Friday Newsbytes: Phelps, Spurs, Manny and Bud

It’s been a busy week in sports business, which is a little unexpected since things tend to die down a bit after the Super Bowl.  I’ve already written about the potential Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger, but here are some quick thoughts on other news items from the past few days:

– Michael Phelps:  So the golden one was caught on film with a bong, not exactly a good PR move.  If this was his first “offense,” then I think it would be less of a story, but he also had a DUI incident a couple of years back.  Some people are sticking by him, most notably the USOC and Speedo, while others like Kellogg are ending their relationship with Phelps.  USA Swimming is withholding their training money, which for some Olympic athletes would be significant, but this will have little impact on Phelps. 

To me, this story is pretty straight-forward.  Some brands are much more sensitive about any potential negative PR, so they will decide to stray away from Phelps.  He’ll still make plenty of money from other partnerships.  The best thing for him to do is simply stay out of the news for a while and concentrate on a strong performance in July’s world championships.  Nothing helps blow away bad PR like championship performances.

– Spurs Sit Their Stars:  Imagine being a Spurs fan living in Colorado, and buying tickets to see your team when they come to town to face the Nuggets.  The game starts without Duncan, Ginobli, Parker or Finley in the lineup.  No big deal at first, maybe Popovich is trying something out.  But then the quarter, half, and entire game ends without them ever stepping on the floor.  I know this was a strategic decision by the team, but those fans have to be ticked off.  This is an example of a unique conflict between the business side and the team side.  Since the game took place away from San Antonio, the implications are not as significant, but what if “Pop” wanted to do this at a home game against a weak opponent?  What do you tell your fans that expect to see the stars play?  I don’t have the answer to this, but it is an interesting dilemma. 

Also, a friend of mine asked me about the gambling implications of this event.  Think about how much money was wagered on this game in advance, and then the best players for one team just don’t play.  Clearly Popovich is a well-respected and ethical coach, so no one is questioning him along these lines  But imagine if this was a Pete Rose type of character making this decision.  Then what would you think?

– Who Needs $25M?  Apparently Manny doesn’t need it, or at least feels he’s worth more.  For the public, it is hard to imagine someone turning down $20-25 million per year in this economy.  I believe that Boras is overestimating what the teams are willing to commit to, considering the teams don’t know how the recession is really going to impact ticket sales and other revenue streams.  I would not be surprised for Manny to come back to the original two years, $45M offer that the Dodgers started with (or something close to it).  Boras has caved before when deadlines get close (Matsuzaka’s negotiation comes to mind).

– How About $18M?  Bud Selig might not hit like Manny, but he gets paid almost as well.  News came out about Bud’s salary from last year, which I don’t feel is inappropriate considering he’s the senior leader for a company that generated over $6 billion in revenue last year.  The unfortunate thing is the timing – it looks bad for MLB for this salary to come out when others are losing their jobs.  I think this story blows over pretty quickly, and maybe Bud could generate some good PR by donating a part of his salary next year to charity.  Maybe he could start a league-wide initiative that other owners and players could support.  That would make for some positive PR.

Jason Peck also has a good weekly recap on his sports business and social media blog.  His site is a great resource for social media content in sports.