Raiders seem to have enough money to build new stadium without public help

An Amtrak California train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

A Capitol Corridor train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

As everyone ponders what may happen to the Oakland Raiders after the NFL owners cleared a path Tuesday for the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers to relocate to Los Angeles, I wondered if the Raiders and owner Mark Davis could finance their own stadium without significant taxpayer subsidy.

My math may be a little off, but I think it’s pretty darn likely given the numbers that have flown around the past few months. Still, it’s probably not in the Raiders’ best interests to go it alone when it could probably find some city willing to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.

First, before it was shot to heck with the owners’ decision, the Chargers and Raiders had developed a joint proposal to develop a shared stadium in Carson between Los Angeles and Long Beach. The initial proposed cost for the privately financed facility — $1.7 billion, according to ESPN. I don’t immediately know the breakdown of the partnership, but if the Chargers and Raiders were equal partners, I would guess that the Raiders would be responsible for $850 million.

Second, the three teams that were planning to move to Los Angeles were expected to each pay a $550 million relocation fee. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Raiders have asked that the relocation fee be waived because they didn’t get to move to LA. Nonetheless, before Tuesday, the Raiders were prepared to pay $550 million and their share of the new stadium (maybe $850 million). That’s already $1.4 billion.

Third, the Raiders didn’t get the brass ring of moving to Los Angeles, but they got a lovely $100 million parting gift. Add that to the previous totals and you’re looking at $1.5 billion.

The pool of $1.5 billion may not be enough to build a stadium along the lines of Carson — which would’ve required locker rooms, offices and more for two home teams. The Rams’ Inglewood stadium was expected to cost $1.86 billion, according to the LA Times.

Levi's Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

Levi’s Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

A better example may be found in Levi’s Stadium, the home of the Raiders’ Bay Area rival Santa Clara San Francisco 49ers. The estimated price tag of Levi’s was $1.2 billion, according to the San Jose Mercury News in 2012. Although the football experience has been criticized at Levi’s Stadium, it is apparently packed to the gills with fan amenities and expensive accommodations to help pad the owners’ wallets.

If the Niners were able to build that for $1.2 billion, surely the Raiders would be able to build something similar for around $1.5 billion. Contemporary proposals for new stadiums in St. Louis and San Diego called for spending about a billion apiece.

[An aside: The cost to build a building that will be used by its primary tenant 10 days a year is flabbergasting. AT&T Park, one of the best Major League Baseball stadiums, cost $357 million when it was built in 1997. That facility was privately financed and gets used by its primary tenant for about 85 days a year.]

I’ll readily admit that there are a lot of factors that I don’t know about. For example, the Wikipedia article about Levi’s Stadium notes that the Santa Clara Stadium Authority — the entity that actually owns the facility — borrowed $850 million from banks, a $200 million NFL loan and some local taxes. Who knows what sort of hoops the Raiders would have to jump through to secure enough funding? Also, some of the funding for the Carson proposal may have been contingent on the value of the team jumping considerably by moving to the giant media market that is Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, it would appear that there are ways for the Raiders to privately fund a stadium without extensively relying on taxpayer support.

There’s not much I can add to the ongoing criticism of the use of extensive taxpayer funding for massive edifices for a pastime. It is worth noting that Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego taxpayers were all burned to some extent by financially supporting the last generation of stadiums — OaklandSt. Louis and San Diego are all stuck paying off new buildings or expansions done within the last 21 years. San Diego also entered into a ruinous ticket guarantee leading to the city buying tickets to cover its obligation until the contract was renegotiated nearly 12 years ago.

One would think that these examples of taxpayers still holding the bag on three facilities would be cautionary tales to other governments. Alas, they weren’t even cautionary tales for two of the cities losing their NFL teams, as governments there tried assembling deals that would fork over hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds (nearly $400 million in St. Louis and $350 million in San Diego) for new stadiums. By comparison, Oakland looked absolutely frugal by declining to directly contribute to a new stadium but offered $90 million in infrastructure improvements.

To compound matters, the league didn’t particularly care for any of these proposals going to voters for approval because NFL officials wanted certainty in any of the cities’ offers. Apparently, St. Louis was preparing to move forward without a plebiscite, while San Diego officials were inexplicably optimistic a proposal would pass in a city that has dealt with owner shenanigans for 20+ years.

It’s hard to blame the NFL and the team owners for how they handle obtaining funding — it’s a business and they’re looking at their bottom line. However, the onus must lie on local governments who seem to bring truth to the saying that there’s a sucker born every minute. Serious questions must be asked about issuing 30-year bonds for facilities that may only get used for 25 years — in addition to the Chargers and Rams bailing on facilities built or remodeled since 1994, the Atlanta Falcons are preparing to leave a facility opened in 1992 (and the baseball Atlanta Braves are soon to ditch a stadium built in 1997).

I don’t know if Raiders owner Mark Davis really wants to stay in Oakland. Even if it doesn’t come with the benefits and relative safety net of taxpayer assistance, it still seems possible and potentially rewarding to use solely private funding.

Pin-a-Go-Go transforms Dixon into pinball paradise

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Looking for something with a little pop or an idea to bounce off your friends this weekend? People can find endless hours of fun with unlimited gameplay on more than 100 pinball machines at Pin-a-Go-Go at the Dixon May Fair this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

My friends and I made the 2-hour drive to the festival last year and we were amazed at the machines on display in three large spaces on the fairgrounds. Newer novelty machines were on display and playable (like one based on the most recent “Star Trek” movies). The machines went back decades, including some of the first tables that were based on releasing a ball and watching it bounce of pins, giving the game its name.

Getting to Dixon was straightforward — it’s off of Interstate 80 between Davis and Vacaville. The fairgrounds are just south of the downtown, so be ready for a little bit of off-highway driving. Parking was free and the lot was fairly expansive.

Entry into the event _wasn’t_ free, but the $25/30 admission was worthwhile to both the attendee and the town, as the proceeds benefit local community groups. Be forewarned — much of the event is cash only, although an ATM card can be used for some transactions.

After you get in, all the machines that are playable are set to free play. If the machine is open, you can just walk up and give it a whirl. You can usually play a couple of short games before common courtesy prompts you to give the machine up to anyone waiting in line.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

Some of the machines were provided by museums, like the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. Many of the tables were provided by private collectors who thankfully share their treasures with others for a few days.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Spending a few hours among the tables gives you a more expansive view of this gaming world beyond the couple of neglected pinball machines that you might find at a pizza parlor or bowling alley. There are vendors offering parts to help keep the machines running and modernize the devices somewhat (like switching out old bulbs with LED lights). One vendor had a playfield for the old Monopoly game which underwent the LED conversion. I played that machine for years at Madison Bear Garden. I still love how it looked, especially with the upgrades.

Each of the tables includes a small white card detailing who the owner is and if the machine is for sale. Some machines trade hands over the course of the weekend (and some of those purchased devices are sometimes taken out of play once a deal is completed).  There is also a fundraising raffle of a couple classic tables, which we did NOT win last year.

The number of machines available for play are overwhelming. The main room has several rows containing dozens of tables and there are two more halls beyond that. One hall appeared to be dedicated to more vintage machines, like “Classy Bowler” or a rocket-themed game called Star-Jet which featured one of the earliest examples of multi-ball.

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

The third hall is in a separate building a short distance away and appeared to feature mostly newer machines, although there were some gems from the 1970s and ’80s, including a giant-sized “Superman” table that Atari later adapted into a failed video pinball game (which I played in Alameda).

It seemed impossible to play every single one of the machines in a day. There’s little seating so you begin to enter something of a fugue state after a few hours of standing and ceaselessly bouncing silver spheres through ramp- and trap-filled cabinets.

There is some respite — there are a handful of tables and a snack stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs and the like. On Sunday, there is the free All British Motor Vehicle Show & Swap Meet on the fairgrounds so you can enjoy a different sort of chrome than pinball. There are also clinics for people to learn the best pinball tricks (I never learned to really bump the table) and mini tournaments geared to people with different playing experiences. Basically, you’re not going to get bored here.

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

As our visit progressed, I lost track of the different pinball machines we played. Generally, the earliest tables were the hardest to play — some of the early bumpers were too short and the ball dropped out of play too quickly. The tables from the 1950s and ’60s showed a considerable amount of creativity and were fun to play as a novelty, but they were still missing a lot of features found in more modern games.

Things change after electronics take hold in the pinball world. Manufacturers also threw a lot of ideas against the wall to try to combat the rise of the arcade machines (which fell prey to home video gaming in a few short years).

There were some brand tie-in machines that looked good, but weren’t necessarily a lot of fun. Some of these boards included KISS and “Doctor Who.” The KISS machine was definitely very unique, but it wasn’t easy to get into the game before it ended. However, people will have another shot at the game because they’re bringing it back.

A portion of the playing field for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

A portion of the playing field for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Doctor Who brought back a lot of nostalgia because it was made after the series’ original run ended in 1987. The game has a complex array of options as each incarnation of the Doctor offered a different set of bonuses, but it wasn’t too hard to get into a multi-ball. It also featured a lot of moving parts (which lead to a higher rate of breakdowns, from what I hear).

World Cup 1994 is a machine that would seem be instantly dated after the competition ended 21 years ago, but it seemed to gain some relevance as soccer has surged in popularity in the United States. The machine had some unique challenges, including trying to deflect the pinball of a whirling soccer ball into a goal (just like in real life!).

Some of the playfield art for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Some of the playfield art for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

There also appeared to be some odd attempts to add sex appeal — like depicting the referee as a buxom woman in a form-fitting uniform. Throughout the history of pinball, there were many shameless attempts to use sexualized images. It is something that has regrettably continued to this day with such machines like “Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons,” which features a cute, cartoony farm theme marred by gratuitous, over-the-top references to female anatomy.

Ultimately, Pin-a-Go-Go is a great event for people of all ages. Even after hours of pulling back the spring-loaded plunger to launch the pinball into play, it’s a loud, colorful buffet of entertainment that makes you want to go back for more.

Sacramento may need lessons on cheering

A view of Power Balance Arena during the Portland Trail Blazers - Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.

A view of Power Balance Arena during the Portland Trail Blazers – Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.

These are exciting times for Sacramento, with the plans for a new Kings basketball arena moving forward and the attendance-record-shattering launch of a new minor league soccer team. After attending a Sacramento River Cats game over the weekend, I can see a huge area for improvement — Sacramento needs to learn how to cheer better.

I first spotted this shortcoming when I attended a Sacramento Kings game on April 15, 2012. There was pretty decent turnout for a game that didn’t matter too much (the Kings were well out of contention by that point).

However, the only cheer that had any traction was the ol’ “DE! FENSE! *clap, clap.*” The team and fans would crank up that cheer every time the Kings were on defense.

As I noted to a friend in attendance, the cheer got pretty old early in the third quarter. When you yell “defense” every time your team is on defense, you’re going to be shouting it for half the game — about 24 minutes of game time.

It was ridiculous and there seemed to be little enthusiasm for other cheers. By the end of the game, I tried shouting other cheers or jokingly use other words in the rhythm of the defense cheer.

A large crowd watches the Sacramento River Cats take on the Las Vegas 51s in minor league baseball on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in West Sacramento, Calif.

A large crowd watches the Sacramento River Cats take on the Las Vegas 51s in a minor league baseball game on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in West Sacramento, Calif.

There wasn’t a lot of spontaneity at last Saturday’s River Cats game against the Las Vegas 51s. There was another large crowd with a great family atmosphere at Raley Field in West Sacramento. Once again, there was an odd lack of cheering.

Yes, the crowd generally clapped along with the PA system prompts and celebrated the on-field performance. They even briefly broke into The Wave, although the stadium doesn’t have seating around the field.

However, there wasn’t a lot of clapping, chanting or cheering during at-bats. After watching Oakland A’s fans clapping for potential strikeouts earlier Saturday, I was struck by how quiet this Sacramento crowd was.

As I usually do, I shouted out my own positive encouragements during some at-bats (I was ecstatic at the coincidence that the River Cats batter usually put the ball in play after I started a cheer). The crowd seemed very laid back, although there was some amusement and laughter when one of my later cheers for “Sac-ra-men-to” degenerated into a Muppet-esque “Aaaaaaaaah!”

In a slightly ironic moment, I started the “Defense” cheer in the ninth inning when the River Cats were struggling. They needed two outs, but had given up three runs. Moments after I started the cheer, the 51s player batted into a double play and the game was over.

I don’t know who could do it, but someone should offer to help revitalize cheering and chanting during Sacramento games. The River Cats had a green crew that tried to lead some cheers as they collected trash, but they moved elsewhere in the stadium before building any momentum.

I would generally support anyone or anything that helps get the crowd into the game without resorting to insults or derogatory language. Supporters groups or pep bands can add a lot of energy to a crowd experience, but I’ve also seen situations where the band or group drowns everyone else out and makes it hard to get the fans engaged.

I’ll admit that my experience going to Sacramento sporting events is limited, but I certainly hope these two games are not typical of the game atmosphere. Sacramento has a great fan base — as shown by the recent fight to keep the Kings in the city. I hope there is an effort to make sure that enthusiasm consistently shows up at games.

The night I nearly tripped over Tony Gwynn

A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn "Mr. Padre" statue outside Petco Park Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn “Mr. Padre” statue outside Petco Park on Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I’m still in shock that Tony Gwynn has died. He was one of those icons you thought would live for decades, sort of like fellow slugger Ted Williams, but Gwynn left us at age 54 after battling salivary-gland cancer. Gwynn’s presence loomed large over baseball and San Diego, yet he seemed like one of the nicest, most relatable people around.

That was certainly true one day late in the 1997 season when I almost tripped over him.

It was the San Diego Padres’ last homestand of the season. I was working as co-news editor of the UCSD Guardian when we heard Chancellor Robert Dynes was going to throw out the first pitch that night (IIRC, it would’ve been the Wednesday, Sept. 17 game against the Colorado Rockies).

We thought it would make for a decent photo, but our photo editor had other assignments. We were on deadline, but I called for a press pass and headed for Qualcomm Stadium after grabbing a camera.

By the time I found parking (in the VIP area!) and got into the stadium, I was starting to run a bit late. After riding in a cramped and creaky old elevator to field level, I jogged down the tunnel toward the field where I was directed.

As I made my way through the cold, grey corridor, I started going a bit faster before I realized the tunnel had a slight downward slope.

I was going faster, faster and then I suddenly saw a player sitting on the floor, lacing up his shoes. If I didn’t do something, I would’ve crashed into him. I felt I couldn’t stop safely so I kind of skip-hopped to the right.

As I passed him, I heard a kind voice saying something like, “Woah, slow down there buddy” with a little chuckle.

It was Tony Gwynn.

I’m pretty sure it was him, although I passed by in a blur. I shouted out “Sorry, sir” and continued toward the field. I was able to get to the photographers’ area near the dugout with just a few moments to spare before Dynes threw out the first pitch (with three other people — it was Community Day or something).

The photo didn’t run — it was double-exposed somehow.

As I’ve retold the story over the years, I’m deeply thankful that I didn’t run into him. I would’ve been horrified if Gwynn was somehow injured because of my actions. Also, in hindsight, I appreciated his polite response, other people may have not reacted so well to such an interruption.

That was my only near-encounter with Gwynn. It would’ve been great to have known him better and to share some firsthand encounters like Keith Olbermann (video).

At the same time, nearly every San Diegan who was around during Gwynn’s 20-year career knew him in some fashion and his death leaves a hole in the city’s psyche. Even when the Padres were in the dumps (as they were in 1997), San Diegans could always look to Tony Gwynn — I had to check, but he won his final of eight National League batting titles in 1997.

After Gwynn retired, he remained a fixture of the San Diego community, coaching the San Diego State University baseball team. He was also a subtle, yet well-regarded presence in the north San Diego County city of Poway where he lived (one of my sisters has stories of trick-or-treating at his house).

To be sure, Gwynn was a great baseball player and one of the greatest hitters of all time. When I look back, I’ll recall those performances and remember his dedication, persistence and enthusiasm at both sport and life.

R.I.P., Tony.

#nbcfail: Complaints about NBC’s Olympics coverage reach new heights

NBC Live bug during Vancouver Games

“Live – NBC” Something West Coast viewers saw only briefly during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. For this year’s London games, seeing such a thing may almost be a mirage.

During the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, I remember the announcer for ABC (I want to say Jim McKay) explaining to the audience watching at home how, even though the event was live, there could be brief seconds of delay as the feed is uplinked from Canada and downlinked from orbiting satellites to local stations. I believe the point was that ABC was making was that the coverage was as live as technically possible.

Contrast that with NBC’s coverage of the London Summer Games, where they’re largely sticking with their “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” mantra. That motto didn’t work for summer reruns in 1997 and it doesn’t work for covering an immense, live sporting event in an age of Facebook and Twitter.

With the London Games fully underway, an old sport of sorts has taken off online — complaining about NBC’s ever-lackluster presentation of the Olympics. As this Associated Press article indicates, critics and supporters alike will point out that this isn’t a new event, but the increasing use of social networking has bolstered criticisms and underscored NBC’s relatively poor broadcasting choices.

Social networking spoils NBC’s tape-delay plans because people around the world are sharing results as they happen. Unless people go out of their way to avoid the results, the results of key competitions are known hours before NBC gets around to broadcasting them over the air.

This was an issue during the Vancouver 2010 Games, but it seems like a much bigger issue today.

I’ve never been shy to criticize NBC’s broadcasting choices, especially those that force West Coast viewers to suffer tape delays for events happening in their time zone (like during Vancouver). In the past, the complaints just seemed to peter out after a while. Not so in London, where comments are shared and added to like flames of a fire.

Thus far, people watching the London Games have taken to using the #nbcfail tag on Twitter to help express their disdain of the coverage. The complaints have been wide-ranging, but have thus far focused on the delayed Opening Ceremonies on Friday and a 7- to 11-hour delay for Saturday’s 400 IM men’s swimming final featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Sunday’s gripes seem to be less focused, with people carping about a bevy of events delayed into primetime and some tweeting about the reaction to #nbcfail. There’s also a Internet meme where people are jokingly tweeting about NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of historical events.

So what’s the solution? I think the Canadian model works well for a sports fan and a viewer — live coverage whenever possible and highlights when necessary. I’m not sure what current rightsholder CTV is doing, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would only air highlight packages during times when live coverage wasn’t feasible … but after airing the live coverage.

Looking at NBC’s position, they did fork out the dough to air the Games, so they’re obviously in the driver’s seat about their decisions. Their arguments include the fact that they can reach a greater audience and earn more ad dollars by airing taped events in primetime. That seems to be borne out by the record ratings for the first two days of the London Games.

They’ve also made fun of the Canadian model. I remember during the Athens Games in 2004 reading about an NBC producer touting the higher American ratings than their Canadian counterparts.

NBC has also countered critics by saying all the events are streaming live online. I appreciate that effort — although I question how much of an effort it really is, considering that Olympic Broadcasting Services provides feeds of every event anyway. Still, it’s a step up from the Vancouver Games, where most events were kept offline until they aired on the Peacock.

The service was fairly comprehensive during the Beijing Games, but I’m shut out this time — people need to prove they’re paying for an expanded cable or satellite subscription before they can get access. People with rabbit ears on their televisions are shut out.

One final point about NBC that people rarely seem to consider is the fact that NBC isn’t a monolithic network — they have to keep their local affiliates happy. I have no doubt that local stations’ desires to garner the largest audiences is also a factor in NBC’s scheduling. That’s also why I believe local news and key syndicated shows are still shown, despite the huge amount of Olympics events available.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of #NBCfail will be. For now, the ratings tend to support NBC’s decisions regarding the tape-delayed experience they offer television viewers. However, perhaps #NBCfail will continue to point out that this should be a golden era of sports broadcasting and that a significant number of people are aware of better, live offerings than what NBC is serving up.

Opening Ceremonies concerns: While I’m still making my way through an over-stuffed Opening Ceremonies, I have to ding NBC Olympics for its decision to air ads instead of showing the Olympic Oaths (prior to the caldron lighting). Amid all of the symbolism of the Opening Ceremonies, having athletes, coaches and officials swear to the true spirit of sportsmanship is a huge one.

The Age of Australia identified the oath takers as UK taewondo athlete Sarah Stevenson, boxing referee Mik Basi for officials and canoeing coach Eric Farrell.

Also, according to the International Olympic Committee’s guide to Opening Ceremonies (PDF), every ceremony is to include 11 elements. The oaths are three of the elements. NBC should have made time for at least the athletes’ oath.

For the record, the oath for athletes is — “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

The network was also criticized for airing a pretaped interview instead of showing a portion of the ceremonies commemorating victims of terrorism (particularly the July 7, 2005, attacks in London).

Stadium games are nice, but NHL should go back to the pond

I’m watching the latest NHL Winter Classic on NBC. It’s been an enjoyable game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. While the annual New Year’s Day game has become quite the spectacle, I think the game only pays lip service to the tradition of playing hockey outdoors.

While I’ve only laced up hockey skates once (and just for a free skate), I’ve seen the allure of homemade outdoor hockey rinks in people’s backyards or on a frozen pond. I also recall interviews from NHL players talking about how the Winter Classic brings back memories of those backyard rinks.

Why not play an NHL game on a backyard-style rink?

It tickles my imagination to think about the NHL holding an outdoor game in a pond setting.   I’ve mentioned it to a handful of hockey fans over the years and they often love the sound of the idea.

While making accommodations for safety, TV and league rules, it would be fun to watch NHL players play an intimate game on a frozen pond somewhere up north.

I don’t even know if there should be boards — a line of snow marking the boundaries seems like enough. There should be some seating, but nothing like the accommodations for an arena or stadium. Also, a significant number of seats should go to the youth players who are learning the game on those makeshift rinks.

They shouldn’t eliminate the Winter Classic. I wouldn’t want to deprive the league or the host team of revenue, so I think the team that holds a pond game should also hold the stadium game. That way, the spectacle and crowd of the stadium game truly helps hockey get back to its roots with the pond game.

Also, the Winter Classic is a unique event that generates excitement for the NHL and hockey in the middle of a long season. Given the duration of an NHL season, there is enough time to have a stadium game and a pond game.

An aside: I will readily admit that the Winter Classic is geared to American audiences (although the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. airs the game as part of “Hockey Night in Canada”). The game has been played in American venues and features American teams. It’s irksome that much of the publicity around the game ignores the fact that the league has held outdoor Heritage Classics in Canada.

I don’t think NBC or the NHL should bend over backwards to mention the Heritage series, but it feels like it’s totally being ignored. For example, a USA Today preview of today’s Winter Classic speculated about possible future venues for the game. The irksome part for me was the writer mentioning possibly holding the game in Canadian venues (Toronto and Montreal). If you’re talking about Canadian venues, why not mention the two NHL outdoor games already played in Canada as part of the Heritage Classic series?

Given how few of these outdoor games there have been, it would be nice to have the two series considered together, especially for statistics and other such minutia.

The worst Super Bowl ads of 2011

Apologies for being a little late on this post, but I’m still a little bleary eyed after watching 6+ hours of TV on Super Bowl Sunday. When I wasn’t gripping the arms of my chair while the Pittsburgh Steelers slowly pecked away at the Green Bay Packers’ lead (which the Pack thankfully held on to), I was underwhelmed by this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. It’s not exactly true about a bad apple spoiling a bushel, but, man, some of the ads were awful. You can see where the ads ranked on USA Today’s site.
In my eye, the worst ads came from discount coupon sites. Apparently their humor is cut rate as well. One ad that had me scratching my head was LivingSocial’s (which aired during FOX’s pregame coverage). The ad details how the discount site “changed” a man’s life from being trapped to embracing what appears to be a more effeminate lifestyle — including dressing in drag.
While some people are unhappy about LivingSocial making a joke out of transgendered individuals, I had no idea who this ad is supposed to appeal to. Most of the male audience wouldn’t necessarily get or appreciate LivingSocial’s message. Perhaps the ad was geared more toward the women in the audience — that could be savvy insofar as recognizing that the Super Bowl draws a large audience from both sexes.
The other set of ads that I thought were dreadful were the GroupOn ads. They start off with tearful testimonials about the suffering in the world only to say that it’s OK because people can save big bucks with this discount site.
Some of these ads seem to portray potential customers in a negative light. GroupOn basically says use our site and be a tool (but save!). It reminds me of the Sprint ads where people are being jerks but it’s OK because they have unlimited minutes or texting.
Although I’m a Sprint customer, my desire to keep the service is diminished whenever it portrays customers as blowhards. Portraying customers as petty, selfish and callous does seem to run counter to the old advertising tropes where you depict customers being attractive and successful while using a product.
Along those same lines, another ad that portrays potential customers as weird was a Doritos ad where a man apparently just can’t get enough of that nacho cheese-flavored crack — he has to rip a co-worker’s pants off to lick the crumbs that the co-worker wiped on his legs. I guess it might appeal to the more juvenile in the audience, but I wasn’t amused.
Another set of ads I didn’t find funny included two where a dog or baby are thrown into glass. The one with the baby dealt with a vacation home renting site HomeAway (which posited a problem with hotels that I don’t think most people have to deal with). The commercial depicted a lab testing how uncomfortable hotel rooms are culminating with a “test baby” being thrown into the lab’s glass walls. It was a little shocking, but ultimately was a miss.
The other ad with glass included a man taunting a small dog with a bag of Doritos from behind a glass door. The dog is running, running and running until the ad’s punchline where the dog breaks down the glass door, pinning the man and liberating those tasty, tasty chips. I didn’t think the ad was particularly funny and I was a little bored with it.
It’s interesting that people just loved the dog one (it tied for first in USA Today’s AdMeter), but panned the baby one.
Looking at the rest of the list of Super Bowl ads, many of them were just average. I did like the Coca-Cola ad where the two border guards find a creative way to share a Coke while staying on their respective sides of the border.
Movie trailers are interesting if you’re interesting in the upcoming attractions, but they aren’t great Super Bowl ads. I can’t remember the last time there was a creative trailer during the big game. I also won’t take a movie entitled “Cowboys vs. Aliens” seriously.
In the end, the Super Bowl is one of the largest stages left in the world and it might be hard to please everyone with so many people watching. That may be part of the problem — in trying to please everyone or to be “funny,” some advertisers end up pleasing no one.

The long road to Packer fandom via Chico

I’ve been following the Packers off and on for about 13 years. While the Super Bowl XLV has yet to be played, the past couple of weeks have been the most exciting for me Packers-wise as Chico celebrates native Aaron Rodgers’ success as Green Bay’s quarterback.
My first big experience with the Packers came in 1998 when they faced off against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. The team was training at my college, UC San Diego. As the co-news editor of the college paper, I wanted to make sure we covered this fairly significant event.
The only hurdle and it was a doozy — the NFL didn’t particularly want to give a college newspaper access to the facility (especially since we were asking for permission during the week of the game). To be fair, the league didn’t want to give anyone access without permission. Crews had wrapped the chainlink fence around the track-and-field facility with black tarp.
To make a long story short, the paper staff launched “Operation Packer Tracker.” What was envisioned as a James Bond-esque plan to successfully take the photo and make a getaway, was resolved simply when the photo editor walked to an elevated position on public property and shot into the leased facility. The photo was a nondescript shot of the team on the field with a cherrypicker cart in the air. I was excited that we were able to get it.
My first professional gig was working at a small newspaper in Upper Michigan. One of the odd quirks of where I lived is that we had access to both Packers and Detroit Lions games on TV. If you had to choose, the Packers were usually the better choice considering how the Lions have been mired in mediocrity for a decade.
For those four years, I watched a decent amount of Packers games. I didn’t really become a fan, although my boss for most of those years was a diehard cheesehead.
Despite my lukewarm feelings towards the Pack, it was still a huge honor to take the tour of Lambeau Field in Green Bay in 2004 (it was just a little down the road on U.S. Highway 41). It was pretty cold and I could get an idea of how the frozen tundra moniker came about. I still have the 2004 Media Guide as a momento of the experience (the Brett Farve section was 25 pages long).
Less than a year later, I was on my way to Chico while Aaron Rodgers was on his way to the NFL after being selected in the 2005 draft. I’ve been impressed how Chico has embraced its hometown hero with his alma maters holding spirit days and Packers displays throughout the city. Everything, including media coverage, been a little overwhelming at times, but it’s hard to deny the mounting excitement. Being in this mini-maelstrom has been far more exciting than watching in Michigan or even trying to get that photo in San Diego.
Despite the outpouring of Packers backing, Chico’s not totally in the bag for Green Bay. There are still a lot of Raiders jerseys (even someone wearing a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt). Some people are rooting for the Steelers or freely express less-than-favorable opinions of Rodgers. This easygoing and mostly welcoming nature is one of my favorite things about fandom in the United States.
Although I’m not ready to doff a foam block of cheese, I’ve enjoyed watching the Packers over the years, especially this run to the Super Bowl. Win or lose, Aaron Rodgers has forged a connection between cities and fans 2,200 miles apart.

In defense of the vuvuzelas — aka those annoying World Cup horns

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When I lived in Georgia in the ’90s, we would joke that everyone who visited the state was given a copy of “Gone With the Wind” because the film was a frequent, yet incomplete, base of reference for Southern culture and history.

For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it seems like everyone in South Africa and their brother were given vuvuzelas, those cheap plastic horns that can deafen stadia and spark a global outcry. Across the globe, there have been stories decrying the constant use of the horns during games. Broadcasters have tried to filter out the buzzing horns and clever software programmers have started pitching apps geared to minimize the vuvuzelas’ droning din.

The whole thing is a hoot to me because I’ve owned a similar plastic horn for more than 15 years, way before I knew they were called vuvuzelas and before they became a controversy. (Interestingly enough, the vuvuzelas were an issue during the lead up to the event exactly a year ago.)

I bought my plastic instrument (pictured at top) as a souvenir during the 1995 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. I had finished marching with the Poway High Emerald Brigade and I wanted something to help commemorate the event. If memory serves me, I purchased the trinket from a vendor’s cart for $4 or $5.

During my years with the UC San Diego Pep Band, I dubbed the instrument the “Horn of Victory” and brought it to many sporting events. The horn’s blue color was a good match for UCSD’s blue and gold.

While World Cup vuvuzela performers appear willing to toot their horns for the entire duration of a 90-minute match, I’ve tried to be more discreet. I tried to sound the horn only in moments of triumph — including scores and ultimate victory. I avoided the horn during gameplay (done in part because the NCAA had rules against “artificial noisemakers” while there is action on the field).

Despite my relative constraint, I’ve had to cope with accusations that the horn is annoying even as a lone performer. It has “disappeared” from time to time when a colleague hid it during a game. This week, someone wanted to actually use the horn as a beer bong — an idea I strongly discouraged for health reasons.

For whatever downsides the vuvuzela has, it has a remarkable power. Its sonorous notes can reverberate through arenas. Critics have decried the horns’ overwhelming use in South Africa, but the vuvuzela can be a powerful accompanist during celebrations. As the clock turned midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, I sounded the horn and joined the clatter of banging pots and pans in my neighborhood to greet the start of a new century.

The vuvuzela also causes a sincere ruckus, especially compared to airhorns and their artificial wails. The noise from the horn is drawn from the core of the performer, not from a can of compressed air or some electronic gizmo.

The vuvuzela is egalitarian — anyone who can purse their lips and forcefully exhale can use one. This openness has thrown me off a couple of times — during one of UC Davis’ Picnic Day parades, I was thrown off by what I thought was a blaring trombone only to realize it was a child along the route joyously playing along with the music on his vuvuzela.

While acknowledging that some teams have said that vuvuzela performances have led to on-field communication confusion, I don’t think their use should be discouraged. Fans should be allowed to express themselves as long as it doesn’t
cause physical harm to others or prevent others from witnessing the
game.

Football has a rich and mostly proud tradition of fan participation. The vuvuzela is merely one of the latest in a long line of customs. Long may the vuvuzela buzz.

NHL players needed in the Olympics

There has been some talk about the National Hockey League not participating in the Olympics after this year. The National Hockey League has only agreed to provide players through the Vancouver Games. And, according to numerous sources like the CBC, the league hasn’t committed to future tournaments.

As a fan, the Olympic tournament offers many more pluses for the sport of hockey, the NHL, the players and for the fans.

If it wasn’t for the Olympics, I may not be interested in hockey until the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in mid-April. I think the NHL season is already too long to sustain a general fan’s interest — it lasts three-quarters of a year, for crying out loud. A relatively short, two-week tournament is a great tonic to a 82-game slog.

The Games are a great showcase for hockey. I’ve watched more games in the past three days of the Games than I have in the past three months. In the early rounds, there are lots of games on the air (and they don’t air at 9 a.m. on Sunday, iike many of NBC’s weekly NHL games). Some of them turned into nail biters, like Thursday’s Canada-Switzerland squeaker.

The players also seem to enjoy playing in the tournament. There seems to be a much different attitude now than when the professionals were first introduced during the 1998 Nagano Games when Team USA players trashed their rooms after an early exit. At least, I hope there is a better attitude.

The benefits to the NHL seem less direct. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league’s presence in the Games is primarily because it helps “our game.” I would definitely think it helps build the global audience for hockey. Building such an audience is something the NHL has been working on for years — at least that’s why I think the league opened its season in Europe for the third year in a row.

The NHL does have some valid concerns — including the possibility of player injuries affecting a team’s playoff prospects — and they are putting a lot on the line in the form of the players. The worries about injury also concern columnists in Chicago and Sacramento.

Some of the possible discussion points — such as a greater say in the tangled web of Olympic broadcasting rights — may create complications that may make the Gordian knot seem like a Sudoku puzzle on Monday.

While some of these concerns may be daunting, I hope the league and the international hockey federation find a way to work together to keep the players in future tournaments.