Sep 15

The paper, a panorama, a pared piece of perspiration

I forgot to include this the other day. I took this picture during my Monday ride, when I was happily headed up the wrong road to somewhere I hadn’t intended to visit. Every now and then I find some place where the topography and the surroundings can trick you, offering this weird feeling that you’re on the top of the world.

This was one of those place. I figured a panorama would be an appropriate way to try to capture a small bit of the feeling.


Click to embiggen, and then add this sensation to the list of things a simple photograph can’t convey. And let us also acknowledge how weird that entire premise is considering you’re at about 700 feet above sea level if you’re standing on that road side. Weird, I know, but it happens.


This is a first issue and, as first issues go it is pretty nice. We had our weekly critique meeting this evening and if this is their starting point, I told them that I think they’ll be pleased with where they wind up this year.

It stormed here again today, a big, loud, angry, demonstrative thing. I wanted to go have a big run, but the lightning was in the way. So I went to the gym, where there is an elevated indoor track. Only the football team had taken over that gym because of the storm. Some of their gyms were using part of the track. So I sat and watched them for a while.

There’s only so much you can do in terms of football practice on a basketball court, it turns out. But the coaches kept their spirits high and the players focused and they had some walk throughs and practiced some specific scenarios that they expect to encounter down the line. At the end of it all they huddled together and the head coach, Chris Hatcher, told the team how many lightning strikes were in the area. I’d like to look up that National Weather Service number for myself.

Then I ran two miles, thinking this part of life has gotten a little odd. “Two miles is a disappointment. Oh well, make up for it tomorrow.” And then realize, I’m looking forward to that.

I do not know what is happening.

Sep 15

Very quickly

Because this is the Friday before a three-day weekend. We’re not going to bog down such a thing like a three-day weekend with needless detail. So two quick things, and then off you go.

First, Samford opened their 2015 football season last night and debuted the Chris Hatcher era. The new coach had a big success. Here’s a video package the athletics department put together.

Not a bad start to their campaign.

My colleague Clay Carey and I recorded this podcast this morning. It is a good one, where Carey talks about two related stories from The Washington Post featuring small towns, data journalism and the importance of the in-person experience of journalism.

I’m going to make him a regular guest, I think.

Now, let’s all go have a great weekend.

Sep 15

Two podcasts and a breakthrough two years coming

Here’s a podcast I did with my old friend Chadd Scott earlier this week. He’s launching tonight, a site that will cover SEC football like crazy, and he’s asked me to take part. I’m honored. So I’ll be writing occasionally and podcasting regularly, I hope. Here’s our first one, where Chadd previews the Auburn football season:

He’s pretty sold on them. I have some reservations.

If football isn’t your thing, then this podcast that I recorded today with journalist Andre Natta might be more your style. He tells us about a proposal in Denver that will help ease college debts:

Don’t play both of those at once. The awesome noise might be too much for your computer’s sound card.

I created both of the songs in the podcasts, by the way. That leaves me only 48 steps removed from being a true renaissance man.

Also, tonight, I swam 2,700 yards and then got in a nice, easy four-mile run. My last mile was in 8:05. That’s not fast, but fairly respectable for me, I suppose. But, again, I did it after my biggest swim ever and a four mile run. Plus I took 21 seconds off of my last mile yesterday, making this my favorite new game.

Most importantly, in my last few swims it feels like that’s just starting to click, finally. Finally.

Aug 15

Hey look down here

No, farther down.

Down here! This is a new pet peeve:

The striking thing, to me, about the sport of football is that we can easily forget the human element of the game. Every so often you get a very sharp reminder of that. This is one of those examples:

I had my first meeting with the newsroom staff tonight. As we all got settled in I realized that I know more of this bunch at the beginning of the year than I ever have. And they are talented young journalists. We expect a big year.

Here’s something you never expect, a shopping cart road block:

Like they’re saying, “You didn’t buy enough stuff! Go back inside!”

I didn’t buy anything because, for four days in a row I’ve been there for a specific thing and they have managed to not have it in stock.

Ran a nice 10K today. That was all in one continuous motion, even. According to those classic gym charts I was at 70 percent of my max heart rate. My last mile was under nine minutes.

It was a nice workout, begging the question “Why didn’t I feel like this on Sunday when I was falling apart in the Chattahoochee Olympic?”

Finally, I’ve been watching the third season of Newsradio on Crackle recently. I haven’t watched the show in some time, long enough to have forgotten how smart the writing routinely was. In the third season it gets difficult to watch Phil Hartman, though, because there’s something in his eyes that makes you wonder what difficulties he and his wife were already dealing with at home. But that could just be because you know what would happen a short time later. But this is an exception to that, and perhaps one of the best three or four studio scenes from the entire series:

May 15

Meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars

In London, the Jags’ rep still pronounces it Jag-U-Ars. It is delightful. We mentioned that a few Auburn guys were signed by Jacksonville, and she discussed several of the recent acquisitions from the SEC. Not the S-E-C, but the “SEC.” It was delightful.

And Laura Oaks, director of the Jags’ UK sponsorships, knows her stuff. This was a fascinating chat.

Laura Oaks

So the Jags have the exclusivity deal in London. This works well because they have limited market demographics at home — new franchise, much of their geography is actually in the Gulf and a great deal of their presumed Jacksonville fanbase is made up of military folks, transient or otherwise engaged fans. When owner Shad Khan made a multiyear commitment it might have seemed odd to some observers. But when you hear about what they are doing, a lot of things will start to make sense.

For the raw numbers, one game in London is worth the same amount of money as two games in Jacksonville in terms of the ticket yield. There will be three NFL games in Wembley this year, and they’re expecting to fill the 85,000 seat stadium for each game. Some four percent of the fans will be American and six percent more will come over from Europe. The rest are from the UK. The NFL estimates they have 28 million “avid fans” in the country.

So the first question is, “How do we make ourselves a mainstream sport?”

It is a multi-layered problem.

To mainstream they’re trying to become a top five team among the UK fanbase. They’re currently ranked as the number 10 team among NFL franchises there, but they’re surging. When they started the Jags could count 508 fans there, now they have a list with 35,000 fans. This, Oaks says, is a solid commercial base.

So the Jags are the fastest growing fanbase in the U.K. That multi-year deal helps, and along with that the commercial exclusivity that comes with it. They’ve also done a great deal of player, veteran, cheerleader availability programs to create a sense of openness with the fans.

Some of the problems start with the basics of football. They’re educating fans and employees about the game. Oaks told us about how she was hired for the job with no knowledge of the sport. (She’s an accomplished sports marketer and a quick study, but on day one she knew nothing of the sport.) Also, London is hugely competitive in sports. There are 15 football clubs in the city, a pro basketball team, a handful of rugby squads, cricket and an active outdoors cultural to compete with.

So you’re teaching a sport to a new nation. You’re doing it with a team that is, hopefully, on the rise.

“We are dealers in hope,” Oaks said. “We must at least give people the hope that we could win.”

Jacksonville’s commitment means they are the only team with commercial rights in London, but they are a young team, they haven’t yet won anything to merit a great deal of attention and so on.

“You’re taking a product into a new market, how much do you Anglicize it? How much do you Americanize it?”

So we’re talking about culture of sport as much as we’re talking about the field or the branding or anything of that sort. Oaks said there’s definitely a “love affair with that Americana feel” that allows a fan to get beyond themselves and whoop and holler. But there is an aversion to the commercialization that we are accustomed to tuning out here in the States.

The Americana isn’t just limited to a huge play. They are having great success with the off-the-field fun. Oaks says they’re estimating 600,000 fans taking part in the pre-game tailgating festivities on Regent’s Street. I asked her how they mine those people as prospective fans. If you have 35,000 people in a Jags’ database and know you’re getting somewhere between 85,000 and 255,000 into Wembley (allowing for returning fans) then there are a lot of people left to consider.

So they’ve turned to a Fan Pass app. To take part in certain tailgating activities you have to have the app. To use the app you have to input data. That information about you goes back to the league and to the Jags.


There’s a big fan difference in the UK too, and Oaks says it leaves American fans amazed. They’re looking at this with the idea that players drive fans which drive teams, and so they are working hard to bring the two closer together. They’re pointing at those interactions as part of the success story. Oaks says they push 50,000 fans through Trafalgar Square in a four hour period for NFL events.

Successful as the grassroots efforts have been, traditional broadcast efforts remain a winner both in terms of teams and marketing. But Oaks said this global-NFL program is about more than 60 minutes on the gridiron.

“Fans have become die hard fans very quickly. This is about belonging and engagement. People want to belong to something. This is why sport is so powerful.”

Some of the most successful NFL brands in the UK are the Patriots — winners get recognition — and teams that were strong in the 1980s. Oaks said that three of the of the BBC channels back then were showing church programming on Sundays. One was showing football. So, if you are of a certain age, she said, you grew up and perhaps remained a fan of the Giants or Dolphins or the like. They were on TV. (I suspect Buffalo and the Niners land in that group, too.) Winners get recognition.

“Shad Khan wants this to be an internationally-recognized brand.”

Now think about this. The NFL has this inroad to London, but there are league efforts in Brazil, Germany and China as well. The question is, “How best to activate those markets?”