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March 31, 2007

Shaq in Chinese

shaqinchina081606.jpgHeat center Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal's first and middle name are said to mean "little warrior" in Islam, but in China, he's just known as "Warrior."

With the announcement this week that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic will play two preseason games and the Magic will play an exhibition game against the Chinese men's national team in China in October, the NBA released a list of nicknames Chinese fans have given NBA players. China is the NBA's second largest market after the U.S. The U.S. men's national team played there last summer and O'Neal, who signed a five-year endorsement deal last year with Chinese sporting goods company Li-Ning to market his Dunkman shoes in China, visited in August.

According to the NBA's nicknames list, the Cavaliers' "King James" LeBron James is known as "Little Emperor." Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets is called "Sweet Melon" because Melo is similar to melon, the league says. Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki is known as "German Racecar." Houston's Dikembe Mutombo is called "Africa's Big Mountain." And the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett? "King of the Wolves."

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March 29, 2007

Tennis Sony Ericsson Style

In 2005, Sony Ericsson made a splashy $88 million entrance into tennis, sponsoring the Women’s Tennis Association Tour for six years.

So, in August, when the global mobile phone maker announced a four-year, $20 million deal to title sponsor the tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne, the company began a new chapter in tennis.

“When I came here two years ago, I saw this had amazing potential,” Sony Ericsson’s Global Head of Marketing Dee Dutta said of the Key Biscayne tournament. “My aim is to make this one of the world’s greatest sporting events.”

Sony Ericsson has vowed to elevate the tennis and the spectacle of the tournament, often considered the fifth grand slam. The tennis courts were painted purple to make for a more vibrant picture on television. The company’s logo and rich color scheme that includes fuschia and green dot the tennis center and strike a different feel from the more staid blue of previous title sponsor Nasdaq.

The tournament's five fashion shows wrap up Friday night, and other activities have included cooking demonstrations, wine pairing, and Night Tennis, a tennis meets the nightclub scene complete with players in glow in the dark uniforms, and fluorescent tennis balls. Brazilian dancers are expected on center court for the Carnival-themed Finals this weekend.

Dutta wants the event to be something of a test lab for new ideas and spreading the message of tennis.

“The challenge I set to the tournament directors around the world was ‘Remember those ideas you wanted to try, but maybe you weren’t brave enough or something? Come and talk to me, because if it works in Miami, I want Miami to be the center of innovation of tennis',” Dutta said.

Already crowds are breaking records with overall attendance up 6 percent from last year. The Men's Finals match has sold out. With the CA Championship at Doral Golf Resort & Spa last week, pro golfers, including Tiger Woods, stopped by. Other famous spectators have included Sex & the City's Kristin Davis, model Naomi Campbell, rapper Ludacris, racecar driver Christian Fittipaldi, the Heat’s Dwyane Wade, the Dolphins’ Chris Chambers and Jason Allen, and the Panthers’ Olli Jokinen.

The company also wants to showcase its brand across the world. It invited 700 to 800 guests and encouraged journalists from China, Brazil, India and Russia to make the trip – including picking up some travel expenses – to cover not just tennis, but also lifestyle stories about Night Tennis and the Miami area.

“Ultimately our three aims are to improve the player experience, improve the fan experience, and improve the viewer experience,” Dutta said.

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March 28, 2007

Huizenga on Dolphin Stadium

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters, including Dolphins beat writer Alex Marvez, at the NFL owners meeting in Arizona this week, Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga spoke about renovations to Dolphin Stadium and the reasons for raising some club seat prices more than 200 percent.

Huizenga said he hopes renovations of the ground and club levels will be completed by September. You can view images, including time-lapse video of the construction, at the Dolphin Stadium website.

“The plaza level is going to be pretty neat. That big overhang was created, now you have a lot of shade, a lot of things out there,” Huizenga said. “We decided it’s going to open up four hours before games. That will replace a lot of tailgating. People can still tailgate if they want, but there’ll be a lot more things to do and a good place to do it.”

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The $250 million renovation already includes vastly widened concourses on the stadium’s north and south sides. Bars, lounges and other amenities will be added.

“We’re putting in bathrooms on both sides of the main entranceway on both sides of the building, so four new bathrooms going in there. There will be bathrooms outside for the first time,” Huizenga said. “What we used to refer to as Sportstown will be a much bigger, better, nicer out there. Hopefully most of that stuff gets done by September.”

The improvements are part of what drove the team’s decision to increase club seat prices. Club seat holders who have held 10-year contracts that expired after last season, are seeing significant increases. For some, prices of $187 a game are rising to $500 a game, and some club seat holders are not renewing.

But Huizenga said club seat holders were given a break because their prices rose only marginally through the first 20 years at the stadium and he hopes the new amenities and the creation of a special club will convince them to renew.

“What we’re going to deliver is a whole new club (level),” Huizenga said. “The experience is going to be 1,000 percent better than what it was before. We’re pretty excited about the club level. We want people to really get focused on it.”

Huizenga pointed to the Heat, where bigger spenders have access to exclusive clubs, such as the Flagship Lounges, at AmericanAirlines Arena. He said club level ticket-holders will become part of an exclusive “club.”

“And when they go there, they’re treated like you are at a golf club. You’re a member of the golf club, you get to do certain things,” Huizenga said. “Once people see what we’re going to deliver, I think a lot of the people who had decided, ‘Maybe I won’t re-sign,’ after they see that they’re going to say ‘Yeah, OK, I’m back.’ That’s my opinion.

“They are going to have to pay for the experience, but the experience is going to be world class. I mean, it’s going to be first class. And when you go there, it’s like going to Augusta (National). It’s something special to be in there.”

Huizenga also reopened the idea of selling naming rights to the stadium or sections of the venue.

“You can see the stadium construction going on. Now it’s time for us to see what the market is,” Huizenga said. “There are different schools of thought. You either name the whole building or different parts. We’ll just explore both alternatives.”


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March 27, 2007

More Fave 5 Ads on the Way

Dwyane Wade and Charles Barkley are continuing their humorous T-Mobile “Fave 5” commercials. On Monday, the two shot a pair of new spots for the mobile phone company in South Florida – one in South Beach and the other in the Aventura area. Look for the new ads to air during the NBA playoffs.

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March 26, 2007

Marlins' Ad Campaign; Ballpark Video

Instead of hiding from their attendance problem, the Marlins are embracing it with a series of playful ads in which players urge the public to come watch the team live this season at Dolphin Stadium.

jj-tvnew.jpgIn one, second baseman Dan Uggla confronts a mother and son at a grocery store and when he finds out they didn't attend the previous night's game because the kid hadn't cleaned his room, he implores them to come to that night's contest. In another, pitcher Josh Johnson finds a couple watching a cooking show on television and asks them if the show is more important then a ballgame. Pitcher Scott Olsen stars in a third in which he confronts a man shopping for clothes. Each has a catchy punchline -- Uggla, for example, tells the kid to clean his room before the game -- but the idea is to stress the Marlins are an entertainment option they should consider.

It's all part of the team's robust "You Gotta Be Here!" marketing campaign. The team is stressing its extra activities at games, including its 13 "Super Saturdays," which will include a postgame concert followed by fireworks.

Sean Flynn, Marlins vice president of marketing, said the team is trying to make each game a happening.

“Our television numbers are great, our radio numbers are great ..... All the ways we can measure are all at great levels, but ticket sales,” Flynn said. “We would like people coming to the stadium and experiencing the game.”

BALLPARK VIDEO

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County, city of Miami, Marlins and Major League Baseball officials continue to hammer out a ballpark financing plan for either a site north of the county government center in downtown Miami or on the site of the Orange Bowl, if the University of Miami moves its football games to Dolphin Stadium. This video on YouTube shows an early model of a ballpark at the Orange Bowl when plans were to build a ballpark next to the old football stadium. The Marlins' architect, HOK, had no comment.

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March 21, 2007

Sharapova Style

Maria Sharapova may be all about tennis, but her off court business continues to boom.

She'll shoot her newest ad for Canon in Miami after the Sony Ericsson Open tournament wraps up April 1. All of the Canon ads featuring Sharapova have been shot in Miami.

And she's been helping to design a new Maria signature raquet bag as part of the lifetime endorsement deal she signed with Prince last year.

"I feel like a lot of the tennis bags are very traditional and they all seem to look alike," Sharapova said Wednesday at the Sony Ericsson Open on Key Biscayne. "So when I was meeting with Prince, I was like I'd love to do something different. I'd like to put something into the design of the bag. So we kind of spiced it up a little bit. I love pink, of course. That's going to be the color of it and we used some different materials, part of it is velour."

The bag isn't ready for release but Sharapova said she hopes it will be in the coming weeks. converse.jpg


Sharapova, who appears in April's edition of Vogue, said she's learned a lot about the business world as a result of her numerous endorsement deals and she's interested in becoming more involved with fashion design. On Wednesday, the Nike endorser was wearing a pair of Converse All-Stars with the words "Love" and "Hate" across the toes. Well, Converse is owned by Nike, and on her Web site, Sharapova called the shoes "another really weird Maria must-have."

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Name Branding and Stadium Grub

Maybe the Texas Rangers do really want to market the Rangers name and that’s why they negotiated to reacquire the name of their ballpark from embattled mortgage company Ameriquest three years into a 30-year, $75 million agreement – or 27 years early.

Or maybe they’re just waiting for a better deal.

The team spoke of its desire to push the Rangers brand. That’s why the stadium will now be known as the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, rather than the simpler, pre-Ameriquest Field, the Ballpark in Arlington.

In these days of squeezing revenues from every corner, it’s still unusual for a team to use a traditional non-corporate team name for its venue.

The Dolphins did it, only after living with the name of a shuttered apparel company, Pro Player, for five years. In 2005, the team renamed its home, Dolphins Stadium. Last year, the team switched the name again to Dolphin Stadium without the final ‘s,’ and launched a stadium specific logo and spoke glowingly of turning the stadium into a destination on the scale of Wembley Stadium in London or Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia.

The branding also coincided with the stadium’s ongoing $250 million renovation that is widening concourses, adding bars, restaurants and lounge areas.

Meanwhile, Rangers President Jeff Cogen is no stranger to naming rights negotiations. Not only did he oversee the deal with Ameriquest, but Cogen, who previously served as chief operating officer of the Panthers, negotiated the deal that put Office Depot atop the Sunrise arena in 2002 after National Car Rental’s parent company filed for bankruptcy. The arena was renamed BankAtlantic Center in 2005.

STADIUM GRUB

And speaking of stadiums, concessionaire Aramark is cutting the trans fats out of its cooking oils at 13 baseball stadiums this season. Aramark does not have a contract at Dolphin Stadium, where the Marlins play.

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March 20, 2007

Wade’s jersey in China; help for his alma mater

Dwyane Wade’s jersey is popular in China, too.

Wade’s is the fourth most popular jersey in China this season up from 10th in the 2005-06 season, according to sales through last month's All-Star Game. Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant’s jersey, which was ranked No. 1 in sales through NBA.com and at the NBA Store in Manhattan earlier this year, also tops the list in China.

Wade visited China last summer while playing for the USA men’s basketball team. Interestingly, sales of Chinese player Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets jersey are down to sixth place from third last season.

According to the league, more than 400 million pieces of NBA merchandise have been sold this season in more than 20,000 retail locations throughout China.

Here’s the top 10 in China:

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
2. Allen Iverson, Denver Nuggets/Philadelphia 76ers
3. Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets
4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
6. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets
7. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
8. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
9. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
10. Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards

Meanwhile, check out Wade’s plans to help remodel the gym at his high school in Oak Lawn, Ill.

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March 17, 2007

St. Patrick's Day Gear

Even the bases were green.

A holiday rarely passes these days without some special edition or themed sports apparel. St. Patrick’s Day is no exception.

At Holman Stadium in Dodgertown this afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers sported green jerseys with Dodger blue shamrocks on the sleeve. And the bases were green. Fans wore green Dodgers caps and a wide variety of St. Patrick’s Day themed T-shirts.

More than a dozen MLB teams were reportedly wearing green caps or green jerseys or both around spring training stadiums today.

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In the NBA, the three teams that last year donned St. Patrick’s Day themed-uniforms – the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks – are doing so again this year. In addition, the Dallas Mavericks wore their green uniforms on Wednesday, while the Seattle Supersonics and the Milwaukee Bucks wear their road green uniforms for home games today. The Bucks are encouraging their fans to wear green tonight, too.

Special merchandise marking the holiday, including hats, headbands, socks and pins, has been on sale at the NBA Store in Manhattan and at NBAStore.com The Bulls are selling a special Spalding St. Patrick’s Day basketball at United Center.

The NHL, meanwhile, reports St. Patrick’s Day-themed gear represented about 60 percent of sales at NHL.com for the month of February. The limited edition items included green T-shirts, hats and pucks with team logos and a shamrock.

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March 14, 2007

NCAA Tournament Tidbits

With the final hours ticking down to Thursday afternoon’s start of the NCAA tournament, March Madness fans have been putting the finishing touches on their brackets, printing them out or copying them and submitting them to their pool managers.

Fort Lauderdale-based CBS SportsLine is, for the second consecutive year, offering for free its March Madness On Demand streaming of the tournament’s first 56 out of market games online. Last year, 1.3 million people signed up for the service, visiting more than 5 million times, company officials say.

This year, the video screen is 50 percent larger and the service is offering Westwood One radio game broadcasts, including the local, in-market games for which video is unavailable. Back will also be the company’s “Boss button,” which when pushed mutes the audio and brings up a generic spreadsheet to fool bosses who might be walking by while games are being viewed.

VIP access, which guarantees faster entry into the service, is no longer available for this year's tournament, but fans can still sign up for general admission access.

Meanwhile, some might argue that his broadcasts of tournament games are enough, but Dick Vitale is partnering with NCAA sponsor DiGiorno pizza so that fans can send personalized email and phone call messages from Dickie V. The technology allows fans to customize items in the message from the recipient’s name, profession, and favorite college to the sender’s relationship to the recipient. Plenty of Bay-bee’s to go around.

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March 13, 2007

Penguins' Arena Deal

After a short, but serious flirtation with relocation that included visits to Kansas City and Las Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pennsylvania and local officials announced today that they have come up with a plan to finance a $290 million arena across the street from the Penguins’ current home.

And slots revenue will end up being a big chunk of the deal. The plan calls for $4.2 million annually from the Penguins and $15 million a year in slots revenues from the state and the PITG Gaming, which won the city’s slots license. The team and the state will split any costs between $290 million and $310 million and the team will cover any expenses beyond that. The team will sign a 30-year lease to play in the building, expected to be open during the 2009-10 season.

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March 12, 2007

Bald Athletes and Endorsements

It’s just too ironic that weeks after Tim Hardaway’s anti-gay comments in response to questions about retired NBA center John Amaechi announcing he is gay, Amaechi has a new endorsement deal with a company that sells men’s grooming products. After all, Hardaway lost his endorsement of … men’s grooming products, in the wake of his comments.

Hardaway, who said among other things that he wouldn’t have tolerated a gay teammate and “I hate gay people,” subsequently apologized. But not before Bald Guyz, a New Jersey company that makes grooming products for bald men, dropped Hardaway as an endorser. “Bald Guyz, like baldness, does not discriminate based on lifestyle choice, color, education, financial resources, religion, physical capabilities or in any other way,” Bald Guyz founder Howard Brauner said in a statement at the time.

Today, HeadBlade, which also sells men’s grooming products, is announcing that it has signed Amaechi as an endorser.

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March 9, 2007

MLB TV; Panthers' TV cameras

Major League Baseball’s $700 million, seven-year deal with DirecTV doesn’t appear to have quieted critics who argue that for all the nice language about non-exclusivity, the package will ultimately end up only on DirecTV.

After fans and member of Congress complained that moving the Extra Innings subscription package to DirecTV was a slap to fans who’d been receiving the programming on their cable systems, MLB announced a deal Thursday that offers InDemand and Dish Network an opportunity to opt in. But that opportunity, which expires March 31, requires the other providers offer “consistent rates and carriage requirements” to DirecTV, including carrying the MLB Channel, which is planned to launch in 2009, as part of their basic packages.

InDemand has already lashed out at the offer. The DirecTV still might end up being the exclusive home for Extra Innings.

BETTER VIEWING

After a two-game experiment trying television cameras on the 100 level of BankAtlantic Center rather than the 300 level, the Panthers and their local broadcaster, FSN Florida, have decided to make the move permanent, the team announced this week.

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March 8, 2007

Oompa Loompas and Season Tickets

Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, the Heat has found a way to make even the process of season ticket renewals creative. Its unusual approach is “Charles and the Renewal Factory.”

Charles Mullings, (yes, Charles) an account rep in Heat season ticket services, dons top hat and purple tails, roams AmericanAirlines Arena during games with a walking stick in hand – in a nod to the Willy Wonka character in Johnny Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also mans a “renewal factory” area with red curtain, Wonka bars and other goodies for renewing season ticket-holders, just outside section 309 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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And like the movie, there’s an opportunity to score a Golden Ticket if you renew by the March 19 deadline. A Golden Ticket is awarded with fanfare by Charles – and sometimes Heat Junior Jam members dressed like Wonka’s Oompa Loompas -- at each home Heat game through March 24. They’re good for prizes such as an iMac computer, American Airlines and Carnival Cruise line tickets. On March 24, the “Ultimate Prize” – a personal meeting with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade along with signed jerseys from the pair – will be awarded.

The Heat wanted to make sure to keep season ticket renewals top of mind.

“It’s a long campaign. We didn’t want people to tune out the message,” said Lorrie-Ann Diaz, the Heat’s director of marketing communications.

Mullings scored the gig after he was caught dancing during a Heat game on the video scoreboard. Fans weren’t sure about the Charles character at first.

“People were mistaking me for Flavor Flav,” Mullings said referring to the rapper of Public Enemy and colorful fashion fame.

But since the first Golden Ticket was awarded Feb. 25, fans have gotten to know him, and renewals, Mullings said, are going well.


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March 6, 2007

Marlins to the Orange Bowl?

Several Miami-Dade County Commissioners thrashed on Tuesday the idea of building a ballpark for the Marlins north of the Miami-Dade County Government Center in downtown Miami, and instead suggested an old idea: the Orange Bowl.

With the Hurricanes now seriously considering a move to Dolphin Stadium, commissioners wondered if it didn't make sense to re-consider the Orange Bowl for the Marlins, particularly since voters approved $50 million in county parks money in 2004 to renovate the 71-year-old stadium.

That $50 million was part of the $2.9 billion general obligation bond and was designated for parks and recreation facilities, with the Orange Bowl renovation counting as one of the planned projects.

County commissioners supported pursuing a full funding plan for a "$490 million stadium, but said the government center site is too small and worried about finding a new location for a Children's Courthouse planned at the site. If the Hurricanes were to move, the Orange Bowl could be torn down to make way for a new ballpark and commissioners said that could free up the bond money.

According to the county attorney’s office there are two possibilities if an Orange Bowl renovation is abandoned: the bonds would just not be issued; or the money could be used for another parks and recreational facilities project, but only if a public hearing on the switch is held.

“It could be modified with a public hearing before the commission,” Assistant County Attorney Gerry Heffernan said. “The board [of county commissioners] can decide to reallocate it … but it has to be done in a public hearing.”

Heffernan said the bond project is a 15-year program and there is at least one other example of a use being modified after public debate.

The idea of baseball at the Orange Bowl is nothing new: the city, county and Marlins spent much of 2004 and 2005 negotiating to build a baseball stadium next to the OB. Those talks broke off, but they added to the delay in OB renovations, which UM has been expecting since the Hurricanes won their most recent national championship in 2001. That plan would have required purchasing additional property around the stadium, something that wouldn't be necessary if the OB is torn down.

The Marlins aren't commenting and Major League Baseball was surprised at the commission's discussion of alternative locations. Don't count the downtown location out just yet. If an alternate site is found for the Children's Courthouse and no property tax dollars from the nearby Community Redevelopment Agency district are committed to a ballpark, the government center site might move back to the top of the list of preferred locations. It's a small site, but MLB and the Marlins architects say a 37,000-seat retractable roof ballpark will fit there.

Meanwhile, Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez says the city is still committed to coming up with a financing plan to renovate the Orange Bowl. The City Commission is scheduled to discuss the Marlins ballpark financing plan at its meeting Thursday.

The plan counts on the county contributing $145 million in hotel bed taxes (Convention Development and Professional Sports Facilities Franchises taxes) and the city chipping in $108 million in Tourist Development Taxes and Convention Development taxes that would have otherwise gone to pay off the bonds on Miami Arena, but were freed up with the venue’s sale in 2004.

A detailed financing plan for a ballpark is expected by the end of April -- and so is a decision on whether OB renovations can be funded or if UM will make the move north.

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March 2, 2007

Of Trademarks, Ads and Promotions

Apparently tired of corporations that are not NFL sponsors capitalizing on the Super Bowl, the NFL has taken steps to trademark the expression “the Big Game.” Stanford and Cal, however, don’t look too kindly on the idea: that’s the name of their annual football matchup.

MORE WADE

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Heat guard Dwyane Wade may be on the bench with a dislocated shoulder, but his apparel line and newest shoe, the Wade 2.0, hit stores on Saturday. Converse debuted the latest ad, called “ALL IN,” on Thursday. It features Wade playing basketball alongside other players – kids to adults -- backed by music by Miami rap artist Rick Ross.

MVP STEP STOOL

The Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, the Boston Red Sox Class A affiliate who once gave out a Jack Kerouac bobblehead doll, continue their tradition of offbeat giveaways with a step stool featuring an image of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop and World Series MVP David Eckstein, who is listed in the Cardinals' media guide as 5 foot 7. Eckstein began his baseball career with the Spinners in 1997. The giveaway is scheduled on July 20.


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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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