Archive for the ‘ Sports and Society ’ Category

Shelby American, Inc.: A Past and Present of the Legendary Modifier/Builder that Forever Changed the American Auto Industry

From left to right: The limited edition 2012 Shelby GT350 (only 350 are being made by Shelby American), which was unveiled at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show in coupe and convertible form, and the 1965 Shelby GT350 (which was a Shelby-tuned and modified version of Ford's all-new Mustang). Originally seen as a "secretary's car" in spite of its immediate popularity, the factory 1965 Ford Mustang needed an edgier soul, so Ford management asked Shelby and his outfit to liven it up. The Mustang and GT350's instant success resulted in the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Ford and Shelby that changed the industry and international auto racing forever.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Covering the 2011 Chicago Auto Show

 

A sign from the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. This year's event will feature new designs from some of the world's greatest manufacturers. Some of these new machines will be plug-in electrics.

Dear Readers,

It is an honor to announce that Communications on Sports Business will be present at Media Day (9 February) for the 2011 Chicago Auto Show.  Wednesday, I will write an article on the show and publish it either that same night or Thursday.  For any of you who are wondering how relevant a car show could be to sports, I encourage you to recall that as automotive technology goes, so does auto racing and vice-versa.  I will include pictures and material from interviews and announcements made by industry professionals in my upcoming article.

Thanks, as always, for your readership and support.  I hope you enjoy my feature on the 2011 Chicago Auto Show.  Remember to tune in Wednesday evening or Thursday for the latest from the nation’s largest auto show.

Best regards,

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

 

A picture from the 2009 Chicago Auto Show I found on Google. Imagine driving one of these guys!

Olympian Carl Lewis: A Champion for the Underprivileged Who Exemplifies How Sports Can Change the World

 

Carl Lewis became a track & field legend in the 1980s and 1990s. In more ways than one, he has the heart of a champion.

Track and Field encompasses a collection of activities defined by a melodic series of human kinetics performed by artists of the physical arts (i.e. athletes) on sprawling lawns laid for trials of strength and endurance, and courses traced for speed and rapid kinesthetic synchronization.  The athlete’s “masterpieces” (or performances) are the results of a man or woman’s ability to both develop physical abilities through arduous preparation and dominate any limitations.  In fact, the athlete is the master of changing a thought, goal, or vision into physical reality.  Ten-time Olympic Medalist Carl Lewis turned thoughts of rapid movements and long jumps into real accomplishments and the dream of Olympic glory into nine gold medals and one silver.

Throughout his life after track & field, Carl Lewis has devoted his energy to causes

The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization leads efforts to end hunger around the globe.

benefiting the underprivileged around the world.  Lewis’ efforts on behalf of the underprivileged are presented in an article written by Adam Sennott for the 29 December-4 January 2011 issue of Chicago’s Streetwise magazine, a publication run by “a social-enterprise organization designed to help unemployed or underemployed men and women out of poverty,” according to their website (http://www.streetwise.org/).  In the conversation between writer and athlete, the latter shares some of his experiences as Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), advocacy for the UN’s initiatives in countries like Vietnam and India, and the benefits of a vegan diet.

In Sennott’s article, Lewis talks about how he saw the conditions people live in throughout the world as he travelled from one international competition or engagement to another.  Whether in India, Vietnam, or the United States, Lewis has seen how unemployment and a lack of opportunities can ruin entire lives.  When misfortune or penury completely defeats a man or woman, the belief in the ability to convert ideas into reality gets lost in the mix of all that person lost and – in many cases – cannot recover without a strong and hopeful hand.  Lewis uses his success in track and field to establish credibility with his audiences in order to challenge a common attitude he described in Sennott’s article as a “well, I have mine” mentality.  As a Goodwill Ambassador to the FAO, Lewis’ efforts revolve around the notion that “if one person’s hungry in the world, we’re all hungry” and optimism stemming from the philanthropy of such public figures as Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and Bill Clinton.  He cites the names of “wealthy people doing wonderful things” to present a positive and hopeful message that promotes solutions to world hunger and poverty.

Streetwise jobs offer hope to Chicago's homeless, unemployed, and underemployed residents.

Carl Lewis currently promotes the FAO’s global programs to teach and empower the poorest communities in the world.  Adam Sennott’s interview provides his readers with an excellent quote that sums up the reasoning behind the FAO’s initiatives.  The former Olympian told Sennott, “I think one of the things we need to do… is [help] people become more self-sufficient.  Instead of dropping food all the time, we need to think: how can we help them grow their own food?  How can we help them develop their own areas?”  A temporary solution like provisions of finite quantities of food or supplies to the poor is a valid first step, but Carl Lewis and the FAO’s plan to empower the poor and hungry is the essential next part in the plan to end poverty and hunger.  “Education is important,” Lewis stated in his interview with Sennott, “because you have to have the knowledge to make decisions.”

If one wished, one could give a dollar to a homeless person, or buy a loaf of bread for the hungry.  Some communities support large-scale programs, though, that provide the poor with opportunities to earn a living and recover from poverty by employing them to sell magazines and newspapers like Miami’s Homeless Voice and Chicago’s Streetwise. These programs help those who are suffering recover their dignity and confidence by giving them a chance to work.

Carl Lewis’ exploits in track & field taught him how nothing is impossible and that from loss one must draw confidence in order to succeed.  These lessons, along with the inspiration drawn from his success, are among the great tools he shares with the people he hopes will follow his lead in the fight against hunger and poverty.  If anyone can motivate the discouraged and help make a dream a reality by inspiring Herculean efforts to defy any limitations, it is ten-time Olympic Medalist Carl Lewis.

Sports really can change the world.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Please support your local street magazine vendors – this is how the homeless earn a roof that repels the rain and a bed needed to rest before a new day.

 

A champion in America - a champion around the world.

Agents’ Panel Considers Available Options Regarding Marketing Agents Etc. and the Josh Luchs Situation (or, “Is There Significant Demand or Need for Revenue Sharing Between the NCAA and Student-Athletes?”)

 

The NCAA and athletic departments/universities around the US are finding it harder to enforce somewhat vague compliance rules. State lawmakers will play an increasingly important role in "policing" agent activity with regards to student-athletes.

In an Associated Press article written by Michael Marot, titled “Agents’ panel not taking anything ‘off the table,’” and published 27 October 2010 on the NFL News online news service available through the mobile Android application dubbed “NFL News,” agents and student-athletes are increasingly targeted over time in a recent probe by the NCAA.  The collegiate athletics sanctioning body commenced an investigation of ever-increasing thoroughness after Reggie Bush was accused of accepting consideration from agents while a student-athlete at the University of Southern California.  More recently, six University of North Carolina student-athletes were suspended from athletic events after allegations were leveled at the latter and coaches who broke NCAA rules by engaging agents and accepting consideration for contact with players and coaches on the football team.

Josh Luchs: the agent industry's Jose Canseco.

Serious issues underline the fact that student-athletes are keeping relationships with agents and coaches – as in UNC’s case – are facilitating the process.  According to Marot’s article, since the late 1980s, student-athletes like Ohio State superstar and prospective Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter have either accepted consideration from agents or simply contacted them before their eligibility expires.  It is an old problem that lingers in the student-athlete’s former athletic department (i.e. Reggie Bush sunk USC’s athletic department and football program, though he and the offending agents were the only parties in breach of NCAA rules) and disappears from the athlete’s life upon departure from the university/team.  Therefore, the NCAA has enlisted the help of former agent/whistleblower Josh Luchs in its determined and focused effort to decrease the frequency of such infractions.  By punishing student-athletes who are drafted by the NFL and any agents who violate NCAA and state rules and laws, the sanctioning body hopes to deter engagement in said activities, which affect the university and uninvolved/innocent student-athletes who remain at their institutions in the long run and follow the rules.  In a statement by the NFLPA – a prime stakeholder in the student-athlete/agent controversy – mentioned in Marot’s article, however, the professional players’ union refused to levy penalties on players who violated NCAA rules in spite of any of the probe’s findings.

The NCAA’s investigation extends beyond the USC and UNC football teams.  Currently, student-athletes at the University of Georgia, University of Alabama (defending BCS national champions), and the University of South Carolina have been implicated in the league’s investigation.  The problem of agent/player relationships resulting in an exchange of consideration before the end of the student-athlete’s college playing career is more insidious than originally thought.  Clearly, student-athletes – specifically college football players – are lured by financial gain to break NCAA rules.

It would be interesting to see the results of a decision by the NCAA to share its revenue with student-athletes in a holistic attempt to prevent unethical behavior by the latter and agents.  Since over 90% of college athletic departments operate at a loss, revenue sharing would be accomplished through the NCAA and not on a per-school basis.  Universities with athletic departments sanctioned by the NCAA ought to be audited to ensure that financial statements accurately represent curtailed profits.  In such a case that the statistic is true, then the NCAA ought to create escrow accounts for student-athletes that may be either withdrawn upon graduation to assist with transition to a life outside of professional sports, or give the former student-athlete a head start on a retirement fund.  After all, the NCAA’s assets reach well beyond seven, eight, or even nine figures per year, yet it does not incur the same costs that significantly decrease professional leagues’ retained earnings at the end of the year: player salaries.

All in all, the process has only just begun.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

For more on the topic of student-athletes and revenue sharing, you can read a related article at http://csbcomsportsbiz.com/2010/08/03/should-college-athletes-be-paid/

 

The fact that student-athletes are willing to accept money from agents or boosters acting unethically may signal a growing demand for revenue sharing between the NCAA and college student-athletes. After all, without the student-athletes, would athletic departments, universities, or the NCAA (i.e. Bowl Championship Series) have a product to market? Depending on your answer, it follows to ask what would constitute fair compensation for the full-time student-athletes who make college football the prime time spectacle the nation follows and marketers exploit. It is a challenging conundrum, to say the least.

Examples of Sports’ Social Significance: Liverpool FC Fans Stabbed in Napoli after Europa League 2010 Match, The Soccer War, and Jesse Owens in 1936

As if Liverpool FC and its fans did not have enough to worry about with the controversy involving the team’s sale (eventually sold to New England Sports Ventures), now fans have to worry about a new wave of hooliganism abroad.

According to an article broadcasted early Thursday 21 October 2010 over Britain’s BBC News’s online service, Liverpool FC supporters were allegedly attacked by gangs of Napoli fans through the evening of Wednesday 20 October in separate incidents.  Three Liverpool fans remain in a Napoli hospital recovering from stab wounds and other injuries.  BBC’s correspondent in Rome, Duncan Kennedy, reported that “a father, his two sons, and a friend” were also attacked.  According to the article, the four Liverpool fans were surrounded by 30 to 40 rioters and brutally beaten.  In addition, Alexander Philips (53 years old) and another Liverpool resident (27) who preferred anonymity are also recovering from the attacks.

Napoli police confirmed that a group of extreme Napoli fans called “Ultra” were responsible.  Much like the “hooligans” British authorities claim to have all but eradicated from soccer matches with the help of local law enforcement, the “Ultra” violently confront opposing teams’ fans in public and in the stadium.  “Filippo Bonfiglio, head of DIGOS, the local department which deals with terrorism and political activity,” assured the public that law enforcement personnel would do everything possible to prevent a recurrence.  However, Bonfiglio cautiously emphasized that in a city of 1.5 million, it would be impossible to make any guarantees.

In a related story published earlier this week on BBC News’s online service, another Europa Cup game in Italy was disrupted – and ultimately cancelled partway through the match – when hoards of fans loyal to a Serbian team scaled fences separating fans from the field and threw lit flares onto the pitch.  Political issues in Europe centering on Serbia’s potential membership in the EU and alleged persistent racial tensions in the continent are believed to be major causes of the game’s cancellation.

Sport, in its spontaneous nature, can ignite emotions unlike few other social catalysts.  It is meant to unite, entertain, and inspire; yet, there are groups who use its emotional equity to fuel unrelated agendas and transform rivalries into violence.  Those who feel that sport is socially insignificant need only look at examples like this year’s Europa League championship or even the 100-hour war (the Soccer War, or La Guerra del Futbol, in Spanish) between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.  Unresolved immigration issues and border disputes between both nations boiled over when riots broke out after a soccer match between the two Central American countries.  Though a cease-fire was secured nearly 100 hours later, a peace treaty was not signed until 1980.

African-American track star and sports legend, Jesse Owens.

As with all of man’s inventions and plans, there are pros and cons – sad stories intertwined with the good.  A clear example of the positive role sports play in society can be found in the history of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany.  Track legend Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete, shocked Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party by winning four gold medals in the long jump, 4×100 meter relay, 100 meters, and 200 meters at the games hosted in the heart of the so-called “Third Reich.”  Through his success on the field of human endeavor, Owens returned to America an Olympic gold medalist, champion of civil rights, and hero to millions around the world.

Sport is one of society’s most powerful tools.  It can be used to divide… or it can be used to unite.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

This year’s tournament has been marred by racial and political tensions exacerbated by gangs of hooligans who target opposing teams’ fans.

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.

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

As private enterprises capitalize on their use of student/athletes as marketing symbols, the question of whether or not they should receive royalties lingers.

Public and private universities are non-profit organizations.  Only about 10 athletic departments in the NCAA actually generate revenue for their respective universities and the rest operate at a loss.  The benefits are that university athletic departments attract national and international attention through the media (“increased brand recognition,” in marketing terms), complement a university’s reputation and prestige, and both enhance and reinforce the student experience.  Meanwhile, there are numerous tangible benefits for a company like Electronic Arts (EA Sports) that profits from its creation of exciting and realistic video games, such as “EA Sports NCAA Football.”

Amateurism in American college sports dates back to the early 19th century and keeps a higher degree of romance in sports.  Today, endorsements and co-branding – among other marketing tactics – have changed the way college athletics function and amateurism is no longer as prevalent as it was 200 years ago.  We certainly cannot argue against the old paradigm that holds that “times change.”  Yet, as cultural norms change, so must the systems that unite the interests of those who make them work.  In this case, the current system that allows the NCAA and companies like EA Sports to develop products featuring the likenesses of student athletes that add marketability and thus generate sales must be adjusted to ensure that no stakeholder – least of all college student/athletes who are in the midst of shaping their seemingly uncertain futures – is left at a relative disadvantage.

(see http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=ncaa%20football%20covers&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1200&bih=680 for a long list of examples of how important cover art is to the game’s identity… though some are not official releases, you can see how student/athletes are used to sell games such as EA Sports NCAA Football)

They look exactly like the real players, don't they? (except for the numbers on the jersey nameplates that replace their real names)

The solution – on the surface, at least – is not too complex.  As it stands, the NCAA prohibits student/athletes from receiving consideration of any kind from third parties such as agents, scouts, or others (see the recent Reggie Bush scandal at USC and current investigations of the University of Florida, University of North Carolina, and University of South Carolina by the NCAA for more examples.)  While the student/athlete attends his respective institution, it makes sense for the NCAA and the university to shun a world that has nothing to do either with a formal college education or amateur sports.  A student/athlete’s uncertain future after college, however, is not at all eased by the tiresome job search that follows years of preparation.  Indeed, wallets are usually light after graduation.

Therefore, the NCAA would serve its student/athletes who appear in video games well by allocating a modest percentage of the royalties received from the sale of EA Sports NCAA Football to a trust.  All featured universities would be entitled to an equal share of the trust fund and would disburse their share to former student/athletes who appeared in the game version sold that year and either graduated, or used up their eligibility and are no longer students.  Each athlete would receive an equal amount that they could use as financial support during the job search that follows graduation or separation from the university.  Though final distributions to student/athletes would not be very large, questions regarding the ethicality of use of player likenesses in video games would lead to less controversy since all stakeholders (i.e. the video game distributor, promotional partners, NCAA, universities, and student/athletes) would benefit from the popularity of products like EA Sports NCAA Football.  Even from a marketing standpoint, EA Sports and the NCAA would benefit from aligning the sale of NCAA Football with a greater purpose (an increasingly effective marketing tactic): helping student/athletes who are not offered professional contracts get a head start on life after college.

If such a program existed, it would give me a reason to answer “yes” to the question at hand.  Amateurism ought to

Looks like Tim Tebow, doesn't it?

be respected by sports properties, participants, and brands who contribute to a sport’s existence.  This does not mean that all parties but one involved in a business relationship should profit, though.  The arrangement I propose would not involve giving current or former student/athletes Hummers, houses, or excessive amounts of money; rather, it would grant reasonable and modest financial assistance to the student/athletes who added value to a video game when the time comes to look for a job and make their professional dreams come true.

Conclusion

Number 4 looks like Damien Williams, doesn't he?

Without player likenesses or even random generic characters who resemble the real players in every way but in name, EA Sports NCAA Football would not be nearly as popular nor would it offer the same high quality medium for direct fan engagement that university marketing departments and sponsors/partners like ESPN appreciate.  As lawsuits generate unwanted publicity for the NCAA and developers who create college sports-themed video games, the controversy worsens over a growing crisis in collegiate athletics.

In the August 2-9 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated (p.86-87), former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Ken Ruettgers talked to writer Phil Bencomo about some of the difficulties in transitioning to a post-NFL career.  It may be inferred that student/athletes face similar challenges after they leave the playing field for the last time.  From a marketing, public relations, and altruistic perspective, it makes sense for the NCAA to create a small trust fund for student/athletes featured in video games that would help with the transition from college to professional life.  Without much financial security, a trust fund set up by the NCAA would go a long way toward helping former student/athletes featured in EA Sports NCAA Football adjust to life after classes and games.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

One last note on an unrelated topic.  Just a day ago, a pregnant Florida Panther was struck by an automobile in South Florida and recovered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  She is being nursed back to health, but her three cubs did not survive.  As a species, the Florida Panther is fading fast, with roughly 80 left in the wild.  Please drive carefully and contact your local authorities if you see an injured animal by the side of the road in need of help.

Thank you for your readership.

Former Green Bay Packer Ken Ruettgers, creator of "Game's Over," a non-profit organization that helps athletes transition from life on the field to new careers.

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