Golf: The U.S. Open Goes Digital

1. U.S. Open at Bethpage Ushers in Father's Day

According to the United States Golf Assn., proud parent of the U.S. Open, more than 110,000 hats will be sold this week at the USGA's giant merchandise pavilion at New York's Bethpage Black course—an average of 15 hats a minute. Besides the lids, said pavilion will offer more than 500,000 items sporting the 2009 Open logo, from ball markers costing $2 to signed art prints going for $1,350.

While the National Retail Federation estimates that Father's Day spending will decline by more than 4% this year—down to an average of $90.89 from last year's $94.54, based on a May poll—apparently that frugality won't extend to Bethpage Black.

Outside Bethpage, the 115- year-old USGA is harnessing digital media like never before so that dads, grads, and Joe average golf fan can access the event wherever they might be. DirecTV (DTV) has announced plans to offer viewers three additional channels to complement live coverage of the U.S. Open on ESPN and NBC (GE), the first time the service will be extended to all four rounds of the Open. One channel will have live coverage of two "marquee groups" (also streamed online each day at; a second channel will continuously cover a specific hole live (most likely No. 17); while the third will feature live updates, interviews, and highlights.

The live video will also be available via a free iPhone app, and the Web site will include a live Twitter feed from inside the ropes.Visitors to will be able to view flyovers and play the course virtually.

Further honoring Dad, the Golf Channel is wrapping up its Father's Day Dream Trip contest, presented by TaylorMade, that allowed fans to submit a story of 100 words or less recounting a "life lesson learned from their fathers, father figures, or golf mentors through the game of golf." The winner will be announced during the Golf Channel's Live From the U.S. Open telecast on Father's Day, June 21.

In the face of all this newfangled techno promotion, however, it's worth remembering that the U.S. Open's history in the New York area is about as old as it gets. When the 109th Open kicks off Thursday at Bethpage Black, the event will be the 22nd Open held in the New York region, a tradition that dates back to 1896, when the second U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock Hills. Bethpage is central to New York golf history—since the state park's first golf courses opened in 1935 (with a $1 greens fee, no less), the park's five layouts have hosted 17.1 million rounds, with the storied Black course averaging 35,000-38,000 rounds a year.

2. U.S. Open—Tiger vs. Phil V.09

With one of the main storylines coming out of Bethpage this week centered on the rivalry between the world's No. 1 golfer, Tiger Woods, gunning for his 15th major win, and New York crowd favorite Phil Mickelson, playing amid emotional revelations of a breast cancer diagnosis for his wife, Amy, it's instructive to compare the business and educational courses both players have constructed outside of the links.

Besides early efforts in worldwide golf course design and construction, Woods has mainly focused on his Tiger Woods Foundation, backed by Target (TGT) and other major companies. This month the Georgetown University Sports Industry Management (GUSIM) graduate program and the Tiger Woods Foundation have partnered to support a new "externship" course designed to "blend the fundamentals and culture of the Tiger Woods Foundation—including the Tiger Woods Learning Center and the PGA Tour AT&T National on July 2-5—with the academic and personal-development initiatives of Georgetown and the GUSIM curriculum," according to University releases.

Further, MLB Advanced Media has just struck a multiyear deal to manage and operate, the golfer's official Web site, in conjunction with Woods' staff. Baseball's interactive arm, which manages the digital content of several other sports entities, will relaunch Woods' Web site with more exclusive content and a new fantasy game, the Tiger Woods Scorecard Challenge, as well as further highlight his philanthropic initiatives.

Mickelson, on the other hand, has focused more tightly on entrepreneurial investments and educational initiatives, including the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy, in which each summer nearly 600 third- through fifth-grade teachers from school districts across the country attend a five-day camp in New Jersey, Texas, or Louisiana designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to motivate students to pursue math and science careers.

"As someone who uses math and science every day in my career, I recognize the importance of encouraging children's interests in math and science and equipping educators with the tools and resources they need to succeed in the classroom," say Mickelson on the program's Web site. "The Academy is an opportunity for teachers to share best practices with colleagues and pick up tools to positively impact the science and math education students receive."

Outside of Woods and Mickelson and the $3.5 billion total the game of golf is estimated to raise each year for charities, the most recent economic report commissioned by the World Golf Foundation's Golf 20/20 initiative revealed that in 2005, golf generated $76 billion in direct economic impact in the U.S. When researchers factored in real estate, tourism, hospitality, and taxes, that 2005 number climbed to $195 billion, in addition to employing 2 million people, who were paid a total of around $61 billion.

And you thought 110,000 hats was a big number.

3. NBA Wraps Season, Looks Ahead

Suddenly it's over. After nine seemingly endless months of basketball and hockey, we're down to one major team sport to follow for the duration of June and July.

Regarding the NBA, Sunday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals capped a season in which attendance and viewership have understandably been down, yet playoff games attracted a ratings block unseen outside FOX's American Idol franchise. (We refuse to acknowledge John & Kate Plus 8). Sunday's broadcast earned ABC a 7.9 rating and drew 13.9 million viewers, making it the most-viewed Sunday night broadcast for the second consecutive week. For the Finals, ABC averaged an 8.4 rating and 14.3 million viewers, television's top broadcasts since mid-May.

In Los Angeles, the Lakers' off-season financial issues at present are very short-term as the team works out a deal with the city to pay for Wednesday's $2 million victory parade. In years past, the city has picked up the whole tab for the public fete of the victorious team—unthinkable in a year in which city workers and teachers are facing furloughs and layoffs. The Lakers and Staples Center owner AEG are reportedly contributing more than $1 million to the parade, and the Los Angeles Times reports that "nearly half" of the estimated $900,000 the city needs for law enforcement and traffic control is being donated by Wasserman Media Group CEO Casey Wasserman and others.

After the parade and the commemorative Wheaties box being issued next month, the Lakers will deal with a league-high luxury tax and begin to plan for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game held at Staples Center.

In Orlando, any doubts about the Magic's value to the community and worthiness of a new arena were eased by the team's championship run. More than 4,000 new Magic season tickets have been requested since the playoffs began, and the DeVos family, one of the few true family owners of an NBA team, is grooming the next generation behind patriarch and AmWay co-founder Rich DeVos to be a "legacy and heritage team." The team is also confident that its trip to the NBA Finals will help erase as much as $6 million from its $15 million to 20 million operating loss this season.

Overall in the league, one NBA Eastern Conference executive has predicted that at least 20 NBA teams will carry only 14 or fewer players next season to cut down on expenses, and that European franchises will benefit from the glut of American talent, at a cheaper rate (with salaries possibly up to 40% lower). Also in Europe, NBA Commissioner David Stern is reportedly eying Britain for the next great wave of NBA expansion after China, stating to London's Daily Telegraph and others that the 2012 London Olympics affords the "perfect opportunity" to "enthrall a much larger group."

4. As Does the NHL

Over at the National Hockey League, televised coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals won rave reviews from TV critics and fans alike, and the league is looking back on a season that will be remembered as a continued renaissance for the sport.

As The New York Times opined, 2008-2009 was a "successful season for the NHL in many ways." Both attendance and TV ratings "rose, especially in Chicago and Boston, traditional hockey cities that had been moribund for many years." The youth behind the Penguins, the Washington Senators, and perennial contender Red Wings represent the sport's bright future, and hockey is looking like it will continue to grow."

On Friday, NBC earned a 4.3/8 final rating and 8 million viewers for Penguins-Red Wings Game Seven, the most-viewed NHL game in 36 years. NBC averaged 5.6 million viewers for its five Penguins-Red Wings broadcasts, the best figure since 5.8 million viewers watched three telecasts of the Red Wings-Hurricanes series on ABC in 2002, according to the network.

In Pittsburgh, local officials estimate that the Penguins' 11 home playoff games at Mellon Arena generated $1.7 million or more in parking and amusement-tax revenue; Pittsburgh police estimate Monday's Penguins championship parade drew a crowd of 375,000 people to downtown Pittsburgh, besting by 25,000 the crowd that gathered in February to celebrate the Steelers' Super Bowl victory. Over the next year the franchise will reap tens of millions of dollars in new sponsorship and premium-seating sales at the new Consol Energy Center, slated to open in the fall of 2010. In Detroit, the Red Wings are widely viewed as one of the bandages holding that troubled region together.

While the league does have a few challenges heading into the off-season, including resolving the Coyotes situation in Phoenix and continuing to widen the net of TV exposure offered by cable sports network Versus, Commissioner Gary Bettman is optimistic. Bettman noted on FOX Business Network that the league's teams are "over 80% renewed on season tickets for next year," and the "sponsorship marketplace for us, while challenging for everybody, has been pretty vibrant…. We're pretty upbeat about our prospects."

5. Evil Empire Update

While the issues of the week surrounding the Yankees center on their shellacking of the Mets and the still-empty, still-embarrassing Legends seats behind home plate, the business of the Evil Empire continues to ignite interest.

The Yankees will begin streaming their games to the local market live on the Internet later this season, becoming the first MLB team to offer their fans such an option. While the games will be available only to local Cablevision (CVC) and includes a subscription fee, the practice is sure to open the door for other teams to follow suit.

Earlier in June, team officials announced that taxpayers will face more than $5 million in document costs if the team is "forced to provide internal records sought by lawmakers looking into public financing" of the new Yankee Stadium. The New York Assembly is looking into what Assemblyman Richard Brodsky claims is nearly $4 billion in "financing and tax breaks over 30 years that was used to build the new ballpark." In a hearing with politicians in Albany, team attorney George Carpinello said the estimated $5 million document fee is for the review of about 1.4 million e-mails and attachments alone. Brodsky claimed the Yankees "didn't provide information they promised" and disagreed that the document costs would fall to the Assembly or to the public.

Besides the document fees, the team and politicians yesterday "traded shots over everything from the stadium's true cost to ticket prices to an argument made rarely by the Yankees—facing an unfair financial burden." The New York Times' Richard Sandomir noted that the Yankees "represent a huge target, and Brodsky's focus on them consistently yields news."

6. A Sit Down with Steve Ross?

Another New York sports owner is making headlines, in this case positive ones. Miami Dolphins owner and New York-based real estate giant the Related Companies Chairman Steve Ross has just been ranked No. 2 on the New York Observer's Power 100 list, which ranks the leading figures in New York real estate.

In South Florida, Ross has also been making waves for all the fan-friendly innovations he's bringing to the Dolphins, including a one-year naming rights deal with Jimmy Buffett's Landshark Lager and its Parrothead accoutrements—handheld devices that allow some season ticket holders to customize their game-day experience—and just-launched online videos that are a key part of the Dolphins' new interactive marketing campaign. As reported by the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the video, This off-season, the Dolphins' most important signing…is you, includes "snippets of interviews with players and Coach Tony Sparano talking about…well, you." Dolphins' fans names are embedded into the video, and Ross, as part of it, "sits across from you and hands you a contract to sign." The video can be accessed at the team's official Web site or at The campaign aims to encourage fans to buy season tickets.

The team's senior director of communications reports that feedback "has been good, and ticket sales are ahead of schedule."

7. Highest International Soccer Transfer Fees

Real Madrid set a world record for highest transfer fee last week, agreeing to pay AC Milan $91.2 million for the rights to Kaká. Not to be outdone, the club one-upped themselves by paying Manchester United $132 million for Cristiano Ronaldo a few days later. After Ronaldo and Kaká, these are the next five highest transfer fees in soccer history:

5. Robinho ($52.9 million) From Real Madrid to Manchester City

4. Gianluigi Buffon ($53.1 million) From Parma to Juventus

3. Hernan Crespo ($57.8 million) From Parma to Lazio

2. Luis Figo ($60.2 million) From Barcelona to Real Madrid

1. Zinedine Zidane ($74.8 million) From Juventus to Real Madrid

8. Footnotes

Once they picked themselves up off the floor after swooning over these transfer fees and as they await the onslaught of the NBA in 2012, Britons continue to monitor the financial flux of EPL, their for-the-moment favorite sport.

According to The Times of London, EPL club West Ham United is "in financial limbo" after the club's ownership group last week was transferred from Björgólfur Guðmundsson to Icelandic asset-management firm CB Holding. The new ownership group presented a "three-year plan to run the club, aiming to recoup the money it is owed" by Guðmundsson once the economy improves. CB Holding says it "will want to maintain the value of West Ham and is unlikely to sell too many top players" because of the risk of relegation and a plunge in value, while admitting it is "unlikely to invest much money" in players.

In Manchester, EPL club Liverpool is being forced to pay about $2.99 million to "cover the travel, legal and other personal expenses" of co-owner billionaires George Gillett and Tom Hicks, according to the Manchester Guardian. Hicks reportedly charged about $310,796 during 2008 for "third-party consulting, travel, and other expenses," while Gillett charged about $208,816 for "reimbursable travel, legal, personnel, and other expenses."

In Newcastle, two or three parties are jockeying to buy Newcastle United, and club officials expect a deal to be completed by the end of June. Newcastle last week confirmed that owner Mike Ashley is asking $161.9 million for the club. After the club posted the sale price and an e-mail address for interested buyers on its Web site, Times writer George Caulkin responded: "What this announcement has done is simply added another layer of embarrassment to the club. Short of putting it up for sale on eBay, it's hard to see how this could have been handled in a more amateurish way."

9. Athletes and Logo Tattoos

Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat caught heat last week for having a Nike/Jordan brand logo tattoo despite being a Reebok endorser. Gortat is not the only athlete whose affinity for a logo has resulted in a permanent display of affection, with other player tattoos ranging from favorite superhero to a cartoon character. As for Gortat, he says Reebok does not pay him enough to mask his Nike (NKE) loyalty.

5. Damon Stoudamire. It's not clear if the nickname or tattoo came first, but Stoudamire's small stature is reminiscent of the Mighty Mouse character inked on his right arm. The cartoon's career outlasted that of the basketball player's, spending 18 years on TV as opposed to 13 years on the hardwood.

4. Ryan Lochte. Lochte is best known for winning a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As such, it is only fitting that he commemorates his experience by putting a tattoo of the famed Olympic Rings on the inside of his bicep.

3. Stephon Marbury. In 2006, Marbury partnered with national retailer Steve & Barry's on a pair of affordable basketball shoes, affectionately nicknamed Starbury. In 2008 he brought the partnership to a new level when he tattooed the Starbury logo on the side of his head.

2. Chad Johnson. Gortat was not the only tattooed athlete in the news last week, as Chad Ochocinco (née Johnson) joined him. A Miami Beach native, Ochocinco felt compelled to tattoo the state of Florida under his eye. He later admitted the tattoo is removable and was intended to be a prank on the media.

1. Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal is the proud owner of one of the NBA's most recognizable tattoos—the iconic Superman shield. Always looking to stir up a little controversy, Shaq recently called out Dwight Howard for trying to steal his Superman moniker.

10. Now That's What We Call Pole Position

It is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., yet a majority of people still does not know that it even exists. Created in 2008, the U.S. Pole Dancing Federation (USPDF) was organized to provide structure and industry standards for pole dancers across the country. Not to be confused with stripping, the USPDF specifies that pole dancing is a "sensual athletic art form, where creativity meets physical strength."

Like any other sport, the USPDF holds competitions, workshops, and panel discussions. The first-place winner at the recent U.S. Championships in New York received a free trip to Sydney, Australia; entry to the World Championship in Jamaica; and, the most coveted, a spot on the cover of Pole2Pole magazine. Second place went to an exotic dancer from South Florida named Bambi.

Nevertheless, pole dancing is not all fun and games. One of the 12 finalists was forced to withdraw after dislocating her elbow during warm-ups. No one ever said it was easy.

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