Archive for the ‘Sports’ category

Dolan Media, Reporting For Duty

11-09-07

With the Veteran’s Day weekend upon us, let’s do a surprise inspection of some of Dolan Media’s business and legal stories this week….

New Orleans City Business has a story about yet another lasting change to the city after Katrina: The inability of elderly residents to get back home. Reporter Richard A. Webster interviews Gordon Wadge, a local Catholic Charities official, about his mother, Gloria.

“We had some very emotional conversations,” Wadge said. “She told me, ‘I just want to come home and die in the house your father and I built.’”

Gloria Wadge’s home was undamaged but the circle of neighbors she depended on was shattered.

“There was an elderly couple she kept up with, but the husband died of a heart attack during the evacuation,” Wadge said. “Then there was the neighbor on the other side who came over for tea every day who was so traumatized by the storm that she moved across the lake to live with her daughter.

“And there was another neighbor across the street who was sick with cancer. I’m sure the stress of the storm accelerated that illness because he’s since deceased.”

For reasons like this, the numbers of New Orleans residents under 65 has dropped a staggering 63 percent, NOCB reports….

The impending long weekend has put two Long Island Business News editor in the mood for recreation. Publisher John Kominicki ponders a proposed year-round indoor skiing resort in Riverhead, and how that might help NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg attract more Euro-tourism….

Meanwhile, Associate Web Editor Henry Powderly II continues his LI wine tour, this time stopping at Roanoke Vineyards for a few helpings of jazz and rosé….

The Journal Record in Oklahoma City is hosting a dinner Nov. 29 to honor the “Best Dressed” Oklahomans…but the big buzz in OKC is about the NBA’s Seattle Supersonic’s owner announcing a move to “the Capital of the New Century,” which has upset the NBA commish. He’s mad at Seattle and Washington state officials for not building the Sonics a new home….

The Colorado Springs Business Journal has a feature about the, uh, breathtaking competition in the “vanity oxygen” industry. Reporter Joan Johnson writes:

Oxygen bars, which are popular at various athletic and social events, are facing competition from hand-held canister packs, which contain 25 breaths of 95 percent pure, enriched oxygen — more than four times the amount of oxygen found in ambient air.

Just as bottlers convinced consumers that it wasn’t ludicrous to pay $2 for a bottle of water, oxygen companies are betting that people will be willing to pay for a breath of fresh air.

Marketing canned or portable oxygen appears to have started in Asia, and grew out of the scuba industry. People were using small, supplemental oxygen tanks outside diving because of the air quality in major cities, said Kevin Berigan, president of Oxygen Plus Inc.

Berigan said that more than 11,000 7-Eleven stores in Japan began selling private-label oxygen about a year ago.

Bill Miller, creative director of Oxygen Plus, said that his company doesn’t claim its products have any medical benefits or can cure any ailments, but he said there are benefits for skiers, cyclists, hikers, partiers, spa goers, athletes and smog breathers.

But she also quotes a pulmonary specialist as saying the whole business is “a scam.”

I wonder if the next big thing will be bottled air from exotic locations like Maui…the North Pole…the Greek Islands….or Paris….

CUT TO: Casablanca Airport, Night

(A cloud of fog mixes with engine smoke.)

Ilsa: But what about us?

Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.

Ilsa: Oh Rick, I have a bottle of Paris right here. Want a hit?

Rick: Here’s looking at you, kid!

Advertisements

Placebos, Pharma and Government Drug Approvals

11-02-07

What does it mean for the FDA’s drug-approval process if, as this Economist article implies, the placebo effect is responsible for the apparent effectiveness of some of the drugs it approves?

The story triggering this thought is about sports medicine. It describes a study comparing painkilling effects of morphine with a placebo on athletes. The World Anti-Doping Agency bans the use of morphine during competition because “its painkilling properties would give users an unfair advantage.”

Killing pain, however, is one of the things that the placebo effect is best at. In 1999 Dr Benedetti himself showed that someone who is injected with morphine for two days in a row experiences a powerful analgesic response not only on those days but also on the next, if the morphine is replaced by a placebo without his knowledge. That led (University of Turin professor Dr. Fabrizio) Benedetti to wonder if the effect of legally administered pre-competition morphine might, perfectly legally, be carried over into a competition by giving a placebo.

In their new experiment, published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, he and his colleagues simulated a sporting competition by pitting four teams of ten athletic young men against each other in a pain-endurance test. With a tourniquet strapped around one forearm, these men had to squeeze a hand-spring exerciser repeatedly until pain forced them to stop. Their scores, measured by the time they managed to keep going, were averaged over the whole team.

One of the teams received a morphine injection just before training sessions held two weeks and one week before the contest, and an injection of saline solution on the big day, along with the suggestion that it was morphine. Another received the same regime, but the saline was combined with naloxone, an opiate-blocking drug. The remaining teams received either no treatment at all, or the placebo on competition day alone.

Members of the team that received morphine followed by a placebo were able to endure significantly more pain during the competition than any of their rivals. In particular, those injected with naloxone did no better than the other two control groups. This finding supports the theory that placebos reduce pain by encouraging the brain to produce more natural opiates than usual.

The Economist thinks aloud about the implications. What if a doctor told an athlete he was being administered an illegal painkiller, and the athlete believed it. The placebo effect kicks in. Is that athlete cheating?

But the bigger picture is the power of the placebo effect. How much mainstream, FDA-approved medication was approved based on placebo-effect-fueled results from human tests? How many approved drugs are effective because of a feedback loop reinforced by doctors’ assurances, advertising and word-of-mouth? Is “the placebo effect” merely a pejorative term for the body’s ability to heal itself? Is healing-by-placebo any less valid than healing-by-drugs?  Do drugs interfere with self-healing/placebo effect, or are they enhanced by it?

Obviously, pharma companies need to have some level of testing and approval, if only to assure that their drugs don’t poison people. But when a drug seems to be effective but the placebo effect is suspected, the FDA considers that drug to have failed. Is that really the right way to look at it?

Taking it further, should the FDA be working with health practitioners on ways the government can help drug manufacturers create the basis of belief that would support the placebo benefits? And shouldn’t the government find a way to support homeopathic and other alternative medications, rather than — as they do now — trying to ruin users’ faith in them?

Placebo might be just another word for healing, in some instances. What are the implications of that?

No Business Like Snow Business

11-01-07

vail-snow-10-22.jpgForests might be burning in California, glaciers might be melting at the poles, but take heart: In the Rocky Mountains, there’s already two feet of snow, according to Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Amy Gillentine. That’s a big business story for U.S. tourism:

With millions of dollars spent for renovations and improvements, Colorado’s ski resorts are counting on early snow reports to bring tourists from around the world to the slopes this winter.

With early snowfall amounts at some resorts nearing two feet — and with the help of artificial snow at some of the ski slopes — two resorts are open, and many more are preparing for big opening days during the next two months.

“We had two feet of snow in the past week,” said Kristen Rust at Aspen Ski Resort, which includes four mountains. “That’s always a really good sign. Whenever you have a nationally broadcast football game in Denver, and they’re talking about snow — that gets the phones ringing.”

Apparently, Mother Nature was listening to some good marketing advice:

Big snow storms are the best publicity, she said. And the earlier in the season they come, the earlier the resort bookings begin.

“It’s still pretty warm on the East Coast,” Rust said. “So people are looking at the Rockies, hearing about the snow and booking winter vacations.”

Aspen relies on out-of-state visitors and international travelers for much of its clientele. Last year’s warm winter on the East Coast and dry European weather led to strong sales at Aspen.

Amy’s story has lots of details about conditions and new features at an array of Colorado resorts, including Vail, Breckinridge, Copper Mountain, Monarch Mountain — all of them happy campers so far.

(Photo credit: Colorado Springs Business Journal)

Fun With Press Releases: Taco Bell and the World Series

10-26-07

If you’ve been watching the World Series, you know that Taco Bell, the subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc., has figured out a way to get millions of Americans visit Taco Bell, the fast-food joint, next Tuesday. For the cost of one seasoned beef taco (retail price 77 cents, cost probably half that), they get a customer inside their store, probably hungry for more than a single small taco. I have no hard facts, but I assume the entire per-customer cost of the promotion is more than made up if the customer buys a soft drink.

Some of you might feel like me, though. You want to punish whoever came up with this idea, and you want to strangle it like a baby alien before it grows and reproduces. It’s probably already hopeless.

Tonight after the Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury triggered the promotion by stealing this World Series’ first base, they played a clip of Red Sox benchwarmer Royce Clayton chatting with Ellsbury last night, reading a script about the free taco, followed by an interview with a Taco Bell executive — I didn’t catch if it was the CEO David Novak or someone else.

Of course Taco Bell is proud of this stunt. The fast-food firm brags about it in this press release:

Irvine, CA–(HISPANIC PR WIRE – BUSINESS WIRE)–October 22, 2007–During the 2007 Major League Baseball World Series you can count on two things: one team will be crowned World Series Champions and all Major League Baseball players will have the opportunity to steal millions of tacos for America.

Imagine if you were just learning English and you came across that last sentence. The mental picture it calls up is scary. Would they steal them all at once, or stealthily, one at a time?

Taco Bell(R), the official Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) of Major League Baseball(R),

The fact that everyone in America calls them “fast food” restaurants won’t stop the industry from trying to jam its jargon down our throats. Not one person in America has ever said, “I got the munchies, where can we find a QSR that’s open late?”

is giving MLB players the signal

Signs. Baseball players get “signs,” not “signals.” Football players get signals: “53! 22! 77! Hike!”

to “Steal A Base, Steal A Taco.” If any player, from either team, steals a base during any game of the 2007 MLB World Series, everyone in the U.S. will have the opportunity to enjoy one free Beef Crunchy Taco from Taco Bell. It’s that simple.

In case you were afraid this taco giveaway would be really complicated. Like you’d have to deposit money in a foreign bank account first. (more…)

Baseball’s “Convenient Bogeyman”

10-22-07

For some of us, the upcoming World Series will be compelling enough drama, but there are many fans who will fret away the next few weeks wondering:  “What’s A-Rod going to do?”  If you root for a team that has an opening at third base or shortstop, needs a power hitter, and has a big budget (like my team, the Los Angeles Dodgers), that team might be tempted to make an offer for Alex Rodriguez if he leaves the Yankees.

It’s good-news bad-news.  You’d be getting the best player in baseball in his prime. But you’re also getting his increasingly grandiose, manipulative, arrogant agent, Scott Boras, who thinks A-Rod should become part-owner of his next team.  The New Yorker profiles Boras this week, and, yeah, modesty’s not his strong suit.  Speaking to a group of baseball executives at Baseball America’s annual banquet, Boras recalls saying this:

“What I told them all was: ‘You know what this business is about, guys? We’ve gone from, when I came into it, an industry that made, economically, about five hundred million dollars, and we went to a billion in 1990. We went to three billion in 2000. And now we’re near six billion in 2007. What it says for all of us in this room is this: We’re doing a good job with the game. We’re growing the game, as it should be grown. There’s a balance that’s needed in the growing of the game, and I provide the balance on one side, and you provide it on the other.’”

Boras talks about the value of being “very myopic in what you choose to pursue” in order to be “the best at something.”  However, he doesn’t always live by that code.  He’s currently floating a proposal to expand the World Series to nine games — the first two in a neutral city that would compete to be host, like cities compete for Super Bowls or the Olympics now.  Corporate hospitality, a “gala, like the Oscars” to announce the MVP and Cy Young awards… Even Marvin Miller, the longtime players’ union chief whose legal acumen made Boras’ vast empire possible, believes Boras is “forgetting what his real role is” with such suggestions.

There’s almost too much good stuff to quote, so I’ll stop with this morsel and let you read the rest yourself:

“We’re purists about the game,” Boras told me. “We’re about commitment. We’re about making you better.” He brought up, as an example, Barry Zito, the San Francisco Giants’ lefty who is known almost as much for his surfer persona as for his sweeping curveball. “What we did with Barry Zito a year and a half ago is one of my better pieces of work,” he said. “It was really about getting him to be him. I call him Zicasso. The thing is, he wants to pitch powerfully, and I’m saying, ‘No, you’re Zicasso! You got to be the artist-poet-intellectual. That’s what you’re out there to do.’ He feeds off it. ‘You’re Zicasso. You come out and you paint!’ ” He added a wavelike flourish with his arm to punctuate each new mention of Zicasso—whose performance in the past couple of years, incidentally, has not been discernibly better than it was before.

By the way, this is definitely a business story.  The combined earnings of Scott Boras’ clients this year? $295 million, of which Boras gets five percent.

The Torre Example

10-19-07

The New York Yankees’ graceless firing of Joe Torre today struck me as a cluster of classic PR mistakes organizations so often make — substituting talking points for common sense, “thinking outside the box” without first looking in the box for a more time-tested approach, and believing one’s own spin.

The Yankees fired him passive-aggressively. They offered him his job back, but at a lower salary, with additional money and a contract extension only if the team won a championship. Get a load of this:

“Under this offer, he would continue to be the highest-paid manager in major league baseball,” team president Randy Levine said. “We thought that we need to go to a performance-based model, having nothing to do with Joe Torre’s character, integrity or ability. We just think it’s important to motivate people.”

Really. So is this a change of policy for the Yankees? Performance-based payment to the manager? Is Levine saying the next Yankee manager and all future Yankee managers will have to accept a “performance-based model” for their contracts?

If so, should the manager be able to sue the team’s general manager if he refuses to make a trade to improve the team? Because Torre was only offered one year, he would have an incentive to lobby the GM to bring as many good players to the team in 2008 as possible — and trade all the prospects if it’s necessary to get them.

What if he’d said “Yes?” There could be nothing more uncomfortable than presenting an employee with a job offer you hope he or she doesn’t take.

Plus, what an insult to Torre’s professionalism to suggest he needs “motivation” to get the Yankees into the World Series. He got them there seven of his twelve seasons, and got them into the post-season every year. Do they really think he needs a monetary motivation at this point in his career?

Why, oh why didn’t the Yankees do what always works in this situation? Fire him if they must — almost every manager gets fired — but respect him in the process. In decades past, the Yanks kept all their old managers on the payroll, and sometimes would bring them back.

Torre brought unprecedented stability and success to the George Steinbrenner-owned Yankees. Only two other managers in Yankee history held the job for so long, Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy. Stengel, too, was fired, despite having won 10 American League pennants and 7 World Series.

Torre said last week that his “12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long.”

But if you look at the world of 12 years ago, it’s amazing how much has actually changed. When Joe Torre became Yankee manager in 1996:

  • There were no DVDs.
  • Java had just been released. Java 1.0
  • Osama Bin Laden had yet to declare war on America.
  • Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley were two separate companies.
  • Tony Blair was not yet Prime Minister of England.
  • There was no such thing as Fox News.
  • There was no such thing as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • There was no such thing as Viagra.
  • The Bulls were the best team in the NBA; the Cowboys in the NFL.
  • Tiger Woods was still an amateur.
  • A computer had never beaten a grand chess master.
  • There was no iPod, and Apple was not in good financial shape.
  • No one had yet cloned a mammal.
  • Princess Diana was still alive.
  • Both Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were still alive.
  • So were Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs.
  • So were James Stewart and Robert Mitchum.
  • The term “blog” had yet to be coined.