Will the NFL Exploit Its First Female Referee?

Congratulations, Sarah Thomas! The National Football League hired Thomas in early April, making thomas_Sarah_practice71her the first full-time female referee in the NFL’s 95-year history.

Thomas has a pretty impressive resume: working high school games in 1999, the first woman to officiate an NCAA game in 2007, the first female official to work a college bowl game in 2009, and the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium in 2011. She has also done sideline work for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts during minicamp practices.

Although the married mother of three who also works in pharmaceutical sales told USA Today she’s “ecstatic” and “blessed,” not everyone is joining the celebration.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks told TMZ that he wondered if the NFL was “more interested in scoring publicity points than placing quality officials on the field.”

“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation – if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world. The same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.”

 
As exciting as the announcement can be, Marks makes a good point. Just one year ago, the league was dealing with a public relations nightmare: multiple players accused of domestic violence. The NFL is now trying to get back in good graces with women. A 30-second PSA aired during the first quarter of the Super Bowl to encourage viewers to pledge an end to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Drew Harwell with The Washington Post points out women are pro football’s most valuable players, making up an estimated 45% of the the NFL’s more than 150 American fans. Harwell cites C. Keith Harrison, a University of Central Florida associate professor, with finding women make or influence 85% of disposable-income purchasing decisions.

Female fans, a group beloved by advertisers, represent the league’s biggest opportunity for growth. Keeping these women spending has become a chief goal of the NFL.”

Thomas told USA Today she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer. She says she plans to “wear her hair tucked up into her hat,” but will the NFL let her “blend in with the rest of her crew?” It may be too early to tell.

Do you know the name of other referees? Probably not. I’m going to put money on the idea that Thomas will be a household name by the end of the upcoming season for more than just her line judging during games.

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Student Athletes Better Off As A Union?

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The jury is still out – so to speak – when it comes to whether college athletes should be able to join a union and “change the landscape of American amateur sports.”

The debate started grabbing national news headlines when the National Labor Relations Board ruled last March that Northwestern University athletes should be able to form a union because they are legally considered employees.

Northwestern is in the midst of appealing that decision.

Do you believe student athletes should be able to join a union? Click here to read a brief summary to get caught up and then vote in the poll below.

What Happened to “Learning” at College?

The future is looking bright for the Class of 2015… or is it?!?

CareerBuilder, the largest online career site in the U.S., released a survey Thursday stating 65% of companies plan to hire more college graduates this year. That is up 57% last year and the highest outlook since 2007. One third will also offer to pay more than last year.

“They still face challenges, however. One in five employers feel colleges do not adequately prepare students with crucial workplace competencies, including soft skills and real-world experience that might be gained through things like internships.” -Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s Chief Human Resources Officer

9788045101_014c87ce66_bRewind. You can’t place all the blame on colleges for not preparing students for the “real-world.” Many universities are helping students play catch-up because they didn’t learn valuable skills in high school.

The documentary Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk highlights several reasons colleges may partly be at fault for hindering development between admission and graduation.

Bigger isn’t always better. Keith Caywood was one of 37,000 students at Arizona State University before dropping out. He says, “I got swallowed up. I didn’t know where any of my classes were. It was such a large campus.” When he did manage to find his classes, they were often packed with 200 students and, “no one knew if I was there or not.” Smaller classes would allow instructors to provide the interpersonal or people skills 52% of employers say graduates lack.

Lectures are no longer effective. CareerBuilder’s survey found 46% of companies say there is too much emphasis on book learning. Tom Fleming, a UA professor, found his teaching to be more effective if he met students halfway. By incorporating technology, interactive responses, and real-world situations, he was able to make astronomy engaging to individuals taking the class to fulfill a requirement. Western Kentucky University offered a specific Spanish class that allowed journalism/broadcasting students to learn the foreign language by producing newscasts, designing magazine covers, and writing scripts.

The documentary also touched on how instructors are more focused on research because it’s the only way they’re rewarded by administrators,  how college isn’t demanding enough for some people, the stress students face trying to pay for tuition, and how universities have tunnel-vision on building impressive amenities and sports programs.

Every student’s college experience is unique. It’s really up to each individual student to do their research to ensure they’re going to get the best education. After all, you get out what you put in.

Get A Grip On Elusive Fans

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There are 7.125 billion people in world, yet sport organizations are finding their biggest challenge is happening off the field. It’s attracting, engaging, and retaining elusive fans.

The National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and every other governing body are looking for new ways to attract and engage spectators.

7142709055_434d38d505_zThe two biggest issues: time and money.

Americans only have an average of five hours a day for leisure, according to an American Time Use Survey published last year. If someone wanted to attend a sporting event, they have to take the time to contemplate going, buy their tickets, drive to the stadium, find parking, watch the game, wait in traffic to get out of the stadium, and then drive home. More than likely, they’ve already used more than their five hours at the end of the trip.

Folks don’t have to go to a game to have a good time. There are so many other activities that come to mind: watching a movie (either at home or the theater), going to a concert, going shopping, going hiking, or even catching up on sleep.

Can you tell we live in a competitive environment? Let’s pretend no other leisure activities exist besides sports. There are still soMicrosoft_Mediaroom_Guide_Web many options to choose from on a Saturday: 20 college football games airing on TV, tennis and golf tournaments, racing, six soccer matches, high school events, and at least five other competitions.

Technology has changed how individuals consume sports. They no longer have to sit in a stadium, at a bar, or at home to watch a match up. A guy can be out with his wife and daughter at the mall and watch the game on his smartphone. There is even an option to get live updates through apps.

People know their time is valuable. That’s probably why so many of us don’t bother going to games or even watching them on TV. We just want to see the highlights — show the top three plays and the score and we’ve seen the whole game. Everyone at work is only going to be talking about the big moves, right?

Sports_fans_in_rainFans’ expectations are so much higher than they’ve ever been. No one wants to sit in the rain, the cold, or the heat. No one wants to sit on an uncomfortable bleacher that doesn’t have armrests or back support. No one wants to eat just popcorn and hot dogs — they want sushi and vodka.

We haven’t even talked about the money! When one considers going to a game, they have to be willing to take on an investment. They will need to pay for gas to get there/get home, parking, the actual tickets, food and drinks, and probably some team merchandise. A lot of people gripe about the cost of seeing a movie being sky-high, but it’s a bargain when compared to going to a game!

Some other characteristics that define the elusive fan consist of commercialism, individualism, and changes in family structure and behavior.

It’s hard for sport organizations to understand what channels people are using, and it’s even harder to construct the right message.3286023692_e2440cd688_z Generations Y and Z are perhaps the most elusive. If organizations think they have a problem now, the people born ten years from now with be even more elusive.

These brands really need to focus on what people want, when they want it, and where they want it. Organizations have to tell folks why they need to go to/watch sporting events. What’s in it for me? They need to look for innovative ways to create exclusive experiences. Overall, brands must be strong, communicate with fans, and know what’s expected in order to be successful.

Recruiting A Good Team of Attorneys

The National Football League‘s plans to expand to Europe raise a lot of questions. When will it happen? Will a team relocate or be created? How will schedules be created? Who will want to play there?

It’s drawn a lot of criticism. Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy Unknownrecently told shareholders:

I anticipate that the Packers will probably play there in the coming years, but it will be an away game. They will never take a home game.”

It’s also drawn a lot of positivity. Oakland Raiders team captain and fullback Marcel Reece told Brit View NFL:

I’m excited that the Raiders finally get a chance to come out to Wembley Stadium, to have some fun and get a win. We’re an international team and we have an international fan base – there is only one nation and that’s the Raider Nation.”

Patriots_prepare_to_kick_kick_PAT_at_New_England_at_Oakland_12-14-08No matter what side of the fence you’re on, the NFL has some pretty big legal hurdles to jump over first. It’s all about the money, right?

United Kingdom tax laws are very different from the United States. Athletes competing in the UK are taxed up to 45%, while the highest rate in the U.S. is 39.6%.

As ESPN points out, athletes playing overseas are also taxed on global endorsement income:

The amount is determined by dividing the number of days the athlete spends training and competing in the UK annually by the total number of days he trained and competed around the world. That percentage is then multiplied by the athlete’s total global endorsement income to determine the amount subject to taxation.”

Sounds pretty confusing! The teams who play in the NFL International Series games are only in London for less than a week, so the financial burden is very minimal right now.

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Wembley Stadium

The bottom line is athletes playing for a London team will have a far greater tax burden. Forbes published an article back in 2012 that really explained the complicated issue. Michael David Smith from ProFootballTalk also posted a few suggestions, like creating extra salary cap space or giving relocation stipends.

A full home schedule in London also means players will need work visas. Ian Robinson, manager at the immigration law firm Fragomen in London, said there may be a quick fix:

The league could negotiate with the existing British American Football Association or it could negotiate with the government to establish its own office based in the UK.”

Players with criminal convictions would have to stay in America, though.

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Michael Vick on the Atlanta Falcons

The league will also have to handle labor laws, particularly competition laws and free movement laws. The NFL Draft may become an issue as attorney Andrew Nixon points out:

The trickier issue with the draft system would be that it would breach a worker’s right to move freely, and the EU distinguishes between exemption under competition rules and exemption from free movement rules.”

Have a headache yet? The NFL will need a good legal team to sort through all these stipulations. They can’t expect the United Kingdom to change or bend the rules, either. They have to accept them and make the necessary adjustments. You may consider reading this academic article on “Antitrust and ‘Free Movement’ Risk of Expanding U.S. Professional Sports Leagues into Europe” for more insight.

Good Luck Getting Americans to London

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Quarterback Peyton Manning

The Denver Broncos have the best road fans, according to a scientific analysis. The study found the team was the top ticket-selling road team in the National Football League last season. The Dallas CowboysSan Francisco 49ersNew England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers followed.

These fans consistently travel across the United States to see their teams compete, but will they follow them overseas if the NFL decides to put a franchise in the United Kingdom? Probably not.

It’s going to take a while for people to plan the trip, it’ll be expensive, and it’s more than just a weekend getaway.

While perusing the web, I came across an interesting article that Ben Koo wrote about his friend’s experience seeing the 49ers play the Jacksonville Jaguars last October.

The group of eight started planning the trip in April. He stayed in London for nine days. The total cost of the trip for ONE person? He says it was $3,000-$5,000:

  1. Plane – $1,250 roundtrip for economy seats from San Francisco to Heathrow
  2. Hotel – $225 for two twin beds
  3. Game Tickets – $225-$250 for upper deck at Wembley Stadium
  4. Transportation on the London Underground to Wembley – 34 ₤ for seven days
  5. Beers – 4-5 ₤ a piece, or about $5-$7
  6. Food – 8-12 ₤ for burgers, fish, and chips
  7. Various amounts for tourists sites

Don’t forget the majority of the NFL season is played when it is chilly outside. Travelers are going to have to pay extra to add jackets, gloves, and hats to their luggage.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of people who have $5,000 they can just toss around for ONE football game, let alone take nine days off of work at one time.

Team Marketing Report, a publisher of sports marketing and sponsorship information, entry0000026_img000puts out a yearly Fan Cost Index.

Here’s the average costs for a family of four to see a NFL game in the U.S.:

  1. Tickets – $81.54
  2. Beer – $7.05 for two small cups
  3. Soft Drink – $4.48 for four small cups
  4. Hot Dog – $5.07 for four regular servings
  5. Parking – $30.57 for one car
  6. Program – $3.71 for two
  7. Hat – $21.60 for two least-expensive, adult-sized adjustable ones

When you add those numbers up, the total only comes out to $459.65. It’s a 3.7% increase from the previous season, but it’s nearly $4,500 cheaper than going across the Atlantic. Don’t forget — this is for four people.

By the way, the Cowboys had the highest Fan Cost Index of $634.78. That’s still a significant savings! The Cleveland Browns had the lowest Fan Cost Index of $343.80. That’s an even better savings!

NFL on Regent Street, London

NFL on Regent Street in London

Even if Koo’s friend spent his entire savings to go across the pond, it sounds like the group had a good time:

There were a ton of people in every single NFL football jersey you could think of! We actually made it into a drinking game.”

Americans just aren’t going to go to the UK to catch a game. Sure, seeing a game in the U.S. isn’t quite the same as seeing one in London, but it’s too expensive for the average middle-class person. Times are tough. People have more important things to spend their money on, like college debt, credit card debt, childcare, car payments, etc. If the NFL establishes a team in England, it will be up to the locals to support them. They cannot rely on the Americans.

“Jacksonville Jaguars of London”

Maybe the National Football League and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan aren’t ready to fully commit to England.

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British Airways

Why not have the team split its schedule between Florida and London? The Green Bay Packers used to do it in Green Bay and Milwaukee, and it seems like the Buffalo Bills are headed that way with games in Buffalo and Toronto. The Jaguars already have two employees stationed in the United Kingdom, and they already send cheerleaders, athletes, and managers there in the offseason.

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Reggie Williams

Jaguars fans may be a little upset, but wouldn’t they rather have a bi-contentintal team than lose the team entirely? There are a lot of positive aspects. As Khan has said, it would be beneficial to attract international visitors to “The Bold New City of the South:”

Jacksonville is an undiscovered gem, with key resources for tourism and the beaches. It is highly influenced by its maritime business and London is a logical point along the way. We need to take this and market Jacksonville overseas.”

Khan also wants European companies to spend millions of dollars in “J-ville” to entice “Jaxons” to fly across the pond. As ESPN found, the team’s domestic sponsorship revenue rose 14% in 2013, but jumped to 29% when London sponsorship money was included. Even tight end Marcedes Lewis seems to agree:

“It’s just good for the Jaguar brand. “It’s exciting to go over there and put ourselves on the map worldwide. When I got drafted in 2006, there were some of my family members who didn’t even know who the Jaguars were.”

The bi-continental team would make traveling easier than having the team fully based there. The players could spend a few weeks in London and more time in the U.S., and avoid flying back and forth so much. It would also make broadcasting the competitions easier.

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EverBank Field

The games played in the NFL International Series lower ticket prices by at least 10%. If the team had more games overseas, ticket prices would continue to become more affordable. There’s also supply and demand — fewer games in the U.S. would mean more seats sold at EverBank Field. The program would also allow the league to see how many people are truly interested in attending regular games in London, outside the special events from the International Series.

You can’t forget the team’s fan base would grow throughout the process — that’s more merchandise being sold.

Forget being bi-coastal. Bi-contenential is the way to go if the NFL wants to see if it can fully succeed in Europe without a full commitment.