Can Legalized Sports Gambling Save Baseball

On one hand, you could say baseball is thriving.  Revenues are over Gross revenues are $10 billion, National TV ratings are up, and many teams have lucrative local or regional TV deals that help pay the bills and then some. Plus, every time an NBA or NFL team gets sold for a new record, each team sees its valuation go up as well.

But then there’s that pesky issue of attendance and fan interest. From Forbes, “The 2017 regular season saw a total of 72,670,423 in paid attendance across the league. This was the first time since 2010 that attendance dipped below the 73 million mark, which was surprising.”

People will argue why attendance is down, but most ideas fall around a central theme. The games are too long for today’s environment, often too boring, and the reliance on stats and analysis to make the smartest decisions possible takes the fun and unpredictability out of the game. Heck, even former players think the game is boring now. Jim Kaat says they should only play seven innings.

I made a comment earlier this week that I thought baseball was at its “Kodak Moment.” By that I meant, there was a time in the 1990’s when Kodak was making heaps of cash with a near monopoly on film and film development. Digital cameras kind of existed, but Kodak didn’t want to believe that people would prefer digital over film, so they just to keep looking at their stacks of cash, half-heartedly built some bad digital cameras, and ignored the direction the market was going. It’s easy to forget that in the mid-90’s, Eastman Kodak was a $90 stock. Today it’s barely above $5.00.

Compare that to Major League Baseball today. Heaps of cash, a storied history and a plethora of purists who want to make sure the game never changes. And the new entrants to their market are eSports and a growth in soccer, where people can get in and out of a match in a guaranteed 105 minutes. The market is shifting, and 10 years from now, you might be able to make an argument that the 2017 World Series may have been baseball’s apex.

But a savior has arrived, and its name is Legalized Gambling.

Today betting on a baseball game is dumb. Choose odds on a game or a point spread and hope for the best. It’s unpredictable at best, a monkey throwing darts at worst. Plus, why watch the game? All you need to do is check the score in the morning.

But the 2020 version of Legalized Sports Betting is intriguing. Be in the park or on your couch. Open your mobile phone app. Bet a tiny micro amount on each inning or each at bat. 2.5 to 1 he gets a hit. 2 to 1 they score a run. 10 to 1 there’s a home run in the inning. 1 to 1 there’s a strikeout. You could make 50-100 bets at $.25 to $2.00 per bet and the game would be awesome every pitch. And realistically, you’re probably only going to win or lose $10 to $20 per game unless you are exceedingly good or bad. A small price to pay for three hours of entertainment.

Baseball needs to get behind this. Having people actively involved on a batter by batter basis is akin to Fantasy Football players watching the 4th quarter of a 34-7 blowout to see if their receiver can pick up 60 cheap yards in garbage time. It would be great for the game, and engage a whole new set of fans who need instantaneous entertainment on their mobile devices. This generation of fans wouldn’t even need to watch the whole game – they could log in for an hour, play 20-30 bets, and then move on with their day.

Baseball need to embrace this.  Don’t listen to the people who want to make fancier film. Go where the market wants to go.

 

 

NCAA: Don’t Pay the Players – But Let the Players Get Paid

Full disclosure, I love Arizona Basketball. In fact, I think I actually ended up at Arizona because I went to the 1988 Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games at the Kingdome, and Steve Kerr became my favorite college basketball player.

And now the Arizona basketball program is in – shall we say – some turmoil. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t say SOMETHING. But since I know NOTHING, what can I really say?

Except this.

Any NCAA athlete should be allowed to profit from their likeness.

We don’t need schools to pay athletes. We should just allow people who want to pay athletes out of their own pockets to pay them. If that means the guy who runs Tuscaloosa Ford and Chevy wants to give an 18 year old kid $250,000 to be a spokesperson, who cares? If John L Scott in Seattle decides a good use of funds is paying $80k to a UW QB to be their official face of Instagram, why not?

What does it hurt to let 18-22 year olds get paid for the notoriety that 90% of them will never have again?

You could argue that we can’t let high school kids be corrupted by agents who want to take advantage of them. But that is a solvable problem. There are ways to create a licensing program where only people who properly qualify – and stay qualified – can gain access and negotiate on the behalf of a minor. It would actually lend legitimacy to an already existing corrupt system.

Now should the NCAA be paying the players? Thats a thornier question that begets a ton of problems. But in the meantime, let’s just let players get paid by people who want to pay them.

So Where Should Amazon Build HQ2?

Amazon has outgrown Seattle. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you build your company in a downtown core, rather than take over some unused farmland in a far flung suburb like Redmond. So now it’s time to find HQ2. Where should they go?

There’s no doubt that every city from Anchorage to Yuma will make a bid. But if I worked at Amazon, with a chance to be transferred at any moment, here are my top 5 picks.

  1. Raleigh, NC: The Carolinas are fantastic. Since most Washingtonians haven’t made it that far southeast, you might not know this. But Raleigh is especially comparable to the Pacific Northwest. In fact with Raleigh you get a more educated population, more universities, and closer access to a warm beach. You’d give up Uber access to an NFL or MLB team, and day trip access to Double Diamond ski runs. But you coud still get a Daisy run in if you need it. Plus you could buy a 5,000 square foot house for a year or two of salary.
  2. Pittsburgh, PA: If a company is interested in AI, cozying up to Carnegie Mellon would be a pretty good way to do so. It would have plenty of opportunity to build a downtown campus, and still be close to New York and Washington D.C. As an employee, if you can deal with a Seattle winter, you could probably deal with Western Pennsylvania.
  3. Nashville, TN: Far enough east to give you access to New York, Boston, etc… and far enough north to keep you safe from hurricanes. Several great universities in driving distance, so there is a huge talent base to draw from. Plus, it’s great a place for distribution. Didn’t FedEx make its HQ in Memphis?
  4. Charleston, SC:  Full disclosure, I have an affinity for Charleston. I think it’s the most underrated place to live in the country. You are giving up major league sports for friendly southern living. But you’d have Clemson, USC, and College of Charleston all in spitting distance. Oh, and if you are a current Amazon employee, its another place where your mortgage payment for a monster 5 bedroom estate would be the same price you now pay for your 800 sq ft apartment in Seattle.
  5. Detroit, MI: Detroit? Detroit?! Who wants to live in Detroit? Well several decades ago, the auto industry decided it was a good place to dominate an economy. So why can’t Amazon repeat that? Easy access to New York, Chicago and Canada. REALLY REALLY cheap downtown real estate. Employees could buy McMansions for nothing. Heck, Amazon could buy entire neighborhoods, develop them and sell them to employees. Plenty of professional and collegiate sports teams to support. And you could always escape the Midwest winter with a quick trip to Florida.

Your thoughts? If you were a current Amazonian, where would you be ok being transferred to?

* Image used without previous permission from https://www.designboom.com/architecture/seattle-approves-amazons-biosphere-headquarters-by-nbbj-10-25-2013/

Meet Your New 2017 Sounders

The MLS season is a long one, running a full 9 months from early March to early December. So before the ink was even dry on the papers forever documenting the 2016 Sounders MLS Cup win, the wheels of progress were underway to form the 2017 version. Many of the players who played a decent sized role in the title run found themselves trading their Rave Green uniforms for flights back to their home countries. Meanwhile, a new set of Sounders filled out change of address forms, and made plans to move to Seattle.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the turnstyle over the last 3 months. (For a full review, read this article from SounderAtHeart.)

Who’s Out?

The MLS has some pretty onerous salary cap rules. Add in 2 new expansion teams this year in Minnesota and Atlanta, and it makes it hard to keep a team together. Here are the 18 names you won’t see wearing a Sounders uniform this year:

  • Nelson Valdez (released because he was too expensive and signed with a team in Paraguay)
  • Tyrone Mears (released and signed by Atlanta)
  • Dylan Remick (released and redrafted by Houston)
  • Erik Friberg (released and signed by a team in Sweden)
  • Andreas Ivanschitz (released and signed by a team in the Czech league)
  • Zack Scott (retired)
  • Herculez Gomez (retired)
  • Some guys you may or may not recognize were also released and signed with minor league teams (or retired): Darwin Jones, Charlie Lyon, Jimmy Ockford, Victor Mansaray (loaned out) Michael Farfan (retired), Nathan Sturgis (still unsigned), Oalex Anderson (still unsigned)

Who’s New?

New Sounders are often guys we’ve never heard of. So, for these 8 new players, I’m sharing the 0-100 ratings the video game FIFA 2017 gives them.

  • Clint Dempsey, F, (Back from Disabled List): 80
  • Gustav Svensson Mid, / Def (from Sweden and Chinese League): 72
  • Will Bruin, F, (from Houston): 69
  • Harry Shipp, Mid, (from Montreal): 68
  • Bryan Meredith, GK, (from San Jose): 61
  • Nouhou Tolo, Def, (Sounders 2): NR
  • Henry Wingo, Mid, / Def (Homegrown): NR
  • Seyi Adekoya, F, (Homegrown): NR

Who’s Back:

Check and make sure your favorite players are still here. Just 14 remain from the team that won in Toronto, but 9 of them started that night.

  • Tony Alfaro, Def: 62
  • Osvaldo Alonso, Mid: 79
  • Brad Evans, Def / Mid: 70
  • Alvaro Fernandez, Mid:  70
  • Oniel Fisher, Def: 61
  • Stefan Frei, GK: 73
  • Joevin Jones, Def: 66
  • Aaron Kovar, Mid: 62
  • Nicolas Lodeiro, Mid: 78
  • Chad Marshall, Def: 74
  • Tyler Millar, GK: 58
  • Jordan Morris, For / Mid: 68
  • Cristian Roldan, Mid: 65
  • Roman Torres, Def: 72

Now I’m no math genius, but if you lose 18 players and add 8, you should still have some roster space available. In fact, an MLS team can carry 28 players on their roster at one time, so since the Sounders only have 22 on the current sheet, logic dictates you’ll see 4-6 more players either get signed from Sounders 2, or come in a late transfer window signing. The primary MLS transfer window runs from Feb 18 – May 11.  Then, the secondary one opens from July 10 – August 9.

The Sounders still do have one ‘Designated Player” spot available, meaning they can essentially sign a player for any amount of money they want and not have it hit the salary cap. (Dempsey and Lodeiro are the other two. Valdez was the 3rd, so they cut him to get that Designated Player spot back.)

So there you go; that’s your 2017 Sounders squad. See you at Century Link.

Top B2B Marketing Whitepapers and Reports

If you’re like me, your Facebook and LinkedIn feeds are inundated with articles, whitepapers, and industry reports. Now most of you probably skip them, but I find these much more enlightening than the latest political argument my friends and colleagues are engaged in. So to make life easier on all of you, I’ve listed a few of the reports I think are worth a read.

(Note: Most of these will require you to provide an email address to the company that wrote it. Be a good marketing person and reward the content team for their hard work.)

  1. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for CRM Lead Management: The market for CRM lead management applications continues to grow, evolve and mature. This Magic Quadrant evaluates 17 providers to help IT leaders find the right choice for their company, in collaboration with marketing, sales and digital commerce leaders.
  2. 2016 State of Marketing, from Salesforce: Trends and insights from nearly 4,000 marketing leaders worldwide.
  3. The State of Inbound 2016, from Hubspot: HubSpot’s 8th Annual Report, Tracking the Future of Inbound Marketing and Sales
  4. The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2016, from Freely: 347 marketing statistics for 2016 that you can use in your own content.
  5. Inbound Marketing Examples, from Hubspot: Hubspot Academy-approved examples of what others have built with the platform.
  6. Digital Marketing Resources, from Salesforce: A library of Salesforce’s most popular pieces on topics like list growth, Facebook marketing, mobile marketing strategy, customer lifecycle marketing
  7. Mobile Messaging Report 2016, by Mobile Ecosystem Forum and mblox: The MEF indexes the messaging habits of nearly 6000 respondents across nine countries worldwide.
  8. The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to B2B Marketing, from LinkedIn: Learn how to leverage LinkedIn’s marketing solutions, including content marketing campaigns, native advertising, sales lead generation, and brand awareness.
  9. The State of Facebook Advertising, by Marin Software: Year-over-year trend charts detailing spend, clicks, and CTR, the growth outlook for Facebook on mobile devices, and why Facebook is paying so much attention to its video ad formats
  10. 2016 Mobile App Retrospective, by App Annie: App Annie details the markets that saw the most growth in 2016 for downloads and usage, the growing monetization opportunity for publishers across categories, the top industries that are being transformed by mobile apps, and the trends publishers must stay on top of.
  11. Top 10 Big Data Trends for 2017, by Tableau Software: Tableau highlights the top big data trends for 2017.
  12. Mobile Messaging Report 2016, by Mobile Ecosystem Forum and mblox: The MEF indexes the messaging habits of nearly 6000 respondents across nine countries worldwide.
  13. How to Nail a Mobile Campaign Using SMS and Mobile Apps, by mobileStorm: Mobile apps now give your brand limitless choices on how to communicate, but this whitepaper details how to incorporate them into a larger mix that includes SMS.
  14. Mobile First Brand Loyalty Strategy Guide, by Punchkick Interactive: Learn how your brand can use mobile to build a more effective customer loyalty or rewards program.
  15. Top App Marketing Agencies List 2016, by mobyaffiliates: Need a Mobile Agency? Use this as a handy starting guide.
  16. B2B Marketing Strategies by 2020, by Sundog Interactive: Predictions for the future from an interactive agency.

My Unsolicited Opinions on the College Football Playoff

In no particular order…

  1. There’s an irony that we’re arguing about whether we need 2, 4 or 8 teams for a proper playoff. If this was the old days, Alabama would go win the Sugar Bowl, finish 14-0, and there wouldn’t be a discussion about it.
  2. You can’t make Conference Championships part of the parameters for making the College Football Playoff if the Conference Championship criteria is based on arbitrary regional divisions. Get rid of the divisions and have the best 2 teams in the conference play for the title. Otherwise the designation is just ceremonial.
  3. In the world of, “Things that would never happen,” I would actually prefer that all of the Conferences be constrained to 10 teams (taking us back to a Power 6) and that each Conference had a schedule where everyone played each other. Then you don’t need a meaningless Conference championship game because…
  4. …By the way, did anyone else notice that no one attended the Conference Championship games? Stadiums were 1/2 empty.
  5. So if you didn’t need Conference Championship games anymore, that weekend would be your 1st round of the 8 team playoff. 6 Conference Champions and 2 wild cards. Now that would be a fun weekend of football.

Ok, so if you implemented my plan, your top 8 this year would be something like: 1) Alabama (SEC champ)    2) Clemson (ACC champ)   3) Washington (PAC 12 champ)   4) Penn St  (Big 10 champ)   5) Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ)    6) Someone like Louisville, Pittsburgh, etc… (Champ of the new Big East)   7) Ohio St (Wild Card)    8) Michigan (Wild card).

Winners go on to the New Years Eve Final 4. Losers get to play in the other New Years 6.

Now that’d been an entertaining round of football. Once it was re-seeded, that weekend would have been fun to watch. Way better than having to slog through Florida, Colorado or Wisconsin posing their way in fake Championship games.

But again, no one asked me. So at least we get 4 really good teams. That’s better than nothing. Unless you are Penn St or Michigan…

A Possible Answer to Why NFL TV Ratings are Down

It’s being well documents that the NFL’s TV ratings are down. There are hundreds of explanations, from the poorer quality of play, a general disgust for the Commissioner, a weariness of all the concussions and injuries, or even backlash at the National Anthem protests. I’ll throw my supposition on the list – Fantasy Football.

I posit that the growth of Fantasy Football caused people who normally wouldn’t tune into a Jacksonville vs Cleveland debacle, got sucked into a few games to see what their QB or WR looked like in real life. The NFL had stars like Dez Bryant, Russell Wilson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and more. Guys who were on your fantasy team and were guaranteed to score a touchdown or do something cool every game.

But the game evolved. Teams stopped feeding running backs the ball 35 times a game. Instead of having one or two studs to watch on every team, coaches started implementing systems of running back by committee. Plus, wide receivers get hurt every week. Your average fan can’t keep track of the 2nd string tailback and 4th WR for the Lions.

So Fantasy Football becomes less interesting because your lineup has a bunch of guys you don’t care about. And then you add all the other reasons not to watch football, and you realize that there are a lot of other things to do on Sunday. And Thursday. And Monday. And whenever else the NFL is trying to cram a game down my eye sockets.

So too much football on TV + lower quality football + players no one cares about + a decline in the reason new people were watching other teams in the first place = apathy and depressed ratings. It will be interesting to see how the NFL responds.

Could the NBA Come to Seattle With Chinese Billionaire Owners?

An article on Forbes.com states,

“…let’s look at the NBA, and the chances for Alibaba or another company to make a bid for a U.S. basketball team in the next few years.

It’s hard to know which NBA clubs might be up for sale, though various websites say that a few could come into play if the right buyer emerges. Alibaba chief Jack Ma and Wanda founder Wang Jianlin probably head the field of most likely candidates to make such a bid, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these big-name executives launch such an effort within the next 1-3 years.”

If the NBA wanted to get Chinese market more interested in the league (without moving a team to Shanghai), Chinese ownership of a franchise would be a good way to open up TV rights to games across the Pacific.

It would be natural to put an Asian owned team on the West Coast. We know Allen, Buss, Balmer and the Warriors or Kings owners aren’t interesting in selling. So would make sense to have a current owner cash out for a huge payday, and move the team to Seattle.

Farfetched? Maybe. But not out of the realm of possibility. Opening the Chinese market is a pretty big carrot to waive in front of NBA owners.

How Tidal Goes Against All Current Product Development Theories

I’m not an expert in the music industry. I have no idea what the future olds for Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and now Tidal, Jay-Z’s new streaming service that describes itself as, “Introducing the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial.”

However, I have spent some time in the last 4 years teaching some classes on marketing new products. I lean heavily on the insight of Steve Blank, because, well he seems like a really smart guy. And Mr. Blank espouses a product development process that leans heavily on the following:
1) Finding a problem that customers have.
2) Developing hypotheses on how the customer wants that problem solved.
3) Testing that solution with as many customers as possible.

You’ll notice that all 3 principles of the process include the term, “customer.”

Tidal seems to use a completely different theory. Summarizing bullets from the Washington Post, Tidal’s offering is based on the following:
1) Consumers will develop a sense of ethics, i.e. a willingness to see musicians actually make some respectable royalties from music streaming, which they currently do not.
2) People will want exclusive content and hear directly from artists.
3) Those who subscribe to the premium service will receive higher sound quality.

Let’s compare the Tidal plan to the Steve Blank plan.
1) Is my problem that I think musicians are underpaid? Do I really care what musicians make on each song I listen to? Probably about as much as I worry that the 1st Associate Director on House of Cards can afford her rent. Or that the Copywriter on AT&T’s Barles Charkley commercial is being paid fairly by his agency.
2) And honestly, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.2 billion bands in the world. if Taylor Swift or Jay-Z stick their music someplace I can’t get it, will I even notice? What problem is being solved by taking music away from my channels of choice?
3) I’d love to see the research that says, “When Andy is at work listening to music on his headphones, what he really wants is higher fidelity music for $250 a year.” Even if this is true for some people, how many? How good can music sound? And won’t I need a pair of $800 headphones to even notice?

This isn’t a bash on Tidal. It’s simply an observation. They are taking avery non-technology product management approach, and that puzzles me because I live in my own little Seattle technology bubble. Obviously with the star power they’ve assembled, the deck is stacked in their favor, so they can skip some of “Lean Startup” type principles. They’ll have great marketing, get lots of exposure and be able to test the product in real time.

More choices for music is better than less, so I hope they do well. It will be interesting to see how their product development plan works out.

Trying to Decipher MLS Transfer Rules

Here’s something about MLS I don’t quite understand. DeAndre Yedlin could be headed to Anderlecht of the Belgian League. A friend of mine who knows a ton about soccer asked this series of questions:

Is this a big step up for Yedlin? I’m sure he’d get a raise, but I’m sure he could get a raise in MLS too. But in terms of advancing his career, does it make sense to go to a second tier (or third, or fourth?) Europe league? Or should he try to get a decent MLS salary after this year, and wait until England calls And what would the Sounders get out of this? Do they get any of the transfer fee? Do they get to set the transfer fee? Are we just out of luck? And we’re full on designated players too, right? So even if we got a ton of cash, we can’t really use it, right?

Here’s what I think I know. Please correct me if you know better.

1) Whether or not the play in Belgium is better than the MLS, there’s the perception in Europe that the play in the Dutch, Turkish, Norwegian, Belgian and Portuguese leagues is better than the MLS.

2) It’s easier for a Premier League, Spanish League, German League, Italian League or French League scout to catch a game in Belgium than Seattle.

3) The top teams in all the 2nd tier Europe Leagues at least get to compete in some round of the Champions League. Anderlecht won the Belgian First Division in 2013-2014, and are one of 22 teams to have already qualified for the Final 32 of the Champions League. That’s nice exposure he wouldn’t get here.

4) The MLS technically owns all the contracts of all the players. Essentially, the MLS is a giant talent agency that hosts matches in which to show off the talent they’ve recruited. Part of their revenue model is to find cheap players and develop them into players that other teams want to buy. They need the old guys to drive fans, but the real money is buying young guys low and selling high. It’s another reason the league wants parity and would rather have all the best players split amongst the teams to get playing time rather than having some great players sitting on the Sounders bench behind Dempsey and Martins for 34 games

5) There’s some sort of revenue split between the MLS and the team who scouts and signs the player. Not sure what it is.

6) MLS sets the transfer fee. I believe the team has some input based on whether they think the team and league would generate more revenue if they held the player another year.

7) Sounders would get some cash, but all it would do is help the ownership group. We can’t reinvest it into a higher salary cap.

Bottom line, the more Yedlins the league develops, the more revenue the league makes, the more revenue the teams split, the more designated players the teams can afford to have on each roster, the higher salary cap each team can have, and the more talent we can recruit to the league, which makes it easier to get the next Yedlin to play here, etc…

Let me know if you have more insight.