On the NFL, the Super Bowl, and living in the host city

So, this is the second time now that Houston has hosted the Super Bowl at the same stadium (originally Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium). Yes, Houston did host Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium back in 1974, but this was before my time.

I have been a football fan pretty much my entire life. During the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 when Houston did not have an NFL franchise, that changed a bit. For a while I even followed Arena Football, which unfortunately hasn’t remained popular, with the current incarnation having contracted to a mere five teams down from a one-time high of 19.

That said, once my favorite teams (Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks) get eliminated from the playoffs, I usually quit caring about football for the year and will often either tune out of the Super Bowl or watch only part of it. This year I’m watching from home, mainly because it’s being played here in town. However, next year, unless the Texans or Seahawks are playing in it, I may not watch, for a variety of reasons.

One good thing about having the city you live in host the Super Bowl is a lot of things get fixed and cleaned up that otherwise nobody would really care about. Trash gets picked up off the streets, businesses clean up their exterior and possibly even fix burned-out bulbs in their signage, major streets get repainted months ahead of schedule, burned out streetlights get fixed. This year, it also appears the Super Bowl was the impetus for the completion of the Green Line overpass connecting the final two stations (Cezar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park Transit Center).

Of course there is a flip side to this too where laws are used in unintended ways. While I haven’t heard much about the city (particularly the police department) mistreating the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl, I’m sure it has happened. It’s implausible that the Super Bowl coming up in less than two months and HPD deciding to enforce the homeless feeding ban more aggressively than usual was just a mere coincidence.

While we do get an economic influx, there’s also the extra traffic from everybody coming to town for the game and/or other related festivities. On a personal note, this was part of the reason I cancelled my planned attendance of the 2600 meeting at The Galleria on Friday; it was questionable if I would have attended even if potentially thicker-than-usual crowds were not a factor. I was at The Galleria on Wednesday, and the crowds weren’t terrible then, but who knows how bad it was on Friday night? (If you were there, feel free to comment.) Also, I see many friends on Facebook who can’t wait for the city to “get back to normal.” I don’t blame them.

I don’t mean to throw rain on your parade if you’re a diehard football fan and only care that it’s the NFL and there’s 11 guys on each side of the ball running into each other in the closest thing the USA has to ancient Roman gladiatorial combat. If you enjoy the game no matter who’s playing, that’s great. But some don’t, and some like myself lose interest if the teams are unfamiliar. And honestly, normal life can be chaotic enough without a wildly popular football game and the associated crowds coming to town.

Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad

I know I have a backlog of about a dozen posts I’ve been meaning to write, but on this one I feel the need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s about this 60-second television commercial aired during the Super Bowl. In case you haven’t seen it:

Now, I know it’s primarily a right-wing crowd that’s ticked off about this commercial. I’m mostly left-wing but lean right on a few issues. It’s a no-brainer that we as a country benefit when everyone knows at least one common language. Now, the question then becomes what language should that be?

The Declaration of Independence was written in English. The Constitution was written in English. All of our laws are written in English. Our road signs are written in English. The majority of our broadcast media are in English. If instructions for anything are written in only one language, that language is English. It is technically true that English is not the official language of this country, but it really should be named as such by law.

And this is why I think Coke’s ad fails as a piece of advertising. I am fine with showing different nationalities, different colors of skin, even those of differing sexual preferences. But if we can’t even talk to random people in the same language, how much unity do we really have? I have lost count of the number of times I’ve asked a stranger something like “what time is it?” or “which bus was that that passed by?” and got “sorry no speak English” as my response. So when Coca-Cola shows “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages, and it is hard to tell if parts of the video were even shot in America (at 0:28 Coke bottles are shown which very well could be the Mexican version not necessarily imported into the US, at 0:35 all the signage is in Chinese and there’s nothing to clearly show that this is actually the US). I hope this isn’t the case, but if in fact any portion of this commercial was actually shot outside of the US, it was inappropriate to use “America the Beautiful.”

I’m not even sure what they are trying to communicate. It’s a video montage with a song whose melody I recognize, but most of which is sung in the language NotEnglish. (I say it this way not to offend, but in the same way that John Polstra used the term “the programming language NotC” to refer to a different and less-known computer programming language.) About the only things I can recognize are the Coca-Cola logo and some obviously American landmarks like the Grand Canyon. If there’s a message of unity here, I missed it.

The advertising would have been improved by showing the singers on camera–different nationalities, skin colors, sexual preferences, what have you–singing “America The Beautiful” in English and only in English. The video as aired could remain the main video shown on screen, with the singers in an inset, or the video as aired could be replaced with the singers entirely. Now the commercial becomes a more obvious promotion of unity behind a common language–and a common soft drink.

I’m disappointed as a Coca-Cola customer that they dropped the ball this badly on such a big stage. I’m not going to boycott Coke, but I’ll definitely be drinking a lot more Dr. Pepper over the next couple of months than I otherwise would have.

A Texas-sized Super Bowl seating snafu

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl this year; the only reason it’s on my DVR is so I can watch the commercials and study them like any other marketing guy. And the story I’m writing about here is on a PR disaster that’s probably going to leave Jerry Jones with a Texas-sized headache–and which may well preclude the Dallas Cowboys franchise from hosting another Super Bowl any time soon.

The New York Times and the New York Daily News reported on a seating snafu caused by the failure to complete some sections of temporary bleachers in time for the game. The story also hints that part of it had to do with Jerry Jones’s desire for a Super Bowl attendance record, which was ultimately unsuccessful (103,219 versus the record set in 1980 at the Rose Bowl of 103,985).

To their credit, the NFL did something to try and make things right, offering the fans who were not able to be relocated to other seats in the stadium free food and merchandise and the chance to watch the game from one of the stadium’s private clubs and/or the standing-room-only rooms, as well as a refund of three times the face value of the tickets.

The refund may well not cover what some scalpers charged for tickets. But I’ve ranted about scalpers before, and my opinion of them has not changed at all. Suffice it to say I have a low opinion of those who would profit at the expense of the NFL and their fans, and I’m disappointed the NFL and its member teams have done almost nothing about Super Bowl ticket scalping. It’s entirely possible the NFL doesn’t care, but that’s kind of a side issue here.

Anyway, this quote from Ashante Green of Pittsburgh (at the end of the NY Times story), who was relocated from an unusable section 240A seat to one in section 448 (in the upper deck), sums it up nicely:

It’s ridiculous… What am I supposed to do? Not go in?

I consider what happened here an embarrassment to all of Texas. Mr. Jones should be ashamed of himself and the bad PR he brought to not only his franchise, but the NFL, his city, and his state. Look, guys, if you’re going to put in temporary seating to try and break the attendance record, make sure it’s ready to use by game time. Otherwise, you just look like a bunch of idiots. And let’s be honest here, there are enough people that have this mistaken stereotype in their heads about Texas being full of “dumb cowboys” or worse. Mr. Jones, and his greedy, selfish quest for a Super Bowl attendance record, didn’t exactly help.

The least that could have been done, was to acknowledge that there were tickets out there for unusable seats prior to game time, and have the contingency plan ready to go and announced. It’s much better from a PR standpoint to admit a goof like this before you have hundreds of disgruntled fans rather than after.

Television, football, advertising, and strategy

After probably the most anathemic event to hit any Houston area fan of amusement parks, the shuttering of Six Flags Astroworld in 2005, I would never have expected the scene to feel so empty. Four years and change later, and still nothing permanent has been built on the former site. It’s a huge change for Houston to be without what was once an iconic amusement park; it’s definitely not quite the same city now.

But that’s not what this is about. One typically does not appreciate the full impact of a change until well after it has happened. Such is the case with Pepsi’s decision not to advertise during Super Bowl XLIV, choosing instead to concentrate on social media. Remember, this was the same Pepsi to be flamed to a crisp for changing its logo. Heck, even I reacted on Twitter to what I felt was an absolutely horrible branding move, and I still don’t look at a can of Pepsi the same way.

The full impact of that change was Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper commercials picking up the slack. I didn’t realize how different it was until I saw them myself. (Aside: I really didn’t plan to watch the Super Bowl at all this year; it was my mom’s idea for us to go watch the game at a local bowling alley, 300 Houston, which has television screens above the lanes as well as in the bar area. We had a great time.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until well into the fourth quarter that it really hit me just how big of a change this was. I didn’t realize just how big of a player Pepsi was in Super Bowl TV advertising. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, used social media to complement the rest of their Super Bowl ad campaign.

It remains to be seen exactly how each move will pay off for the respective beverage giants. However, the more I think about it, the more I think Pepsi’s marketing team will be kicking themselves for skipping the Super Bowl this year. I’d expect Pepsi’s departure from Super Bowl TV advertising to be a one-year thing, and some heads to roll once the shareholders realize what has transpired.

On professional sports: what many fans forget, ignore, or don’t know

This goes back to a spur-of-the-moment tweet I made yesterday. I still stand behind what I wrote even though some people almost certainly got the wrong idea:

And for the record… I really, truly, could not care less who wins the Super Bowl. I just hope none of the players get hurt.

A lot of people forget things about professional sports. When an athlete wants a salary that most average people deem inflated if not outright obscene, it’s easy to forget a lot of the cold, hard, unpleasant realities of professional sports.

The first of those is that for the players at the professional level, playing the game is their day job. Not only is it their day job, particularly in the cases of football, hockey, and motorsports, it is one of the most dangerous jobs in existence. And I’ll probably get flamed for this, but I assert that professional athletics is at least somewhat on par with law enforcement for danger level; it’s difficult to be completely objective on things like this, but my educated guess says that most football players have less than half the working hours per year of most beat cops. In particular, the sheer quantity of police officers with 10+ year careers compared to the relative rarity of NFL players with the same tenure pretty much speaks for itself. I would go as far as to suggest most cops who change careers inside of a decade do so willingly as opposed to being forced to do so from injuries. The NFLPA FAQ for those considering becoming an NFL player is rather clear:

The average length of an NFL career is about 3 and a half seasons. Although there are some exceptional players who have long careers that extend 10 or twelve seasons and beyond, most players only stay active for about three seasons. Players leave the game because of injury, self-induced retirement, or being cut by the team. This also means that while players may make more money than most people, they are only making it for an average of three and a half years. To make sure they are successful in the future, players must invest their money well and make plans for another career when they can no longer play football.

I invite comments from anyone with insight from the law enforcement community, or for that matter any other similarly dangerous career.

The second of these is that when rule changes are made to promote safety, that means for the players, this is a workplace safety issue. Without the players, there’s nothing for the fans to watch. I’m not saying the fans should be completely ignored, but there is no game without the players. The so-called “armchair quarterbacks” are quick to call the players all kinds of derogatory names like “sissies afraid to get hurt” when a league makes a safety-related rule change. Most professional sports fall outside the jurisdiction of OSHA; the players’ union and the league are all the players really have as far as who is looking out for their interests. (And in some cases, the leagues eagerly turn a blind eye until the union makes enough noise.)

Another is the perception that most athletes are millionaires. The NFLPA FAQ linked above refutes this:

Despite what most people think, not all NFL players are millionaires! For example in 2000, the minimum salary for rookies was $193,000. While the highest paid players in the league can make $7-8 million per year, most players make much less than that. … This year, the average NFL salary was $1.1 million.

Note that this is the average, meaning there are a significant number of players who make less than this.

I would go as far as to say an NFL player making the minimum salary, who suddenly finds himself playing for an entire quarter of every game from, say, the fourth week on, is probably not being adequately compensated for the risk he is undertaking! (To be fair about it the same could certainly be said of many police and fire personnel as well.)

(Quick aside: the average is different from the median; the former is the sum divided by the count, while the latter is the number of which half the numbers in the set are either above or below. I suspect the small number of multi-million-dollar salaries inflate this average to be much higer than the median, but would need to find the numbers to actually back it up. I believe the median to be a much more useful statistic which would probably go much further towards proving my point in this case.)

Finally, the career of most professional athletes, save for certain sports such as bowling or golf, is short enough as it is, without the ever-present possibility of career-threatening or career-ending injuries. As mentioned previously, especially in the case of professional team sports, there is the possibility of being cut (or, as the rest of us know it, getting fired) by the team. The reasons for an athlete being out of work are sometimes just as arbitrary as some of the layoffs and firings that happen in the corporate world.

So when I say things like that, there’s a reason for it. I do feel the New Orleans Saints played a great game and congratulate the team and its fans on the victory; while I did not really root for the Saints, I am capable of admiring well-played football by any team.

Today’s a great day for sports fans, all sports fans, to pause and give the proper credit to the players that make each sport what it is. Without the players, there would be no game to watch.