• Catching up with David Downs — bonus, part 2

    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    In this week’s issue, I talked to former ABC Sports executive and NASL Commissioner David Downs, and much of our conversation focused on the sport of soccer.

    Downs: “There are many great soccer nations, where soccer is indeed the No. 1 sport, where their league is basically serving as a feeder for the top 4-5 European leagues. I would cite three obvious examples: Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands, which is where I was born. The Netherlands produces wonderful soccer players, but the league isn’t at the status of the big five of Europe. That doesn’t mean they are any less of a soccer nation, but their small size and their relatively small economy hurts their league. They are an exporter of playing talent. And the MLS right now is an exporter. Even Brazil is an exporter. If you go the MLS games these days it’s a marvelous atmosphere. Usually two or three legitimate hardcore supporter groups for the home team. You really get that European atmosphere. It's not bad level of play on the field, either.”

    “As the commissioner of the NASL it was very evident to me just how hard it is to be a professional soccer player in the United States even if we are talking Division II or Division III, let alone MLS. You have to be a phenomenal athlete to play at that level. But unfortunately the MLS doesn’t have the very best players, like Leo Messi, and Leo Messi is on TV here weekly and often a couple of times a week. And I fear soccer fans are likely to watch, on TV at least, what they think is the best version of the sport rather than MLS.”

    In coaching today’s youth, he’s noticed a difference when it comes to soccer: “The difference, specifically in sports soccer, is the amount of soccer education that a 13-year-old boy will have today. On my prep school team I have kids that have had sophisticated training for seven or eight years. And it really tells me that the sport is taking hold in the United States, from a participant standpoint and a passion standpoint, the sport has reached the tipping point. I think what hurts it is the truly global nature of the sport right now. So you have Americans, Egyptians, Japanese, Africans, and South Americans playing alongside the English and other Europeans. And every match is televised in the United States. So if I wanted to watch a soccer game this afternoon, I could watch it.”

    Tags: On the Ground
  • Catching up with David Downs — bonus conversation

    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    In this week’s issue, I talked to former ABC Sports executive and NASL Commissioner David Downs, and much of our conversation focused on the sport of soccer. Downs, who was born in the Netherlands, has played the game his entire life and coaches three teams. He is an astute follower of the game. He shared with me his thoughts on NASL and MLS. “NASL has got a very realistic chance for success. It’s a different proposition than MLS. The NASL’s goal is to be the No. 1 professional soccer in-stadium experience in Atlanta or in Miami or in San Antonio or in Tampa or in Minneapolis. And these are pretty major markets.

    “To convince people of that and get their per game attendance from an average of 3,000-to-4,000 to 6,000-to-7,000, that would make them financially healthy. And that’s a pretty easy proposition.”

    When it comes to MLS, he says, “They have done a great job and I think the sport is here to stay in a big, big way. No longer can the MLS use the excuse that Americans aren’t interested in soccer. It’s just a matter of where they fit in this global sport. And that’s a challenge. The NBA and NHL are much more like the Premiership, in that the best players in the world gravitate to the United States and play in those leagues.”

    He goes on: “There is almost too much soccer on television for any one fan to consume, and the highest level played in the world is available to me almost any time of the day, and that will probably work against MLS over time unless they can somehow shift the dynamics so that the best soccer players in the world are playing here instead of abroad. And I don’t know if that’s possible. In those countries, soccer is the be-all and end-all sport. In our country, there will always be competition from sports like basketball, baseball, football, hockey, etc. It’s going to be difficult for MLS to achieve what leagues like the NFL and the NBA are achieving today. That doesn't mean we are not a soccer nation with lots of soccer fans and players.”

    Tags: On the Ground
  • TV Timeout: Thirst Quencher

    After the third full day of play at the '14 Australian Open, THE DAILY offers a sampling of interesting on-air commentary from ESPN's telecast.

    MERCURY RISING: ESPN’s Darren Cahill joked of the heat at the Australian Open, “I’m not sure if it’s a little warmer outside today or the fact that Chris Evert has joined us on the desk.”

    IMPROVED STATUS: ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale said of the ongoing improvements to the tennis facilities in Melbourne, “The Australian Open has really come of age in these last 30 years. Before that, there was talk about moving the fourth major to somewhere like Miami. … The facilities that they have built have become magnificent, in fact, the envy really of the other Slams” (“Australian Open,” ESPN2, 1/14).

    STAYING ABROAD: Nets CEO Brett Yormark, on the NBA’s efforts to grow the sport in the U.K.: “There are a lot of grassroots efforts and it will take some time but I think it’s ultimately going to get there" ("Countdown," Bloomberg TV, 1/15).

    CHANGING LANDSCAPE: ACC Commissioner John Swofford said of potential changes to the NCAA, “We're at a crossroads in terms of the NCAA and what it will look like going forward. I'm encouraged by the discussions that have been going on and I don’t think they'll be any definitive decisions made this week at the convention” ("The David Glenn Show," WCMC-FM, 1/14).

  • TV Timeout: Magic Whan

    LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, on discussions to hold a multi-event playoff like the FedEx Cup: “Typically, when the NFL schedule starts it's better for us and TV ratings and for sponsors to move around the world" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 1/14).

    UP IN SMOKE: FS1’s Michael Kosta said of the NFL possibly allowing medical marijuana in states where it is legal, “I like this. I think it’s cool. It’s showing a progressive idea and a thought we’ve talked about before and if you thought Doritos had a lot of Super Bowl commercials before” (“Crowd Goes Wild,” FS1, 1/13).

    MIKEY LIKES IT: Finish Line President & CEO Glenn Lyon said of the chain's shoe sales, "We do about a third of our men's business in basketball and Michael Jordan's business is a very, very big and very important part of our business, and it always has" ("Mad Money," CNBC, 1/13).

    ALEX IN WONDERLAND: ESPN's Keith Olbermann said of Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez possibly reporting to Spring Training, “Right now evidently the only thing the Yankees can do about it is to give him the silent treatment, shunt him off to minor league practice, stick their fingers in their ears and go, 'La la la la!!!! Can't hear you!'" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 1/13).

    DOWN BY THE BAY: Former 49ers President & CEO Carmen Policy said of moving into Levi's Stadium, "We all knew that Candlestick had come to the end of its time and so there had to be a new stadium, there had to be the opportunity for the 49ers to compete with the rest of the league from a business and from an accommodation standpoint” ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 1/13).

    MEANWHILE....:After the second full day of play at the '14 Australian Open, THE DAILY offers a sampling of interesting on-air commentary from ESPN's telecast.

    HARD TO BREATHE: ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez on the temperature at the Australian Open: “It’s steamy out there, you feel like you’re suffocating at times and sometimes, you can prepare all you want in the preseason but if you don’t have that body type that can deal with the heat, you struggle.” ESPN’s John McEnroe: “It’s a big national story here. I mean, it leads on the evening news, the heat wave, ‘Here's the things you need to do to be careful out there, take care of yourself.’”

    SOME LIKE IT HOT: ESPN’s Chris Fowler said of the crowds at the Australian Open, “You’ve got to hand it to the fans out there on Court Two. A lot of them are shaded inside Rod Laver, but everybody out there is in the sun: 104 degrees, brutal sun and they are out there filling every seat.”

    RACQUET CASE: Fowler, on Roger Federer changing to a bigger tennis racquet: “He said ‘more pop’ with the racket, which is a Wilson frame, 98 square-inches, really just getting in line with what most of the top players use. He had kept that same frame for his whole career, which is smaller” ("'14 Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/13).

  • TV Timeout: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

    After the first full day of play at the '14 Australian Open, THE DAILY offers a sampling of interesting on-air commentary from ESPN's telecast.

    PAM SHRIVER, FASHION GURU: ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez said, "We see all the fashions when the new year begins. What are we thinking Chris and Pam of Venus’ dress that she designed?” EPSN's Pam Shriver: "Two thumbs up from down here, but what do I know about fashion.” Chris Fowler added, “Of course, Venus, in the fashion world and her EleVen company continues to grow.” Gilbert, on Czech tennis player Tomas Berdych: “What is up with the kit that Berdych is wearing? ... I can’t get over that shirt, and shorts, and outfit that the Birdman is wearing today.” ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale said, “He signed this deal with H&M and they put him in pretty subdued clothes last year and apparently changed their mind this year.” Gilbert: “I'm going to give him a little grief on Twitter because we banter back and forth, and he’s a very funny guy.”

    SHOW ME THE MONEY: ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe, on the ATP Challenger Tour: “There is actually a big issue happening, sort of around the tennis world now. There is actually not a lot of prize money in those tournaments. What there is a lot of, are points available for rankings. They can be anywhere from the lowest challenger on the men's tour is usually $50,000 dollars, that is total prize money, they go up to about $125,000, and the U.S. obviously has what they call the USTA Pro Circuit. In Europe, there’s lots of Challenger events, many of which are quite successful as far as fan involvement and sponsorship.” McEnroe added, “The highest level tournaments in the Challenger Tour are sort of the Triple-A of the tennis world if you compare it to baseball.”

    JARS OF CLAY: McEnroe, on the court surface: “Part of the reason they changed the surface here years ago from, well first they changed it from grass to the Rebound Ace, which was the original surface here at Melbourne Park. Then Rebound Ace had a lot of players not only feeling the heat from this court surface, which was made of old tires, but also a lot of ankle, a lot of knee injuries from the stickiness of the court. So, now it’s more of an asphalt surface, similar to the US Open surface.” Shriver said, “Still, it feels like a lot more ankle turns, still down under.”

    PERSONALITY CLASH? ESPN’s Chris McKendry said of star players being coached by former star players, “That’s the key to all these coaching arrangements. It’s the personality and the chemistry. … I still think the personality clashes could be fascinating, Boris Becker and Novak Djokovic.” ESPN’s Chris Evert: “It’ll either be really successful and Djokovic will win some grand slams, or Becker can be out in two weeks. It could be a clash, really confrontational” (“2014 Australian Open,” ESPN2, 1/12).

  • SBJ Podcast: ESPN's SEC Network plans

    Media reporter John Ourand and college writer Michael Smith detail ESPN's plans for the SEC Network, including charging distributors in SEC territory $1.30 per subscriber for the soon-to-be-launched channel.

    Tags: ESPN, SEC, Media, GE, ING, SBJSBD Podcast
  • SBJ Podcast: NBC's Olympic ad strategy

    Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle and media writer John Ourand discuss NBC's plans to halt Olympic ad sales and its prospects for the Sochi Games. "Basically, NBC's sales staff is sitting around with their feet on their desks sipping lattes, I think."

    Tags: NBC, SBJSBD Podcast
  • Facebook maps fan loyalties for this weekend's NFL playoff games

    More than 17.25 million U.S. Facebook users have liked a page for one of the 8 teams remaining in the NFL playoffs. By building county-by-county maps showing where these fans live, Facebook provided SBJ with a glimpse at how the loyalties of regions and states will be divided among those clubs this weekend.

    Here's a look at the loyalty matchup between the Seahawks and the Saints. While the Seahawks (blue) have tremendous loyalty in the northwest, the Saints (gold) have more fans just about everywhere else:

    Here's the fan loyalty matchup between the Patriots (red) and the Colts (blue).



    Here's the fan loyalty matchup between the Chargers (yellow) and the Broncos (orange).



    And here's the fan loyalty matchup between the 49ers (red) and the Panthers (blue).


    To see a slideshow containing larger maps, click any image below.


    Tags: Facebook, NFL, GE, ING
  • The NHL Shift: Numbers and notes, 1/10/2014

    A look at the past week in the NHL and a glimpse at what’s ahead:

    • THE NUMBERS
    2,200 miles:
    That’s the distance the NHL’s ice truck will have traveled from the Winter Classic site in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1 to the Stadium Series game in Los Angeles when it arrives at Dodger Stadium on Monday. A 53-foot trailer is carrying what the NHL says is the world’s largest mobile refrigeration unit. The Kings play the Ducks on Jan. 25 in the first NHL regular-season outdoor game in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River.

    70 degrees: And sunny. That’s the extended weather forecast for Los Angeles on Jan. 25. For a Kings-N.Y. Rangers preseason game in Las Vegas in 1991, the temperature was 85 degrees at puck-drop. That game came off without a hitch, so a warm-weather outdoor NHL game does have a successful precedent.

    8,000 tickets: According to an executive with one of the participating teams, that’s how many tickets remain for the Rangers-Islanders Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29. The NHL is hoping the game will sell out after the Rangers-Devils game in the Bronx three days earlier shows fans what they’d be missing by not attending. Business also will pick up as NFL executives and football fans make their way to New York that week for the Super Bowl.

    20 years: The length of the hockey operations apprenticeship of Tim Murray, who was named general manager of the Buffalo Sabres yesterday. The 50-year-old Murray, nephew of Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, got his start in the NHL under Bryan in 1993 as a scout with the Red Wings and went on to work in various player-personnel roles for the Panthers, Ducks, Rangers and Senators before getting the top job with the Sabres.


    6,000 pieces of counterfeit NHL apparel: According to the security investigations division of U.S. Homeland Security, that’s the count of counterfeit NHL jerseys, hats and other gear seized in the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic. Five people were arrested in Detroit and are awaiting misdemeanor charges.

    13 years: When the Buffalo-Carolina game was postponed earlier this week, it was the first weather-related postponement of an NHL game in Buffalo since December 2000. Sabres-Hurricanes has been rescheduled for Feb. 25, which was supposed to be the last day of the NHL’s break for the Olympics.

    LOOKING AHEAD
    SATURDAY (JAN. 18)
    : Hockey Day in Canada — but more regionally, it’s also Hockey Day in Minnesota, with Fox Sports 2 planning to provide 16 hours of coverage during the day. It will be the first time the state of Minnesota’s annual celebration of hockey will be broadcast nationally. Coverage includes three outdoor high school games at the Handke Pit in Elk River, and a college game between Minnesota and Ohio State at Mariucci Arena.

    Tags: On The Ground
  • TV Timeout: Signature Moment

    ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, on whether he would have signed his Baseball HOF ballot if the result of the Deadspin readers’ vote was not realistic: “I don’t think I would have gone that route. But I’m not sure, I can’t say for sure. I would have been forced to make a decision there between what I had promised them” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 1/9).  

    BAD REPUTATION: Former NFLer Lawrence Jackson, on former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland: “I don’t like him at all. He was one of the guys at that Combine that immediately struck me as a pompous, arrogant, meathead-type of guy who thought that he was better than what he was” (“Rome,” CBSSN, 1/8).

    FACE OF THE FRANCHISE? ESPN’s Ed Werder said of Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel in the NFL, “Jerry Jones, the great marketer, can just imagine how many Cowboys' jerseys he would sell with this guy on the big stage in 'Jerryworld'” (“NFL Insiders,” ESPN, 1/8).

    POSTSEASON DRAG: FS1’s Trevor Pryce said of the NFL possibly expanding the playoffs, “If you start expanding the playoffs, now some of the bad rosters are now making into the playoffs. Why would anybody want that?” (“Crowd Goes Wild,” FS1, 1/8).

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