Sure, a lot of top athletes make crazy money, but America's four major sports leagues—the NFL, MLB, NBA and PGA—give away crazy money too
1. Charitable Giving Sport to Sport Like the week's rising waters in California, caused by rains of near biblical proportion, the holiday season has released a flood of charitable activity by America's top sports entities, team owners, and yes, even those self-centered athletes. In 1988, none of the four major American sports leagues boasted more than five teams with charitable foundations. Now at least 24 teams in each league have their own foundations. The gives an average of $115 million annually in grants, and the value of the public service ads that run during its games, to three principal causes: youth health and football, breast cancer awareness, and green initiatives. Earlier in the week, the NFL announced that NFL Charities, the charitable foundation of the league's owners, has awarded more than $1.6 million in grants to 16 organizations in support of sports-related medical research. Of these grants, $988,224 will go to studying concussion prevention and treatment—clearly, a key topic of discussion among NFL watchers this year. Major League Baseball's total charitable outreach, when totaling cash and in-kind services at the national and local levels along with the 30 individual clubs, exceeds $100 million a year. The National Basketball Assn. is perceived to be doing the best job of reaching out to its communities by almost a quarter of 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives surveyed by Turnkey Sports and Entertainment in August. The NBA says that since starting its NBA Cares initiative in late 2005, a charitable effort that continues to drive the league's social responsibility mission, it has contributed more than $100 million. From 1938 to 2005, the PGA Tour generated $1 billion for a whole scorecard of charities, and its top executives estimate that the Tour should hit the $2 billion mark by 2015. According to the organization's most recent tax forms, the PGA Tour donated roughly $40 million in 2007 to support golf development programs, military causes, community organizations, health care, players' individual charities, and other humanitarian efforts. A new component of the Tour's 2010 and 2011 marketing campaigns is spotlighting the individual efforts of its golfers, whom the Tour estimates generated another $30 million in donations last year alone. Major League Soccer typically gives away more than $1 million annually, MLS Commissioner Don Garber says, but the league doesn't measure the effectiveness of its charitable efforts in financial terms. Instead, its metrics include the amount of soccer awareness the league raises and the number of players who get involved. Last Thursday, Jimmie Johnson, five-time consecutive winner of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series, announced that his foundation has awarded Collinswood Language Academy in Charlotte, N.C., around $46,000 for the construction of a playground for elementary school students. The Jimmie Johnson Foundation also donates money to alternative-format schools targeting at-risk youth; in all, Johnson's foundation will award more than $650,000 in grants to schools in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and his native California this year, according to materials released by the foundation. Yes, the holiday season means giving. The Giving Pledge, a philanthropic effort led by billionaires Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A) and Bill Gates of Microsoft (MSFT), invites the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice, either during their lifetime or after their death. Among the billionaires who are actively involved in sports that have joined the Giving Pledge are Microsoft's Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers), Oracle's (ORCL) Larry Ellison (BNP Paribas Open tennis, America's Cup), private equity investor Ted Forstmann (IMG), and corporate raider T. Boone Pickens (Oklahoma State University athletics). Clearly, charitable activities such as joining the Giving Pledge will cement the legacies of these owners and boosters long after wins on the field are forgotten. 2. Bowl Booty According to data from PrimeSport, both consumer and corporate demand is up for tickets to the Rose Bowl and BCS over last year, as well as for hospitality. The matchups in the Rose Bowl and BCS have generated increased demand for tickets and hospitality packages. Rose Bowl Hospitality participation is on pace to have a 25 percent to 30 percent increase over last year, while ticket prices are expected to increase 10 percent to 15 percent over last year. How popular will the bowls be this year, judging by ticket prices? It depends on the bowl. According to SeatGeek.com, the numbers vary wildly. Consider the BCS bowl average ticket prices: BCS Championship $842.31 Rose Bowl $392.52 Sugar Bowl $286.16 Fiesta Bowl $182.62 Orange Bowl $168.35 The non-BCS bowls look like this: AT&T Cotton Bowl $294.80 Meineke Car Care Bowl $161.00 Capital One Bowl $159.21 Chick-Fil-A Bowl $144.66 Valero Alamo Bowl $142.11 And what do the players get out of all of this, aside from a trip to Honolulu, Las Vegas, New Orleans … or Boise? While most bowls give "gift suites" (so the value is hard to define), and all packages cannot exceed $500 by NCAA mandate, here's what some of the bowls are handing out: Valero Alamo Bowl Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect; Kicker 541 headphones; Apple iPod shuffle; Fossil watch, Schutt mini-helmet AutoZone Liberty Bowl Apple iPod Nano 6th Generation, 8GB, Fossil watch, Nike gear, AirJordan backpack GoDaddy.com Nikon S70 touch-screen camera package, Timely watch, Leather luggage Cotton Bowl* Gifts not disclosed, but last year's gifts included a 32-in. Vizio LCD HDTV and a watch* Capital One Bowl $420 shopping spree at a local Best Buy, Timely watch 3. Boxed and Sacked In the days leading up to Christmas, the holiday shopping season reaches its peak, and as Scarborough Research notes in a new study, American consumer interest in home technology products continues to expand. Scarborough Research examined households planning purchases of several key home technology products, among them HDTVs and Smartphones. Included in Scarborough's findings, since 2007: HDTV ownership has tripled, from 16 percent of households owning an HDTV to 48 percent; almost three-fourths of adults (74 percent) now access the Internet, up from 67 percent; and 82 percent of American adults now use a cell phone, compared with 70 percent in 2007. What are the must-have high tech gift items this year for the sports fan on your list? Tablet Computers Whether it's the iPad or H-P Slate, tablet personal computers are hot. In New York last month, participants in an FSA Sports Media & Technology Conference panel titled "Connecting with Fans through Tablets" expressed one unifying feeling: delight that the tablet has been a successful product and that it provides new ways for teams and brands to interact with their fans and customers. While the Apple iPad (from $499 for the 16GB model to $829 for the 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G model) is still king this holiday season, Sports Media & Technology panelists indicated that their software developers have looked at 32 models from other manufacturers (Hewlett-Packard, Google, and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion among them) set to be released before the end of 2010, all with varying benefits for sports fans. Sports Apps When I asked a friend if he'd be willing to come assist with the grocery shopping and food prep required when one hosts a holiday dinner for 20, he not-so-jokingly said, "there's an app for that." If you're a sports fan with a tablet, wireless, or broadband device, these days there's an app for every conceivable pro sport and the most obscure amateur recreation, from fantasy stats to video games, to tracking the real-life movement of your favorite athlete. And the best thing is, the majority of them are free or low cost, instantly downloadable from iTunes or another online digital retailer—and thus perfect for that last-minute gift. Here's a sampling of our favorites, from iTunes: Golfshot: Golf GPS $29.99 Homerun Battle 3D $ 4.99 iTrailMap 3D $ 4.99 NBA Elite '11 by EA Sports $ 4.99 Nike+ GPS $ 1.99 FanVision Touted by tech watchdog CNET earlier this fall as "a dream gadget for NFL stadiums," FanVision is a wireless handheld device that streams live football on a digital TV channel within the stadium and surrounding area. All FanVision devices come with instant replay from multiple angles, access to out-of-town games, access to the NFL RedZone Channel, live in-depth analysis, and Fantasy Football updates and stats. If the game on the field can't hold your attention, consuming it and other proprietary NFL content via a handheld device that uses broadcast UHF video channels for its video feeds, thus eliminating pesky bandwidth clogging, should do the trick. The company producing the device, priced at $199 for a season's worth of service (available online and at select stadiums), is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross and is currently utilized by 12 NFL teams: the Dolphins, Cardinals, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Bears, Vikings, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, and Seahawks—and Ross' alma mater, the University of Michigan. Ross expects the device to be even more widely used next year—if there's an NFL season, of course. 3D HDTV About half a dozen electronics manufacturers have introduced 3DTV products, as well as conversion kits for 3D Ready HDTVs. In New York, J&R, the official Consumer Electronic Retailer of the New York Yankees, is offering a wide range of 3D options this holiday season, from a Samsung flat screen 40-inch 3D LED HDTV for $1,499.99 to a Panasonic 58-in. 3D Bundle that includes a Blu-ray Player, 3D Active Shutter Glasses, and a 3D Starter Kit, for $3,999.85, and a Sony 60-in. Bravia 3D capable model with integrated WiFi for $4,499.00. Happy Holidays to all!