Friday, August 17, 2007

Ted Leonsis vs. SportsTalk 980

I haven’t lived in Washington, D.C. since early 1995, but I follow my old friend Ted Leonsis’ musings on a regular basis. Ted was put off by when hosts of a talk show on SportsTalk 980 as he was headed, along with about 50,000 other people to see the David Beckham vs. DC United soccer match.

Beckham is a star in the international sense, had a movie named after him and married one of the spice girls and that’s the kind of star power we (the aggregate USA star-effer mentality) love.

The hosts on the talk show mocked the people who were going to the game. I understand the mentality: the jacked up attendance for that specific game (probably including Ted) is all because it was an “event” and had nothing to do with a love of soccer. We like the big events. It’s how the system works.

Unless the league can find 3-4 more players of Beckham’s star quality, and they won’t be able to without actually somehow creating the stars, it won’t matter. More to Ted’s real concern is hockey: he owns the NHL Washington Capitals, and has a loyal, but not huge fan base (especially compared to the NFL franchise, the Washington Redskins, but even the MLB and NBA franchises, and even some of the college teams have more of a following locally than the Capitals).

The problem for the NHL, in terms of sheer #’s is its lack of stars. Period. The end. Ted suggests that 980 was foolish for not embracing diversity of all sports leagues, and that it will perish into irrelevancy if it does not.

BIG DISCLAIMER: I love Ted. I’m serious. I have some genuine affection for the guy. He’s smart, charming, and funny and most definitely a “man of the people”, which I think is really cool. He says what he thinks and he’s authentic. I trust him. Plus, he’s been very helpful to me personally. He’s a great guy. But all that doesn’t add up to “he’s always right” and he’s wrong here.

First of all, 980 did cover the event, which I referred to as David Beckham vs. DC United because I can’t name a single other person on the LA Galaxy. I can’t name a single person on DC United either, unless Freddy Adu is still there and I believe the last I heard he was fleeing to play in a country that actually cares about soccer.

I think 980 covered this the way a Sports Talk station should've. They mocked the event nature of it. Sometimes, a part of human nature is that you get a lot more attention by insulting people than you otherwise would. This is a case in point. If they had simply celebrated the event as if it were the second coming of the Beatles, Ted would not have written about it for over the last week. The suggestion that sports talk needs to be diverse, especially in DC is likely folly. I believe 980 would have MORE listeners than it currently has if it said, “From now on, we talk about NOTHING but the Redskins! 365 days a year! All Redskins all the time!” The NFL is a big, big deal. Period. How big of a deal? The NFL DRAFT (yes, the boring ass draft!) was the second highest rated program on non-broadcast television the week it aired in April – edged out by the Sopranos. The NFL draft had MORE THAN THREE TIMES as many television viewers -- just over 5 million as the NHL Finals which had 1.4 million viewers.

The NHL has the same problem as soccer has. Not enough stars. Not nearly enough. Soccer has one. None of the NHL stars have the Q-Rating that Beckham has and only Alex Ovechken and Sidney “Sid the kid” Crosby have any Q-rating with the American public at all and again, not nearly as many people know who those guys are as Beckham and neither of them are in the public’s mind as much as Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr or Bobby Hull. The NHL is lacking good “Bobbys” these days! If the Capitals field a good team and are winning games, making the playoffs, etc., 980 will certainly cover the team locally. But the NHL has the bigger problem of lack of star quality. Even the most casual of sports fans can rattle off five NFL, NBA or MLB stars fairly easily. NHL? Soccer? NO FREAKING WAY.

Mark Cuban suggested to me via e-mail a couple of months back, and I believe not jokingly (though he might have been, I don’t think so) that the NHL needed to get Alex O. and Sid the Kid together with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. I think Cubes is correct. In the life imitates art department, fictional Entourage meets real life Entourage this week with Entourage star Adrian Grenier who plays Vinny Chase hooking his real-life star to the Paris Hilton gravy train. Paris is looking good by the way, perhaps incarceration is good for the skin.

I believe Ted would be better served by leading the NHL’s charge to somehow market its players to the broader public than solving the problems of a small sports talk radio station in DC. If successful, he will have killed two birds with one stone.

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