Sepp Blatter, FIFA and why sports matter

Blatter’s election and US Justice Department indictments

Disclaimer:  I don’t have any unique insight into Sepp Blatter’s character or motivations.  Maybe he’s a greedy megalomaniac using his role as FIFA president to enrich himself.  But at age 79, that doesn’t seem likely to me.  What I do know is that he took over as FIFA president in 1998.  For the first 50+ years of world championships, they were exclusively European or South American affairs.  After 1986 (Mexico) and 1994 (USA), they were European, South American, and North American affairs.  Blatter was elected on the promises to grow the game primarily by increasing funding for poorer countries’ soccer programs, and broadening the World Cup host sites.  In this century, World Cup sites have basically rotated between traditional and groundbreaking locations; Japan and South Korea (2002), Germany (2006), South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014), Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).  In large part because of Blatter, the “World” in World Cup, now includes Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Despite western media disapproval and U.S. Justice Department indictments of FIFA officials (primarily CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials) and some sports marketing executives on corruption charges, Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president, which should never really have been in doubt.  Why?  Because FIFA is an association of 209 countries, each with one vote.  The countries of Asia and Africa are especially loyal to Blatter because he has followed through on his promises to them.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/05/29/sepp-blatter-defeats-prince-ali-in-fifa-presidential-vote

There are two ways to look at his tenure.  One, you can say he aggressively clings to power by currying favor with or even bribing the poorer countries.   Cynically, it is a good electoral strategy because it is the cheapest way to gain loyalty.  From this view, journalists can create an image of Blatter bribing countries for their loyalty and through that maintaining a stranglehold on power.  He entered office with this image in 1998.

From a more benign perspective, while he was criticized for promising rewards to soccer federations in South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa during his initial presidential run (see the link above) he delivered on those promises with development money and hosting opportunities over the years and the federations have remained loyal because of it.  Voting and democracy often work that way.

As far as the indictments go, I have a more narrow view of corruption than most.  From my perspective, FIFA is a private organization and how they decide to choose leadership, engage in sponsor relationships, and choose host sites is their internal business.  If soccer officials are taking bribes as part of the selling of media rights, that’s money that should be going to their organizations.  If FIFA or its confederations choose to press charges, that’s an issue since they are the aggrieved parties.  If officials are trying to buy votes in internal elections and FIFA doesn’t want that to happen, then the officials should be kicked out of FIFA.  I don’t see an overriding public interest.  So I’m not sure what the US Justice Department is up to other than that they will probably fashion some nice financial settlements from those involved.

Looking closer to home, the franchise movements of NBA and NFL franchises seem to be equally or more corrupt in that they do involve the public interest.  Every team that moved, moved because another city essentially bribed them.  For example, the Los Angeles Rams were enticed to move to St. Louis by the promise of a taxpayer funded new stadium, guaranteed sell outs, and taxpayer subsidies to compensate for unsold tickets if the sell outs didn’t occur.  Does that make the selection of soccer World Cup sites look dirty by comparison?  Is that “just doing business” or corruption?

 

 

Why sports matter

Whatever Blatter’s motivations are and however you define or accept corruption in sport (a broad definition would include almost everything Adidas and Nike have done in the endorsement and promotion world for decades—see Sneaker Wars– including Horst Dassler putting Blatter in place at FIFA to begin with), Qatar 2022, cited in recent days as a symbol of disgrace, is likely to have a profound, positive legacy.  Being the 2022 hosts, in part, caused Qatar to commission a study on the welfare and treatment of migrant workers.  In it, they found 964 migrants died in Qatar in 2012 and 2013, mostly from illness and “sudden cardiac death”.  A recommendation from the report, “worker welfare standards, such as those introduced in February (2014) by the Qatar 2022 football World Cup organisers, should be made mandatory in all contracts issued by public authorities”.  The Guardian says such a move, “would immediately raise the bar on many of the large infrastructure projects.”

All who have looked at this agree that there needs to be more data and research, but it is important to  note that there are 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar, most from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India.  According to the Guardian, the Indian embassy says that “the number of deaths was in line with the average in their home country,” which could be the case if the reported numbers are accurate, since it would equate to a death rate of 4 hundredths of one percent per year among migrants.

Recently, though, reports have been popping up (in the Washington Post, in Fast Company) that try to tie the indictments of the officials in the western hemisphere confederations directly to all migrant worker deaths in Qatar- which is a case study in itself of how the internet works.  Take a kernel of something, embellish and run to clickbait gold!

The reality is that we do live in a world where for many the best opportunities lie in dangerous travel to dangerous occupations.  FIFA didn’t create that.  Whether it’s by good intention or not, they do shine light on it wherever they go because soccer attracts attention everywhere.  If Sepp Blatter and FIFA hadn’t decided to hold the tournament in Qatar in 2022, would as many people care about, or know about, the working conditions of migrant workers in Qatar?  Will the working conditions improve more quickly because of the World Cup?  Will the bar be raised? I believe it will.   If nothing else, the commercial interests of sponsors will demand it and the organizers in Qatar will do everything they can to make it happen in their desire for the event to be considered a smashing success.  That’s a valuable legacy that can outweigh any white elephant stadiums that might be left over and a positive development that likely wouldn’t occur if Blatter wasn’t (pick one) a. bold enough to hold World Cups in new places or b. beholden to Middle-East, Asian, and African confederations for his power.

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“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – Vishal Shah, VP of Media Strategy and Business Development, NFL

Just like in the business world at large, analytics and data have taken over sports.  Zebra Technologies introduced wearable player tracking technology to every NFL stadium in 2014 with the company’s aim to implement the technology at all levels of sport.  Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) rolled out a beta launch of player tracking for a few stadiums and events in 2014 and has now expanded to all stadiums for the 2015 season.  Collecting and storing data has never been more affordable and the downward trend will only continue.

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Coaching sports now involves monitoring athlete hydration, sleep, nutrition, and stress levels to prevent injuries and to optimize practice and recovery time.  Booz Allen Hamilton developed tools that accurately predict MLB pitchers’ pitch selection and they plan to introduce a tool to predict plays in football.  The economics of technology mean that these sophisticated technologies won’t be just for the elite schools and clubs.  The main costs are typically fixed development costs.  Once the tools are developed, the extra costs of spreading the technology are relatively low.  Match that with the competitive zeal at all levels of sport and it is inevitable that big data will be commonplace at every level of sport sooner than one might think.

Big data hasn’t just revolutionized the performance aspect of sports, it has become the core of the entire sport business.  Think fan engagement, game day experience, concessions, security, merchandise sales, sponsorship effectiveness and traffic/people flow.  As an example of the swiftness of the change, the MIT Sloan School of Management and SAS have been researching the use of analytics for several years and reporting the results in the MIT Sloan Management Review.  In 2013 they used the heading, Signs of an Analytics Revolution.  By 2014 the title of their report was The Analytics Mandate.  According to the report, “analytics is no longer a new path to value.  It’s a common one.”

The implications for the workforce are huge.  Big data is here to stay.  Almost anything one can measure can be measured with the results cheaply stored and maintained.  The challenge is having people who can effectively use the data.  That means understanding statistical and quantitative analysis, having the ability to see patterns and discern their significance, and most importantly having the ability to efficiently and effectively communicate findings to key decision makers.

Opportunities are plentiful across sports and business in general for rising students who are comfortable analyzing data and that ability will be essential for future leaders in the sport industry on and off the field.  Advice from top leaders support the idea that working with data is an essential competency.  As an aside during a panel at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, John Forese, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Live Analytics – a consulting branch of Ticketmaster that uses the company’s global data base to help organizations know their fans—offered these words:

“One of the scarcest and most important skill sets right now is being someone who is an expert in Omniture or Google Analytics.  If you are fluent in these tools you will not have trouble finding a job any time soon.  It is really becoming the lifeblood of most teams and organizations.”

In an interview on strategic communication for marketing (a core sport management competency) with IBM senior executives Mike Rhodin and Jon Iwata, when asked what advice they would give students starting out today, Rhodin said:

“From the eyes of a student, someone preparing for a career…the advice I’d give is math, analytics, statistics.  Those are becoming a critical skill.”

Iwata’s advice included:

“Every company will be a technology company, not because they are going to make technology, but they will marshal technology in the pursuit of what they do.”

Among his examples were police chiefs analyzing patterns to fight and deter crime, NGO charities seeking the most effective allocation of resources to meet their objectives such as stopping disease or responding to food crises, electric utilities seeking to efficiently manage power flow, and of course, marketing across the board.

It’s clear that at every level of sport training and performance, data and analytics are here to stay and will be key to staying competitive.  In some ways, the development reminds me of the rapid spread of effective weight training.  Young people today probably can’t imagine it, but when I was a high school athlete, our school had one universal gym station and athletes rarely had access to it.  In college we had two bench press benches, an incline bench, and a squat/deadlift station for the whole school including athletes and recreational users.  There were many old school coaches across all sports who swore by the notion that weight training was a detriment to athletic performance. Today all college athletes, men and women from football to volleyball and swimming, use weight training.  Similar to weight training, data collection and analytics will be common at all levels of competitive sport and anyone involved in coaching and training will have to be proficient data analysts.

On the management and business side of sport, some events might be too small or too infrequent to benefit dramatically from data collection and analytics, but anything operating on a scale that allows people to enjoy a career in it will require at least a minimal proficiency in data analytics.

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What are the Olympics?

It is a busy season for determining future Olympic sites over the next few months.  The host of the 2022 Winter Olympics will be decided at the 128th International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on July 31st.   Cities hoping to host the 2024 Summer Games must officially commit to a bid by September 15th.  The 2022 Games will be decided between Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China.  Cities considering 2024 bids are Boston, Rome, Hamburg (with perhaps a Hamburg/Copenhagen co-bid) and Ahmadabad, India.

With a US bid under consideration, it means it’s time for the No Olympics crowd to start making noise and bid committees and cities to get thrown off track.  The conversation often ends up on topics that seem to have little to do with the Games, so I want to get to the core of what hosting the Olympics really is.

A good place to start is with some highlights from the Fundamental Principles of Olympism found at the beginning of the Olympic Charter.

Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

“The Olympic Movement…reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games.”

Ultimately, the Olympic Games is a “great sports festival” or a celebration of things universally considered positive; sport, the joy of effort, culture and education, social responsibility, ethical principles, a peaceful society and the preservation of human dignity.  Who can be against that?

Hosting a festival that includes athletes, officials, spectators, and media from all over the world is an enormous endeavor, but to emphasize what it really is, I’d like to turn to a simpler example: a neighborhood party.  Why would one normally host a neighborhood party?  Typically for universally positive things.  There might be some sort of competition (the joy of effort) like horseshoes, darts, pool, foosball, or board games.  It is a great way to get to know neighbors, build relationships, learn about people’s backgrounds and cultures, and build a more peaceful and harmonious neighborhood.  Those are all good things.

Presumably if a family puts themselves forward to host a party, they expect to gain some sort of benefit out of it, even if that benefit is just their intangible consumption value derived from the joy of hosting.  Other motivations to host the party could be; showing the rest of the neighborhood how nice their place is, getting to know the neighbors better, and demonstrating how great they are at hosting a party.  For newcomers, it’s a great way to be introduced to the neighborhood and establish a positive reputation.

Hosts can take many approaches to hosting the party.  Some might provide everything at no cost to the guests.  Others might host a “potluck” where each attendee is expected to bring something that will enhance the party and some might ask everyone to pitch in financially.  If there is a homeowners’ association, funding for the party might come out of the association’s budget.

The point is that hosting the Olympics is much like hosting a neighborhood party, but on a global scale.  If you think neighborhood parties are a good thing, then you should be supportive of the Olympics in general.  Of course there are many reasons that you might not want to host a neighborhood party at any given time (remodeling, short of money, too busy etc.), but most people embrace the concept of at least some day hosting the neighborhood as a positive, memorable thing.

Olympic legacy is a subject of interest among the IOC and potential and actual Olympic hosts.  This also has parallels to the neighborhood party.  If the party took place in such a way that the hosts’ home got trashed, it cost them a lot of money and trouble, and after everyone left all that remained was clean-up and repair expenses, it would be hard to find future hosts and the neighborhood party tradition would die.  The same thing holds for the Olympics.  For the neighborhood parties to continue, they have to be positive experiences and be seen as attractive events to host.  The same thing holds for the Olympics.

How each individual Olympic Games is organized varies to a great degree depending on the hosts.  More controlled economies who desire to host the Games tend to spend seemingly limitless amounts.  Estimates of the cost of Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 are in the neighborhood of $50 billion.  London 2012 spent far less, but much of what they spent was public money.  They seemed to take the approach that since the enjoyment of the Games is a public good, private sector funding could lead to an under provision of the Games (either in the quality of the effort or just discretely whether they were selected to host or not), and it is government’s role to step in and ensure optimal provision.  Games hosted in the U.S. in 1984 (Los Angeles), 1996 (Atlanta) and 2002 (Salt Lake City), were largely privately funded and lower cost than other Games.

Consider these varied approaches to hosting in the neighborhood party context.  The Sochis and Beijings of the neighborhood might install a pool, a game room, and custom outdoor kitchen to impress the neighborhood, even though those things might get little use once the party is over.  The Londons of the neighborhood might rely heavily on the homeowner’s association budget to put on the best party they can.

What’s the physical legacy of the party?  In the previous paragraph, the Sochis and Beijings end up with white elephants.  But what if you’ve been planning to get a large screen television an Xbox console, a new grill, or a new serving set for a while, and the party provides an impetus to make those purchases now?  After the party, your house is upgraded with useful things that enhance your quality of life.

Infrastructure legacy of a neighborhood party?

Infrastructure legacy of a neighborhood party?

The overall legacy could include enhanced relationships that might improve your life professionally or personally. It could be impressing others for business and career opportunities or just having an easier time finding a pet sitter or handyman.  Olympic host cities benefit from similar legacies.

An important difference between the typical neighborhood party and the Olympics is that there is an Olympic movement headed by the IOC that is funded by the broadcast rights of the Olympic festival and sponsorship partnerships with commercial enterprises.  When the host of the Olympic Games is chosen, they receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the IOC to help pay for the festival.  In the neighborhood party context, it’s as if there were a well-funded neighborhood party organizing committee, and once you were named host, you received several thousand dollars to help finance your effort.  In that case, you might buy a better television than you otherwise might have or pave your driveway when you otherwise wouldn’t have.

At the core of it, the Olympics should be seen as a good thing.  The flaws in the movement are the same flaws shared by humanity and similar to problems we might see at a neighborhood party.  They are potentially unpleasant and inconvenient, but should humanity’s flaws result in us never trying to get together to celebrate some of humanity’s best attributes?  Likewise, hosting the Olympics should generally be seen as a good thing.  It almost necessarily follows that when we spend time focusing on how we will present ourselves to others, we end up improving ourselves.  People are often at their best when they are looking for a spouse or looking for a job.  For some, their houses are only cleaned properly when hosting guests.  Isn’t it the same with cities?  Bidding to host the Olympics provides a reason for a city to examine who they are and how they can best present themselves in a process that would likely lead to growth and movement forward.

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Today’s youth for yesterday’s youth

I’m always willing to go off the beaten path for great social media marketing and promotional campaigns to share with my students.  My favorite one is this campaign from the Belgian bank KBC.  It successfully reaches their target market in an authentic way and their target is one which highly values authenticity.  It connects people across generations through social media and generates enormous free, positive publicity.  On top of all of those corporate goals, it’s just a good thing to do; serving elders, and one can’t help but feel positive toward the brand.  It is quite the accomplishment when you think of the core elements; old people, young people, banks, and music festivals.  But they make it work brilliantly!

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Walk in stupid every day

One of the challenges of approaching marketing in an academic setting is that students often ignore the constraints and limitations that will set the context in their professional lives.  In 1999 (the middle of the stock market, dot com boom) I was a teaching assistant in a marketing management course designed for upper level undergraduates.  The professor organized the class and provided the lectures to the big group on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I met the class broken up in smaller sections on Fridays to work through marketing problems and case studies.  It didn’t matter what the problem was (bringing a distinctive small ice tea brand to a larger market, introducing new diaper technology to the consumer market, trying to expand the greeting card market by reaching out to men) a significant number of students would propose that the company “go public” (sell shares on the stock market to raise money) and use the money raised to hire Michael Jordan as a spokesman/endorser.

When I’d point out that the solution overlooked the deeper nuances of the problem and wasn’t necessarily realistic, students often stated that their plan would surely work, so it had to be solid.  The problem was they were ignoring constraints.  In 1999, aligning your product with Michael Jordan would likely work, but there is only one Michael Jordan and both his brand and value is stronger if he aligns himself with a limited number of companies.  His price tag was also very high.

In many student marketing plans I see today, promotional plans as presented would often cost far more than the company could ever hope to gain in gross sales (an example of why research and external support for ideas in an academic and professional setting is so crucial).

A Beautiful Constraint, A book by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden from the company eatbigfish came out in January and among its examples are the interaction between Nike and its main advertising company Wieden + Kennedy of Portland that grew into the iconic companies we know today.

The theme of the book is that constraints imposed on a situation can lead to transformative results.  In a nutshell, if I have everything I need and feel like I know what I’m doing, my outcome will be the same-old, same-old that I know how to do.  However, limitations in time, resources, talent, objectives etc. cause one to consider new solutions and often lead to ground breaking, transformative results.

Before moving on to Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, I want to point out Wieden + Kennedy’s approach and mindset.  Two of their credos are “walk in stupid every day” and “fail harder”.  I think that’s a great mindset.  Thinking you have things figured out leaves you vulnerable, especially in today’s rapidly changing world.  This also reinforces the importance of being plugged in to your industry and constantly seeking external information.

The “fail harder” element resonates with me in a sport context.  My athletic career was spent in wrestling.  While I did not have great success in any one stage of my career, I ended up being competitive at a high level.  Part of this was because I always sought out tougher competition and bigger challenges, which involved failure and losing and my having to work like crazy to get up to speed at each successive level.  To me, if I already knew in my head and heart that I could dominate at a level, it seemed like drudgery to actually have to go and carry it out, I’d rather direct my hard work and efforts toward more difficult challenges.  The point is that you can get stuck where you are if you fear failure and many of the most enduring and valuable lessons come from failure.

According to the book, Dan Wieden (the company founder) described it as a gift that his fledgling advertising company located away from the mainstream in Portland, Oregon would be the recipient of the Nike (not the iconic Nike of today, but the little known early 1980s version) account and its constraints.  Nike founder Phil Knight personally briefed the advertisers; he didn’t want anything that resembled ‘advertising’, they were not to run the same ad twice, and they definitely weren’t allowed to use models in their advertising.  Among Wieden’s internal constraints were that top advertising people lived in New York and if any were amenable to moving to Portland, they couldn’t afford to hire them anyway.

From the book: “Wieden’s band of misfits seized the opportunity to blend Nike’s authentic connection to athletes with Knight’s own irreverence and a sense that sport deserved to be center stage in culture.  They were soon stirring up controversy using the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ as the soundtrack to the new fitness boom, pairing up-and-coming filmmaker Spike Lee with emerging megastar Michael Jordan and showing a bare-chested, toothless octogenarian running seventeen miles every morning.  The world had never seen advertising like this before.”

This is a great example for students who want to become leaders and game-changers in what they do.  Rather than repeating what has been done, knocking out whatever is asked of you, staying comfortable, and sticking with what you think you know, wake up stupid every day and look for innovative and transformative solutions to your challenges.  That skill and mindset is extremely valuable and will only become more valuable in the future.

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Anyone know where I can get a blue cowboy hat? How I became a biggest loser of 2015

In August of 2003 I was pulling a U-Haul full of my soon-to-be wife’s belongings across America.  We started as a perfect match, apparently, two people who are always looking to do things the hard way.  Her and her things were in Los Angeles and we were scheduled to wed on the Maine coastline.  We didn’t even get to New Mexico when she had all she could take of the road trip.  I, being a man, am driven by an innate need to ‘make good time’ in driving situations.  It can’t be explained or always justified, but if you are a guy reading this you probably know what I’m talking about.  It is what it is.

However, I happen to suffer some internal turmoil in those situations being drawn by what, to me, is the ‘romance’ of the road(side): walnut bowls in Missouri, Huddle & Waffle Houses in the South (along with pecans, peaches, and $5 t-shirts), FIREWORKS!, South of the Border, truck stops, Stuckeys, gas stations, diners, overlooks, and in the southwest; trading posts, turquoise, Navajo bread and Kachina dolls. So, when Kristina couldn’t take another minute in the car and there was a trading post in sight, it was “forget about making good time” and I’d pull right in.

Browsing around in the first trading post we visited, a row of royal blue, velvety cowboy hats caught my eye.  It was one of those things that rarely if ever happens to me, but I thought to myself, “I need one of those.”  I was suspicious that it might be the monotony of the road or something else, but I had a strong urge to get one of those royal blue hats.  I started to think of a royal blue cowboy hat stowed away somewhere and the possibility that what felt so necessary at the moment, would seem pretty dumb when I put my hat on to walk out the door of my Ithaca, NY apartment.  So I exercised my better judgment and pushed my desire for the blue hat into a pit inside my stomach never to be let out (hat tip to Hank Hill).

A few hours later, we hit another trading post and while I was poking around, I saw another row of velvety, royal blue cowboy hats.  I took it as a sign.  I needed one of these.  So I mustered up the courage to ask my betrothed what she thought about it.  I was greeted with a tired look of mild shock and overwhelming disappointment.  She spoke a polite, diplomatic, thoughtful version of what her look communicated, and I reflexively tried to make my case why a velvety, royal blue cowboy hat was a good thing for me to have.  The compromise?  She said that if I could get my weight to under 200 lbs, she’d be all in on the hat.  I thought that was a great deal.

Context: I hadn’t weighed less than 200 lbs since I represented the US Air Force in the All-Military wrestling championships in Quantico, Virginia in 1990.  Out of wrestling season, I normally weighed more than 200 pounds in college.  I did have a year in the mid-1980s where I spent a good deal of my winter bicycling along the traffic filled roads of Florida, walking the Gulf Coast beaches, swimming in the surf, and hiking and camping in the Ocala National Forest.  At the end of all that, I was well under 200 but that didn’t last.  When I was in the Air Force in my 20s, my weight limit (to stay off the fat boy program) was a strict 205 lbs and I had to watch myself when weigh-ins came around.  I also spent a half year in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 where I felt like I turned in to a stick carrying my belongings all over the place, but when I came home and hopped on a scale I was 203-204 lbs.

For the most part betweem 1993-2003 (the time of the velvety royal blue hat), I weighed somewhere between 220-225 lbs.  Fast forward 11 ½ years later to fall of 2014 through to today.  I lost 40+ pounds since November.  I’m under 200 for the first time since that wrestling event.  I want my hat.  But, short of getting in the car and driving out to New Mexico, I don’t know where I can find one.  Internet hasn’t helped.

So, 40 pounds of weight loss is a pretty big deal, I guess.  How did it happen?  The real story is kind of dull.  It involves signing up with Dr. Douglas Farrago’s direct primary care practice when it opened in October and the results of a blood test.  I pretty much did everything the guy says in this video +  Bulletproof Coffee every day (yes, the recent celebrity fad).  But I’d rather share a more compelling story that’s not entirely true, but inspired by true events.

In my role as a sport management professor, I was engaged in a discussion one day with students about how the business has developed over the decades.  If you go back and watch a summer afternoon Major League baseball game from the 1970s, you will likely see a variety of shirt sleeves and t-shirts in the crowd and a fair amount of men with bare, hairy chests.  Today at almost every professional sporting event, the majority of the crowd is decked out in the home team’s licensed apparel.

The conversation came around to my personal relationship with licensed apparel and, maybe with the exception of caps on clearance, I really don’t see any personal value in it.  A student asked me if I were to buy a replica jersey, which one would it be.  I thought long and hard.  Players switch teams, teams switch directions, athletes get involved in scandals and you can often find their dated jerseys at TJ Maxx for $12.  I just never felt the urge to run around looking like a player ready for the game, but wearing jeans.  But I thought about it and thought about what athlete or moment I’d feel good about representing with my choice of apparel, and I kept coming back to this Eric Cantona goal (or at 4:37 on this video.  It’s the last one of the compilation if you like watching great goals).

The goal, the reaction.  It’s the best, it happened a long time ago and it’s never going to change.  Eric Cantona the soccer player, is what he is and the controversies have faded with time.  To see him do that in the midst of a personal and media firestorm, that’s the best.  I love it.  That’s the replica jersey I decided I would wear.  One like he’s wearing for that goal.  The red, Manchester United jersey with the collar and the Sharp logo from the 1990s.

When I got home that night, I started to wonder if I could find one of those jerseys.  I searched all over the internet and found one option, one size, one left.  It was from a company in Taiwan and the price (less than $20) had me suspicious regarding its authenticity.  One left at that price?  I ordered it.  The picture looked great.  A few weeks later it arrived with a tag indicating authenticity, so it must be so, right?  Tried it right on and felt like this with more skin showing, especially coming out of the bottom of the shirt:

Fat guy in a little coat

So, if I wanted to wear my Cantona replica jersey, the only size available, I had some work to do.  After months and months of disciplined effort, it easily fits and I can wear it.  I’m not sure where or why I ever would, but I could.  And I’ve even earned my velvet royal blue cowboy hat today, if I can find one.  So if you see one let me know!  I’m under 200 lbs!

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