SBJ/20081027/Election '08

NBC’s Todd loves this game, and sports too

Chuck Todd is NBC News political director and editor of “First Read,” MSNBC.com’s daily analysis of political news. One of the busiest people in television, the 36-year-old Todd oversees the network’s coverage of the presidential campaign, tracks congressional and gubernatorial campaigns across the country, and analyzes political news on “Nightly News With Brian Williams,” “Meet the Press,” “Today,” and several MSNBC programs. As the first managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily when the publication launched in 1994, and a major sports fan, Todd is as comfortable talking sports as he is politics. He recently spoke with SportsBusiness Journal’s Steve Bilafer, a former colleague when launching SportsBusiness Daily, about the state of the presidential race, possible implications from this election for the sports industry, and the many links between sports and politics.

Who’s the bigger sports fan, Obama or McCain?
Todd: If I had to pick one, I’d say McCain seems to be more of a real fan. He goes to games and sporting events, especially boxing, even when it’s not an election year.

Would an Obama candidacy do the same thing for pickup hoops that Ike did for golf, Kennedy for touch football and Bush 43 for tee ball?
Todd: Definitely. Playing hoops is not a phony thing with Obama. He is really obsessed. He’s a product of when basketball really did get hot 20 years ago, with [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson]. That ’80s style is more of his game. We’ll absolutely see a court in the White House, if he can get private donations to cover the cost.

As NBC News political director,
Chuck Todd has heard every
sports analogy in political-speak,
and maybe used a few.

Who wins in one-on-one? Obama or Sarah Palin?
Todd: Is there a ref? I think that matters. If there’s no ref, my money’s on the Barracuda. You’d probably see something more from her resembling MMA than basketball.

Is it possible to analyze complex campaign or political issues on TV without sports analogies?
Todd: I am mentally unable to do it. If you don’t have sports analogies, what are you supposed to use? You do have to mix it up to make sure you don’t lose certain viewers. Of all sports analogies, it’s boxing, one of the sports with the weakest followings, that we use the most. Things like “the gloves are off,” “trading jabs,” “counter-punching,” “no knockout blows.” How could you talk about a debate without boxing analogies? Here’s a new rule: A pundit should not be allowed to use a sports analogy if they haven’t attended a live event of that sport within the past year. How’s that?

Worst sports analogy you’ve ever heard?
Todd: The worst ones are actually uttered by the politicians. The worst I ever heard? It wasn’t an analogy, but Ted Kennedy mangling Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire as “Mike McGwire and Sammy Sooser.” That was an instant classic.

Worst one you’ve ever used yourself?
Todd: There is one that I always need to explain. I compare Obama’s Electoral College strategy to the “spread offense” in college football. That one probably goes over the heads of everyone who’s not a fan of Texas Tech.

Who decides this race: soccer moms, hockey moms, or NASCAR dads? Or is it someone else?
Todd: It’s older white voters. They’re the last voters to move. So maybe that means fans of the Senior Tour? How about Golf Granddads and Mahjong Mother-in-Laws? If they vote Obama, he’ll win in a landslide. If they don’t, it’s going to be a nail-biter.

Dodgers fan Todd says a long-term deal
with Ramirez (right) isn’t the answer; Phil
Mickelson (lower right) may have a
political career ahead of him; hey, Cris
Collinsworth, any room on the
“Sunday Night Football” set?

The media loves to complain about negative campaigning. Is this campaign any dirtier or tougher than others in the past?
Todd: I don’t think so. What’s happening is that every little thing gets covered now. With all these amateur journalists and blogs out there, very obscure campaign tactics, like robocalls, get attention.

This campaign has become all about the economy. Other than righting our economic ship, are there any specific issues this election year that people in the sports industry should really care about?
Todd: The anti-government tide and an anti-business populist movement. There is a lot of anger out there. I would think people in the sports industry should be very attuned to the idea that government is not going to be handing out money, tax breaks or land for teams to build stadiums.

The second wave of this financial meltdown is at the state and local levels. There’s so much money spent on sports gambling. Won’t states eventually look to get their cut?
Todd: I think the next great revenue generator for government is sports gambling. The sin taxes are starting to run out of steam. How high can cigarette and alcohol taxes get? Lotteries are maxed out; casino gambling is reaching saturation points. What’s left? Sports gaming.

A fan is sitting in a stadium or an arena and sees signage from a financial institution receiving government funds from the bailout. Is there any potential backlash against sponsors from the use of this money? Do fans care? Should they?
Todd: I don’t think fans care about advertisers. Fans check out when they attend a sporting event. It’s about the escape. They don’t bring their political complaints into the arena.

You grew up outside Miami and yet you are a fan of the Hurricanes, the Packers and the Dodgers. Care to explain this geographical spread?
Todd: My dad was a Dodger fan and a Packer fan. He grew up in Iowa, hated Chicago, so you had to love the Packers.

Should the Dodgers re-sign Manny Ramirez?
Todd: No, don’t re-sign him. He’s 37 and not worth a four-year Scott Boras rip-off. But if he’d sign for two years and they paid him three-year-like money, I’d be OK with that.

Who’s the athlete playing right now who you can see running for office?
Todd: I'm guessing a couple of golfers will end up getting drawn into politics. One in particular to keep an eye on is Phil Mickelson. He’s very into politics. And then there’s Curt Schilling. He should have run in the 19th century when Republicans regularly waved the bloody shirt.

You’re pretty handy with that Electoral College telestrator. When are the guys from NBC Sports going to ask for that thing back?
Todd: I want in on the 19-man NBC “Sunday Night Football” lineup. They could use a 20th analyst, right? Me and Collinsworth, that no-good Gator, we could trade jobs for a day.

So, who’s going to win?
Todd: It’ll be harder for people like me to explain how McCain won. But, hey, you never know.

Not the presidential race, I meant the World Series.
Todd: Rays in 5. I love Carl Crawford. That guy won me my fantasy league one year.

Look for more of this conversation in our sister publication, SportsBusiness Daily, located at www.sportsbusinessdaily.com.
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