Thursday, May 23, 2013

The future of Soccer in the USA

Lots of big news in the soccer industry in 2013...

David Beckhan retires
USL Pro enters into agreement with MLS
MLS announces expansion with collaborative partnership between ManU and the New York Yankees.
The NASL relaunches old brands of the past

What does all of this mean?

Don't forget the NASL.  They are back and expanding.  They are making big inroads in places like South Florida, San Antonio and Raleigh, NC.  And they are coming soon to Loudon, VA and bringing back the New York Cosmos in a couple of months to start the second half of the NASL season. They own the rights to all of the NASL teams of the past (Tampa Bay Rowdies, Strikers, Cosmos) and are relaunching those brands one at a time, and adding to the mix. They are getting soccer-specific stadiums.  And they do not desire to be a developmental league for MLS clubs.  They want to compete on the same level.

So, what is the viability of soccer in America?  Arguably a growing sport. In Philadelphia, the Union have a solidly loyal fan base,  and now we see the introduction of a SECOND New York franchise, in addition to the reemergence of the NY Cosmos brand in another league?  Can this be sustainable?

Why does every student want to be an agent? Or General Manager?

Let's face it. Those of us in the "industry" know this is not a likely outcome, and yet, so many of my students are convinced this will be where they are working in a year or maybe 3. I hate to think I might be disillusioned before 40, and I certainly would never want to rain on any one's dreams. After all, I had mine too, and there were many memorable folks who helped me realize them, with some realistic modifications!

And that is what I try to do with students. Education is about creating opportunity and choices, no? Through awareness, understanding, empowerment, and the like. And so, I like to help students have those options, by pursuing dreams with absolute abandon, but being realistic and ready for any opportunity.

Personally, I have never worked for a professional sports team, but I have been "around" them my entire career, working as an editor for a few publications, a brand manager for a trading card manufacturer, and as a marketing consultant with sports agents and other companies in sports and recreation, in addition to owning two sports marketing firms. I always try to encourage my students to be versatile, thereby making themselves more marketable, so a new feature I plan to introduce here are going to be listings of jobs in sports, but outside the mainstream.


Social Media No Longer an Option

With lots of transitions taking place, and some recent talk professionally, about not looking at the past, but only to the future, it seemed relevant to break and create a fresh start on the blog. So with that, and a recent class on social media and leadership, I have been thinking about a comment that I read, and what a powerful impact it had on me.

I know many people in various industries that are adamant about having NO attachment to social media.  They have seen and read the horror stories a la Anthony Weiner, and they want to stay as far away from the potential of anything remotely similar happening to them.  Understandable.

However, as we discussed in this recent class, in this time, with social media so prevalent, simply choosing not to engage in social media does not mean you are not there.  Whether an individual has an active presence in using twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., is no longer relevant.  Because leaders are already there, being spoken about by others, regardless of their decision to interact on any level.  

So I implore you, whether you think it is valuable, relevant, useful or not, to minimally become engaged as a listener.  Your reputation could depend on it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More great advice for students

The Sports PR Blog has a GREAT interview with Jim Loria, of the Sioux Falls Stampede today. Jim provides some GREAT advice for students aspiring to enter the sports industry job market, and be successful. Some of my favorite quotes:

"During my time in Washington, my Caps’ boss used to always preach to me that “I wouldn’t become ‘someone’ in my life until I totally understood how sales, marketing, community, promotions, special events, etc. , all intertwined and rely on each other to succeed!“"

"Spend time honing your writing and speaking skills without question. Learn how to get in front of larger groups, especially your peers, and speak. Communications is vital."

"On the flip side, you can have the most decorated resume in the world but if you can’t “smile”… “look someone in the eyes”… “effectively communicate”, than the resume is wasted. I don’t think I am off base by saying that with most employers today, your resume (or referral contact) can get you the interview, but it’s that first glimpse of you & the employer when you first meet that probably cinches half of the door opening up for you or staying closed. How you dress matters! Just like a meal at a restaurant. First time your eyes gaze on the look of the meal delivered by the wait staff member will make your taste buds ramp up or turn off."

What amazes me is that this advice is what SO many industry professionals share with up-and-comers, and yet, so many students seem to think they are above it, or that it's just a bunch of garbage.

A great quote from Jack Nicholas, that I usually put on my class syllabus: "I always practice as I intend to play." The point is, use your classes as a way to hone your skills for the real world. This means demonstrate a professional appearance and demeanor. Body language says a lot more than students realize, and when they sit in the classroom and look apathetic, doze, sit cross armed, those are subliminal messages that tell me they think they are better than this. They always say that in an interview or on the job, where it really "matters" they turn their game on. What they fail to realize is that behaviors frequently become habit, and you never know who might see you. In other words, there are some students I would gladly recommend for a job or internship, and others for which I would hesitate, based largely on their behavior in my classroom. How you practice translates to the big game. And in this industry, in this job market, students need to be more prepared than ever.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sonny Vaccaro strikes again

My 6 loyal readers know how I feel about this topic, but here we go again...

The Sporting News is reporting today that Mississippi State University has retained the services of a lawyer that has experience dealing with other schools in times of crisis, pertaining to potential rules violations and NCAA inquiry.


Because Renardo Sydney is 6' 10", plays basketball, is under the advisement of Sonny Vaccaro and has committed to MSU, after previously making an oral commitment to USC. In the Sporting News report, Vaccaro "acknowledged that he gave the family $20,000 to help with the move (from Mississippi to California)."

On April 24th, I ranted about Vaccaro and this latest admit in The Sporting News sickens me even more. USC and UCLA allegedly rescinded offers to Sydney, because they claimed to be concerned about possible scrutiny into Sydney's story.

So, here we go again. Everyone knows Vaccaro is connected. The former shoe company executive just happens to have $20,000 lying around to help a kid and his family move halfway across the country? And there is nothing in it for him down the road? OK.

Vaccaro is not registered as an agent, but c'mon. Those of us around it know how basketball at this level works: The prominent and powerful AAU teams that circumvent regulation. The ways that runners work under the radar and launder money from different sources, not out of the goodness of their heart, to coincidentally help 6'10" teenagers who can shoot, but as an investment in a potentially greater windfall down the road.

Again, I understand maximizing opportunity, and I do not begrudge a teenager for taking the path that allows them to potentially change the lives financially of those closest to them, but I am first and foremost an educator, and reinforcing the concept that education is a red-headed step child compared to the glamour of fame, to impressionable, naive young people really gets to me.

And that is what is happening here. Again.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the percentage of American adults of all ages with a four-year bachelor's degree was estimated at 17.1 percent in a 2007 Census survey. And we all know what a great career you can typically have with a High School Diploma or GED on your wall. So, we stand by, and let people like Vaccaro continue to ride the wave of these promising, athletic children? And when their wave crashes, where are the Vaccaro's of the world? Certainly not with them. They are back out to sea looking for the next one.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another nail in the coffin for education

I am an entrepreneur, a lifelong learner and an educator, so one would think that I would be in conflict when I read a story like the one in USA Today about high school basketball players skipping college to play professionally overseas until they are eligible for the NBA Draft. I am all for maximizing earning potential, and can certainly understand the appeal from the perspective of a young person, especially in the case where that opportunity could change things in their life that have been fundamental concerns I have never had to face (do we have enough money for groceries this week?).

And when the story has a happy ending (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James), everyone wins. The fans win. The industry wins. The players are able to change the lives of many people.

But when I read a story like the one I just stumbled upon, I think about people like Ronnie Fields. Maybe you remember him... the high school teammate of Kevin Garnett who was dubbed "all-everything." He was declared academically ineligible at DePaul, where he signed a letter of intent, which stumps me. He declared for the CBA (not NBA) Draft, where he was selected #73 overall. How did he go from Mr. Basketball in high school, All-American, to the 73rd draft pick in a second rate league? He is now 32 years old, having jumped from league to league, with no NBA experience. He went undrafted in 1998 when he submitted his name into the NBA Draft pool.

So, Sonny Vaccaro is back at it again. What I would like to know is where this guy is when players he "consults" don't pan out? It seems like he just moves on, but how many Ronnie Fields players with similar stories have been left in the Vaccaro wake?

Around the time Ronnie Fields was leaving high school and testing the professional basketball waters, I was professionally involved with basketball, and very involved in marketing qualified players with no collegiate eligibility to overseas and minor league teams so I remember his story well. Over a decade later, he is still toiling in the CBA.

So Vaccaro is out there "consulting" and "advising" players to forgo any time in college. He calls it "purgatory" for exceptional players. The stigma he attaches to the concept of ANY educational experience sickens me.

For the minuscule percentage of players where this option is a logical one, there are undeniably droves more who unrealistically think it will work for them. What happens though, is that countless people, leaches, wanna-bes, hangers-on, hitch THEIR aspirations of an easy ride onto the star of a naive, wide-eyed 17-year old. And then the star dims. And the "friends" disappear, looking for the next sure thing to hitch a ride. It happens. I've seen it. Way too much.

So, I wish Jeremy Tyler all the possible happiness that could exist for him, as I would for any young person, with so much in front of them. I hope he finds years of success, but I also have no conflict when it comes to education. I hope he does not devalue it. Some day, he is going to need it. Basketball will end someday. If it ends abruptly, without the anticipated podium shot with David Stern and the riches that follow, what will he have left? A 10-year career bouncing around semi-pro leagues making $2000 a month? And when he is 40, and can't do that any longer, what is there for him? He can't get job coaching in high school or college, because he only has a high school diploma or GED. What then? Where are all of the "good friends" that once existed because there was promise and an easy ride? These are the stories that impact me. That is why I credit players for going to college, staying in school to exhaust their eligibility, and then moving on. I understand that that is not for everyone, but I shudder when I see the vultures and Vaccaros of the world "advising" players to make life-altering decisions that have no impact on their OWN lives. When lawyers and doctors and other professionals improperly advise their clients, they can be sued for malpractice. They have a stake in the things they tell other people to do. Vaccaro has no stake. If a kid works out, great. If not, oh well, not my problem.

It's despicable. Good luck Jeremy Tyler. And Ronnie Fields, wherever you are, hopefully your story will make people aware of the need for a balance with reality, and the urgency to create options and choices. Life is a long time, not just the length of a 10-year basketball career (if you are even that lucky).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Under Armour reaches plateau in life cycle?

The Baltimore Business Journal reports on the athletic apparel giant facing the challenges presented not only by the economy, but also by its evolution on the product life cycle curve. They have great brand awareness and equity, but stiff competition from Nike, adidas, and everyone else under the sun. After all, mimicking is the sincerest form of flattery.
We shall see if the brand loyalty they have mustered is enough in the long term.