Jul 29

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Today's guest post is by Greg Schmalz, President, Schmalz Communications

National Football League training camps open this week and six weeks from tomorrow 
(Thursday,  Sept. 9) Minnesota and the Saints square off in New Orleans in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game won by the eventual Super Bowl champion Black & Gold.

All eyes will be on Minnesota as there are a lot of questions surrounding the Vikings. Will running back Adrian Peterson hold out in a contract dispute? Will veteran quarterback Brett Favre return for yet another season?

Methinks that Peterson will report to training camp and Favre will play once again. He hasn’t ruled it out to this point and I doubt he would leave the team hanging. Then, again, it’s Brett Favre. He could show up in camp in late August and still be ready for the regular season opener.

The oppressive heat will once again be a major concern during training camps. It was nine years ago that Minnesota All-Pro offensive tackle Korey Stringer collapsed on the field and subsequently died from complications brought on by heat stroke. Athletic trainers will be tasked with keeping players and all personnel properly hydrated.

Then, of course, you have the RepMan’s beloved New York Jets. Despite finishing 9-7 during the regular season, the Jets showed some spark in the playoffs with road wins at Cincinnati and San Diego before losing to Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game.

A new coach and a new quarterback helped the Jets make some strides last season. Rex Ryan built an aggressive defense and limited rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez’ passing attempts. Rather conservative, but it worked.

What’s on the horizon for 2010? A new stadium that the Jets will again share with the Giants. But they’ll face a tougher schedule this season and they will have to open up the passing game that ranked next to last a year ago if they are going to be successful.

May want to enjoy it while you can, RepMan, because there’s a better than even chance that the players will strike next season as they struggle to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The issues between the players union and the owners aren’t about money. It’s all about greed.

Jul 09

Tat’s all, folks!

Is it just me, or is there an ever-increasing percentage of people sporting tattoos? Is there also  
a  simultaneous increase in the percentage of available skin being devoted to tats? I sure think so.

I believe I reached the tat’s tipping point this past Sunday when I spied one on the calf muscle of my good friend and cycling partner, Greg Drury (publisher of The Holmes Report). Justifiably proud of having completed six triathlons, Greg’s right calf is now adorned with a bright red ‘tri’ logo. Man, I thought, if ‘they’ got Greg Drury to sport a tat, they’ve got everyone. Don’t ask me who they are, but they’ve won nonetheless.

I’m not a big fan of tats. I especially hate the over-the-top tats that seem to run amok on the torsos of NFL and NBA players. Some players have their kids’ names tattooed on their biceps. That’s cute. Others feature verses from the Bible (hoping, perhaps, that God will let them make that three-point shot at the buzzer?). And, some have those Japanese and Chinese letters on them. They look very cool, but what’s the point if no one understands what they say or mean?

If I were going to sacrifice my skin permanently, I think I’d charge money for it. In fact, if the price were right, I’d consider adorning my calves, biceps and triceps with any number of hip, but environmentally-sensitive, sponsor logos. I like Mammoth outdoor gear, so that would be one. I wear Saucony running shoes, so their logo would make the cut. And, I’d also want the world to know I’m a man of discerning tastes, so I’d go with a Zegna or Armani icon on, say, my wrist.

Tats are a personal image and reputation statement. But, I’m not sure exactly what statement is being made. Is a tattoo nothing more than a plaintiff cry for attention? Is it a must-have fashion accessory that, unlike a watch, can’t be taken off every night? Or, is it a peer pressure kind of thing? (i.e. “If Lindsay and Heather have tats on their shoulders, then I have to have one on mine. So there.”).

All this tat thinking has me thinking. If it were trendy at the time, would Lincoln have had a tat? My guess is he’d have gone with the opening line of the Gettysburg Address and put it on one of his biceps. The rail splitter had to have been cut. I’ll bet Napoleon would have had multiple tats. He did have a Napoleonic complex, after all. And, my guess is Winston Churchill would have had that big, fat cigar permanently tattooed on his neck.

If and when I do decide to follow Greg Drury’s lead and get a tattoo, I know what it will be and where it will go: it’ll be the Peppercom logo and it’ll be right smack on the small of my back. And, yes, it will be a plaintive cry for attention. Tat’s all, folks.

Jun 15

Do I want my ashes placed in an urn with a Mets or Jets logo?

There's a fascinating article in today's New York Times sports section about the inroads being
Casket1102 made by licensing in such sports as baseball and football.
For a mere $4,000, one can now choose to spend eternity in a casket emblazoned with his favorite team's logo. Logo-adorned urns, which would be my vessel of choice for traveling to the after world, cost a mere $799.

Talk about a bargain!
Licensing is a big business for sports leagues. (Note: in the interests of transparency, I should report that Peppercom is one of the few, if not only, PR firms with its own licensing division.) According to The Licensing Letter, Major League Baseball alone will rake in $2.75 billion in sales of licensed goods this year. That enough to fill an awful lot of cemeteries.
Of course, branded merchandise extends far beyond burial items, but why not go beyond just caskets and urns and create a fully-branded death and bereavement experience? I'd probably opt for a Jets afterlife experience (since they've killed my joy less often than the Mets have). So, I envision the following:
  – Joe Namath jerseys for those kind enough to eulogize me
  – Freeman McNeil sweat pants for mourners who will be spending the weekend at my wake and funeral. Why not provide some branded casual wear for their use during downtime?
  – I'd like the funeral home to use green and white bunting instead of the usual funeral purple
  – How about having the priest wearing throwback New York Titans vestments? Now, that would be cool.
  – I'd like Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer to be available to comfort my immediate family.
  – Fireman Ed would be on hand to lead one last cheer of “C-O-D-Y. Cody! Cody! Cody!”
  – Last, but not least, I'd like my green and white urn to contain the signatures of every player from the Super Bowl-winning 1968-69 Jets, including Ridgefield Park's very own Hatch Rosedahl.
Licensing types need to think large. Besides paying taxes, death is the only thing we can count on. So, why limit the afterlife merchandise to caskets and urns? The sky's the limit. Actually, since we're talking about eternity, even the sky isn't the limit.
I'd be open to any and all licensing suggestions: how about a green-and-white hearse emblazoned with Joe Willie's “We'll win. I guarantee it” Super Bowl III boast. Or, maybe a reunion of the fabled Sack Exchange? They could tackle someone from my life who caused me grief (i.e. a particularly heinous client or former employer, etc.). How about a grave dug to resemble the exact proportions of the new Jets-Giants Meadowlands stadium? I don't know about you, but I'd want to be laid to rest right on 50-yard-line. No nose bleed seats for this cadaver.
Put me in charge of afterlife licensing for major league sports and I'll make that $2.75 billion figure seem like chump change.

May 10

To Play or Not to Play?

post By Rebecca Maas and Alyson Buck, Peppercom

May 10  
read the details surrounding
Love’s death
is difficult. To understand is impossible. Countless articles,
news segments and blog posts have revealed the violent – and alarming –
behavior of her alleged killer and ex-boyfriend, George Huguely.

he sits in prison, Love’s University of Virginia family – friends, teammates,
coaches and faculty – are left to pick up the pieces. We sure don’t envy UVA
president John Casteen or Athletic Director Craig Littlepage – and the series
of decisions they face to properly honor Love, while also keeping the
reputation of the University community in mind.

decision to keep Virginia’s women’s (ranked no. 5) and men’s (ranked no. 1)
lacrosse teams in the NCAA tournament for the national championship had to be
tough. How do you balance the emotions and fragility of spirit of these players
with the legitimate shot each team has at winning this whole thing?

a look at both sides.

To play…

one hand, the college and surrounding community must move on from the tragedy.
The school cannot punish the entire student body and lacrosse clubs for the
actions of one. Politically, UVA must be fair and allow the teams to compete
and complete their seasons if they so choose. To play is a tribute to Love. Her
high school alma mater Notre Dame Prep
by writing Love’s number – 1 – in eye black on their arms and legs.
In a way, participating in the NCAA tournament is a similar gesture by the UVA
men’s and women’s teams – the teams will play in honor of Love, which will
rally the community and show solidarity against the crime that resulted in her

addition, university athletics, especially at the Division I level, are a huge
recruiting tool for the schools. Since UVA’s men’s and women’s teams are so
well positioned to vie for the title, the school essentially had an obligation
to participate in the tournament in order to stay competitive with other
schools with similar offerings and athletic programs. By participating in – and
potentially winning — the tournament, UVA will attract the attention of high
school students nationwide who may choose the University for its

not to play

what if the decision had gone the other way?  By withdrawing from the
tournament, the University could have avoided an extended stay in the spotlight
– a constant reminder of this tragedy. Even if either or both teams do well,
its presence at the tournament will continue to spark commentary and sympathy
linked back to Love and the night she died. And what about lacrosse as a sport?
It certainly has seen its share of scandal (no comment on the irony that
Huguely attended the same prep school as a number of players involved in the
incident at Duke University) and the overall image of the sport is shaky at
best. There are thousands of young kids who play lacrosse and – like Yeardley
when she was younger – dream of playing for a top-ranked school like UVA. No
doubt they will be glued to the contests, idolizing the collegiate players who
are older, stronger, and more talented. Won’t it reinforce
mindset that lacrosse players are invincible
and rules don’t apply?

Till, a research fello
with the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation in Washington,
D.C., wrote in a
on Friday:

fact that Huguely was at times reckless and violent, particularly when drunk,
and was alarmingly
 obsessive about
Love, would have been recognized by fellow players, and perhaps coaches, too,
and certainly should have been addressed. The fact that this was not his first
 interaction with Love
is the strongest charge against the friends and teammates that failed to
recognize the severity of the situation.”

point the proverbial finger at the players and coaches is an easy out in our
opinion. Would playing say that the sport chose to turn a blind eye to the
situation – or worse, accept violence as acceptable behavior
? Unfortunately, this men’s lacrosse team at the
University of Virginia did not stand up to a team member who acted out of line,
nor support him during a time when he so desperately needed help. By not
playing in the tournament, this team can instead devote the time and energy to
take an honest look at its commitment to teamwork – while at the same time
setting an example to the lacrosse community at large.

the authors understand there is always more to the story and that we don’t have
the full picture of the individuals involved in this tragedy. This post on
research of media coverage only, not of personal accounts of individuals
involved in the situation.

Apr 02

An accident waiting to happen

With the Major League Baseball season once again about to begin, hope springs eternal for fans throughout the land. That is, of course, with the exception of Mets fans.

April 2 The last four years in particular have been a holocaust for Mets fans. First, there was the epic, record-breaking total collapse at the end of the 2007 season. That, in turn, was followed by another crushing, if not epoch-making collapse in 2008. Then, there was last season's impressive 70-92 campaign that was chalked up to bad luck (lots of key players had suffered injuries).

The truth about this particular assortment of Metropolitans is that they're a bunch of brittle, underachievers who sport a mediocre offense and defense, abysmal pitching and zero esprit de corps. But, as is the case in business, the fault lies not with the players, but with management. Omar Minaya is a terrible general manager. He's not only built a dysfunctional organization but, as it reels from one crisis to the next, he acts just like a classic CEO in denial (think: Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, Pope Benedict XVI). With Minaya, it's always someone else's fault. Or, he goes with the Bernie Ebbers 'Gee, I didn't know about that at the time' defense.

Spring Training has been a horror show for the Mets. The always-injured Jose Reyes was felled by some sort of mysterious disease. Carlos Beltran elected to have surgery that will keep him out until June. Daniel Murphy just injured a leg that will cost him two to six weeks. And, the pitching staff, which Minaya refused to improve with off-season acquisitions, has had the stuffing beaten out of it in Florida.

Minaya's ever optimistic, though. As is his lackey, Manager Jerry Manuel. They both 'like what they see' whenever reporters ask about the latest Spring Training debacle. Both must be sight impaired.

Yes, Mets fans, this is the spring of our discontent. We have little to look forward to except, perhaps, the ultimate demise of Messrs Minaya and Manuel. Until the front office cleans house, the Mets will continue to be the laughing stock of New York, if not the entire nation.

Mar 24

March Madness vs. The NBA Finals? Talk about a blowout

March 24 - MarchMadness Does March Madness just keep getting better every year, or what? And, does it become more universal every year, or what? When I attended college in the late Middle Ages, guys were into the NCAA basketball tournament. Period. Now, it seems women are even more engaged in ‘bracketology’ than the men. And, how cool is that? (unless you happen to be a certain Kansas alum/intern who told this blogger her Jayhawks would win the national championship. Ouch!).

I think March Madness has become an opiate for the masses because of the success of such mid-majors as Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s. In the old days, it seemed like UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Maryland, Duke and a few other schools had a lock on the brackets. Now, it’s a wide open, fast break that any school can win. Even the smartest Ivy Leaguer wouldn’t have predicted Cornell would be a Sweet 16 team.

I reiterate the obvious because I just saw a print ad entitled, ‘Coming soon. The most anticipated television event of the year. The culmination of a long, emotional journey. A win or go home contest. All played out in front of a record-breaking national audience. America, are you ready for….The NBA Play-offs on TNT.’ I’m not. I could care less.

Aside from fans in Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles and a few other markets, I think most sports fans find the NBA irrelevant. In my mind, it’s become the professional wrestling of big time sports. It’s all flash and razzle dazzle, featuring individual showmen trying to outduel one another (Gilbert Arenas pun intended). There’s no sense of teamwork or camaraderie in the NBA. The season is endless. And, the champion isn’t even crowned until mid-June.

That’s what makes the advertisement so irksome. I understand why the NBA is trying to leverage the national mania stirred up by March Madness. And, that’s fine. But, to run full-page ads suggesting the NBA Playoffs is the most anticipated television event of the year is ludicrous, if not borderline fraudulent.

My March Madness bracket may be worth a plug nickel at this point, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching each and every remaining NCAA game. As for the NBA finals? I think I’d rather watch grass grow.

Jan 20

My g-g-g-generation

January 20 - tehshow-superbowl Have you noticed how ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl halftime show wardrobe malfunction in 2004, the NFL powers that be have opted for burnt out rockers? Fearful of another prime-time, real-time show-and-tell, the league has brought us Sir Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce and, now, the surviving members of The Who.

Don’t get me wrong. I love staying tuned to see what these dinosaurs still have left and, with the exception of Sir Paul’s gig (which I witnessed firsthand in frigid Jacksonville), have really enjoyed the shows.

But, knowing market demographics as well as I do, I wonder what’s going on. Is the average NFL fan an aging Baby Boomer whose idea of cutting-edge music some combination of ‘Live and Let Die,’ ‘Start Me Up,’ ‘1999,’ ‘Born in the U.S.A. or  ‘Magic Bus’? My gut tells me the average fan’s age has to be decidedly younger and, dare I suggest it, skewing towards urban and country tunes. Yet, we continue to see senior citizen rockers playing dramatically shortened, sanitized version of 40-year-old classics.  

And, that’s just fine by me. In fact, borrowing a phrase from The Who’s ‘My Generation’ classic, ‘….I hope I die before I get (real) old…’ and have to suffer through Snoop, Sizzla, Tim McGraw or Faith Hill performing at halftime. I think, instead, I’ll just f-f-f-fade away.

Thanks to Tom Powers for his assistance in researching this topic.

Jan 12

January 12th is an important date in the image and reputation wars

There are a number of reasons why today, January 12th, is an important date for me. One reason, in particular, pertains specifically to image and reputation.

January 12 - superbowliii-19692 It was January 12, 1969, that the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts to win their first, and only, Super Bowl victory (stay tuned on the latter, though).

It's an important image and reputation milestone because, up until January 12, 1969, the mainstream sports/business establishment hadn't taken the upstart American Football League seriously. Created in 1960, the AFL had been seen by most as little more than a circus.

But, by 1965, the tides had turned. Fueled by the signing of Joe Willie Namath and other top college players, the AFL began earning a modicum of respect. In fact, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was forced to concede that his league's championship was no longer a 'world's' title, and agreed to a match of each group's best team.

The first two contests were blowouts, with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers humiliating the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, respectively.

Ah, but then came January 12, 1969, and Joe Willie's Super Jets. The Jets win wasn't just a sports victory but, in fact, a seismic sea change for the AFL's image and reputation. Within a few years, the two leagues merged to create the NFL as we now know it.

It's nice to reflect on past glories while reveling in the knowledge that today's Jets are in the thick of the playoffs (while the hated Giants are cooling their heels on the sidelines).

Considering the fact that the reverse is almost always the case, I'm reminded of a quote from the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War.

At the very end of the war, a Union soldier who happened to be black, was watching a column of captured Rebel prisoners pass by. Suddenly, he spotted his former master. The black soldier smiled and said, 'Bottom rail on top now, massa.'

I think I speak for Jets fans everywhere when I say to our Giants counterparts: 'Bottom rail on top now.'

Jan 05

Buying Bowl Games with Bailout

Guest Post by Rebecca Maas, Peppercommotions

January 5 - BCS It’s the most wonderful time of the year: eggnog, snow and bowl games. The Bowl Championship Series has become nearly as synonymous with the holiday season as Santa himself. For nearly 100 years, the bowl system has provided college football fans with match-ups between the top teams for epic, nail-biting face-offs. In more recent years – including this fateful one – these bowls have been sponsored by major corporations such as FedEx, Allstate and Citibank. That’s right: the same Citibank that received more than $50 billion bailout dollars courtesy of your average tax-paying football fan. The real kicker (no pun intended): Citi is hosting not just The Granddaddy of Them All, but also the National Championship. Talk about a personal foul.

As an events marketing professional, I am a big advocate for brands investing in sponsorships and experiential marketing. When activated properly, sponsorships can connect brands with consumers in a meaningful way. Providing potential and current customers with a tangible experience can lead them to make emotional ties to a brand’s product or service, resulting in a purchase or new relationship. There are countless brands that have done this successfully – with and without a hefty price tag. Take, for instance, Sprint, a company I’ve worked with in the past and its NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES. Falling on the higher end of the price range, Sprint has totally revolutionized its product offerings to entice the most avid NASCAR fan. In addition, the company provides onsite experiences for fans such as Sprint FANZONE which fans can tour on race weekend. As a result, Sprint has engaged the lucrative NASCAR fan base and has increased overall awareness of its products and services with its target audience. Another good example would be the experiential marketing campaign we developed for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now 25 years of age, the beloved brand celebrated its silver anniversary by hosting activities for fans at the drive-in portion of the Tribeca Film Festival on opening night. Through this low-cost approach, the brand reached old and new fans alike through fun activities like face painting, giveaways and free pizza – all while creating buzz around the anniversary, which provided momentum for an 11-city nationwide mobile tour that immediately followed the event.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible – and likely – that Citibank committed to this sponsorship long before the financial meltdown in 2008, and was forced to scale down any extra programming it may have had planned surrounding the bowl games. However, to those not in the know, Citibank doesn’t appear to have activated its sponsorships with any fan-focused experiences. This leads one to believe the sponsorship entails primarily of signage and a pretty pimped out executive suite. One way Citi could have enhanced the sponsorship for fans would be to offer no-fee ATM withdrawals on all Citibank ATMs in the Los Angeles / Pasadena area from January 1 through January 7. And, while the “signage and suite” approach is not terribly uncommon in the world of sponsorships, it seems to me Citi missed an opportunity to thank its customers – and potentially gain new ones.

It’s a good thing Citi never sleeps; if I was Citi, I’d be losing sleep over this too. 

Dec 22

Bloggers of a certain age

December 22 - menofacertainage I'm starting to warm up to the new TNT series, 'Men of a Certain Age.' It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as three erstwhile college buddies who have stayed tight and are now helping one another navigate the murky waters of middle age.

Romano, who owns a party store, has lost a marriage because of a gambling addiction. Bakula, meanwhile, is an actor, who pays the bills as a temp working at an accounting firm and dates a 25-year-old woman. Braugher is an obese, diabetic who holds down a stressful job as a salesman at his father's car dealership.

The guys bond during a daily, two-mile hike in the hills. It's there that they discuss women, careers and failed ambitions. It's good stuff.

I like the gritty reality of the show. Middle age brings with it a stark reality that young people simply can't imagine. Parents die. Friends grow old. The eyes grow weak. The joints grow stiff. The reactions become noticeably slower. And, yet, the Mets and Jets still somehow keep losing (at least there are some constants).

Middle age is also an interesting battle ground for one's image and reputation. My friend, Maria, is appalled by people 'our age' who have 'given up' and refuse to exercise or party because '….they think they're too old for that.' She argues that, actuarially speaking, people of a certain age still have another 35 or 40 years ahead of us and should 'keep fighting the good fight.' I agree, Maria. Go get 'em.

While I fight my daily battle to keep things in place, I also look forward to learning new things and experiencing new experiences. Someone once said, 'youth is wasted on the young.' I don't necessarily agree. I don't think I would have enjoyed running Peppercom, performing stand-up comedy, climbing on ice, snow and rock, cycling, blogging or the myriad other things that fill my days and nights. The fact is I wouldn't have had the depth or breadth to do most of the things I've done in middle age.

December 22 - mountain
Many men of a certain age possess a world weariness to be sure. But, others exude the confidence and wisdom that only comes with experience. That's huge. And, that's why I really enjoy being a blogger of a certain age. Sure, I have my fill of bad days. Days when I feel like chucking it all and settling down on Scotland's Isle of Skye for perpetuity. But, then, some new challenge or opportunity presents itself and, boom, I'm off and running again (literally). The newest challenge: occasional guest blogger Rob Longert and I will be running the Central Park half-marathon in late January. Brrrr.

Middle age? Bring it on. This blogger of a certain age is ready for what's next.