by the media and viewed by the public.  Today’s baseball, laced with the tight sinews of scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs, is not Musial or even Mantle’s game.  Yet, the greater days of “America’s pastime” were chronicled by legions of American sportswriters playing the roles of Thucydides and Homer; though obviously not as celebrated as the great recorders of ancient history and legend, American sportswriters served a similar role in preserving the aura of a world – and sport – that modern society recently lost.

In the 11 October 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated, readers find a sample of Jane Leavy’s new biography, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.  Mickey Mantle’s sort-of deification in 1950s American popular media, as represented in Sports Illustrated, speaks volumes not just of how writers covered athletes and their exploits, but how opponents, teammates, and fans remember individuals (athletes in this case) who evoke emotion like few others ever could.  One anecdote that makes Mickey Mantle more of a man and less of a myth involves a brawl at the Copacabana Club in New York City.  Imbibed spirits encouraged Mantle and a naturally rough-and-tumble pack consisting of Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Billy Martin to take a moral stand and thrash a group of patrons who yelled a racial slur at that night’s headlining performer, Sammy Davis Jr.  One of the Yankees’ vanquished foes stumbled into a local emergency room with a broken nose and several other injuries.  The papers were all over the story and Mantle’s involvement demystified his up-to-then clean image.  It must be noted that it was all for a good cause, though, since they defended a friend’s honor.

Sportswriters who followed a specific team often enjoyed certain privileges by association, such as having their tabs paid by the organization.  Doubtless, this certainly helped teams avoid negative coverage in the media.  The article recounts a story of how Babe Ruth, long before the days of Mickey Mantle, ran naked through a train as a woman carrying a knife was chasing him.  According to the article, the sportswriters who witnessed this spectacle – that would shock even today’s more cynical fans – said, “Well, that’s another story we won’t cover!”

The father of sensational journalism and gossip columns, Walter Winchell: the antithesis of Edward R. Murrow.

Nevertheless, Mantle hardly survived that transitional phase in the history of American journalism.  He is remembered as “a guy’s guy who called everyone ‘bud’ or ‘pard’” and “was unafraid to show tears,” according to Sports Illustrated.  He is remembered for bringing his teammates along with a bouquet of flowers to visit an acquaintance’s mother at the hospital.  He is remembered by the public as a “tongue-tied, country-fed and shy” young man regardless of age, but by former team owner George Weiss as someone with a record of transgressions that were bad enough to be sufficient for blackmail.   Weiss once threatened possible disclosure to Mantle’s wife, Merlyn, when negotiating new terms with the ballplayer for a contract extension.  Some of the finest baseball the world has ever known, along with infidelity and booze, were the fact of the matter with Mantle.  He was no Stan Musial, baseball’s very own Odysseus, but Mantle still bears a mystique all his own – boyish charm and good looks that accompanied one of the most effective and graceful swings in baseball history.  The article also reveals that Miss Marjorie Bolding, a lady with whom he was rumored to have an affair, said of Mantle, “He was the most fun.  Nobody could play ball like Mickey, and nobody could play like Mickey.”  Though teammates, opponents, and fans remember him as “The Mick,” his wife recalls, “… [Mickey] was married in a very small geographic area of his mind… [to Mickey, marriage was] a party with added attractions,” according to author Jane Leavy.  We, the public, know the myth and those close to him truly knew the man.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Mickey Mantle swung a bat with an artist's precision.

Gatorade G Series: Is it a Potential Marketing Blunder in the Supremely Competitive Sports Drink Industry?

By relaunching its main product and apparently not maximizing shelf placement at supermarkets, Gatorade (owned by PepsiCo) may have actually given the ever-expanding competition a chance to capitalize on an opportunity to compete against the all-new Gatorade G Series.

In 2009, PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand suffered heavy losses including a 10.2% decrease in revenue and a 12% drop in operating revenue from July 2008 to July 2009 according to a 22 July 2009 article in the online magazine Marketing Daily (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=110269).  As complicated as the reasons explaining Gatorade’s recent struggles may be, the thirst-quenching sports drink company’s solution seems even more complex (and confusing).

Thirst Quencher or Energy Drink?

“Gatorade is first aid for that deep-down body thirst,” or so the American market once thought thanks to Gatorade’s popular marketing slogan.  One bottle equaled one solution a long time ago.  Instead, in an effort to market to teen athletes (according to a 23 March 2010 online Businessweek article found at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-03-23/pepsico-s-g-game-plan-targets-higher-prices-teen-athletes.html) and remain competitive in the sports drink business, Gatorade launched its three-pronged attack on the Powerades and Vitamin Waters of the world.  Unfortunately, the Gatorade G Series (G1, G2, and G3) was launched after high school football seasons ended (usually by December in Florida, which is home to some of the best high school football talent in the nation and only rivaled by states like Texas and Ohio) and missed an opportunity to engage student-athletes at what Gatorade calls “point of sweat.”  The Gatorade G Series involves a more academic approach and less of an instinctual, or even emotional, buying experience for the consumer since the product is now more of a “system” and less of an all-in-one solution.  In effect, the task of positioning the Gatorade G Series in the teen athlete market will be even more challenging than simply enhancing the existing “thirst quencher.”

Will Someone Please Explain Exactly How This Works?

Without incentives to visit the G Series website, it would take a significant degree of curiosity for a consumer to not only view the marketing pitch, but also read the both lengthy and jargon-rich FAQs describing exactly how the Gatorade G Series works (found at: http://www.gatorade.com/frequently_asked_questions/default.aspx).  None of that information can be fairly summed up in a 30-second TV spot and one wonders – now that the Gatorade brand has diluted itself – if Gatorade G2 (number 2 of 3 in the product line representing Gatorade products consumed before, during, and after competition, respectively) can deliver on the promises of the original so-called “thirst quencher” the American public has known for decades.

Poor shelf placement and a lack of interactive displays at supermarkets handicap the new Gatorade’s visibility at point-of-sale.

Here it is: the Gatorade G Series. Could this common display really be an example of how Gatorade has "evolved?"

At a large chain supermarket in one of Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods on the North Side, one finds a missed opportunity for the brand to engage its customers and introduce the new product.  On Gatorade’s website (http://www.gatorade.com/default.aspx#gseries?s=gseries), the company claims to have “evolved” its product.  If it has truly evolved, then a short explanation near the product display would help early adopters decide on “G” before moving on to otherwise more familiar items.  An exciting display could help increase consumer interest.  If Gatorade complemented its shelf space with interactive end-cap displays touting its official sponsorship of the NFL and sold the pass-thru rights to the host supermarket, the brand would not only augment its efforts to sell G Series products as a real “evolutionary” step ahead of its competition, but it would help the supermarket increase its sales figures as well.  Also, the end-cap displays could include brief descriptions of all three components of the Gatorade G Series and educate consumers at point of sale in order to be more present at “point of sweat.”

Essentially, Gatorade could be taking market share away from itself with the new G Series by discontinuing its “Gatorade Thirst Quencher” as a simple, standalone product.  Were it not because I read the long online documents, I would still think 1) that buying Gatorade G2 meant buying only 1/3 of the entire Gatorade product and 2) you get the final product in just one bottle of Powerade or Vitamin Water costing about $2-$3 as opposed to the entire Gatorade G Series which almost reaches a $10 price point for just one full “before, during, and after” treatment of G1, G2, and G3.  It appears a bit audacious to position a brand/product this way, especially while the latest unemployment figures in America (August 2010) hover just under 10%.

Conclusions

Product displays and shelf position are only two of the most hotly negotiated items in contracts between vendors and suppliers.

It appears that Gatorade has not maximized its presence in supermarkets in the Chicago area, nor has it adequately introduced the G Series to consumers.  Or has it?  Powerade and Vitamin Water are sold in one bottle costing roughly $2, yet Gatorade is now available as a set of three items that cost nearly $10 when purchased as a set.  If consumers read the seemingly unintelligible writing on a G2 bottle, they will find the phrase “thirst quencher.”  Aside from that, there is no indication that G2 is actually an enhanced form of Gatorade the market has always known.

By ridding itself of “Gatorade Thirst Quencher” – an all-in-one concept that Powerade, Vitamin Water, and others still appear to provide and imitate – Gatorade eliminated the product that started the sports drink industry and must now reinvent itself.  Sure, the Gatorade name is still the most recognizable sports drink brand in the world, but it appears that the company took several steps back by not simply positioning the G Series as an addition to its product line that would always include an item known for roughly thirty years simply as “Gatorade Thirst Quencher.”

Market share is now more up for grabs than ever before in the sports drink market.  Hopefully, for Gatorade’s sake, its positioning the G Series to compete directly with its opponents.  I have no doubt that Gatorade will find a way to make the G Series a success; after all, it created the industry over thirty years ago.  It will be interesting to see how the G Series performs over the next year or so.  It takes courage to try something completely new in an industry that has not appeared to change much in three decades.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Plain and simple... different flavors and different vitamins/minerals. Make your choice.

Powerade still sells its original product even as it launches different lines aimed at athletes who use a variety of training methods.


The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 5: Conclusions)

And now it’s all over.  Who wins?  Is there a true statistical difference (in terms of statistical science, not just “football stats”) between Hall of Fame quarterbacks and non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks?  Click the link below and read the final segment of this five-week investigation of the differences (and even similarities) between quarterbacks enshrined in Canton, Ohio, and those who hope to one day be immortalized in bronze.

Hall of Fame QBs (part 5: Conclusions)

With our 2010-2011 NFL Season countdown complete, we can watch the season’s opening kickoff and wonder which quarterback will rise to the occasion and lead his team to glory and who will fail to reach – and win – the grand prix of football: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thank you all for participating through comments and emails.  This has been one of the most entertaining and fun projects I have worked on throughout the opening years of my career in sports administration/marketing.  Successful completion of this project would not have been possible without assistance and guidance from Dr. Carolyn Nordstrom, Associate Provost for Campuses of Kaplan College and Professor of Statistics at the Northwestern University Master of Sports Administration Program.  This project stands as a tribute to all that I learned from her a couple of semesters ago when I enrolled in her stats class.  Even though this project could mark the beginning of a master’s thesis or dissertation due to the intricacies of statistical analysis, it allows us to examine how the application of statistical principles affects the decision-making process.  Here, the decision is “to induct or not to induct.”  That is the question.

 

Oh Archie Manning... so many hard years in New Orleans when the Saints were the "Ain'ts." His skill was not enough to move a sub-par team to glory; nevertheless, it was his skill, talent, and grit that earned his peers' and opponents' respect. Jack Youngblood, Hall of Fame defensive end of the Los Angeles Rams, routinely pounded Manning as the quarterback's protection broke down all around him. Still, Youngblood's admiration for Manning defines true sportsmanship, for he was reputed to always help the embattled Manning get up after dealing him a solid, mind-scrambling tackle. In spite of his efforts, Archie Manning is not in the Hall of Fame and remains somewhat of a long shot for induction because of his teams' unsuccessful campaigns year after year.

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