Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Positive Effects of FSS


The quick backstory: two years ago I watched the World Cup, and was fairly bored by what I saw. I was encouraged by soccer fans to pick a club from a big Euro-league (EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc) and watch for an entire season, then decide if the sport sucked or not. Sounded like a fun experiment, so I took the challenge. I picked Arsenal (for many reasons, all outlined in previous posts), and for the last two seasons I’ve had a blast following the Gunners, and the sport in general.

One of the things that drew me in was the atmosphere at the matches. It looked and sounded spectacular. Being a life-long pro cycling fan, which is a very Euro-centric sport, I was drawn to the international flavor of soccer. In this country, we watch so much football, basketball, baseball, etc, that our brains get used to seeing the same advertising, the same network coverage, the same terms and teams and uniforms over and over. When you introduce a sport from a foreign land to your brain, it is stimulated. I call this sensation Foreign Sports Stimulation (or FSS). The human brain needs FSS. It can lead to improved productivity in the workplace, a better sex life, and can be a deterrent to Alzheimer’s.*

*none of the above claims could be substantiated at the time this post went to press.

I put attending an Arsenal match on my bucket list, but I thought it would be something that I might get to in retirement. Then, around February, Bob Sturm (aka The Sturminator from BAD Radio, 12-3 on The Ticket) informed me that he and his buddies were taking a soccer trip in April, and were planning on seeing four matches, including Arsenal-Chelsea at Emirates Stadium. At first, I thought it would be difficult to make the trip, as I was running the Boston Marathon the Monday before. But the more I thought about it, the more the timing made sense. I was already going to be in Boston until Tuesday, so why not make the short flight from Boston to London mid-week, meet Bob and the boys on Friday, go to the matches, and fly home on Sunday. So I booked it. I ended up having Thursday to myself in London, so I went out to Wimbledon and took the tour of the grounds and walked though the museum, which was awesome!


The appetizer match on our menu was on Friday night--a League Two showdown between Southend United and Barnet. We had to take a 45 minute train ride from London to Southend-on-Sea, a very sleepy coastal “resort” town in Essex. It turned out to be a fantastic experience--much like going to a small Texas town on a Friday night to watch a high school football game. We walked around the town a bit, took a colorful cab ride to Roots Hall (capacity 12,392), bought some souvenirs, took our seats (on the second row) and watched the home-standing Shrimpers score three goals in the first half en-route to a 3-0 victory.


Saturday was the big day: two English Premier League matches, both London Derbies. We took The Tube to the Arsenal stop (the only Tube stop in London named for a soccer club), walked around the neighborhood (which included a look at the apartment complex that now occupies the spot where the old Arsenal home park, Highbury, used to sit), and headed to a pub across the street from the Emirates. There is something really great about sipping a pint of Guinness with a bunch of football fans across the street from a stadium right before the start of a big match. The atmosphere outside was very similar to the feeling outside a college football stadium before a big game.


The Arsenal-Chelsea match wasn’t much to look at. My first EPL match ended in a 0-0 tie, which was a bit of a bummer. But I still loved every minute of it. The Emirates is a beautiful stadium. In many ways, it’s the Cowboys Stadium of London (but nowhere near as over-the-top as the DeathStar). Even though I’ve only been an Arsenal fan for two seasons, it was still oddly comforting to be in the midst of 60,000 like-minded (and at times, like-frustrated) folks. It was one of my favorite sports experiences ever.

After the match, we took a cab back to the hotel, then jumped on The Tube again. The second match of our EPL doubleheader was Queen’s Park Rangers-Tottenham. QPR play at historic Loftus Road (capacity 18,360), and what a wonderful old place it is--it felt like the EPL’s version of Fenway. QPR was desperate to avoid relegation (which, in the end, they did), so the fans were insane. Spurs were trying to finish with a top four spot (which, in the end, they did), so each team had a lot to play for. The fans were the loudest and crudest of our trip. I’ve never hear the c-word so many time in my life (and I’m talking about the c-word for the most private of female areas). QPR won the match, 1-0, and it was as action-packed as a 1-0 match could have been.


I’ve still got a lot remaining on my sports bucket list. I’ve now been to Wimbledon, but I still want to see an actual tournament match in person. I want to see the French Open. I want to see The Masters. I want to see the single-day monuments in cycling (Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, etc.). Lots to do, but very, very happy that I’ve now experienced English football matches in person. FSS is a wonderful thing.

A note of special thanks to two gentlemen who helped us with tickets to these matches: the great Gordon Jago, who led the Sidekicks to the MISL title in '88 and who seems to know everyone in England, and an ex-pat by the name of Tom Fox who is now an Arsenal front office executive who has taken a peculiar interest in my new-found admiration for his club. Thanks to you both for helping make it a wonderful trip.




Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quick Hits

It's been a while since I've posted here. I had an incredible, 28 month streak of at least one new post per month, only to have that streak snapped in April by laziness. This has not been a good year for my impressive personal streaks (my 28 year non-vomit streak was ended by some bad chicken enchiladas in January). I've had plenty to write about, but I feel like I'm still trying to get my head around my big April events: running the second hottest Boston Marathon on record, and getting to London with the Sturminator to take in several English football matches. I may be running another marathon soon, so I'll wait until my spring campaign is over before I recap the entire experience. I've also been waiting until the end of the EPL year to recap my sophomore season with the sport--and after last week's incredible final Sunday, there will be plenty to write about.

But right now, just a couple of quick hits--some things you might have missed that others had the energy to write and that I had the energy to cut-and-paste and put on this blog.

The Radio Ratings Game

Here is the latest report, courtesy Barry Horn at SportsDayDFW.com:

The April ratings book has arrived. Here are some sports talk numbers to digest.

In the all-important “men 25-54” target demographic all week long, it was The Ticket (6.2), ESPN (3.5), The Fan (1.8).

Mondays thru Fridays 6 a.m.-7 p.m. in the demo, went the stations’ heavy hitters are yakking it up, it’s The Ticket (8.3), ESPN (3.5) and The Fan (2.0).

The Ticket’s Hardline scored the most dominant hour of the week. At 4 p.m. daily, the show averaged a 12.4 share, which means one out of every eight men 25-54 in the market with radios turned on was listening.

Ticket lineup: Dunham & Miller (7.4); Norm Hitzges (6.9); BaD Radio (7.3); Hardline (9.8).

ESPN lineup: Mike & Mike (4.3); Ben & Skin (2.3); The Herd (3.2); Coop & Nate (3.8); Galloway and Co. (3.4).

Fan lineup: Shan & R.J. (2.0); Elf (2.2); Richie & Greggo (2.0).

These numbers are pretty consistent month in, month out. First, congrats to all of the hard-working shows on The Ticket. These shows have been around, in some form or another, for a long, long time (Norm 30+ years, Musers and Hardline for 18+ years, BAD for 12+ years). The fact that each show is still number one in it's time slot (for all shows in the market, not just number one in the sports talk race) is phenomenal. Props in particular to the Hardliners, who are tearing it up this year. I'm proud to be a small part of the big success of this station, and proud to work with everyone on this staff.

As for the other stations--they love to take shots at us and make fun of the way we do radio. But I think they are finding out, or have found out, that doing a talk show that will attract and keep listeners is a lot harder than it looks and sounds. I can't imagine the other stations are happy with their ratings. If any of the shows on The Ticket had ratings in the 2.0's or 3.0's, we'd be fired so fast we wouldn't have time to blink (which will happen one day, I'm sure).

Thanks to the P1's for hanging in there with us. We have the weakest signal in the metroplex, and we've had more than our share of technical problems this year, but America's most loyal audience continues to amaze us.

The Mavericks Season to Forget

I won't beat a dead horse--we all know that the Mavs 2010-11 season was, at best, a limp defense of their magically-won title. I did find two Bill Simmons entries on Grantland.com quite entertaining, regarding the Mavs half-hearted effort to go back-to-back. The first is dialogue between Cuban and Dirk before the start of the season:

"OK, Dirk, here's the plan."

"I'm listening."

"We're throwing away our title defense. We're just going to put it in a Dumpster and smear it with dog feces. By the end of the regular season, Delonte West will be our third-best player, we'll be relying on an overweight Vince Carter, we'll have turned Tyson Chandler into a three-headed dose of mediocrity called Brendian Haywonimight, and unless Jason Terry is feeling it, you'll have to shoot every single time in the fourth quarter of every playoff game."

"Got it."

"We might win one game against Oklahoma City, that's it. Then you'll have the spring and summer off."

"Sounds good. One question: Why would we do this?"

"Because we want to sign Deron Williams this summer. This was the only way."

"Deron Williams … the guy who acted like such a dick in Utah that they flipped him into two top-three lottery picks and never looked back and since then he's been playing for a lottery team?"

"Yeah, that Deron Williams. Also, we have a 2.2 percent chance of getting Dwight Howard, too."

"Dwight Howard … the guy who's three months away from quitting on his team and needs season-ending back surgery?"

"Seriously? That's going to happen? How do you know this?"

"I just do."

"Crap."

"Any chance we can come up with another plan?"

(Dead silence.)

The second was this postseason award the Mavs received from Simmons:

The Another 48 Hrs. Award for "Worst Title Defense"

Two schools of thought: (a) the only thing that matters is winning a title, and (b) part of winning a title is defending that title. I believe the latter, which is why I remain lukewarm on the '83 Sixers as an All-Time Greatest Team (they got bounced the following year in a humiliating Round 1 loss to New Jersey), and why I love the '86 Celtics so much (they were banged up the following spring and could have rolled over, but they didn't). Dallas's willingness to toss away their title defense for cap space (and the "chance" at Dwight Howard and Deron Williams) always seemed a little too clever, as well as a massive underestimation of everything Chandler did on and off the court.1

What rarely gets mentioned here: Had they convinced Chandler to take a little less to stay, they could have pursued Deron Williams this summer (with Dirk and Chandler as the bait) and maybe even used Chandler as trade bait for a sign-and-trade for Howard (either in February or this summer, which wouldn't have been any more callous than how they treated Chandler, anyway). And they could have actually defended their title.

Here's where a Mavs fan might say, "I don't care, we won the title." Yeah, but you also won the "One of the Worst Title Defenses Ever" title. In the Shot Clock Era, only two defending champs missed the playoffs: the '99 Bulls (no MJ or Pippen) and '70 Celtics (no Russell or Sam Jones), but since both teams were rebuilding, you can't totally blame them. Four other defending champs were bounced in Round 1: the 1981 Lakers (lost a best-of-three miniseries to Moses Malone's Rockets), 1984 Sixers (lost a five-gamer to Micheal Ray's Nets), 2007 Heat (swept by Chicago) and 2012 Mavs (swept by Oklahoma City). That's a short list. The Mavs outsmarted themselves; heck, they couldn't even complain about Lamar Odom as he stole money from them for four straight months, because Odom's agent (Jeff Schwartz) represents Williams as well.

And by the way … why are we so convinced that NBA free agents are so desperate to play in Dallas again? Because they want to play with Nowitzki … who's about to turn 34 and cross the 45,000-minute career barrier? Because they want to play for Cuban … who didn't take care of Nash in 2004 or Chandler in 2011 when both guys wanted to stay? You don't think players around the league noticed how Cuban handled Chandler's situation? Even if we've learned not to count out Cubes (especially when things look bleak), I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't grab a do-over for the last 11 months.

Cuban's decision to play for free agency was a big gamble. It may pay off, it may not. In fact, the Cuban decision and the upcoming Rangers decision on what to do with Josh Hamilton are two of the biggest risk/reward decisions that any club in this town has ever had to face. Could be very fun to follow, or very disappointing, depending on the outcome of each.