Week of September 7, 2018

People who have birds for pets. Man, I just don’t know. 


Nike’s Amoral But Important Kaepernick Ad

The biggest story in sports this week was Nike’s powerful ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, which they unveiled on Labor Day:

It was the 30 year anniversary of their first “Just Do It” ad. I, for one, applauded. Nike, as it turns out, has been paying Kaepernick the last two years as the NFL has either colluded to keep him out, or collectively and cowardly refused to hire him for fear of the “distraction”. Nike will also be kicking off a larger ad campaign around Kaepernick, including a Kaepernick line of apparel. Later in the week, they even released a video ad:

They are doing it, and doing it big.

A lot of words were written about this story, but I thought the best came from The Ringer’s Michael Baumann. His story succinctly summarized the events leading up to this, and then provided a quick explanation of Nike’s motivations; they are a billion dollar corporation after all. But Baumann closes with this explanation of why, though, Nike’s business decision is still important:

Nike betting on Kaepernick is encouraging for those of us who find his message not only inoffensive but worthy. A major corporation has put a financial stake in the idea that the people who either oppose Kaepernick’s message or choose to misunderstand it are a small minority whose arguments can be ignored. Amoral though it may be, Nike apparently believes that people who believe in racial equality are more numerous, and more passionate, than those who oppose it. It’s comforting to know that someone does.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (09/04/2018)

PAL: Wieden + Kennedy, Nike’s creative agency, knows exactly what it’s doing. They show the extraordinary sports stories in all shapes and colors – they’ve been doing it for decades – from sports icons like LeBron to “regular” folk living inspired lives. I know I’m inspired by the athletes captured in this ad. Yep, they are good at making a commercial that makes me want to get off my ass and go for a run. But don’t confuse Nike as anything other that a business first.  

Nike might now be a social justice warrior in the pejorative online shorthand but is practically antithetical to the concept in any other context. Nike is a for-profit company, worth tens of billions of dollars. You can’t build a multi-billion-dollar company from scratch in 54 years if social justice is anything approaching a primary concern. Companies like Nike are by nature aggressively amoral.

So people can burn their Nike stuff and rip the company to shreds in the name of patriotism, but know that a multi-billion dollar business with a market research division the likes of which is hard to imagine, has made a bet that most of us understand why Kaepernick went to a knee. He isn’t as bad for business as the people who speak out against him are. Those folks shouldn’t take it personally; it’s just business.


Minor League Angel Investor

Michael Schwimer, 32,  didn’t have much of a career as a big league baseball player, but his company, Big League Advance, could make a tremendous impact on the lives of many minor leaguers living on less than minimum wage.

As Jack Dickey summarizes in his SI column, Schwimer’s company, Big League Advance, proposing a solution to a problem for many minor league players:

[T]he company offers baseball players lump-sum payments now in exchange for an agreed-upon share of any future MLB salary. Players pick the percentage of their MLB paychecks to sign away—the model spits out only a nonnegotiable price per percentage point. To date the company has signed 123 players with an average payment in the neighborhood of $350,000, and it plans to sign hundreds more.

A little bit of math brings you to the conclusion that Schwimer and his team of analysts are looking for a minority of players that actually make to a big league contract in order to generate the majority of the revenue needed to turn a profit. The business model also offers a compelling financial option to the minor leaguers who continue to be classified as season apprentices, which means many of them make less than $1,000 per month.

…Similar models have long existed in golf and boxing and other non-team sports. Wealthy benefactors stake a young pro as he works his way up; in exchange, once he advances, the athlete kicks a predetermined share of his winnings back to his investors. If there are no winnings, the investor is out of luck. Baseball wouldn’t at first seem to need such a model: Boxers and golfers are independent contractors, responsible for all their own travel and training expenses, while baseball players are employees, who travel on team buses and receive instruction from the team’s coaches at the team’s own facility.

But that’s where the sorry state of minor-league pay comes into play. Players without large signing bonuses to spend simply aren’t able to afford healthy food and offseason training; with BLA’s cash they can.

If BLA is in the futures game, then it needs to be able to see value before everyone else, and in the era of sabermetrics, that’s not as easy as understanding that wins for a pitcher or batting average for a hitter aren’t the most telling of stats. Not only does the model have to see value sooner, it likely has to value different data points. All of this is used to set a non-negotiable price per percentage point of future earnings.

Turns out that model, if it produces results, is valuable to more than just setting a value between BLA and a minor leaguer. In fact, there’s easier money, with nowhere near the upfront cost, in selling the data directly to the teams.

The company is two years old and it’s already raised $150MM and some real sports data big-timers have joined the team. I am no financial wiz, so I am naturally intrigued by this concept. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the next big thing in baseball, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this turns out to be some white collar crime. Either way, it’s an intriguing idea. – PAL

Source: Future Considerations: Why Ex-MLB Pitcher Michael Schwimer Is Investing in Minor League Longshots”, Jack Dickey, SI.com (09/04/2018)

TOB: I think this sort of thing has been going on a while – as I recall, some company did or does this with student loans. I find it rather parasitic, but I do see how it helps minor league players in the short-term. Maybe if MLB paid them a livable wage they wouldn’t have to give away future earnings.


Football as Told By a Non-Fan

God, this killed me. A writer who doesn’t watch football but has seen some games at various places in her life explained the rules of football as she understands them. A sample:

The teams flip a coin to determine who gets to go first. The team that goes first holds the ball and throws it to each other. The quarterback does the throwing. Usually the point of the first throw, and every first throw after a team gets the ball during the game, is to trick the other team into thinking that they are going to throw it somewhere else. After that, the other players throw the ball around while trying to get closer to the finish line or end zone. When a player loses control of the ball because he’s tackled or drops it and someone on the other team picks it up, the game reverses direction. It goes on like this for a long time.

She gets some right, some wrong. But her ending nails it:

At the stadium, the chicken fingers are great. At home, it’s all about the dips.

It’s true! No one denies this! -TOB

Source: The Rules of Football As I Understand Them”, Katie McDonough, Deadspin (09/06/2018)

PAL: Chicken fingers are the worst.

TOB: You’re REALLY going to enjoy what we’re doing this weekend, that everyone will read about next week.


Yeah, Sure, Shorten Men’s Tennis Grand Slam Matches to Three Sets

Tennis is a sport that I somehow spend 10x more time reading (or writing) about than actually watching the sport. Basically if Federer is in a Grand Slam Final, I drag myself out of bed to watch because I think it’s cool that he’s still winning at his age. But other than that, my tennis exposure is limited to Sportscenter highlights and articles that I read. Which is why, while reading this article, I found out something rather fundamental to the sport: previously I thought all men’s matches were best-of-five sets and all women’s matches are best-of-three sets. But as it turns out most men’s matches are also best-of-three sets, and only the Grand Slam events are best-of-five. Well, I’ll be damned.

As I don’t watch tennis, generally, this doesn’t affect me in the slightest, but I have to say this makes sense: why change the rules for the Grand Slams? Why have any sporting event take six hours, as many men’s best-of-five set matches take? Andy Murray may have put it best:

“As a player, I really like best-of-five; it’s been good to me,” he said. “I feel like it rewards the training and everything you put into that. But then, when I sat and watched the match — that Nadal-del Potro match in the commentary booth — it was an amazing match, it was a brilliant match, but it was really, really long to sit there as a spectator for the first time.”

The match, which lasted 4 hours 48 minutes — long, but well shorter than either of the subsequent men’s semifinals — disrupted Murray’s day.

“That evening I had a meeting planned, and I missed my dinner,” he said. “People that are sitting there during the week watching that all, I don’t think you can plan to do that. A lot of people are going to be getting up and leaving the matches and not actually watching the whole thing. The people while in the stadium loved it, but I don’t think it — as well, what happened in the semifinals — is good for tennis.”

So, sure. Makes sense. Cut it to three. Many agree, but as you can imagine, many don’t. The article delves into the competing arguments. -TOB

Source: Men Should Play Best Of Three Sets, And Anyone Who Says Otherwise Is A Weenie Like ESPN’s Brad Gilbert”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: That’s so odd that the majors have different rules than the rest of the tournaments. I don’t care how many sets they play, but I found this rationale for 3 sets confusing:

In today’s professional tennis, racquets are more technologically advanced than ever before, players hit harder than ever before, conditioning is better than ever before, and as a result, the rallies last way longer than ever before.

I don’t understand how better racquets and hitting the ball harder work in concert with better conditioning to make rallies last longer. Wouldn’t hitting the ball harder with a better racquet make rallies shorter, which is countered by better conditioned players?

TOB: Yeah, I think it’d make sense if they left out the “players hit harder” part, and left it at the racquet technology, which makes shots more accurate. Either way, it seems the results are the same: the matches have gotten way longer.


OHTANI WATCH

It’s been a while, let’s see what our hero Sho has been up to…

OH NOOOOO! On Wednesday morning the Angels announced Shohei needs Tommy John surgery. This is terrible news for baseball fans everywhere, as we’ll not see Ohtani smashin’ dingers and throwin smoke until, likely, the 2020 season.

Sorry, I’m getting word of some new developments. I see. Ok. Well, despite needing TJ surgery on his pitching elbow, Ohtani went ahead and DH’d that night. He hit a dinger.

Ah, yes, I’m being told he hit another.

Mmhm, ok. Yes, I’m being told he went 4-for-4 with those 2 dingers and a walk. With an elbow that is barely connected. He’s not human! I sure hope we see him back sooner than 2020. He finishes his pitching season an ERA of 3.31 and he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings. Thus far, he’s hit 18 dingers in just 249 ABs, and an OPS of .946. He’s real good. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani, Who Needs Tommy John Surgery, Is Still Out Here Smashing Dingers”, Laura Theisen, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: Ohtani will pitch less than 300 innings in his major league career. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the way I’m seeing it.


Video of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Khruangbin – “Maria Tambien”


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I found the best tentist on the east coast. He personally tented Giuliani’s first and third weddings. And I got him. I got him!

-Nard Dog

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