SBJ/October 1-7, 2012/Opinion

NFL message offers too much spin, not specifics

Can you recall the last time you’ve seen the NFL be as wrong about an issue as it has been with the replacement refs? I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation when the league so miscalculated the messaging through an entire process. All of their comments from the past six weeks look like nothing more than spin.

A couple of specifics: Commissioner Roger Goodell was on CBNC on Aug. 20, in the early stages of the replacements’ preseason performance, and was asked about officials’ mistakes. His response was dismissive: “Those are things [that] we call ‘administrative aspects of the game’ because they’re not used to working with a mike. Those are not issues that we’re as concerned about. We’re concerned about protecting the integrity of the game and making sure the right calls are being made.”

I think we can now say the replacement refs have made more than “administrative” mistakes.

On the same show, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said, “In terms of the impact on the game. … I can’t see any difference.” Well, it’s clear these replacements have made an impact on the game and, in turn, possibly some teams’ playoffs hopes.

On Aug. 23, Goodell told the AP, “These officials have been trained. … We think they’ll do a very credible job.” Then, after the first game of the season, he said, “We’ve proven that we can train them and get them up to NFL standards.”

The league said the refs would be fine; they aren’t. They passed off bad calls in the preseason as “administrative” mistakes; they weren’t. They felt the replacements wouldn’t affect the integrity of the game; they have. They believed the replacements would get better; they haven’t.

The league will likely be paying for its hard-line negotiating stance throughout the season. Does anybody truly think there won’t be more missed calls when the real refs come back? They will be thrown right into the thick of the regular season without the benefit of preseason training. You almost wonder if they are being set up to fail.

The league failed to effectively communicate the business issues of the negotiations. The pension issue is about employee equality, which many can relate to. The backup staffing and incentives/training of referees are smart ideas. But those never seemed to be an integral part of the messaging. Instead, the talking points told to the public by management had holes in them. The messaging of this issue wasn’t nearly up to the normal NFL standards, and it makes me wonder how (or why) the league’s processes failed it.

UFC, AEG among the stories that I’m watching

• I am beginning to sense a real drag on the momentum around the UFC. The Fox deal hasn’t given the lift that many expected. The three broadcasts in 2012 have rated the following: Jan. 28: 2.6 rating/4.661 million viewers; May 5: 1.5 rating/2.418 million viewers; and Aug. 4: 1.4 rating/2.436 million viewers. It also seems that since the retirement of Brock Lesnar there has been a noticeable absence of star power. Finally, the UFC’s recent return to Toronto, a previous hotbed, failed to match earlier levels. Remember when UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre drew more than 55,000 fans with record ticket sales? Well, UFC 152 drew about 17,000 at the Air Canada Centre. Still strong, but even locals noticed far less enthusiasm. Read Rich Luker’s take on Page 17, because it fits with one question that we’re going to be asking in our upcoming Reader Survey that I’ll ask here: Has the property peaked?

• From everything I’m hearing, Tim Leiweke doesn’t feel his work is done at AEG. He signed a new five-year deal and sees major growth opportunities at the sports and entertainment company. If Phil Anschutz is able to sell his company whole to one buyer, any new owner would be smart to keep AEG’s management team in place. Tim is a force of nature unlike any I have seen in the sports business in the last 20 years. But it’s also his lieutenants — Dan Beckerman, Todd Goldstein, Ted Fikre, Lee Zeidman, and his daughter, Francesca, who is playing a larger role in the company, among others — who have played such a pivotal role in AEG’s success. I know everyone wants their own “team,” but any new owner would be wise to keep this one intact. It’s strong.

• Next week we will introduce our second class of “Game Changers: Women in Sports Business.” But before we recognize them, congratulations to a Game Changer from last year. In case you missed it, Amy Latimer was named TD Garden president in Boston, and she instantly becomes one of the top-ranking women executives in sports and the arena business. Good for Amy, a smart executive, doer and team builder — and a real Game Changer.

Talking with Tor

Tor Myhren
When we started our new back-page feature The Sit-Down, it was to offer fun and interesting insight from executives in all areas of sports. It’s been a thrill to meet these people in their work environments and hear their points of view.

This week, we introduce you to Tor Myhren from Grey New York. I had never met Tor before but had asked him to write an op-ed for SportsBusiness Journal last year, and this week he will be the keynote speaker at our Sports Marketing Symposium. On a Tuesday in late August, I went down to 20th and 5th, to Grey’s office. I was struck by the openness, the youth and the energy that pervaded the office. In spending nearly 90 minutes with Tor, I can see why there is such energy and creativity: He’s brimming with ideas. And as this week’s Sit-Down shows, we talked management, leadership, ideas and the creative process. But some of my favorite takeaways that didn’t make our back page were his stories on mentors, feedback from a colleague, and his “Fridays Are For Lovers” feature.

Here’s more of Tor, in his own words:

LEADERSHIP MENTORS: “The first person who had a big effect on me, as far as his management style, was my second boss. His name is Tracy Wong. He was director of the agency called Wong Doody. There was a Wong and there was a Doody, and it was Wong Doody. I loved his approach to the business. He never got too high and he never got too low. It was never life or death; it was advertising. At the end of the day, we were going to go play basketball.”

FEEDBACK FROM COLLEAGUES: “There was a woman that I worked with here who I really respect. She came to me one day and she was crying and said, ‘I’m just so upset. You got up there and publicly talked about this huge success we had, and you didn’t mention my name. And I just want credit.’ I really took that to heart because I realized that since it’s such a collaborative place, often I would say, ‘This is something we did.’ But you have to go out of your way and point out specifically the people. Everybody’s an individual. Like in any industry, but particularly the creative industry, I think people really like to get credit where it’s due. I have gone out of my way since then to talk about the people who made it happen.”
 
COMMUNICATING WITH STAFF: “Every Friday, I do a video that’s called ‘Fridays Are For Lovers.’ I film it on my iPhone and edit it quickly. It’s about what happened at the agency this week: Who did we hire? What clients are we pitching? Did we lose a client? — It’s a way for me to personally communicate with everybody.”

For more, see The Sit-Down on Page 38. And let me know if there is an executive who you would like to hear from.

Save the date

We’ve set the date for one of the best nights in sports business. The 2013 Sports Business Awards will be held Wednesday, May 22, at the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square. This awards night has turned into one of the true industry gatherings of the year and a star-studded evening honoring excellence and the leaders in sports business. Hope you’ll save the date and join us.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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