Thursday, July 31, 2008

IMG-CCTV Ink 20-Year Deal

Global sports entertainment giant IMG and state-controlled China Central Television (CCTV) today announced a 20-year partnership that will feed off China's growing appetite for sports and deliver sport programming to the largest single television market in the world, with an estimated reach of 370 million households. IMG's involvement will fast track the commercialization of sport in China, first by cultivating marketable athletes and creating new sport properties, and then by selling advertising and sponsorships that leverage CCTV's colossal market share. The timing of this deal could not have been more propitious, with nearly universal optimism among Chinese people -- 96%, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project -- about the upcoming Olympic Games.


Team Effort

On the eve of our departure, the 13 Western New England College students who comprise "Seminar Abroad '08: Beijing Olympics," the first summer sport-travel course of the Center for International Sport Business, have developed a true esprit de corps, and have come together well as a team. From the beginning, going back to our half dozen or so meetings this past spring, students have volunteered to take the lead in various projects. Whitney coordinated the on-campus raffle of Red Sox tickets, while Jess and Jake provided ideas and designs for our t-shirts. Meanwhile, Jake, Bre, and AJ sourced vendors to screen the t-shirts, and AJ located a company in China to produce our very own lapel pins for trading at the Olympics. AJ also designed the graphics for our good-looking identity cards, and Jake researched teddy bear vendors to find the perfect "Golden Bear" mascot for our trip. To help with fundraising, Marti organized a sale of items on eBay, and she also volunteered to coordinate the BOG (Beijing Olympic Games) Blog. Over spring break, Mike went up to Chicago and brought back "Chicago 2016" Olympic pins for everyone, to use as possible trading fodder in Beijing. Lauren and Marti sought donations of sporting goods to auction, and Jess solicited local restaurants about doing a cause-related donation program. AJ spearheaded the letter-solicitation drive directed at business establishments in students' home towns, as well as to friends and family members. Mike wrote and submitted a grant application to the Alumni Association, and Mike and Marti worked on a brochure to market this trip to potential donors. While I am certain that I have overlooked other examples, every student has demonstrated enthusiasm and initiative in contributing to the planning and organization effort, and I am confident that this kind of team spirit will ensure that our trip is an unmitigated success.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Euro 2008 Record Profit

The 2008 European Football Championship -- the quadrennial soccer tournament for European countries -- netted a record $394 million despite poor weather at the start of the three-week tournament, and the cancellation of over 1.7 million ticket applications due to a huge problem over ticket re-selling on the black market. Spain emerged as the Euro 2008 champion on June 29, beating Germany 1-0 in the final of the 16-team competition. Meanwhile, the 14-club, North American MLS, founded in 1993, is still hoping to turn its first net profit . . . by 2010. What is it about stateside sports fans when it comes to soccer, anyway?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Olympic Pin Trading

One of the longest-standing traditions at the Olympic Games -- for athletes and nonathletes alike -- is pin trading, whereby people swap their lapel pins (also called badges) with other like-minded attendees, and in the process acquire an interesting collection of pins from around the world. I provided an assortment of pins to each of the 13 Western New England College students who are traveling to the Beijing Olympics through the College's Center for International Sport Business Seminar Abroad program. In addition, in order that each of the students would have a starter set of at least a couple dozen pins as trade fodder to approach and engage other pin-trading citizens of the world, one of my students who has been in Beijing since early June -- AJ Pappas -- was commissioned to source a pin factory there to create our very own Western New England College pin collection. As expected, AJ came through and the students now have these handsome and highly coveted dime-sized WNEC pins to trade . . . perhaps for other, equally coveted, pins!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Identity Card

Someone asked about the identity card seen on the photo of Golden Bear in an earlier post, and what that was all about. You see, these identity cards have been in vogue for many years now at the Olympics (as well as at many other large-scale international gatherings) and serve as an accreditation badge for official delegates to the event. Typically, the cards are embedded with a silicon chip or scannable bar code to permit the bearer entry to certain restricted-access venues. Of course, our Seminar Abroad '08 delegation's identity cards are not for any purpose other than to give our students a place to keep their trading pins (although these official-looking cards have been known to unexpectedly open doors from time to time), and to serve as a nice souvenir of their attendance at the Beijing Olympics.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Russian Sport on the Rise

Not since the glory days of the old Soviet Union have sport fans in the Russian Federation had much to celebrate. But now, thanks to economic reforms and significant investment by both the government and private sector, Russian athletes and teams are regaining some of the luster that they enjoyed during the period of the Cold War. Perhaps irrationally optimistic, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee yesterday predicted that Russia would finish atop the medal board . . . and one gold medal ahead of China. Top Russian soccer clubs' budgets now top $100 million, and while still anemic by Western European standards, continued success will fuel even more aggressive spending on sporting talent and infrastructure. What do you think of Russia's medal chances at the Beijing Olympics (you can vote in the column at left).


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Last Call on Olympic Tix

Yesterday's chaotic sell off in Beijing of the remaining 820,000 tickets to events at next month's Olympic Games demonstrated the frenzied interest of Chinese people to witness history-in-the-making over China's first hosting of this international multi-sport extravaganza. An estimated 500,000 Chinese, joined by another half million foreigners, are expected to fill the Olympic competition venues like never before. This, in contrast to the early years of the Olympics, which were not a major attraction and hence, were only sparsely attended. For the Beijing Olympics, some 7 million tickets have now been sold, with approximately 70% going to the domestic public, and generating $140 million in revenue. Olympic ticket demand and sales have never been so high, and might not attain this level again for some time to come (thankfully, the Western New England College delegation has secured its ticket allotment in advance of departure!).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pre-Departure Recap

In two weeks, 13 Western New England College students, fellow sport management professor Dan Covell, and I will depart for Beijing and the Olympic Games, which will mark the inaugural program of the "Seminar Abroad" series of the Center for International Sport Business (next up: World Cup 2010).

Since we will be traveling on August 8, we will miss the Opening Ceremonies (spectacular as it promises to be, the high-priced tickets to attend in person would have been a budget buster!). We will, however, see and experience two or three weeks' worth of exciting events jam packed into just eight days! But I'm getting ahead of myself . . . .

This whole adventure came about as an idea to introduce students to the Olympic Games, which made all the more sense since I spent 16 years with the US Olympic Committee, the last six as its director of international relations. Still, not knowing what level of interest there might be, I emailed a flyer in late fall 2007 to all students on campus, informing them of this "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity . . . and to my delight the response was swift and overwhelming!

While this trip would not have been possible without the help of so many people, I am especially grateful to my colleague and Management Department chair, Dr. Jeanie Forray -- who is a staunch proponent and veteran of many foreign-travel study courses -- for her insight and guidance from the conceptual beginning through the planning stages and beyond. I thank my friend and colleague, Dr. Bruce Clemens -- who has taken scores of students to Guatemala over many summers -- for his inspiration through his can-do attitude and infectious enthusiasm, and also Sport Management Department chair, Dr. Sharianne Walker, for her tireless devotion to our students, her unwavering personal support, and for always reminding me of the importance of having fun along the way!

Originally, I had intended to take a small group of only eight students, which subsequently grew to ten, then 12, before I finally settled on a baker's dozen . . . all of whom are visa-approved and passport ready! This past spring, we met about a half dozen times for students to get acquainted with one another, to meet the representatives from International Study Programs (the outfit that set up the cultural aspects of our trip), to discuss fund-raising ideas, and generally to get hyped up about going to the Olympics . . . in China!

Among the reasons cited by students for wanting to go on this trip were:

“Being exposed to one of the greatest events in history”
“Experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”
“Gaining a knowledge of different cultures”
“Building my resume while growing as a person"
“Learning about the Chinese culture and seeing the Olympics live”
“To learn, meet new people, and have fun”

Speaking of seeing the Olympics live, one early challenge was getting tickets to events, since the entire inventory available for the US market was sold out more than a year in advance of the games. Not to be deterred, however (and resorting to methods that shall not be disclosed), we managed to obtain tickets to basketball, track & field, soccer, boxing, beach volleyball, tennis, softball, baseball, badminton, and water polo.

Of course, we will take in the must-see cultural icons of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace. Students also will have time to shop, walk through some of the city's fast-disappearing hutongs, pay a visit to the US Embassy, sample exotic delicacies rarely found in the West, and meet with fellow college students at Beijing Sports University. The real value-added proposition of this program, however, is that the students will have the opportunity to experience several out-of-the-ordinary events; for example, having a private audience with the presidents of the international sport federations for baseball and softball, being co-opted to "work" a private reception and awards presentation ceremony of the Truce Foundation at USA House, visiting the US Olympic Committee's high-performance training facility at Beijing Normal University, attending an invitation-only function at Japan House, visiting the by-invitation-only Visa Olympic Reunion Center, getting a cook's tour of the Olympics' Main Press Center, meeting the head of the sports department of the Xinhua News Agency, and being briefed by officials of Olympic sponsors Samsung and Adidas, among other possibilities.

Probably most fascinating for the students will be the chance to spend eight days in this most ancient of Asian countries, with a very different political -- yet quite familiar capitalist -- system, in a city of some 16 million people being descended upon by hundreds of thousands of visitors from every nation on the planet. It also will be interesting to see how successful the organizers' best-laid plans are in terms of games management, operations, and logistics, dealing with protest demonstrations, and the impact of the air quality on athletes' performance. No doubt, social commentators and historians will let us know whether -- and if so to what extent -- the Olympics changed China.

Speaking for myself, it will be an extraordinary treat to witness what certainly will be a watershed moment in China's history. Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Olympic Mascots' Fate

It is an interesting phenomenon, but Olympic mascots rarely, if ever, receive the popular embrace that their sports-team cousins seem to enjoy. More often, Olympic mascots are forgotten and nevermore invoked once the flame of an Olympic Games is extinguished. So here's the question: Does it have more to do with the power of institutional affinity, where mascots have come to symbolize a team or school (versus an event, such as the Olympics), or is it simply a case of marketing, and the lack of mascot designs that resonate with consumers?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Athletes as Citizen Free Agents

While an athlete's change in nationality has long permitted a citizen of one country to subsequently represent another in international competition, two recent cases have heightened the dialogue about citizen-based eligibility. Earlier this year, American-born soccer player Edgar Castillo decided to play for the Mexican national team, and this past spring San Antonio Silver Stars standout and WNBA most-valuable player runner up, Becky Hammon -- who holds a Russian passport and plays for CSKA Moscow in the off season -- announced that she will play for Russia at the Beijing Olympics. Apparently, neither athlete drew much interest or attention from the US teams, and thus -- as dual citizens -- opted to play for their adoptive countries. Taken to its extreme, countries bent on a poaching strategy to build formidible sport teams can offer susceptible athletes all manner of inducements, coupled with instant citizenship, and voilĂ  . . . a contender is born!


Monday, July 21, 2008

Jail Time for Scalpers?

While ticket scalping -- the practice of re-selling tickets to in-demand events at a premium -- is not uncommon, laws regulating this practice seldom amount to much beyond a cease-and-desist order, seizure, and perhaps a fine. Today, Chinese authorities have issued a warning that scalpers who re-sell tickets to the Beijing Olympics for profit would be subject to jail terms of 10-15 days. Not to be deterred, however, online re-sellers apparently are hawking hard-to-get tickets to the Opening Ceremonies for as much as $30,000!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trading in Brazilian Soccer

A Brazilian investment company that trades in that country's soccer-rich talent -- appropriately called Traffic -- signs players to its stable and then loans them out to Brazilian clubs that pay their salaries and exhibit their skills. The payoff comes when the players are recruited by European clubs, which could pay millions -- and even tens of millions -- of dollars in transfer fees. The problem with this model is roster instability because the Brazilian clubs cannot control the players' longevity with their teams, and also creates the potential for collusion, because the investment firm could strengthen or weaken clubs simply by reassigning players. Still unanswered is whether these investment firms run afoul of soccer rules prohibiting third-party ownership. But for the moment, this model is working for Brazilian soccer, because most clubs cannot afford to carry the full burden of acquisition costs, salaries, and bonuses that they would otherwise incur.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Olympic Baseball

Two quintessential American sports -- baseball and softball -- will be dropped from the Olympic Games after 2008 for different and various reasons, and will not be contested at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. It is possible, however, that one or both sports could win reinstatement in a vote of IOC members in 2009, and be played at the 2016 Olympic Games. In the case of baseball, the strikes against continued inclusion were over its chronic doping problem and the lack of participation by the sport's top players, owing to the refusal of MLB to suspend its season and club owners to release its players for the Olympic tournament. This week, a glimmer of hope was raised when MLB vice president and USA Baseball general manager Bob Watson suggested that the league might suspend its season if either Chicago or Tokyo -- two professional baseball cities in baseball-crazed countries -- won the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games. On this basis alone, however, the glimmer might as well be extinguished, because the IOC is unlikely to condition the inclusion of sports on a particular city's hosting of the Olympic Games. Your thoughts?


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sporting Davos

Years from now, when the Games of the XXIX Olympiad are long in the books, and whatever may have been written about the watershed moment in China's history, the visitors from every corner of the world and locals alike who attended the Olympic Games in Beijing can say that they were there, alongside the rich, powerful, and famous. Thirteen students from Western New England College can lay claim to the fact that they, too, were at the "Sporting Davos."


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dominican Nectar?

The Domincan Republic is so rich in baseball talent that every MLB club has a presence there to keep lookout for the next young prodigy, such as 16-year-old Michael Inoa, signed last week by the Oakland A's for $4.25 million. Outside the US, no other country has supplied the Major Leagues with as many players over the past half century as has the DR, including tonight's starting NL pitcher in the All-Star Game, Edinson Volquez of the Cincinnati Reds. While historical and sociological factors may explain this phenomenon, has anyone checked the Domincan water lately?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Conflict of Interest or Corporate Screw Up?

Today's Wall Street Journal (see article, below) reported that a global advertising firm's handiwork has been found on both sides of the Olympic fence for the upcoming games in Beijing. TBWA Worldwide's China office produced an ad campaign for Olympic sponsor Adidas, which gloriously portrays Chinese people in support of its athletes in an unambiguous show of national unity. At the same time, its Paris office created an ad for Amnesty International depicting a person in front of an archery target with the caption: "After the Olympic Games, the fight for human rights must go on." Although Amnesty decided weeks ago to pull its ad, it is astounding that a leading multinational ad agency could find itself on both sides of a very public and delicate issue, especially considering the recent -- and white-hot -- attention given to China's ongoing human rights controversies.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Recession?

Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho, who had been toiling for Barcelona, will be acquired by Milan AC this week for nearly $24 million in transfer fees, after which Milan will have the privilege of picking up Ronaldinho's $10 million annual salary. Professional soccer's transfer system is akin to a contract buyout, whereby the acquiring club pays a fee to the club that owns the rights to the player's services, in order to effectuate the transfer prior to the expiration of his contract. While this practice of compensating a player's previous club is not peculiar to soccer (recall the Boston Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions a $51.1 million posting fee for the right to negotiate with pitching sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka), it is a time-honored tradition in soccer, dating back over a century. In theory, this system could wreak havoc on team stability, because so long as the acquiring club is able and willing to pay the asking price, summer-time transfers could resemble a Turkish bazaar. Fortunately, the law of economics imposes a dose of self restraint, because nobody -- not even the New York Yankees -- truly has unlimited funds to spend on player acquisition and payroll.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tour de France

France's biggest sporting event of the year -- the Tour de France -- has been in progress since July 5 and will continue through July 27, and the good news, despite continuing incidents of doping that have plagued the Tour for many years (including yesterday's report of Manuel Beltran's positive test for EPO), is that corporate sponsorship is making a cautious comeback. The black eye of doping undoubtedly contributed to companies like T-Mobile and The Discovery Channel opting out after the last season. Recently, however, Columbia Sportswear and GPS maker Garmin International have signed on to be title sponsors of separate U.S. teams. Cycling's doping problem presents a calculated risk but ironically, a possibly attractive proposition for would-be sponsors. Title sponsorships, which reportedly have gone for anywhere between $3-$9 million, seemingly could be had for bargain right now. Columbia president and CEO Tim Boyle said "Now we could afford it. Maybe a year ago, we couldn't."


Friday, July 11, 2008

China Marketing Crackdown

According to the New York Times, the Chinese government today imposed new restrictions on commercial advertisements in Beijing, a move that undoubtedly is welcomed by official Olympic sponsors, and chagrined by so-called ambush marketers. For certain non-sponsor companies intent on crashing the party, it is something of a game to steal the spotlight given to mega events such as the Olympic Games, but without having to pay a dime in sponsorship fees. For example, at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, American big-box department store and non-Olympic sponsor, Target -- which did not even do business in Italy -- managed to get its red-and-white bull's eye logo plastered all over the sides of the trains that ferried locals and tourists alike to and from the competition venues (see photo). It remains to be seen whether things will be different in China, given the state-controlled economy and the government's notorious no-nonsense manner.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fact File: Beijing Olympics

Name: People’s Republic of China
PRC Founded: October 1, 1949
Land Mass: 3.7 million square miles (fourth in size, after Russia, Canada, and US)
Border Countries: Mongolia, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan
Per Capita Income: $1,251
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese, and other dialects
Currency: Yuan (CNY), currently trading at approximately $0.145 (or $1 = 6.86 CNY)
China Population: 1.3 billion
Beijing Population: 16.3 million
No. Cars in Beijing: 3.3 million
Games of the XXIX Olympiad: August 8-24, 2008
Expected Tourists During Olympics: 2.5 million
No. Sports: 28
No. Medal Events: 302
No. Athletes: 10,500
No. Athletes and Officials in Olympic Village: 16,000
No. Participating Countries/Territories: 205
No. Accredited Journalists: 21,600
No. Tickets Sold: 7 million
Seating Capacity of National Olympic Stadium (“Bird’s Nest”): 91,000

NBA's Global Design

While much of the world's commercial attention has been focused on China because of its most-populous nation status, rapidly growing economy, and vast middle class; inexplicably, the only other member of the billion-people club on the planet -- India -- goes virtually without notice. Recently, however, the NBA took its Basketball Without Borders program to Delhi, where it is seeking to replicate the professional game's popularity in India that was first spawned in China a couple decades ago. With an 8.5% annual growth rate and an educated middle class (some 300-million strong), India would seem ripe for new capital ventures. But basketball -- and any upstart sport for that matter -- faces a steep climb in displacing Indians' fervent loyalty to cricket, which is akin to a national religion in that country. Still, there is a glimmer of hope . . . if only India could produce its own Yao Ming or two out of its 1.1 billion people.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Must-Get Souvenir

Beginning today, the Chinese government will issue a 10-yuan note (about $1.45) in commemoration of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. As you can see, it features the Games' official "dancing seal" logo above China's National Stadium (referred to as the "Bird's Nest"), site of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as competition events for athletics (track & field) and football (soccer).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Training Locales for Hire

As evidenced by a growing number of cities that have taken to attracting athletes and teams for short-term training at locations in close geographic proximity and prior to major international competitions -- such as the Olympic Games -- a cottage industry of sorts is emerging in the world of global sport. Cities that for whatever reason are not hosting the events themselves increasingly are putting out welcome mats, especially for athletes from far-flung countries, for training and acclimatization purposes. As an extension of hosting big-time sporting events, the same question must be asked: whether such hosting is motivated by prospects of an economic return on investment, the opportunity to bask in the celebrity of visiting athletes and teams, or something else.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Adidas Goes Big in Beijing

As further evidence that the latest battleground in the Adidas-Nike "shoe wars" is being waged in China, Adidas will open its biggest retail store in the world in Beijing this Friday. China is already Nike's second-largest market after the US, and is set to achieve that status for Adidas by the end of 2008. It remains to be seen if Adidas' Olympic sponsorship and its mega-super store will give it any competitive advantage in overtaking its arch rival, Nike, in the China market.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Medal Predictions

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Colorado College economics professor has predicted that while the US will win the most medals overall (103) at this summer's Beijing Olympics, China will win the most gold medals (44). Dr. Dan Johnson, whose previous predictions have been amazingly accurate, uses only five data variables -- GDP, population, political structure, climate, and home-nation bias -- to arrive at his numbers. PricewaterhouseCoopers, on the other hand, last week predicted that China will will the most overall medals (88), followed by the US (87), and Russia (79). (PwC's report did not separate out medals by color.) You can vote for the country you think will win the most medals overall in the margin at left.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Olympic Sponsorship

Twelve global companies have ponied up a prince's ransom -- upwards of $80 million for 2005-08 -- to occupy the rarefied air that is The Olympic Program (TOP), and enjoy worldwide marketing rights relative to the Olympic rings, Olympic imagery, and the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. But while longtime sponsors Coca-Cola, Kodak, McDonald's, and Visa are virtually synonymous with the Olympics, and General Electric, Panasonic, Samsung, Omega, and Johnson & Johnson are well-known global brands, others -- such as Lenovo and Atos Origin -- are not so well known. (The 12th TOP partner is Manulife, which acquired John Hancock Insurance in 2004 and assumed its sponsorship category.) As you can read in the accompanying article, Lenovo is a Chinese company that bought IBM's PC business in 2005, and is fourth in market share behind H-P, Dell, and Acer. Interestingly, Lenovo did not renew its TOP sponsorship for 2009-2012, making its splash at the Beijing Olympic Games a one-time affair. This begs the question what return on investment companies like Lenovo are realizing on their top-line sponsorship of the Olympics.


Faculty Chaperone

Dr. Dan is a proud son of Maine, but currently lives in Concord, MA (well known for its role in the American Revolutionary War and immortalized in Emerson's "shot heard round the world"). He has traveled to the UK, Canada, Italy, Russia, France, and the Netherlands, and as an accomplished artist, his motto is "will paint for pizza." From a sociological point of view, Dr. Dan is quite curious to see whether these Olympics can serve to change China, and if so, to what extent.