December 15, 2008

My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things
(as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

(with apologies to Julie Andrews)

New England Patriots stuck with Matt Cassel
When Manning finds out protection's a hassle
An offensive line that's not on the blink
These are a few of my favorite things

Dallas infighting and Green Bay's a wreck
New York and Tampa soon flat on the deck
Star football players that aren't in the clink
These are a few of my favorite things

Halfbacks that impress on forty-yard dashes;
Tough cornerbacks that intercept passes;
Flying to Oahu just before spring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Baltimore losing and Denver pathetic
Tennessee not looking all that athletic
Getting so close to six Super Bowl rings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 09, 2008

The Future of Arena Football

DON'T WRITE OFF the Arena Football League just yet. At least, that's the conclusion I've come to after poring through news reports that have -- perhaps a bit prematurely -- proclaimed the "Arena One" league may soon go the way of the dodo bird. Supposedly, the league's future is in doubt after a major potential investor backed out of a deal to fund the league to the tune of $100 million, and several teams are in reputed financial distress. Adding fuel to this panicked talk is the fact the league's schedule, free agency and New Orleans dispersal draft have been delayed; the fact no permanent commissioner has been appointed; and the fact the economy sucks eggs. But I still think it's too soon to write the thing off for dead.

That said, running an AFL team is expensive, and so reports some teams are experiencing financial headaches does not surprise me. Consider the costs of overhead, for one thing. You have to rent out the arena, pay your front-office staff, pay your football staff, pay for travel costs, arrange travel accommodations, buy equipment, pay league fees, advertise like a banshee and give away bunches of free tcotchkes to your season-ticket holders. All these things are expensive, even the free tcotchkes. Those T-shirts don't print themselves, you know.

Notice how we haven't even gotten to player salaries yet -- although player salaries are undoubtedly a big deal, and are likely at the heart of the league's troubles. In 2009 the salary cap for each team will be just shy of $2.1 million, according to the AFL's contract with its players' union. What is less well known is that the teams also have a minimum compensation floor they must pay their players -- and for 2009, that is just north of $1.8 million. So although a player can make as little as $32,000 a year (and get things like housing benefits) while playing in the AFL, the minimum salary distribution drives up the costs for star players, who can make six figures.

Such sums would be fine if teams had ancillary revenues, particularly television revenues. But teams supposedly get very little in the way of revenues from the AFL-ESPN deal, according to published reports. So that probably leaves teams with gate revenues and local sponsorships as their main revenue generators. That's a doable proposition in the minor leagues, but probably not so much in a semi-major league like the AFL.

Yet I remain hopeful this situation can be resolved. Faced with teams going into bankruptcy -- a lose-lose situation for everyone -- I would think the AFLPA would be willing to work on the salary cap and minimum salary distribution issues, and be willing to accept lower compensation. But this will only happen if the players feel they're being dealt with on the straight and narrow and have the ability to share in future gains.

That said, it seems pretty clear the AFL has one shot to get this right. The public-relations damages stemming from this whole affair are increasing daily, and recovering from them will take a lot of work. People won't buy tickets for games they think they may not get to see -- and regardless of whether that fear has any basis in reality, perception is king.

Also, since there is a market for spring football, the AFL has to act fast to prevent other potential competitors from taking the field. Even one lost season would be a death knell for the league, as people's attention went elsewhere and savvy entrepreneurs imagined ways to capitalize on its absence.

Which leads us to the bright side of this whole mess, such as it is. The lower leagues for arena football aren't affected by this at all, and will gleefully plow ahead regardless of the turmoil facing Arena One. Should the AFL fail, it should mean an influx of talent to these leagues, and better games resulting from it. So there's that, I guess. But even though every cloud has a silver lining, you've still got to deal with a storm -- and I just hope a downpour for the AFL isn't in the forecast.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ben Bowman, American Hero

INSPIRING STORIES ARE all too rare in American life these days, but here's a great one out of Chicago that should warm everybody's hearts. Ben Bowman, a producer for WMAQ-TV, the NBC affiliate in the Windy City, delivered an on-air rant blasting his own station for delivering breathless reports about ... snow. You know, in winter. In Chicago.

Mr Bowman, who amazingly writes about his job on his own blog, writes as follows:

Another reason for rage (sorrow?) is the fact that a dusting of snow fell overnight. This, of course, is reason to throw out lots of interesting stories so we can tell you what you would already know if A) you have access to windows or doors in your home or B) you’ve lived anywhere where snow falls at this time of year.

As I frequently point out, I grew up in Michigan, where 12″ of snow is barely justification to wear mittens, let alone raise the terror alert level to red. And even though I didn’t see a single snowflake on the way in to work, we still rang the alarm bells and blew up my show to herald the arrival of our white, flaky overlords.

I will make a guarantee right now. Once we get some real snowfall, a dusting of this consequence won’t even be mentioned on the newscast. We led with it today merely because the roads were previously clear. There will be days when the roads will be much worse, and we won’t even mention them.

You should lead with weather when something unusual happens. Winter is not unusual. Today was the equivalent of leading with the news of an 80 degree day in June.

The full video of Mr Bowman's rant is here:

Mr Bowman's outburst should be required viewing for local television news directors everywhere. He is clearly a scholar and a gentleman, and as such, someone worth heeding. Also, he's from Michigan and is named Ben, which means he's OK in my book.

Mr Bowman is right in that weather should be covered when it is unusual, or when news results because of it. For instance, if the first snowstorm brings with it a rash of accidents -- as it often does -- well, then that may be news. If the first snowstorm is especially fierce, and dumps 18" of snow all over the tri-state area -- well, that's probably news. But if there's a dusting of snow ... meh. News, not so much.

Yet even a dusting of snow can cause news stations to go a bit overboard with Team Storm Coverage, which all can agree is an unfortunate circumstance. Why, back in Ohio where my folks live, I can assure readers that a football game was once briefly interrupted in the name of Team Storm Coverage. (If there was justice in this world, the people behind said interruption would have been publicly flogged, but sadly our laws do not properly account for such abuses of the people's airwaves).

This tends to generate unwanted side effects, too: for instance, when major events are interrupted for crappy storm coverage, people get upset; and when the news stations hype weather stories that turn out to be nothing, people tend to get desensitized to the latest breathless bulletins. Thus, Team Storm Coverage should be used sparingly -- and, ideally, only when the situation is especially dire.

But I do have to give Mr Bowman a lot of credit for delivering his rant. For one thing, he's a local television news producer, a job I wouldn't want for all the tea in China. After all, consider the challenges he faces:

1. He has to arrange and put together a local newscast every morning. This is not easy. (YOU try to summarize an important story in two minutes and tell me how it turns out).
2. He has to deal with reporters. This is not all that easy either, particularly as reporters are often cynical, hard-bitten types who may not see eye-to-eye with a producer on certain stories. ("You want me to WHAT?")
3. He has to deal with his news presenters. There are many good news presenters out there, of course, but Mr Bowman's video makes it pretty clear that his early-morning presenters are not the brightest bulbs in the lamp store. Such situations can often lead to amusing television, but that often means the producer feels like clawing his own eyes out -- particularly since the anchors make obscene sums of money compared to what he's making. (Television is a horribly unfair medium in many respects).
4. Along with this, he has to deal with pressure from his superiors in the news organization, who want him to deliver, or else.

As a result of the above four items, I do hope Mr Bowman won't get cashiered as a result of his rant, but will rather cause his superiors to think about how they deliver the news and the resources they devote to doing so. There actually might be some value in doing so, too.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 08, 2008

The Season of Miracles

I STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT. In the last half of the fourth quarter of their game on Sunday, the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers scored 17 unanswered points to triumph over their tough opponents -- and to make matters even better, the opponents in question were the evil Dallas Cowboys. That's like some kind of a bonus for -- well, not only Steelers fans, but pretty much everyone else in America whose general reaction to the Cowboys involves a string of obscenities.

I mean, really. How wonderful is it knowing that Pittsburgh's miracle victory not only aggravated Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and Tony Romo, but also the entire city of Dallas and its entire metropolitan region? Well, pretty damned wonderful, if you ask me. Why, I spent much of this morning relaxing and reading the comments of dejected Dallas fans on the Web sites of that city's papers, and found it enjoyably cathartic. Their wailing and gnashing of teeth about the game's outcome, combined with pitiful outbursts about the Steelers and the supposed glory of their own squad, were amusing and all too pathetic. 'Cause let's face it -- the chances of the Cowboys going to the playoffs is rather diminished, and the chances of them actually winning a game should they make it are even more remote. Once again they have failed, and their failure is an enjoyable thing to watch.

Of course, as a Steelers fan, I have watched the team this year with two minds. Part of me thinks like this, while the other part of me thinks like this. But I definitely think this Steelers team has a chance to go all the way. The true test, though, may come next week against Baltimore -- which is super hot and playing extremely well. If we win, we capture the division and a first-round bye. If we lose ... well, we've got a tougher fight ahead.

In other news, I was impressed when Deshea Townsend flew into the end zone and knocked down the trombone player.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack