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The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eating the Justin Verlander Taco Bell combo

It doesn't actually exist on the menu (yet), but Oakland Press reporter Dave Phillips took on the "Justin Verlander" meal deal Monday. It costs almost $11, which might vary by location. Watch below:

End of the NFL blackout rule too late for Lions fans

How many Sundays were Lions fans left to watch reruns of "Cops" or bull riding while their team played behind the curtain of an NFL-imposed blackout? While it's true fans may not have wanted to see all eight of those home games the season the Lions went 0-16, but there have been times when local affiliates don't even show an alternate game in this market.
In that infamous 2008 season, five of the final six home games were blacked out. The only exception being the heralded Thanksgiving Day game. But Turkey Day isn't always a guarantee, at least not at the Silverdome, where there were 15,000 more seats to sell than the Lions' current home at Ford Field. 
There have been numerous Lions blackouts through the years, including Thanksgiving Day (1994) and the playoffs (1993, Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe anyone?) 
(Fun fact: I attended the first blacked out game in Ford Field history Oct. 26, 2008, of course a loss, to the Washington Redskins.)
The Lions had just two blackouts in Matthew Stafford's rookie season in 2009, and just one in 2010. There were, of course, no blackouts in 2011, as the Lions were actually interesting enough for fans to shell out hard-earned dollars, making the previously-scapegoated recession seemingly disappear (but not from national broadcasts).
Each NFL game since the 1960s has been broadcast on national TV. Today, four networks pay $20.4 billion for the privilege of showing the product. That number increases to $39.6 after the 2013 season, in a new deal recently agreed upon.
"The television rights to the NFL are the most expensive rights of not only any American sport, but any American entertainment property," Wikipedia says.
The current rules are actually an upgrade. Prior to 1973, all home games were blacked out in attempt to get more fans to their respective city's stadiums, regardless whether the game was sold out. What league could get away with treating its fans that way? Congress had to step in to rule the league use it's current 72-hour sellout policy.
In the Internet age, fans are much more savvy. Armed with laptops, HDMI cables and big flat-screen TVs, they find pirate sites carrying the national broadcast, projecting the ill-gotten broadcasts onto their big screens regardless of Draconian NFL measure. But should it even be that difficult? No.
The league's antiquated blackout rule, contrived when attendance was the driving force behind revenues, not TV deals; appears to be on its way out. While it's a welcome change, it's too late for Lions fans. And that's another good sign.
(Photo above from Time magazine, taken during a 2009 preseason game vs. Atlanta. There were just two blacked out games that season, Matthew Stafford's first.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Justin Verlander: Regular guy in the Taco Bell drive through

Justin Verlander has always seemed like a nice, fun, and most importantly "regular" guy through his five plus years with the Tigers. He brought the same presence to the studio for last night's episode of "Conan" with former NBC late night host Conan O'Brien.
During their chat, the two actually covered a lot of material, but most notably, Verlander's pre-game meal for games he starts: Nearly 100 grams of fat (nearly twice the recommended amount in a 2,000 calorie diet) worth of Taco Bell. Whatever is in there, it helped Verlander to be come the Tigers' first 20-game winner in decades (24-5), pitch the second no-hitter of his career (and several near-misses), his first (of likely many) Cy-Young Award as well as an improbable AL MVP award.

While most athletes push whatever brand they happen to be in cahoots with or whatever their trainer feeds them, Verlander touted the benefits of the fast-food lifestyle. Verlander's biggest-named endorsements right now come via Reebok and Rawlings, according to Crain's Detroit Business. But his marketability was said to skyrocket pending the results of award season, which went swimmingly for JV.
If Tigers fans were annoyed by the endless stream of TBS cross-promotion during the playoffs, so was Verlander, who got annoyed at the sight of the orange "Conan" blimp above Yankee Stadium.
The overpowering righty also talked about the upcoming MLB 2K12, on which he appears on the cover.
There are few athletes with personality willing and able to transcend the playing field and make fans feel like he or she is one of them. Verlander has that gift. Among many others.
(Watch the episode in its entirety here.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why do athletes resort to insulting 'poor' fans

Following the latest Lions playoff loss, Aaron Berry, who spent much of the game getting lit up by Drew Brees and the Saints, he insulted Lions fans' income and disposition (the phrase "broke and miserable" was used) via Twitter. That makes me wonder, why, when athletes are looking for a social media retort, they instantly think to insult the income of "regular" people. Is that how they see the world, in dollar signs? How quickly they forget that fans help pay their salaries with those same hard-earned dollars and unconditional loyalty. How much money would those same poor fans have left in their bank accounts if they never chose to be your fan.
Wouldn't it be easier to think of a logical response before firing away? And if you can't handle the heat on social media, I'd suggest getting out of the business. Dealing with fans' criticisms is part of the job you signed up for. 

Things have gotten so bad at The Palace, security isn't even 'goin to work'

Apparently things have gotten so bad at The Palace, where they drew a messily 10,000 fans to see the defending NBA champion Mavs, marketing and promotions has made bench seating available. These two bearded fans found their way next to one-time superstar Vince Carter and an array of other Mavericks late in Tuesday night's snoozefest, won of course by the Mavs.
Just listen to George Blaha's bewilderment (above). That's coming from an announcer who didn't blink an eye at a 30-point leads in the third quarter.
The guys were apparently seated with the Mavs for quite a while and a hunch leads me to believe it's a stunt by owner Mark Cuban. There's no way those guys get down there for that long without someone saying something to security, right?
We've seen what can happen when fans enter the playing field as a danger to the players and coaches, but the Mavs seem right at home with these two, further cementing the idea they're friends of the team.
And it has to be against some regulation to have alcohol on an NBA bench, right? And out of curiosity, how much would you pay to sit on the bench with the reigning NBA champs and Vince Carter?
UPDATE: SB Nation Detroit points out that those seats were actually VIP seats and the gentlemen were not likely guests of Cuban, but rather the Pistons. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Light buzz killing Pistons' attendance

Anytime you watch Pistons highlights these days, you might notice something besides Jonas Jerebko's reemergence -- the empty seats behind him. 
After beginning the season with a sellout crowd of 22,076, attendance at Pistons games has been sparse. While The Palace has the largest seating capacity in the NBA, they might need to think about partitioning off the upper deck, as was common with Detroit Shock games (remember those?)
The Pistons have drawn fewer than 10,000 fans each of the past three home games, games they could and should have drawn better.
Last Saturday was the Pistons' second game against the Pacers that week. Devoid of any superstars, the Pacers drew a crude 8,824 fans on the same night Detroit's most consistent team of the past 20+ years, the Red Wings, packed the house for their traditional New Year's Eve game against the Blues. 
Think it can't get any worse? Wrong. Two days later, with the Pistons going against Dwight Howard and the Magic, they drew just 8,120 fans.
Okay, so it was Jan. 2. People were just getting back into the groove after the holidays. Give them a pass. Wednesday, reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls came to Auburn Hills. Oh, and a guy named Richard Hamilton, one of the greatest Pistons of all-time, was visiting for the first time after leaving for the Windy City in free agency.
Attendance -- 9,125. A little better.
The miniscule crowds are becoming a joke among beat writers, who routinely point out the lack of fans seated in the upper deck.
Typically, Pistons marketing goes hard to draw for superstars. They're not getting any help from a shortened schedule which doesn't include the "other" team from L.A., the upstart Clippers, who added even more star power to the lineup obtaining Chris Paul to go with young hot shot Blake Griffin. 
Help will come in the form of the Miami Heat, which visits twice, Jan. 25 and March 23. Surely the hated Miami Three can draw, even if the Pistons don't win another game until then. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers don't visit until March 6.
For the remainder of the season, though, it's a wonder what Palace Sports and Entertainment comes up with to draw at the games in between.
Opening night against the Cavs, it seemed new owner Tom Gores gave the orders to "L.A." things up a bit. Fans seemed to be enjoying themselves, but it was a bore on TV, as the pregame festivities were nearly 20 minutes long. Then, the Pistons laid an egg against an equally unexciting Cavaliers.
Gores and Co. can take a lesson from Mike Ilitch's two teams -- put a winner on the playing surface and fans will come. (That of course doesn't apply to the Ford family, as we all know we'll pay, maybe even top dollar, to watch even the worst football team.)Until that day comes back around for the Pistons, expect trinket giveaways, jersey retirements and anything else that helps fans forget the team on the court hasn't made the playoffs in two seasons.
(The photo above comes courtesy of CNBC's Darren Rovell)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Could you pass the Sugar?

Some astute observers may have noticed ESPN's Holly Rowe ungracefully pushing a beat writer out of the way so she could have the exclusive interview with Michigan coach Brady Hoke following Tuesday's night's Sugar Bowl victory. Who was that pour soul unceremoniously shoved out of the way on national TV? It was none other than Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News jockeying for position in the aftermath of Michigan's first BCS bowl victory in 13 years.

So who's at fault? Rowe? ESPN? Chengelis? Hoke? The BCS computers?
The answer is it's ESPN's fault. If they have exclusive rights tied into their TV coverage, they should have had personnel assisting their reporter in getting Hoke's attention. Also, Rowe could've popped the mic in Hoke's face during Chengelis' questions and presumed to butt in for the next question, as TV personnel are known for arriving late on the scene with the bright lights.
Bonnie Bernstein, herself a veteran of the trenches defended Rowe's antics. 
"It’s one of ESPN’s perks, if you will, for forking out $125 million a year for the BCS and this courtesy is customarily extended to ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX or any broadcast entity that pays a rights fee to put an event on its air. In a perfect world, someone from the Michigan sports information department or a Sugar Bowl media rep (or both) is helping Holly round-up Hoke and keeping other reporters briefly at bay. But, inevitably, there are breakdowns amidst the madness ..." 
Regardless, it was an interesting game of "I know that reporter" Tuesday night. 

Red Wings' captain will get a pass after foreign car advertisement because he's Nick Lidstrom, among other reasons

If you watched the Winter Classic Monday, chances are you didn't thanks to MSU's triple-overtime win in the Outback Bowl. But, if you were watching, wondering what venue might make a great locale for Detroit's supposed introduction to the now five-year-old novelty game, you may have seen the ad above featuring Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom. Potentially more disturbing than Lidstrom appearing with "rival" Ducks player Corey Perry is the fact the ad is for Honda.
First, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh spurns the team's namesake for Chrysler. Then, wideout Calvin Johnson goes to Acura. Now, Lidstrom, wearer of the Winged Wheel, in a Honda ad? And don't the Wings have some alliance with Dodge now?
Well, not so fast. It seems the ad is for the NHL, not just Lidstrom and Perry.
An individual sponsorship is one thing, but this appears to be a deal the league has with Honda.
If that weren't enough, it's possible fans would just let it roll off their backs because of Lidstrom's years two decades of servitude or the fact he's so beloved or the fact he's not even American.
All that aside, nice move by Honda incorporating the octopus. It's nice to see there is still someone who appreciates the throwing of the hallowed sea creature.