Soft Spots

ESPN broadcast college football’s national championship Monday night. As the game moved to lopsided late in the second quarter my mind drifted to details besides the football itself. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL is a striking facility, especially at night from the vantage point of the Goodyear Blimp. 15,000 football fans spaced randomly into 65,000 seats (thanks, COVID) looks awfully sparse. And speaking of awful(ly), the television commercials… well, let’s just agree college football ain’t the same thing as the Super Bowl, folks.

Home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl commercials are more entertaining than the game itself, unlike the advertisement drivel I saw Monday night.  Super Bowl plugs cost $5 million for thirty seconds while Monday night’s spots were six figures at best.  Finally, Super Bowl ads are desperate to be memorable (even if you can’t remember the product itself), which is why you have office pools for “best commercial”.  You’re not gonna have an office pool for what I watched on Monday night.  This was the reverse of the Super Bowl: great football, lousy commercials.

To say Monday night’s commercials paled in comparison to Super Bowl ads is like saying Sprite’s a little clearer than Coke.  These product pushes were awful.  For starters, you had what seemed like five advertisers over a four-hour broadcast.  Dos Equis showed up every fifteen minutes.  Their beer (excuse me, their lager) ads included a closeup of a glassful, with a commentator calling the movement of the bubbles as if they were players on a football field.  Really?  I hope his was a big paycheck.

Then you had AT&T, who seems to be promoting the lovely Milana Vayntrub (as salesperson “Lily”) as much as their products.  Perhaps they’ve watched too many Progressive Insurance ads with Stephanie Courtney (as salesperson “Flo”)?

Don’t recognize Milana? You will soon…

Finally, ESPN promoted itself.  Normally I’d harp on the host network for advertising some of its own programs even though they paid millions to broadcast the game.  But part of me thinks ESPN really does need the promos.  COVID took a big bite out of sports over the last year, as well as a big bite out of ESPN’s workforce.  When the network brought us Korean baseball and American cornhole competitions I thought, “Okay, the end is near”.

But forget ESPN because I need to be a Davey-downer (i.e., slam) on one more commercial.  I’ve been building to this moment since the first paragraph.  Gatorade just launched it’s first new beverage in twenty years: “Bolt24”.  It’s low-cal and loaded with electrolytes, so naturally the target audience is athletes.  And Gatorade also selected athletes to push its product.  Enter Serena Williams.  She’s one of those athletes I’m on the fence about.  Her athletic skills and accomplishments on the tennis court are unquestionable.  She’s garnered enough championships to earn her place in the tennis player “GOAT” discussion (greatest of all time).

But Serena also has her not-so-role-model moments.  She does not take losing well.  She does not welcome constructive criticism.  Countless broken rackets, lectures (threats?) to chair umpires, and disqualifications would have you wondering if there isn’t a permanent child lurking within the adult.  Wah wah wah.  But the Bolt24 ad was the last straw in my Serena drink.  Why?  Because the tagline goes, “you know you’ve made it when the whole world knows you by one name”.  Oh, so when I say just “Serena advertises Bolt 24”, you knowingly say in response, “oh, her?”

Yeah, I get the pitch.  Bolt24 is a one-word drink.  Serena Williams is almost the only Serena I can think of (besides Serena van der Woodsen, the entitled main character of the TV series Gossip Girl).  But I just can’t buy into the loftiness of the catchphrase.  Get the world to recognize you by first name only and “you’ve made it”?  Sting. Madonna. Cher. Bono. Enya.  See the pattern?  It’s an actor/singer thing.  Also, an athlete thing.  Lebron. Tiger. O.J. (Maybe that last one should just be “Juice”?)

Okay then, shutting down my rant now.  Holier-than-thou personas don’t deserve any more press.  I like to keep “Life in a Word” positive; simple; modest.  Like me.  You know… Dave.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Super Dough

The beauty of the Super Bowl is its broad entertainment value.  There’s something for everybody in the five hours between The Star Spangled Banner and the Vince Lombardi trophy. For sports fans, there’s a highly-anticipated football clash. The Super Bowl is not football at its best or most dramatic, but this year’s coast vs. coast, old coach+QB vs. young coach+QB match-up creates more than the usual intrigue.

If you’re not into football, you’re at least enjoying the musical entertainment.  Maroon 5 will be there after all (rumor had it they were pulling out), and the band acknowledges “… it’s the biggest stage you could ever play…”  Even if you’re not a fan of the 5, you get Gladys Knight (but no Pips) singing the national anthem before kick-off.

If neither live sports nor live music is your bag (and that’s a small rock you live under), you’re watching the commercials instead.  I admit – especially as a sports fan – there’s as much press for the Super Bowl ads as there is for the Super Bowl itself.  It’s the only sports broadcast I know where viewers fast-forward through the game to get to the commercials.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

No wonder advertisers are so worked up for this Sunday.  The Super Bowl is routinely the single-most tuned-in-to entertainment of the year.  Viewership has quadrupled over the last fifty years.  The 2018 Super Bowl drew over 100 million viewers; 25% more than second-place.  And what came in second?  The Super Bowl post-game show, of course (74 million viewers).  Say what you will about the NFL; people watch.  The four most-watched television shows in 2018 were NFL games, followed by a “This Is Us” episode… airing immediately after the Super Bowl.

Courtesy of Frito-Lay

Sunday’s line-up of Super Bowl commercials includes the usual products: cars, drinks (alcoholic), more drinks (non-alcoholic), foods (snack), more foods (fast), even more foods (avocados), and technology.  Of course, they’re all designed to get you to remember, long after the game is over.  Whether it’s a celebrity, a laugh, or a cute animal, it’s all about permanent placement of the product in your brain.  But even if you don’t remember, consider this: the commercials will be watched millions more times on YouTube.  Add in the Internet and the considerable cost of Super Bowl advertising is a little easier to swallow.

Speaking of cost, this year’s commercials will set producers back $5 million a spot, for a mere thirty seconds of air time.  That’s just the bill to CBS.  Production costs run as much as another $5 million.  Try counting “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” every time you watch a commercial this year.  You’re squandering $333,333 for every “-one-thousand” you utter.  That’s what I call super dough, and it’s only rising (ha).  The car companies account for 25% of the take (remember that the next time you negotiate the purchase of a vehicle), but Anheuser-Busch InBev is the “King of Advertising”, spending over $600 million on Super Bowl commercials since 1995.  Yes, Clydesdale horses are cute.  More importantly, they sell a lot of beer.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

To pique your ad anticipation, Town & Country Magazine’s website includes a list of the “50 Best Super Bowl Commercials” (including the videos).  The ads are listed chronologically, starting a-way, way back in 1967.  It’s entertaining to see what products and companies paid big for Super Bowl advertising fifty years ago.  Some are no longer around.  I’m guessing their advertising agencies aren’t either.

Courtesy of Apple

Mark my words.  Monday morning after the Super Bowl the water-cooler talk will not be about the game.  It will be about the commercials.  Which one was your favorite?  Which one left you scratching your head?  Which one was $5 million up in flames?  And most importantly, which one will still be talked about years from now?  Even this sports fan has to admit: the game will soon be forgotten, but not the ads.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Why Advertisers Pay Up for  a Super Bowl Spot”; and from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Game Over

Tag the Dallas Cowboys with “politically correct” for their actions Monday night. The National Football League staged fifteen games last weekend – and thirty protests – but it wasn’t until the final contest Monday night where we saw something bordering on considerate. With the Cowboys, we witnessed unified “free speech” and regard for the American flag; neither action compromising the intent of the other.

If you missed Monday night’s game you would’ve been misled by Tuesday’s headlines, including, “Jerry Jones Leads Cowboys in Taking a Knee…”.  Jones – the Cowboys’ owner, president, and general manager – did take a knee, but he did so alongside his players and coaches; a unified show of disagreement with President Trump’s comments.  More importantly, Dallas knelt prior to the national anthem, so as not to confuse protest with allegiance to country.  During the anthem, the team stood with arms locked together and helmets removed.  I’m okay with that approach.  Even President Trump is okay with that approach.

As for the other twenty-nine teams, it was myriad versions of disunity and disrespect before kickoffs.  (NPR’s website lists them all here).  Random players knelt during the anthem while other stood – a visibly mixed message.  Owners and coaches stayed away for the most part, suggesting the same divisiveness alluded to by the President.  The Pittsburgh “Kneelers”, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans – in total contempt of country – stayed off the field entirely during the national anthem.

Athletes exercising their right to free speech in sports venues is a distraction and nothing more, at least to the average fan.  The football field is simply not an effective platform for politics.  I, along with millions of others, tune in to watch the game, so anything outside the action itself (i.e. commercials) is irritating.  It’s the same reason I no longer watch awards shows; I don’t want the inevitable helping of political commentary along with the acceptance speeches.  The day the same thing happens in movie theaters is the day I buy my last ticket.  Sports and other entertainment venues should be escapes from the endless newsreel of the real world.

With the NFL, I’d argue the protests are not just irritating, but damaging.  Based on the number of emails Sports Illustrated received from disgruntled fans after last weekend, viewership is already taking a significant hit.  The NFL can’t afford to lose viewership.  The league is having enough trouble dealing with losses of sponsorship, and lawsuits tied to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  Forget about viewers; one of these days the NFL might not have players.

Tyler Eifert, a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals and a graduate of my alma mater Notre Dame, contributed one of the better player perspectives in his essay, “Why I Stand“.  His words could’ve been mine when he said, “I am not questioning anyone’s reasons or rights to protest, but instead the method.  This entire protest about raising awareness for racial inequality has gotten lost in the media and turned into a debate about whether to sit or stand for the national anthem… I stand because I love my country.  I stand because I want to honor the people putting their lives on the line for me on a daily basis…”  Tyler Eifert gets it.  The American flag stands for the freedom allowing him to play football in the first place.

Kneeling in front of the flag (or absence from the field altogether) is trickling into other sports as well.  Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first pro baseball player to join the anthem protests by taking a knee before his team’s game.  The Minnesota Lynx joined arms on the court before the WNBA finals began on Sunday, while the Los Angeles Sparks returned to their locker room during the anthem.  Even high-schoolers are kneeling.  Until we see something more constructive, these actions have little merit.

NFL player protests will cease, especially if franchise owners enforce a league-sanctioned code of conduct they currently choose to ignore.  The country is no less divided because of these demonstrations.  Rockies baseball manager Bud Black says, “…for me to be arrogant enough to say that the other half of the country is wrong or that I’m definitely right, I think (that) is the wrong thing to do. … I’m proud to be an American. And I’m also thankful to have the First Amendment, so I see it both ways. I have my opinions, but that does not mean they are right, so I’ll keep them to myself.”

I wish NFL players would keep their opinions to themselves, at least on game days.  Sports fans are switching off their televisions in record numbers, including me.  I have better things to do with my Sunday afternoons.

Fade to black.

Winning the Big One

U.S. News & World Report just ranked Denver and Colorado Springs high on its list of “best places to live” in America.  Apparently the job market, cost of living, and quality of life in the Rocky Mountains leaves little to be desired.  To add to the accolades, the Broncos just won the Super Bowl.

sequestered

Before you say “Honey – pack up the kids!  We’re moving to Colorado!”, you must pause if you’re a sports fan.  Sure, that Lombardi Trophy is shiny and new and will feed Denver’s ego for the rest of the year.  But it sure is lacking for company.  If the State of Colorado had a trophy case for professional sports, the Lombardi would almost find itself in solitary confinement.  Sequestered.  You might even feel bad for it.

Denver wasn’t even supposed to win this Super Bowl.  Fans from North Carolina (and frankly, anywhere outside of Colorado) never gave us a chance.  But we’re used to it out here.  Denver and Colorado are perpetual underdogs when it comes to sports championships.

The Super Bowl win got me curious, so I spent a few hours researching Colorado’s professional sports franchises (Wikipedia is my new best friend).  I desperately wanted to use the phrase “a list of championships a mile high“.  Far from it.  To be honest I had to dig deep to find any noteworthy performances.

To spin it positive, Colorado might earn your envy for being one of only thirteen states where the four major professional sports are represented.  whoop-dee-doo.  The last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl was last century.  The one and only time the Avalanche (hockey) won the Stanley Cup was 2001.  The last time the Rockies (baseball) won the World Series was never.  But at least the Rockies made it to the World Series .  The Nuggets (basketball) started play in 1967 and fifty years later we’re still waiting for a spot in the Finals, let alone an NBA Championship.

To add a miserable exclamation point to Colorado’s track record, the Nuggets will once again miss the playoffs this year (it’s a tradition), the Avalanche are battling a half-dozen teams for the very last playoff slot in the Western Conference, and the Rockies… well, the Rockies haven’t even begun the new season yet they’re projected to finish in last place in the National League.  Go COLORADO!

My Wikipedia search – ever more desperate – moved on to college championships.  Colorado’s six D1 schools have accounted for a grand total of one football championship in their entire un-storied histories (Univ. of Colorado, 1990).  None of these schools have come anywhere close to tasting college basketball or baseball glory.  But then, mercifully, we have hockey.  On the college ice the Centennial State shines.  Denver University and Colorado College have combined for nine hockey championships; the most recent in 2005.  I need to become a better fan of the puck.

If you’re reading from California, Massachusetts, Texas, or Florida, you feel none of my pain.  Each of you can account for five, ten, even twenty professional or college sports championships in the last fifteen years alone.  But if you’re reading from Georgia or Washington D.C., you’re pitching the proverbial championship shutout.  You have my sympathies.

On the heels (hooves?) of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory, Peyton Manning hung up his cleats for good – a justified decision.  But Peyton’s backup just signed with the Houston Texans.  In fact, several marquee Broncos have already left the state for other (better?) teams and higher salaries.  Sigh.  Back up the truck boys; the Lombardi Trophy is heading to another state soon.  Let Colorado’s next sports championship drought commence.

So go ahead sports fans – move to Colorado.  But I suggest you follow soccer.  The Colorado Rapids have only been kicking for twenty years and they’ve already made the finals twice and won the whole thing once.  Go RAPIDS!