What I Learned from Copa America Centenario

A few quick takeaways from what was a pretty cool tournament.

1) South American soccer is more fun than European soccer:
Sure, the Germans have technical skill that is fun to watch. But if you gave me the choice to randomly select two South American teams or two European teams to watch play, I’d choose the South Americans every time. With the exception of Bolivia, who played a 4-4-1 with their 11th guy being Messi’s shadow, the South American teams came out attacking. The irony is that they can do so because the good ones have such strong defenses that they can send an extra guy forward. As much as I love the Iceland story, even they play 10 guys deep and hope to get lucky on a long throw or corner kick.
Arg vs Bol

2) Argentina was just a superior team to see live:
Chile’s defense must be fantastic, because I don’t know how they shut Argentina down. Granted, when I saw them live they were facing an overmatched Bolivian team, but I think the result would have been the same against Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador or Columbia. They are so technically proficient with the ball, and can deliver pin-point passes from anywhere on the field. Their fullbacks are giants who can dribble and pass as well as U.S. forwards. Even their little guys are strong. And their 1st touch always seems to be placed in a direction that is away from a defender. You didn’t have to understand soccer to appreciate what they can do.
Messi

3) FIFA, Concacaf and Conmebol made a quick cash grab:
Great tournament, yes. But tickets were so expensive, that it turned into something I would like to attend and see once every 8-12 years or so. It was a shame that they priced families out of the market. I wouldn’t have dropped $600 to bring a family of 4 to see Peru vs Haiti. In a world where variable pricing is so easy to implement, I think they dropped the ball for the sake of trying to get as much up front cash as possible, since they forced you to buy tickets before the schedule came out. Then, they only sold tickets on one side of the stadium, so on TV it looked like there were more people in attendance.
Empty West Stands

4) The USMNT is probably right where they should be:
The U.S. benefited by Brazil and Uruguay not really showing for Copa America, and that probably lifted them from a loss in the round of 8 to a semi-final shot against a much superior Argentina squad. If they were in the Euros instead, I could probably name 6-8 teams who the U.S. should lose to, 6-8 they should beat, and a few that they’d probably just go 0-0 with. We have some good young speed and a decent defense, but no go-to scorer. If you are going to go into a tournament with those attributes, you can’t make mistakes – like handballs in the box, needlessly accumulating useless yellow cards or lashing out for stupid reds. If there’s one thing I can blame a coach for, it’s a lack of player discipline. Those careless mistakes need to get hammered out of players if you want to beat a team from Pot 1 or Pot 2 in a 2018 World Cup Match.

USMNT Wins

5) USMNT fans are a lot of fun:
The costumes, the flags, the cheers – the U.S. game had a fantastic atmosphere about it. Maybe it was because we were playing at home, but I’m glad we have joyous and positive fans, not thugs and brutes.

US Fans

How Much Should We Blame the News Media for Donald Trump?

There have been a lot of articles about how the media, needing a way to breathe life into this election 12 months ago, hooked itself up to the Trump Train and rode it through every area of chaos it went, cashing their checks whenever it came into the station to refuel. It really wasn’t until they realized that a Trump Presidency was becoming ACTUALLY POSSIBLE, that the media jumped off and then started blowing up the tracks ahead in hopes of derailing it.

But that’s not the question I’m asking now. What I’m curious about is how much we should blame the collective news media for dumbing-down the news so much over the last 10-20 years? Was it only a matter of time before someone like Trump was able to attract the hearts and the simplified minds of “Soundbite America?”

Maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe it’s ours for only being able to absorb 8-10 minutes before needing a commercial break. Maybe we need to be mesmerized with four talking heads each bringing their best two to three minutes of content to a discussion. In this format, no one ever has time to discuss a “How.” It’s only about the “Why” and you usually have a full screen of people with polar opposite opinions fighting to get in the best dig.

But then, I could argue that IS the media’s fault for forcing that format down our eyeballs and earholes. What is the total cost of losing a few viewers to make sure that the people who keep watching get something more thorough than clever quips and cut downs?

I don’t know the answer to that. Broadcasters are owned by public companies so they need as much money as they can get to survive this new media economy that forced them to lose their near oligopoly status. Yes, it is much harder to compete in a bifurcated market than to be one of a handful of outlets covering news. So I understand the need to dumb down the news to make it appeal to more people. But I’m not sure I’m happy with the results.

Check Out This Sneaky Amazon Product Placement

Q: If you are a TV show on the bubble between renewal and cancellation, what’s the best way to make the bosses happy?
A: Make them more money.

Undateable will never win an Emmy. It’s niche is that in its 3rd season (and basically out of desperation due to being moved to the Friday night dustbin), it decided to shoot every episode live. The result is a hyped up Friday night live studio audience that contributes to a show that is part script / part improv.

BUT… that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be back for Season 4. So the show needs an extra revenue source on top of the normal :30 spots to secure its place in the Fall lineup.

Enter Amazon, in what is one of the sneakiest product placement deals I can imagine. Remember, subliminal advertising is illegal. But subliminal product placement apparently is not. I counted about four different camera angles in two different scenes where the logo is visible. I’m going to estimate the logo got about 60-120 seconds of airtime. How much do you think that subliminal product placement is worth? More or less than a :30 spot?

Can you spot it?

Undateable and Amazon 1

Undateable and Amazon 2

Undateable and Amazon 3

Undateable and Amazon 4

Undateable and Amazon 5

A Request to the Writers of The Daily Show

Dear Trevor Noah and the rest of The Daily Show writing team,

I have a request for this election season.

Every candidate is busy lining up endorsements from the people they thing will most energize voters. Candidates need endorsements from all the individual politicians, tastemakers and influencers, from President Obama to Jay Inslee to Ed Murray.

But here’s what I would find REALLY interesting. Not who the thought leaders are endorsing. But who the crackpots, weirdos and psychopaths want to see in office. I would learn way more about a candidate by knowing if they are being supported by the craziest of the crazy. After all, candidates can try to hand pick and choreograph the endorsements they get from positive figures. But they’re helpless to defend themselves against endorsements from the “wrong people.”

So Mr. Noah, this is where you come in.

You have the power, the prestige, the connections and the brains to pull together a list of some of the biggest wackos in America AND get them on camera and find out who they are endorsing. You all can dive in and find out why. And as Americans, in some cases we’ll have to reconcile the fact that we support the same candidate as someone we’d never invite over to dinner.

I think the rare combination of ratings winner and public service. Thanks for your consideration.

Your loyal viewer,

Andy

Join me at the Seattle Interactive Conference November 3

Over the last few years, I’ve had a few amazing chances to get in front of a large audience and either speak on, or moderate panels full of smart people. In about two weeks, I’ll get the opportunity to moderate a panel at one of my favorite events – the Seattle Interactive Conference.

The panel is focused on the changing role of online advertising. Here’s the description:

Game of Screens: The Rise of Multi-Screen Marketing
The rapid evolution of consumer behavior as it relates to their media consumption has rendered many of advertising’s traditional targeting and measurement metrics difficult or obsolete. So how do you accurately measure results when Device proliferation is making even basic reach and frequency management nearly impossible? How can you balance the new expectations amongst consumers that messaging to them should always be relevant and timely? And what are some recent technology advancements in targeting and measurement to help address some of these challenges? In this panel, executives from Choicestream, GoDaddy, Logitech and Sharethrough will share their experience and expertise in delivering successful behavior-driven marketing to consumers who live on multiple screens.

The panel will be on Nov 3 at 11:00am. If you’re attending the event, please come on by and check out our session. And if you have questions you want answered, shoot me an email and I’ll add them into the queue.

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.

Seeing Sting and Julio Down By the Schoolyard

You know when you are sitting around with friends listening to music and enjoying a beverage or two, and someone says, “Wouldn’t be AWESOME if “Person X” and “Person Y” went on tour together?” And then you spend an hour debating what group of people you’d like to see collaborate on stage at the same time for a whole show.

Springsteen and Pearl Jam? U2 and Madonna? Paul McCartney and Justin Timberlake? Bruno Mars and the Rolling Stones? Usher and Toby Keith? And then you wonder sadly why it never happens.

Well somewhere high on my list was Paul Simon and Sting. And lucky for me, they showed up at Key Arena last week.

I wasn’t exactly sure how they were going to perform, but their model was fantastic and hopefully will be something other groups will replicate. For a pretty ridiculous ticket price, they combined their 2 bands into a fantastic harmony featuring both the predictability of the songs you want to hear, and the unpredictability of some weird combinations.

Grand total, we ended up with 30 songs over about 2 hours and 45 minutes. And frankly, the time flew by. The 30 songs themselves make for an awesome playlist (listen here if you’d like). But how they were executed made it even better.

They came out together, sharing vocals on 3 of their top hits, almost as if they had written them together. Then Sting did 5 of his own, Simon came back for a duet, Simon did 5 of his own, Sting came back for a duet and 5 of his own, Simon back for a duet and 5 more, and then a 4 song encore together. Basically, we ended up with 10 duets, and each guy did 10 of his own. Plus Sting did Simon’s America with one of his solo choices, which was a nice tribute to the man 10 years his elder.

IMG_7349-25

The highlights of the show were watching Simon sing on things like Fields of Gold, Every Breath You Take, or Sting taking Garfunkel’s role on Bridge over Troubled Water and The Boxer. These collaborations showed both how great the songs are, but also how much talent each man possesses to have the ability to step right in and make it seem like it’s his own song.

Almost as much fun as watching Sting and Simon, was watching how the two bands played together. They didn’t hire new people to back them up, they took their regular teams and mashed them up on the same stage. All told I think there were 13 additional people when everyone was out there. Instrument wise, I think I counted 2 drum sets, a percussion set (bongos and such), keyboard, organs, bass player, 2-3 other guitars, female vocals, clarinet/sax player, a trumpet, violin and an accordion / jack of all trades. They rolled on and off the stage depending on the song, which has to take some tight coordination.

IMG_7340-500

The bands themselves were pretty funny in how different they looked. Simon’s guys all looked like they were going to walk over to Floyd’s Place after the gig for some chicken wings and cold beer. Sting’s team looked like they would take an Uber down to the Triple Door for a glass of wine and maybe check out some jazz. But musically, they seemed pretty flawless.

It’s funny to think about two people who have achieved so much in their lives, but can also have such a respect for the other one, that their natural course of action is, “Hey man, let’s go make a few million bucks playing some gigs together.” On one hand it seems so easy. But I imagine it takes some special personalities not to get too egocentric about it.

If you live out east, the show will eventually get to Madison Square Garden. I highly recommended it.

Set List:
(Spotify Playlist)

Together:
Brand New Day, Boy in the Bubble, Fields of Gold

Sting solo:
Everything She Does is Magic, Englishman in New York, I Hung My Head, Driven to Tears, Walking on the Moon

Together:
Mother and Child Reunion

Paul Simon solo:
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Dazzling Blue, Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years, Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard

Together:
Fragile

Sting solo:
America, Message in Bottle, Hounds of Winter, They Dance Alone, Roxanne, Desert Rose

Together:
The Boxer

Paul Simon solo:
That Was Your Mother (aka The Zydeco Song), Hearts and Bones / Mystery train / Wheels Medley, Obvious Child, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, You Can Call Me Al

Encore Together:
Late in the Evening, Every Breath you Take, Bridge Over Troubled Water

2nd Encore, sans bands.
When Will I Be Loved – Phil Everly

A Cynical Realization About How I Read News

It’s coffee break time. So I head over to Deadspin.com to do a quick scroll to see if there’s anything im-sport-ant for me to follow up on.  (Yes I created that term to describe important sports news, and I will allow you to use it…)

The latest story on the A-Rod mess attracts my attention. I read the story. I see both sides to the issue. I want more info.

So here’s the main plot point in my story here – I am looking for objective, fair and unbiased facts that I can read through. I want to get news, not filtered bullet points provided by either side’s PR teams. I unconsciously scroll through my mental list of places to type in my browser next. Here’s how that thought process went:

  • MLB.com  – No, that’s a marketing site, not a sports news site.
  • Espn.com – No, they will basically have someone from MLB.com writing the story, with the CFO and head of the MLB / ESPN relationship approving it. It will be completely one-sided.
  • FoxSports.com – No, they aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them either.
  • SeattleTimes.com – No, the baseball beat writers are probably on furlough until February.
  • SportsPressNW.com – Yes, I’ll check them out, but will expect the article later in the week since it’s not pressing news right now.
  • 710Sports.com – No, the home of the Mariners is not going to write anything negative about MLB.
  • Any of the news sites – No, they are probably just going to have 3-4 paragraphs pulled from MLB.com.
  • USSMariner.com – YES. they may not have the story, but I bet the KNOW where a good article is.

And I was rewarded. A USSMariner.com article had a link to this awesome piece by Wendy Thurn at Fangraphs.com.

But now think about this. I have been trained that whenever there is an “insportant” story, I can’t go to any major media outlet to get fair coverage. The news, sports and entertainment divisions of companies are so intertwined, my unconscious reaction is to ignore anyone who has any official relationship with Major League Baseball.  Not to read the story with a grain of salt on my tongue. Not to read the story and then look for countering arguments. But to sidestep all broadcasters associated with MLB all together.

Am I too cyncial? Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just been conditioned to know what to expect from them.

What the MLS Should Have Done on Wednesday

I’m pretty sure I threw this idea out a few years ago, but apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn’t a regular reader, so I’ll post a modified version again.

The day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game are the only 2 days in the calendar that none of the major 4 sports leagues have a competitive game. If I was the MLS, I would use the day after the game to my full advantage. Every sports bar in America is starved for something to put on their screens. Every couch potato is stuck trying to choose between the Espys and a 30 for 30 marathon.

So I’d run 3 continuous hours of MLS coverage, with every team playing at basically the same time. The mechanics would look something like this:
– Game 1 starts at 8:00pm EST.
– Each game would start 10 minutes later.
– At your peak, you’d have 9 games running simultaneously, with the llast game starting just as the first game was in its final 15 minutes.
– You would be able to cut away Red Zone style to each goal, which would probably come every 5 to 10 minutes.
– You’d have 90 straight minutes of games in their final 10 minutes. 0-0 and 1-0 games are exciting in their dying embers, so you could have a lot of nail-biting finishes to entertain the average sports fan who doesn’t usually watch soccer.
– By 11:30 Eastern, people would have watched a lot of good finishes, seen a lot of highlights, seen fans in 9 different stadiums, and received at least a little education about what makes people like soccer.

You’re missing a great chance MLS? What do you think? What is there to lose?
Lamar Listening