SBJ/January 9 - 15, 2006/Opinion

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  • Frozen fields still vivid in fan’s memory

    I’ve been trying to remember what it felt like then, when baseball was the national pastime and my friends didn’t care about football. It wasn’t a choice; they just didn’t know about it. It didn’t come into their living rooms on fall Sunday afternoons as it soon would.

    That was ages ago when football was relegated mostly to radio. I remember listening with my uncle as the Giants beat the Bears for the 1956 NFL title. My uncle was a working-class guy who found a bond with New York’s Giants, baseball and football.

    That game was played a half-century ago on icy turf in Yankee Stadium, where the faithful covered themselves in blankets against a cold December wind. I remember the announcer reporting that cleats wouldn’t penetrate the frozen field and players couldn’t get traction. The Giants changed to sneakers as they had in 1934 when, after trailing the Bears at halftime 10-3, team treasurer John Mara sent Abe Cohen to raid the Manhattan College locker room for as many sneakers as the equipment manager could find. He came back with nine pairs. That was enough. After a Bears field goal, the surer-footed Giants scored 27 points to win 30-13 in what became known as “The Sneaker Game.”

    It almost defied credibility that 22 years later they did it again. Although The Sneaker Game was played in the Polo Grounds, the 1956 title game was played in the same city, with the same teams, for the same stakes. This time the sneaker-clad Giants won 47-7. The announcer’s amazement equaled my own.

    I can’t say that I understood the nuances of the Wing-T offense and the 4-3-4 defense. Radio, although underappreciated in our current see-it-to-believe-it world, couldn’t create pictures in a mind’s eye that lacked a visual reference. But I understood that football had all the mystery and drama, all the tension and tradition that we find so appealing in sport. And football had an exotic nature that I could claim, at least for a while, as my own.

    The playground kids hadn’t yet discovered it. Consequently, I had the franchise in football fandom. I collected players’ names like other kids collected baseball cards: Kyle Rote, Frank Gifford and Sam Huff. … I still recall the defensive line, Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage, Dick Modzelewski and Rosey Grier. I used paper-route money to buy drawings of players because they were my guys playing primarily for my entertainment.

    It’s that ownership I’m trying to remember, like being the first in the neighborhood to discover the Beatles or Shelby Cobras. It was like being in a club, and I had a secret code. But unilateral discovery isn’t easy in our world of television, the Internet and instant news.

    Two years later I listened as Alan Ameche’s 2-yard touchdown run resulted in sudden death for Giants championship hopes in what became known as the NFL’s “Greatest Game,” at least in part because it catapulted the league into a national television deal and “overnight” success.

    It’s at this time of year that I think about those feelings and wonder if my old uncle would recognize the game. He passed his passion on to me and then passed on. But before he did, he realized a dream by working for the Jets. The Daily News ran a front-page picture of him pouring champagne over Joe Namath’s brow after winning Super Bowl III.

    While champagne and celebrations may never change, everything else has. The NFL consumed the AFL, television made it the national sport with national recognition, players got rich and owners got richer. Someday frozen fields will exist only in memory and frozen fans will be forgotten altogether. That’s not a complaint. I’m just sad that my ownership was so ephemeral, and I’m preoccupied with one question: What would shoe companies say today if endorsing teams and players found better traction with Converse All-Stars?

    John Genzale (jgenzale@nyc.rr.com) is founding editor of SportsBusiness Journal.

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  • My crystal ball shows trends to watch in ’06

    1. Content holders are still king. While “podcasting” might have been the word of the year for 2005, the digital mad dash for video content, and how we utilize it, will certainly have an enormous impact in 2006. How the networks choose to deal with advertising and sponsorship in this new medium and how quickly sports properties can offer consumers the ability to watch live and on-demand action will be paramount to the discussion.

    2. Your children are blogging. Are you? Social networking sites already bind our kids together like Little League and the Rolling Stones did for us many moons ago. Myspace.com and Facebook.com are driving a new dot-com boom, which could offer disciplined marketers an avenue to speak to the elusive teen and young adult segment. Look for these sites to get into the advertising and sponsorship game as they attempt to differentiate. On a blogging-related note: This new citizen journalism is added incentive for teams and athletes to stay clean or face the consequence of public embarrassment, and accountability is good for everyone.

    3. The Hispanic boom becomes deafening. Univision will have eye-popping ratings for its coverage of the World Cup this year, following a trend we saw with the Latin Grammy Awards. This segment will impact the market like none before it, and 2006 will be the year that it is impossible to ignore.

    4. Municipal marketing comes to a town near you. As cities and towns across America are strapped with the mounting costs of security and infrastructure, look for corporations to step in and fund major city initiatives that give them high visibility and relevance where consumers work, play and live.

    5. Cause marketing continues. It could be the overwhelming tragedies we witnessed in the past year at home and abroad, or it could be that myself and my counterparts are hitting middle age, and wondering what it is we’re all here for. … But you will see an increase in marketing programs developed around corporate responsibility, which will be far more strategic than traditional corporate philanthropy. Fund-raising initiatives and “doing the right thing” won’t be an afterthought; they will be an essential part of the marketing mix in 2006.

    6. Wild-card predictions: Poker fades due to oversaturation and, you heard it here first … there will be a Triple Crown winner in 2006!

    Michael Lynch is the Visa USA senior vice president, event and sponsorship marketing.

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