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Thursday, October 30, 2008

NFL to follow up after Berrian says he didn't get calls back from hotline

The NFL provides a hotline for players to contact if they want to find out if supplements contain ingredients banned by the league. However, Minnesota Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian said sometimes there's nobody at the other end of the line.

Bernard Berrian

Berrian

In an interview with Sirius satellite radio, Berrian said he had tried twice to call the hotline and never got a call back, before getting a reply on his third attempt.

In an e-mail to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would "follow up" on Berrian's comments to make sure the hotline is operating properly.

"You've got to take some responsibility and call into that hotline [to inquire about the legality of certain products]," Berrian said. "But I know one thing about that hotline. I've called twice before and actually never gotten ahold of anybody sometimes. So even when you try to do the right thing sometimes it is still hard to get ahold of somebody and really find out what you're really taking."

Berrian talked about the hotline after being asked about teammates Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, both of whom reportedly are facing suspensions for taking a banned weight-loss diuretic.

In the e-mail to the Star Tribune, Aiello said the hotline is maintained by an independent group and it is open during "extended business hours." Players who leave messages are supposed to get calls back, something the league will investigate after hearing Berrian's comments.

Earlier this week, Vikings coach Brad Childress said it's on the players to know what they are putting in their bodies.

"They get a list of what's in and what's out," Childress said. "But it's up to them, once again, whether they're reading labels. I mean, strict liability is strict liability."

Fox Sports has reported that the Williamses, who both made the Pro Bowl last season and anchor the Vikings' stout run defense, are facing four-game suspensions for failing a drug test.

In all, six to eight players around the league are appealing findings that they took a weight-loss diuretic that also is considered a masking agent for steroids.

Four players have already received four-game suspensions for violating the policy this season, and all of them claimed they unknowingly took products that were illegal. But the NFL's guidelines don't appear to allow for any grace for maintained innocence.

Safety Darren Sharper, the team's union rep, concurred with his coach.

"That's up to us. That's our job. You have to look at the list and see what's on it," Sharper said. "Mistakes can't happen."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Original here

LeBron: Selling a world sports star

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

LeBron James scores a basket for the US against Greece in the 2008 Olympics
The only way is up for LeBron James at present

US basketball star LeBron James is a star member of a new breed of sportsmen and women who could be called "athlete corporations".

Mainly American, or based in the US, they are headed by golfing genius Tiger Woods and are not only among the masters in their chosen field, but they are also extremely marketable individuals.

As a result they have sponsors queuing at their doors, eager to sign lucrative endorsement deals that should pay off handsomely for both sports star and brand.

Gold medal

And it has been a good year for one of this sporting elite - the National Basketball Association's LeBron James, the man they call King James.

Gold medal basketball winner at the Beijing Olympics, front page of Vogue magazine, the NBA's All Star Game Most Valuable Player and season's leading scorer, and a host of multi-million dollar endorsements with Nike, Coca-Cola, State Farm and MSN.

Cool, hip, hard-working - LeBron puts a positive spin on the hip-hop generation, away from the bad-boy scene
LeBron James' lawyer Fred Nance

"We mesh together his personality strengths with the company products, so that there is a true partnership," says James' legal representative Fred Nance.

"It is not the willy-nilly identification with any athlete that is successful, but the right athlete with the right brand endorsement that works."

Mr Nance, of Cleveland, Ohio, law firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey, told the BBC at a Sportbusiness event in London, just how his client keeps his commercial partners onside.

"Once a year LeBron brings all his endorsements together and they have a marketing summit, and we work through with them, and what their marketing has identified in LeBron as the key attributes they want to use," says Nance.

"Cool, hip, hard-working - LeBron puts a positive spin on the hip-hop generation, away from the bad-boy scene."

Important person

Not only is James - who donated $20,000 (£12,700) to Barack Obama's campaign - not part of the "bad-boy scene", he has been positively encouraging young people to get out and vote in the forthcoming US general election.

This month he was also named by Businessweek magazine as the 17th most important person in the global sports business; in a list heavy with club owners, administrators and media moguls, he is the foremost listed athlete after Tiger Woods.

LeBron James advertisement for Nike sportswear
LeBron James had a Nike contract before he had played an NBA game

Not bad for a 23 year old High School phenomenon who missed out the college strata of the sport to move straight into the NBA in 2003.

At the age of 18, he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers and signed a whopping $90m shoe deal with Nike before the NBA draft and his subsequent league debut.

Since then his cachet has soared, with rich people's bible Forbes magazine putting his total earnings at $270m.

Forbes points out that his endorsements easily outstrip his on-court earnings, and that is taking into account Mr James's $60m four-year playing deal with the Cavaliers.

Growing brands

They have remained with him since then and are already looking ahead to how they can mutually exploit their partnership.

"We talk about where we would like to be in five to 10 years from now," says Mr Nance.

"They talk about how they can grow their brands and his brand.

"It is art, not science, it is difficult to know how the public will respond in every case, but it is a system that works for us, and our partners."

As well as having a number of commercial partners, James also has his own signature clothing collection and his own sports marketing company, launched with a number of his childhood friends who also have a say in his off-court decisions.

Companies are going to have to have a more transparent rationale for making these deals, to explain it to the board or even dissident shareholders
Fred Nance
"He is represented by some young Cleveland friends whom he knows and trusts, my law firm, an accountant, and an investment advisor," says Mr Nance.

"LeBron is part of a new wave of young athletes taking control of their own business decisions. I provide information and advice but he makes the business decisions."

As well as being a top-notch sportsman and a huge commercial vehicle, James has further enhanced his credentials with the establishment of a foundation for single parents and inner-city children.

The LeBron James Family Foundation is headed by Mr Nance's wife Jacqueline Jones, also a lawyer.

"As well as a vehicle for good works, a foundation can bring a secondary enhancement to the brands that are being endorsed by the athlete, as they are recognised as being involved with something that is helping people," says Mr Nance.

"Each of LeBron's endorsement partners is contributing to the foundation."

Behaviour warning

With such a marketable commodity, it would appear to be a win-win situation all round, but Mr Nance points out that even with shining lights like James, sponsors like to protect their investment.

"In most contracts generally there are disincentives for not performing on the sports field, or for bad behaviour," says Mr Nance.

"We have seen successful athletes who have been terrible endorsement people because of their off-field behaviour."

But those decisions may become academic as companies are having to justify endorsement deals with sportsmen and women in the face of the credit crunch, and there is increased belt-tightening around what may be seen as non-essentials.

"Companies are going to have to have a more transparent rationale for making these deals, to explain it to the board or even dissident shareholders," points out Mr Nance.

"However, you will still get the mega contracts with the mega stars like LeBron James."

Original here

World Series Has Been Down Wet Paths in the Past

By ALAN SCHWARZ

Associated Press Wire-Photo

Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk went running despite that Game 6 of the 1975 World Series was postponed due to rain.

As with financial crises and crucial elections, it is tempting to view the current World Series rain mayhem as particularly historic. But the Series has been down roads far more wet — and bumpy — than this, complete with accusations of cheating, television posturing and, almost 100 years ago, labor strife.

The granddaddy of all World Series rainouts took place in 1911 in Philadelphia, naturally. Weather delayed Game 4 for an entire week. And the rest of the series was not nearly as eventful as the gameless break.

Hostilities were already high as the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Giants traveled back to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park with the A’s leading, two games to one. Christy Mathewson, the Giants’ otherwise gentlemanly ace, had accused A’s groundskeepers of wetting the infield in Game 2 to slow down New York’s famous running game. In what was perhaps a related incident, the Giants’ Fred Snodgrass spiked the popular A’s third baseman Frank Baker and left him a bloody mess.

When Game 4 was called twice by rain so hard that one person suggested covering the field with oil and setting it afire — Connie Mack, the A’s manager and owner, demurred because he did not want to hurt the grass — Snodgrass found himself trapped in a less-than-friendly city of Philadelphia. Furious Baker fans gathered outside the Giants’ hotel and threatened him whenever he emerged; Giants Manager John McGraw finally told Snodgrass to take the train back to New York until play resumed.

“The absence of Snodgrass from the Majestic Hotel, the Giants’ headquarters, set a wild rumor afloat this afternoon that an irate fan had attempted to shoot Snodgrass,” The New York Times reported. Another false rumor centered around whether Baker’s spike wounds had become infected and caused blood poisoning.

This was not even the last controversy of the week, during which Giants players grumbled about McGraw’s interrupting billiards and card games by making them work out to stay sharp. During the delay, the National Commission, the era’s version of Major League Baseball, ordered players on both clubs to pose for a motion-picture company that would distribute the film to theaters over the winter. Several Giants refused to participate without any cut of the profits.

“Baseball with them is a business, they say, and they don’t propose to furnish pictorial entertainment for the whole country just for the love of having their pictures taken,” The Times reported. The dispute was apparently resolved, and the A’s finally won the series in six games.

The next lengthy delay in a World Series came in 1962, after Game 5 between the San Francisco Giants and the Yankees was postponed in New York for a day. (One teenage Yankees fan complained that by attending four previous World Series games at the Stadium, he had run out of grandparent-funeral excuses for missing school.) Game 5 was played the next day, and the Yankees took a three-games-to-two lead, but a torrential set of storms greeted the two teams after they flew back to San Francisco.

Yankees Manager Ralph Houk was able to move Whitey Ford up to Game 6 because of the first day’s delay.

“Ford will pitch this upcoming sixth game come hell or high water,” Houk said, looking out on increasingly high water as the weather did not let up.

Trapped in their hotel rooms for another day because of strong rain and 40-mile-per-hour winds, players complained that they might as well have been on Alcatraz. When the game was postponed for a third day — in bright sunshine — because Candlestick Park was too waterlogged, both teams drove 80 miles east to Modesto to work out.

Ford actually lost Game 6, 5-2, setting up a climactic Game 7. That turned out to be one of baseball’s most exciting games, with the Yankees’ Ralph Terry beating the Giants, 1-0, and the game ending with Willie McCovey’s lineout to Bobby Richardson.

Coincidentally, another of baseball’s greatest games had soggy roots in the rain: Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, won by the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the 12th on Carlton Fisk’s home run.

The Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds arrived in Boston to a nor’easter and waited as Saturday’s scheduled Game 6 was postponed two days in a row. On Sunday, when clearing seemed imminent but Fenway Park remained drenched, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to decide whether to try playing the next night — squarely against “All in the Family” on CBS and a new sensation called “Monday Night Football” on ABC — or postpone Game 6 all the way to Tuesday.

When Kuhn told the Times columnist Red Smith that he preferred night games “to better accommodate the fans,” Smith accused M.L.B. of kowtowing to the networks.

“Exposing cash customers to raw night cold is a novel way of accommodating them,” Smith said. “Accommodating TV sponsors at prime time is something else again.”

Meanwhile, with Fisk still just a good catcher and not yet a New England icon, the Reds decided to try to stay sharp by working out inside Dussault Cage at Cousens Gymnasium on the campus of Tufts University. While pitchers worked off a portable mound plopped down on the running track, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan bashed line drives into fishnets hung from the ceiling.

Why Tufts? Reds Manager Sparky Anderson was asked.

“I think Harvard would be a little over my head,” he replied.

The sky over everyone’s heads soon cleared, and the Series played on.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 30, 2008
An article on Wednesday about the influence of poor weather on the World Series through the years misstated the scheduled day for Game 6 between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds in October 1975. It was a Saturday, not a Friday. (Stormy weather ultimately pushed the game to Tuesday.)

Original here