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Let’s celebrate freedom

It’s the Fourth of July, a time we reserve to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and the independence won for these United States. It also happens to mark the beginning of this year’s NBA free agency, which has been nothing short of jaw-dropping, with fringe players who even the most seasoned NBA fan wouldn’t be able to name, signing contracts for guaranteed money that rival that of even the most elite NFL player. But why?

TV money is awesome

Once upon a time, NBA players accepted whatever their team offered them in compensation because the players lacked the freedom to contract with any other team. The team that chose them held all of the bargaining power. That was pre-free agency, in the Stone Age of player rights.

Fast-forward to 2015, where teams and players who will be become unrestricted free agents next year (see Curt Flood) expect a big increase in salary due to the NBA’s nine-year, $24 billion television rights deal that will kick in at the beginning of the season.

This year’s salary cap will see an increase of $4-6 million to around $69 million and some project the cap to be as high as $90 million in the 2016-17 season. For perspective, the largest annual salary-cap jump in history is $7 million.

Which brings us to the question, why have a salary cap at all? Is this not the land of the free market?

Let freedom ring

Forbes released its annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. LeBron James came in the 6 spot with $64.8 million ($20.8 million salary/ $44 million endorsement). Cristiano Ronaldo ($79.6 million) was ahead of James on that list, mostly due to the fact that the soccer icon made about $52 million in salary. Many argue that if the NBA did away with salary caps, James’ value would skyrocket past that $52 million salary mark, possibly commanding hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

A funny thing happened when the NBA sought a new television deal for the league. They tested the free market, large corporations like ESPN (with deep pockets, I wish I knew their tailor) started throwing all the money they had at them, and they accepted the highest offer. An uncapped, unregulated, free market negotiation. It is unconscionable to think that this very entity that enjoyed the spoils of the free market would then squash their player’s ability to do the same.
The fact of the matter is, we don’t see this in corporate America. The tech industry. Medicine. Law. In this country you should make what you are worth. And you are worth what someone is willing to pay you.

But then again…

In America, we are all about the little man being able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. The Knicks, Bulls and Lakers (coincidentally located in the 3 largest cities), are the only teams in the NBA valued at over $1 billion dollars. Even the team historically known as L.A.’s J.V. squad, the Clippers, recently sold for $2 billion! That said, the Lakers haven’t won a conference final in five years, the Bulls in 17 years and the Knicks in 16 years.

In that time, we have seen NBA titles won by the San Antonio Spurs, conference and NBA finals appearances by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Why? Some might say the salary cap.

On a level playing field, where money spent on players is held in check by salary caps, players can make the same money in Oklahoma or Indiana as they could in New York or California. In this 2015 free agency period, we have seen a number of players choose small markets and leave the big cities out in the cold. If the money is the same everywhere, it frees the player up to decide where to play based on factors other than who can pay them the most.

So maybe we should sacrifice the freedom of the athlete to command their true value for the sake of parody in the NBA. For the sake of the little guy in the small market being able to watch a Kevin Durant or LeBron James in a fly-over state night after night.

Or maybe this is America. Where athletes should be free to make as much money as their talents command and small markets should be brave enough to find new ways to compete in a world with no salary caps.

The phrase front office gets tossed around in sports-related conversations at the water cooler, the bar or the game. But most people only know a couple of roles outside of the players and field staff – the GM or AD, maybe the president. But what about all the other jobs? Most teams or collegiate athletic departments are filled with dozens or hundreds of staff.

A non-scientific study* conducted by one of our interns, showed that an average athletic department/team has a front office staff of 85. This is full time, year-round staff, to say nothing of the game operations group, interns, seasonal support staff or volunteers. Dig deeper and you’ll find millions of jobs in the sports industry that people never think of, and thousands of other roles filled by volunteers or interns. Many of the well paid executives started in an unpaid internship or volunteer role.

Most organizations, especially the smaller ones, like road race promotion companies, dirt tracks, minor league teams, little leagues and high schools depend on unpaid efforts to survive. When I coached little league, there were 3-5 volunteers per team (coaches, scorekeepers, others), and another dozen-plus who ran the league itself. In a former role, we’d count on volunteer groups – sometimes completely unpaid, other times a small donation – to fill customer service roles like ticket takers or ushers. Even major league teams often let groups volunteer at concession stands in exchange for donations. These roles are crucial, because this blog wouldn’t have been written without the help of an intern!

To wrap it up, the trillion-dollar sports industry relies on tens of thousands of volunteers to keep it moving. Their invaluable efforts are what keep this business alive and thriving. So, if you want to break into the industry, consider an unpaid role, it’s a great way to get a start, and how I got mine. Next time you see a volunteer putting in time at a game, race or other event, tell them “thank you.” I’ll start now, thanks to Clare Myers for editing this story and Kyle Teague for doing the research.

*According to the staff listed on the websites of the Vancouver Canucks, Miami Dolphins, Indiana Pacers, New York Yankees, Frisco RoughRiders, Miami University and University of Alabama.



While surfing the web this past weekend, I came across an interesting article that the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, was steeping down on July 1st and co-founder Jack Dorsey would assume the interim role until a replacement is named. I immediately wondered what was up with this story and decided to research further. What I found and began to ponder was whether this was mismanagement of a company or could this be the simple evolution of another social media phenomenon.

Twitter went public on November 6th with an initial public offering of $26 per share and within days was trading at double that price. Though there was an initial frenzy for the stock, no one anticipated the many failed strategies, poor leadership, inability to address growth and multiple senior leadership changes that then new CEO Dick Costolo would be blamed for in the coming two years. Twitter boasts over 302 million registered users, however 75% of these people are no longer active users of the product. Many surveyed don’t feel that Twitter is as intuitive to use as Facebook or Instagram, hence the reason why Twitter is experiencing such a high inactive rate.

It was not to long ago, twelve to fifteen years in fact, that sites like classmates.com, sixdegrees.com, Friendster.com, myspace.com, linkedin.com and Facebook.com were popping up on the web. All of these sites provided an opportunity for users to engage with friends, family, and co-workers all over the world. Some grew more successfully then others, while some are out of business today.

Twitter struggled to take off between 2005 – 2007 with much of the challenges being pinned on investor politics. But, Twitter was very, very addictive to the small group of people who had begun to use it and in the Spring of 2007, Twitter was exposed at SXSW in Austin, TX. This 10-event provided the exposure the product needed for many consumers to begin to experience its uniqueness. Needless to say, many at the time loved it and engaged in it.

So, the question that remains is will Twitter survive? Like many social media companies, standing the test of time is relative to the group of people that’s attracted to your product. My two nieces are eight and ten years old, and they view Facebook as an old person’s site, don’t do Twitter and are perfectly engaged in Instagram.

Their generation will see more social media companies that come along and engage the public, and who knows what will remain relevant or become obsolete. And regarding Twitter, that bird may have already flown the coop!

Watch-Game, Set and Match!

Watches are an essential part of our everyday wardrobe; adding the finishing touch to complete our look. So how does one pick a watch? Is it based on design, functionality, price point OR the ability to hit screaming forehands, up to 1000 G forces on the tennis court, while still keeping precise time?

Well for top tennis player and world-renown athlete Rafael Nadal, that sounds about right. Nadal, like many other top athletes, has a relationship with a watch manufacturer. And like many other top athletes, after his matches Rafa would make his way over to his chair and put his watch before meeting his press obligations include the on-court interview. But unlike other top athletes, in 2010, Rafa with friend and watchmaker Richard Mille, upped the stakes by creating a watch that would actually be worn during his matches.


Fast forward a couple years and grand slams later and Rafa is still wearing his watch during matches but others on tour have caught on as well. Top-ranked Serena Williams on the women’s side along with Stan Wawarinka and Kei Nishikori on the men’s side are players that have added watches to their on-court uniform.

So is this just another marketing tactic that brands use to make us commoners want even more luxuries that we can’t have? Maybe. But when I’m watching Serena play grueling tennis for hours, covered in sweat and the red dirt at Rolland Garros and on her wrist she’s wearing a gorgeous, feminine white quartz Audemars Piguet, I realize she’s got it together – taking care of business on court and she’s dripping class. Rafa’s RM027 RN is one of the most interesting looking watches I’ve ever seen and screams sophistication.

Being a tennis fan, I have an understanding of what these athletes go through on court and for the products to withstand that on a daily basis is as impressive of an accessory as there is right now. What’s stopping other brands and products that start as fashion from turning into functionality that consumers never take off?

What’s next?

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan, whose youth was filled with Pats ineptitude. More losses than wins usually had my dad pounding the arms of his uneasy chair. When I was a kid, they were known as the Boston Patriots, playing their games at venerable Fenway Park. As a sports journalist, one of my first jobs included covering the Pats in the Steve Grogan/Tony Eason era – an equally inept time. Eason never met a slide to avoid a hit he didn’t like, but I digress.

I covered training camps at Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island, along with the sale of the Pats to Victor Kiam, the Remington Products CEO whose famous catchphrase, “I liked the (electric) shaver so much, I bought the company”, made him a household name.

Yes, I’ve been through it all with New England’s NFL franchise, which is why the events of the past four months are somewhat disturbing.

First, let me be clear. Name me one professional sports franchise that has not looked for ways to “skirt” the rules in order to gain even the slightest of advantages, and I’ve got stock in the next wave of 8-track tapes to sell you.

So, what’s MY opinion of what’s happening at 1 Patriot Place in Foxborough, MA?

*Disclaimer – The views, opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by Mark Edwards do not represent the opinions or policies of U/S Sports Advisors, the organization, office staff, management, sponsors, or clients…even interns.

I believe that Tom Brady prefers the footballs to be a certain way, and when the balls were handed over to Jim McNally by the officials prior to the AFC Championship game, McNally hightailed it into the bathroom and took air out of most of the balls. Seeing he was only in there 90 seconds, he realistically only had time to remove a little air from 11 of the 12 footballs. In the following news conferences by Brady, I believe he was trying to cover for McNally and fellow attendant John Jastremski, hoping to keep them out of harms way. Noble, yes. Smart, not so much.

The subsequent $1 million dollar fine, loss of a 1st and 4th round draft pick and four-game suspension of Brady (which I believe soon after this posting will be reduced or dismissed) is a rather steep penalty for something that, as proven by the second-half dismantling of the Colts, really had no bearing on the outcome of the game.

Team owner Robert Kraft’s five-minute presser accepting the Pats’ penalties, in my opinion, supports the Pats’ guilt. Initially, they all did their best to try and deflect this with everything short of gremlins disguised as Rex Ryan sneaking into the ball bag with a needle.

Tom, you were wrong. Bill and Bob, stick to coaching and ownership.

Now, go and do what everyone in “Patriots Nation” is hoping. March all the way to Super Bowl 50, and with all the proper pounds per square inch you’ve got, win a fifth title and shut everyone the heck up!