The Broncos’ $96M deal: aligning with a legend (to be)

With winter term of my senior year coming to a close, I’ve found my way back to the bloggosphere. Hello, old friend. This past term I took a class entitled, “Olympic Sports Marketing.” Loved it. And a lot of what we discussed in class is relatable to PR. One topic was aligning the brand with the values and goals of the Olympic Games as well as committing to a long-term investment. One thing that surprised me was the cost of becoming an official sponsor of the Games. It costs $80M to be associated with the Olympics – keep in mind, this is just the right to say you’re an official sponsor. On top of that, these select few sponsors spend a minimum of $200M to market themselves as such. This is an incredible amount of money, and although I won’t get into it, this money is spent to do good – but could also be used to resolve the global food crisis; just saying.

But back to branding. These sponsors know that they are committing to a long-term, strategic investment. To maximize their investment, they must be 100% committed to the Olympic brand. They must align themselves with Olympic values, both through their online presences and through traditional media.

With this on my mind, I couldn’t help but think about branding when I saw this morning’s front page of ESPN.com, “The Art Of The Deal – The Broncos got Peyton Manning for five years, $96 million.” At the press conference scheduled for later today, Manning will be announced as the Broncos’ new starting quarterback. The franchise now faces the task of trading its current starting quarterback, Tim Tebow. There is no doubt this is a risky investment. Peyton is 36 years old. He’s missed the 2011 season to undergo several neck surgeries. Tim Tebow is a fresh 24. Yet the Broncos are tossing Tebow aside for Manning, with a pay schedule banking on him playing five more seasons.

But perhaps it’s not about a championship ring. The Brancos are aligning itself with the Peyton Manning brand. There is no doubt that Manning is (or will become) a football legend. In fact, rumors surfaced before the deal was signed stating that Payton was offered a guaranteed position on staff with the courting rival Tennessee Titans should he live out the terms of its contract. This was never about buying a great quarterback. It’s about aligning a franchise with one of football’s greatest stars. And by star, I don’t just mean on the field. I mean, Manning’s squeaky clean, fatherly, honest, all around good image.

I’m not going to say I agree with Manning’s paycheck. My father has ingrained in me for twenty two years that athletes are grossly overpaid. What I am saying is that from a branding standpoint, this is a smart move for Denver. Peyton Manning is (or will be) a legend. Good players want to play with legends. Period.

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Goodbye for now…

Because of the impending pressures of senior year, I have decided to retire my blog indefinitely. Thank you for visiting and following my thoughts over the past year. Go Ducks!

2011 Oregon Football Preview: Living up to the hype and rising above controversy

Oregon’s preseason opener against LSU is fast approaching. In the spirit of of the coming game, I decided to post a preview of what may come in my senior year at Oregon.

The Oregon Ducks enter the 2011 season after making history with the school’s first ever appearance in a national title game, a second consecutive conference title and their best record in over a century.

Their almost perfect season was certainly unexpected after suffering a series of offseason controversies leaving the team without their star quarterback in 2010. A lot has changed since then, but one thing that has stayed consistent is the offseason antics. Both Cornerback Ciff Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso are suspended for a minimum of one game and the football program has fallen under investigation by the NCAA for its dealings with a Houston-based recruiting service owner, Willie Lyles.

While the NCAA decides their post-season fate, Oregon will need to live up to the hype built up over the past year. This season the Ducks will lose star linebacker Casey Matthews, now playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, and wide receiver Jeff Maehl. Despite those key losses, the team should maintain its speed and agility with returning running backs Kenjon Barner and 2010 Heisman finalist LaMichael James as well as quarterback Darron Thomas.

Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks would like nothing more than to prove themselves once again by winning the first ever PAC-12 conference championship and having a second chance at the BCS National Championship.

OFFENSE

The Ducks’ returning quarterback Darron Thomas has the confidence he didn’t have a year ago. Last offseason, Thomas was pitted against upperclassman Nick Costa to win the starting quarterback position. Having won, he led Oregon to the National Championship. Last season he passed for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns. Thomas now has the confidence to throw more and rely less on the speed of his running backs, which is good because it’s about time most of their PAC-12 competitors have their routine down straight. It’s Thomas’ job to change up their offense and make it unpredictable again.

That isn’t to say that James and Barner will contribute any less than in previous seasons. In the 2010 season, James lead the country in rushing with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging almost six yards per carry, while Barner for 551 yards and six touchdowns, averaging over six yards per carry. The speed of the Oregon offense isn’t going anywhere. Wide receiver Josh Huff was a huge asset last year as a true freshman, averaging almost eighteen yards per carry, but will need to step up even more this year to fill the shoes of alum Jeff Maehl. Tight end David Paulson will also round out the Ducks’ experienced offense catching for 418 yards last season and four touchdowns.

If the offense line is able to stay strong after losing three starters, the offense is solid. But that’s a big “if.” The younger players will have the pressure of building the cohesiveness and leadership of previous seasons all before their first game. But with the addition of true freshman wide receiver Tacoi Sumler, a four star recruit out of Miami, FL and one of the fastest (if not the fastest) prep football recruit in the country, filling Maehl’s shoes shouldn’t be a problem.

This team led the conference and the nation in points per game (46.8) and yards per game (530.7), and should be just as remembered, but perhaps a little quicker and not as predictable.

DEFENSE

In the 2010 season, Oregon’s defense ranked twelfth in the nation allowing only 18.7 points per game. Leaving the Ducks are key linebackers Casey Matthews (79 tackles – 37 solo), Spenser Paysinger, now for the New York Giants, Kenny Rowe, now for the San Francisco 49ers. This is going to be a young group of players, and they’ll all need to step up and give the offense what it needs to stay in control.

Last season, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti rotated between 25 linebackers. So a lot of the players that will need to step up will not be new to Oregon, just new to the starting line. The Ducks have also added five true freshmen and three red-shirt freshmen to the lineup.

Over the past few seasons, the Ducks’ defense has been regarded as the weak link but on their road to the national championship, Oregon stepped up and showed the country this wasn’t a team relying totally on their running backs. Regardless of their missing starters, the Ducks should be able to fill the gaps and keep on improving.

SCHEDULE

The Ducks we extremely fortunate in the 2010 season; opening the preseason with a matchup against New Mexico wasn’t exactly a challenging one. The team was coming off an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin in the 2010 Rose Bowl and needed the kind of confidence boost that season opener supplied.

This year, Oregon isn’t as fortunate. They open the preseason against fourth ranked LSU at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, TX. Autzen Stadium has been consistently ranked in the top ten most intimidating venues, but the Ducks don’t always thrive on a national stage. They’ll also be missing defensive players Alonso and Harris due to suspensions for the LSU game. The Ducks, ranked third, will need to win this game if they want a repeat appearance in the BCS National Championship. After the LSU opener, their schedule looks pretty typical.

The Ducks will open conference play at Arizona, which was far from the friendliest venue two seasons ago. Luckily Oregon’s three toughest PAC-12 opponents are late in the season, allowing them time to prepare for what can be considered unknowns right now. Oregon will have to face their biggest PAC-12 threat, Stanford, lead by Heisman finalist Andrew Luck at Stanford Stadium. Not ideal, and Stanford will be a different looking team under new head coach David Shaw. Closing out the season with the civil war against Oregon State at home will be a huge advantage; especially if the Ducks are coming off a couple victories against Stanford and USC.

Starting out the season with likely the toughest game they’ll play all season will be a tell tale sign of how far the Ducks have come in the offseason. Stanford will be the ultimate test of their strength at the end of the season. These benchmarks will likely reveal the fate of Oregon’s post-season play.

OUTLOOK

The Ducks, in the past, have thrived as the underdog, but that is no longer the case. After their birth at the BSC National Championship, the team needs to find that hunger they had when they had to prove themselves to the world. Now that they’ve proven themselves, can they live up to the hype? Their offseason controversies provide a chance for their usual “it’s us against the world” mentality to supersede the others and might just be enough to meet great expectations.

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When the truth rains, it pours – the Miami controversy

Last week Yahoo! Sports broke the news that University of Miami football booster, Nevin Shapiro, admitted to providing thousands of benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 to 2010 seasons amounting to several millions of dollars. Shapiro has also recently been incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

This is incredible, and not in a good way. Shapiro has probably single-handedly devastated the Miami football program for seasons to come. The article reads that some of his donated benefits included (but weren’t limited to) “cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.”

Furthermore, Shapiro’s co-ownership of a sports agency (existing during his time as a Miami booster) signed two first-round picks from Miami, Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason, and recruited dozens of others while Shapiro was also allegedly providing cash and benefits to players. After all this, Shapiro wasn’t about to go down alone. Yahoo! Sports reported that “Shapiro said many of those same players were also being funneled cash and benefits by his partner at Axcess, then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue.”

Nine former Miami players and one former coach have corroborated Shapiro’s claims. And when Yahoo! Sports asked him why?

“I did it because I could,” he said. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”

I’ve watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and I have to say one of my favorites was “Pony Excess,” the documentary of the rise and fall of SMU. It is still unknown what kind of fate Miami awaits, but several have predicted the death penalty that struck SMU in the late 1980s.

For those that don’t know, the death penalty is the harshest punishment any NCAA member school can receive and it’s only been given five time. Ever. Simply, the death penalty bans a school from competing in a specific sport for at least one year. SMU had been on probation five times in the nine seasons leading up to the death penalty and continuously lied to NCAA officials. Which goes to show that honesty really is the best policy. Although Miami is reported to be cooperating fully with the NCAA,  I don’t know if it can be saved. At a certain point the honesty policy can no longer help you.

Only time will tell what will happen to Miami’s football program. With the offseason almost over, their limbo state is likely coming to a close.

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PAC-12 media play

Yesterday afternoon marked the first completed PAC-12 media day. Now, more than ever, there is little to differentiate pro and college football. The biggest of controversies discussed was the investigation of University of Oregon’s dealings with a Houston-based recruiting service owner, Willie Lyles.

I read an article this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle (distributed by the Associated Press) about the controversy and Oregon Coach Chip Kelly’s comments, or lack there of, during the PAC-12 media day. To the multitude of questions from the media about the NCAA investigation, Chip Kelly responded, “As head coach of this football program, we’re held accountable for everything we do… I’d love to talk about it. There are a lot of answers I’d love to make sure we can get out there.”

The article also reads that in a statement sent out to program supporters by email last Friday, Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens said the Ducks have retained a law firm to assess the $25,000 payment to Lyles for an apparently outdated scouting report last year.

In an ESPN recap of the media day, Ted Miller interviewed Bruce Feldman about the current happenings of the PAC-12. In the interview, Feldman makes a comment about Oregon delaying their response to the accusations to defuse the situation as much as possible. Is this an effective tactic? Yes. Unlike Tennessee, Oregon is not punishing themselves prematurely, but as far as they know, they’ve done nothing wrong (That’s their story and their sticking to it!). The fact that Oregon has retained a law firm to independently examine their payment to Lyles shows that the program is proactively investigating the situation.

You can’t comment on something if you don’t know happened for sure, and I commend Chip Kelly for not trying to.

PS. Sorry if this post is bias in your eyes…ALL HAIL CHIP!

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Volunteers volunteer probation

Last week, the University of Tennessee announced a two year self-imposed probation for the schools athletic department. This was in response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations on May 20.

“The University has taken what it believes are meaningful and appropriate steps to address the problems identified in this case,” the response reads, “including declaring student-athletes ineligible, implementing enhancements to the compliance program, and self-imposing penalties upon the particular coaching staff members and sports programs that were designed to punish the head coach, deter similar conduct in the future, and offset any advantages that the programs may have gained.”

Yesterday, it was reported that Lane Kiffin, former head coach for the Volunteers and current coach of the USC Trojans, is now facing charges for “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program and failing to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several of his assistants.”

Tennessee is still awaiting ruling on the twelve major infractions.

My question is, do self-inflicted punishments work? They can, if executed properly. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to the kind of crisis communications colleges and universities have become so familiar with lately.

  1. Speed of response – Tennessee was quick to take responsibility for violations. That is not always the case. A quick response shows that you are paying attentions and eager to fix problems within your organization.
  2. Admitting guilt –  The university went above and beyond expectations here. They are not only willing to accept charges for violations, but also willing to punish themselves for their own mistakes. In doing this, I would think it is a good possibility that the NCAA may reduce their infractions to applaud UT for their voluntary probation. But even if they don’t, they still look good.
  3. Placing blame – Don’t do it. Tennessee didn’t once complain that violations were committed under the supervision of a now Trojan and by others that have now left the program. This could have been rewarded by the NCAA’s charge of Kiffin individually, separate from the school. Charges against Kiffin are not likely to disappear anytime soon. He is expected to be sidelined for several games at his new USC home (an almost insignificant problem for USC compared to other sanctions they have faced recently).
  4. University culture – This incident shows that there was little control and supervision going on in the athletic programs. Because of Tennessee’s actions regarding my previous three points, it has given the impression that there are great changes going on in this department.

Schools can no longer rely on their coaches to enforce and educate their staff on NCAA rules. Coaches are put under immense pressure to perform and attract the best players in the country. But every school’s athletic department needs to have a crisis plan. And whether Tennessee had one prepped or not, it performed beautifully.

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Harris at the edge of a Cliff

I just started interning for the second summer at a small PR firm in San Francisco, so forgive me for abandoning my blog for a week. Now that’s out of the way, lets get down to the nitty gritty that is college football. I read an article when I got home today; it was ESPN‘s report of some heartbreaking news.

Wednesday, Oregon football coach Chip Kelly released a statement announcing the indefinite suspension of cornerback Cliff Harris. All because this kid (and I’m allowed to say kid because I’m older than he is) can’t keep it under 100 mph. The 20 year old was cited Sunday morning after police clocked the player going 118 mph with a suspended license in a rental car.

There are so many things wrong with that last sentence.

  1. Suspended License – Why did he have a suspended license? What did he do originally to get it taken away?
  2. 118 mph – Seriously? The main highway going through Eugene has a 55 mph speed limit.
  3. Rental Car – This could be a lie, but I thought you needed to be 25 to rent a car. Never mind the fact that you need a license (this I know to be true).

The car was said to be rented to a university employee, which just opens a whole different can of worms that I don’t want to even think about.

I can’t help but think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The same day, ESPNU posted a podcast discussing the state of college football after a rather turbulent offseason. Amongst the talk, interviewee Pat Forde suggests that some of the controversies going on in college football today have probably been going on for a long time and are just now being brought to light. Host Ivan Maisel, in response to Forde’s comment, brings up the fact that information is more readily accessible than it has been in the past due to the emergence of social media, which could explain the exploding of controversies this year.

But is this an excuse? Social media can make you, and it can certainly break you. First impressions are no longer made over the phone or face-to-face, but rather via Facebook “stalking.” I will never forget my first day of J452: Strategic Public Relations Communications when my professor started off our first class with a slideshow, one slide per student. She revealed what anyone and everyone (including future employers) could find about each of us on the web within ten minutes. Some weren’t so bad, some were pretty bad and some were worse. Yes, it’s harder the shield ourselves from the world because everything we do is online, kept forever in the intangible nothingness of the Internet. But that’s no justification. Maybe if we were older, using our first computer and just started to learn about that thing that can find all the answers (Google). But we’re not, and by “we” I mean me and all those athletes making mistakes. I got my third laptop at eighteen. I’m not sure I can remember what I did with my free time before Myspace and Facebook came along. The irony of all these social media-induced scandals is, they’re all coming from those who’ve grown up in the digital age. One would think we’d know how to use social media the way it’s meant to be used. Psych.

Chip Kelly said something in his statement that really stuck with me.

Cliff’s future clearly is in Cliff’s hands. Earning an opportunity to represent the University of Oregon and this football program certainly rests far beyond a player’s ability on the field of play. Our behavior out of the spotlight often is more important and will be held to a higher standard. Until Cliff is able to conform to the same standards all of us must comply with, his status will remain unchanged.

For some reason, these words really reinforced my faith in the Ducks. Perhaps it is the fact that this team has a leader that truly understands the meaning of a team and the environment we live in today, the digital age. These players are given more than they probably ever dreamed. They are the heroes of a small town that worships one thing: the duck. With great power comes great responsibility. But amid all the praising, winning and inflating egos, Kelly is still able to understand that today, the spotlight is never out; get used to it; adapt.

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The lies that lead to a slow and painful demise

Breaking college football news: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t return to Ohio State for his senior season. I watched a video posted on ESPN today featuring ESPN College Football Insider Joe Schad’s comments on the situation. He said he wasn’t surprised and there has been talk that Terrelle Pryor has been blamed by teammates for the late departure of coach Jim Tressel.

This got me thinking about how one bad decision can change everything. Although Pryor made a few bad decisions, not just one, it goes to show that lying never gets you anywhere. The scandal at Ohio State lead to Tressel’s painfully long demise. But is Pryor responsible for that? When it comes down to it, the athlete follows the advice of a coach, not the other way around. Blame for the famed coach’s resignation should not be placed on Pryor but on Tressel himself.

But none of that even matters because once you lie, and the truth comes out, no one will ever trust you as a teammate or anything else. Things are not looking up for Ohio State or Terrelle Pryor and the only thing I can say to that is, thank goodness he didn’t come to Oregon.

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How to be a ‘man of the people’

Today, ESPN posted a video of Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard talking about interacting with fans via Twitter and his future in the NBA. I’m not a huge Dwight Howard fan, but he’s definitely doing something right.

Watching this video reminded me of a post I wrote a while back titled “How not to tweet…for athletes.” It takes more than being an incredible athlete to get lots of followers. Shaq is the most followed athlete on Twitter for a reason; he’s entertaining.

Contrary to what many believe, Twitter is not about spitting out whatever you’re thinking every second of every day. It’s a quick fast way to network and create and foster a larger community. It is a way to interact with people who you wouldn’t normally come into contact with on a more personal level…and a much less creepy one compared to friending or faning on Facebook.

Similarly, Dwight is doing more than just mindlessly creating content and shoving it into the micro-blogosphere, he’s engaging. This is was not only increases followers, but sustains them. And sustainability is key.

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How the mighty fall, and fall, and fall

“This is not a good day for college football, but it’s a necessary day,” said Brent Musburger of ESPN College Football on ESPN this morning, “I am afraid that once again someone forgot to study the lesson that we should have learned when Richard Nixon left office. The cover up is always worse than a petty crime like this.”

Today, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resigned after NCAA sanctions have paralyzed the school’s once thriving program.

Musburger is right. I’ve heard it so many times in my PR classes. People are more likely to forgive a brand that takes responsibility for its actions than one that tries to cover something up. Someone who makes a mistake and apologizes is forgiven and forgotten (or remembered in a positive way). Someone who makes a mistake and lies about it is always found out and always remembered as one who can’t be trusted.

“I think Ohio State is one of the best brands in college football; they will get past this but it may take them a few years,” Musburger comments.

I’d like to say I think the NCAA crackdown in a good thing. It seems in recent years, there is not much separating college and professional sports. Who is really at fault in most of these situations? The school for offering benefits or the athlete for taking them? Well, the answer is both. But the real question is, who suffers the long-term consequences? The school does. If the player is worth the rewards (not to say I’m condoning this), they’ll probably go pro. And did giving back the Heisman really hurt Reggie Bush’s career? No. After it’s over and done, professional teams don’t care if an athlete did shady things. But the school is punished for seasons to come. It will take years to recuperate from the damage a sanction can cause.

So is Tressel resigning a good thing? Well, it’s too late for him to reconcile is damaged image, but yes. it shows the world of professional sports, a school can just about loose all the merit its got at the drop of a hat.

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