1. Sports Steps Up for Haiti
Echoing the empathy and generosity exhibited in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the American sports industry has stepped up in a huge way to support relief efforts in Haiti. In 2005 sports leagues, teams, and athletes donated more than $9 million within the first 48 hours of Katrina's strike. Almost five years later, that generosity is being repeated.
The NFL didn't disappoint in its efforts to support Haiti. The 7.0 quake that devastated Port-Au-Prince came just days before one of the league's signature weekends of the season, and the NFL used its massive national platform during weekend Divisional Series playoff games by airing messages about the Red Cross's donation line and 90999 "HAITI" texting service. (By Sunday, the Red Cross texting plan had raised $7 million, mostly in $10 donationsl it will likely be a blueprint for all future fund-raising.) Additionally, donation centers were set up at all four Divisional Championship games, accompanied by in-house video board messages and PA reminders.
According to the Washington Post, the NFL also filmed a Haitian relief public-service announcement featuring several players that aired during the weekend's games. About two dozen NFL players were either born in Haiti or are first-generation children of that country, including Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, who won the first NFL playoff game he had ever participated in on Saturday. (Garcon's parents emigrated from Haiti.)
South Florida is expected to be a haven for Haitian refugees, and the NBA Miami Heat and Orlando Magic were quick to act. The Magic and NBA Cares have joined forces with longtime partner UNICEF to bring emergency assistance to earthquake victims. UNICEF officials estimate that half of those affected are children. In Miami, at 710 miles the closest U.S. city to Port-Au-Prince, the Heat and American Airlines Arena have launched an emergency relief drive, through Jan. 25, for bottled water, towels, clothing, and nonperishable canned goods. Fans who make a donation at arena drop-off points receive a voucher for two tickets to a Heat home game in February.
Philadelphia 76ers Center Samuel Dalembert, a Haiti native, presented UNICEF with $100,000 before the 76ers game on Friday evening, and pledged to match the amount of money donated by 76ers fans at a UNICEF stand at the Wachovia Center during the game. Meanwhile, Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash is leading the way in the sports Twitterverse, directing fans to several sites where they can donate to earthquake relief.
Major League Baseball pledged $1 million. Then, after Commissioner Bud Selig reminded owners of his 30 clubs that "we remain a social institution," the New York Yankees added 50% to that sum. The NHL has pledged $100,000, and jockeys at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., are assisting with relief efforts by donating a portion of their mount fees and winnings from Sunday races to the American Red Cross. Even Tiger Woods may be resurfacing to help out: Rumors abound that the golfer-in-hiding may be donating $3 million to performing artist Wyclef Jean's Haiti relief group, Yele.
2. NFL Playoff Electricity, and a Shocking Baby Switch
Between the PSAs and the frequent, welcome messages urging help for Haiti during the weekend's NFL Divisional Playoff Games, CBS and Fox managed to air some fresh ads, paving the way to the Madison Avenue fiesta that is the Super Bowl. Front and center over the weekend were new ads from E*Trade (ETFC) and its famously funny talking baby. But they've pulled a switcheroo on us, sports fans—it's not the same E*Trade tot.
The first ad, called "Barbershop," features the bogus new baby singing with three of his diapered friends. The second ad, "Lottery" brings back adult pal Frank (aka the golf shankapotomus) and a lottery ticket the baby likens to Frank's retirement plan. E*Trade may well be starting a new NFL advertising trend: taking advantage of lower prices and weaker competition by premiering ads during the playoffs instead of the Super Bowl. It's a smart move—whether or not you want the old baby back.
Outside of the ads, teams' playoff runs have created significant economic boosts in their home cities. In New York the Jets' postseason run, which has them in Sunday's Conference Championship game in Indianapolis after beating the Chargers in San Diego, has helped bolster seat license sales at the new Meadowlands stadium the team will share with the Giants when it opens in the fall. According to Bloomberg News, Jets officials report that sales of personal seat licenses (PSLs) "increased in December and January as the Jets made the playoffs and the economy improved."
Before they were bounced by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals' playoff run created a post-holiday boon for local businesses. Sales of Cardinals gear were up as much as 60% at the 17 regional Just Sports stores, according to the Arizona Republic. Up in Minneapolis, former villain-turned-hero Brett Favre's No. 4 Viking jersey outsold all other players' among NFL merchandise this season; the Dallas Morning News reports that Viking home games in the Metrodome "resemble a Favre family reunion, so popular is his brand."
The Vikings' next opponent, the Saints, now have a season ticket waiting list 50,000 people deep, just three and a half years after the team had a season ticket surplus of 44,000 in the wake of Katrina. Quarterback Drew Brees' foundation has taken an active role in Katrina recovery.
Back in San Diego, some Chargers fans might now be regretting the free tattoos they received on Saturday, courtesy of Propaganda Tattoo. For the third year in a row, the El Cajon tattoo parlor has offered Chargers fans free Bolts tattoos before big playoff games. More than 300 people have accepted the free ink, and the shop reports that business with Chargers fans on a year-round basis has doubled. (No word on whether they'll be offering free tattoo removal this week.)
3. Australian Open(s) Down Under
If it's mid-January, it must be time for the pro tennis season to begin. This year's men's and women's champions will each receive the tidy sum of $2.1 million (with the runner-up receiving $1.05 million) and the chance to launch a quest for the elusive calendar-year Grand Slam.
According to Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood, ticket sales for the 2010 event are ahead of last year. While the tournament has had some issues retaining sponsors, as have almost all major sporting events in the past year, existing sponsors watchmaker Rolex and local winery Jacob's Creek "were willing to step up and become associate sponsors." Panasonic (PC) and the Australian subsidiary of the British personal-care products company Cussons (PZC:LN) also signed on as sponsors at the 11th hour.
Maybe if Maria Sharapova had been focusing more on her tennis and less on her new eight-year, $70 million endorsement contract with Nike (NKE), she wouldn't have been bounced in the first round. Or maybe it was the sheer weight of the "20-carat yellow quartz suspended on 18-carat gold chains" Paloma Picasso by Tiffany (TIF) earrings Sharapova sported that held her back.
Regardless, Sharapova will be seeing a far smaller percentage of sales from her new Nike dress line than she would if she had actually advanced in Melbourne. Tag Heuer and Prince can't be very happy, either, as the pair of her biggest sponsors (along with Nike) had planned new-product launches this month to coincide with the kickoff of her supposedly first healthy season in two years. According to USA Today, Sharapova is "working on a branding strategy that can outlast her playing days, similar to those employed by Michael Jordan and Greg Norman."
Tennis star Andy Murray should probably also stick to his day job. Along with fellow ATP players Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 5 tennis player in the world released a new song called Autograph. Thus far, the debut single has only sold 200 copies.
What's really paying off for the Australian Open and its players is betting. The Aussie Open is the only Grand Slam tournament sponsored by a gambling house, Betfair Australia. A portion of each wager with Betfair Australia placed on Sharapova, Murray, or any player at the event goes to Tennis Australia, the nonprofit federation that runs the Melbourne event. The arrangement is the highest-profile commercial link between betting and a sport continually investigating suspicious wagering.
If asked, Betfair Australia is required to reveal the identities of customers betting on matches and a record of their wagers to Tennis Australia. The agreement started in 2007, a year before the four Slams—the Australian, French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open—joined forced with the men's ATP and women's Sony Ericsson WTA tours and the International Tennis Federation to fight corruption after several gambling scandals came to light.
4. As the World Serves
Perhaps influenced by the college football Bowl Championship Series, two professional sports are independently reviewing proposals that would change the way they determine a "world champion."
First, players from the ATP World Tour are considering creating tennis' first World Cup—a biennial, 10-day tournament involving 32 countries. According to the Times of London, the "Grand Slam of Nations," as the event is tentatively called, would require shorter matches and compulsory mid-match substitutions.
The proposed event, the brainchild of Melbourne-based sports marketing agency Gemba, would be staged in late September or early October in Europe. The plan has been presented to top-ranked players on the ATP Players Council, the USTA, the All England Club, Tennis Australia, and the ATP's global television partners.
At risk is the Davis Cup, which a handful of top players including American Andy Roddick have already announced they'll forgo, owing to their already too-packed ATP schedules. Says Players Council member Novak Djokovic, who joins his council peers in backing the World Cup proposal, "The main point is that we are trying to make this sport improve and get better."
Meanwhile, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and the Japanese baseball commissioner are considering a global World Series. Under the proposed plan, the U.S. and Japanese champions would face each other at the end of their respective seasons. Ideally, Selig would like to see the game take place before he retires in 2012. (The World Baseball Classic will play its third iteration in 2013.)