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June 30, 2011

Red becoming on Panthers, if they can become winners again

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Red is the most eye-catching color, intense and riveting.

The Florida Panthers have been making effective use of it this summer as a branding agent for rebuilding a tattered image into a fresh connection to passion and aggression with a link to the early part of their history when they were successful.

That is exemplified in the new blood-red jersey unveiled during last week’s draft and modeled by the team’s selections including Edward Wittchow, above. This version adds contemporary styling to the one worn by old favorites Mellanby, Skrudland, Lindsay and the Beezer when the Panthers were the scrappy little team that battled its way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

What’s your verdict on the new-old look?

I welcome it. Never felt any attachment to the baby blue-and-black number of the recent past that had the more realistic panther face inside a circle shield (sported below by former Panther Bryan McCabe). Looked like a scared kitty inside a life ring, which those teams were often in need of. Always thought the snarling, leaping logo with claws and fangs bared was one of the best symbols in pro sports.

Ultimately, slick marketing and graphics are only as effective as the product being offered. The Panthers have delivered false starts and disappointment for so long that a healthy measure of skepticism is warranted. This franchise for too long has had its fan base seeing red in the other, undesirable connotation of irritation and annoyance.

The leadership of GM Dale Tallon does seem to be providing some genuine reason for hope. The acquisitions of Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky, veterans who have won championships, lend credibility heading into free agency beginning July 1. Campbell said in a radio interview this week on WQAM that he has received calls from other players who are interested in following his path to South Florida.

(To keep track of players available in free agency and who goes where, follow the Free Agency Microsite at FloridaPanthers.com).

Clearly the new-look Panthers have succeeded in grabbing some attention. By that measure the marketing strategy is paying off, and the regime under Tallon is gaining credibility.

It will be worth watching this summer to gauge how watchable the Panthers will be when they hit the ice.

“It’s about making people understand there’s a change going on,” Panthers President and COO Michael Yormark said last week before the draft. “We’ve got a new owner, a new GM, we have an entirely rebuilt hockey operations department, we’ve hired a new coach.

“The majority of players who will be introduced on opening night will be new players. There’s a lot of new blood. And so it was import for us to make sure people understood this isn’t the same old Panthers.”

In the recent past the team’s marketing ploys were more creative than the product on the ice. That was reflected in promotions linked to the success of other teams.

The Panthers’ Fit For King ticket promotion offered seat prices tied to LeBron James’ uniform numbers after he signed with the Heat. The Perfect Season, Perfect Price promotion played on the Dolphins’ undefeated season of 1972 with tickets priced at $19.72.

“This summer it’s less about the gimmicks and more about the substance, more about repositioning the brand and getting people excited about hockey,” Yormark said. “We got away from that. It’s important to get back to the basics. At the end of the day we’re selling hockey, we’re also selling entertainment.”

Last January the Panthers offered a Good Time Guarantee whereby fans could ask for their money back if they weren’t satisfied with their experience at a game. Yormark said only 12 fans made the request, and that the team was able to entice all of the disgruntled fans back to additional games without awarding the refund.

The complaints, he said, all related to customer service. The cynic might suggest that Panthers fans had long since lowered their expectations of the product on the ice.

Turning cynics into believers is the challenge for a long-downtrodden franchise that has gone 10 years without a playoff appearance.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to have a winning team on the ice. Ten years being out of the playoffs is too long,” Yormark said. “We’ve survived, but that’s not good enough. We’ve got to put a product on the ice that competes every night, is entertaining, and most important, that wins. We just have to deliver.

“All we can do is ask our fans is to judge us on what we’re doing now.”

JetBlue renews Panthers partnership

While everything else is trending red for the Panthers, they retained a link to their baby-blue period by signing JetBlue Airways as Official Airline Partner of the team and the BankAtlantic Center.

“Over the last two years, JetBlue has enjoyed a strong relationship with the BankAtlantic Center and the Florida Panthers, one of the fastest growing franchises in South Florida,” said Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing and commercial strategy for JetBlue Airways.

JetBlue’s sponsorship includes joint marketing promotions and advertising exposure inside the BankAtlantic Center, on the arena’s outdoor marquees and through SSE’s print, radio, television, online and social media assets.

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POSTED IN: Florida Panthers (108)

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June 29, 2011

Most stylish tennis player? Poll points to Wozniacki

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The biggest upset in tennis this week wasn’t Roger Federer’s fall to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon. Nor was it the early exits of the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick, or even women’s No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki losing in the Round of 16.

It was Wozniacki (right) being named the Most Stylish Tennis Player in a Nielsen/E-Poll.

The 20-year-old Dane has built her world’s top ranking without winning a Grand Slam. She plays a lot of tournaments, has won five of them this year. Nothing major, but apparently she has made an impression along the way.

The verdict is that Wozniacki exudes style, more so than the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova and Federer, all of whom rate considerably higher in name recognition and marketable appeal, as measured by N-scores.

N-Score, as defined by Nielsen, is a tabulation of name and image awareness, appeal and personality attributes such as sincerity, approachability, experience and influence.

Serena Williams rates high with an N-Score of 131, but 10th for style, cited by 17 percent of those polled. Wozniacki barely registers as recognizable with an N-Score of 7, but 30 percent considered her stylish.

Agree with the poll? After looking through dozens of photos of Wozniacki, the poll result seems as debatable as her ranking on the court.

Wimbledon does present a challenge to players in the fashion sense with its requirement to wear white. Some pull it off with more eye-catching grace than others.

Venus Williams took the challenge to extremes in the opening round with her “peek-a-boo” jumper (pictured below). Reviews ranged from unflattering to ghastly, though the Christian Science Monitor was most kind in referring to the outfit as “goddess-like in keeping with her name.”

Venus and Serena have often pushed the envelope with a fashion sense that doesn’t necessarily jive with the consensus of style. Venus has an N-Score even higher than her sister, 169, but didn’t make the Top Ten list of most stylish.

But stylishness clearly varies with the palate. Sharapova was runner-up on the list to Wozniacki. It is difficult to imagine how the incessant grunts and shouts on every shot could have contributed to that impression.

Here are the top Ten most stylish tennis players based on the Nielsen poll:

Rk Player N-Score / % Stylilsh
1 Caroline Wozniacki 7 / 30
2 Maria Sharapova 43 / 27
3 Nicole Vaidisova 5 / 25
4 Elena Dementieva 9 / 25
5 Anna Kournikova 42 / 22
6 Gael Monfils 2 / 22
7 Mike Bryan 3 / 21
8 Roger Federer 57 / 20
9 Agnieszka Radwanska 4 / 19
10 Serena Williams 131 / 17

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POSTED IN: Tennis (8)

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Trending: Rough June reveals cracks throughout sports; NFL lockout, Panthers yield hope

Difficult to recall a bleaker time on the business side of sports, and it has come to a head this month.

Talk about a June swoon:

The NFL is embroiled in the longest work stoppage in its history, now at 105 days.

The NBA is careening toward a midnight Thursday deadline that could signal the start of a lockout that may well surpass the one that wiped out a third of the 1998-99 season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy.

The Atlanta Thrashers received approval to move to Winnipeg, the second time the NHL has struck out in Atlanta.

There has been no sanctuary with the ball in play, at least not for a South Florida rooting interest. It all seemed to spring from the Heat coughing up that 15-point lead in the last seven minutes of Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Suddenly, LeBron James transformed from king to court jester.

About the same time the Marlins went into a stunning tailspin after entering June nine games over .500 and off to one of the best starts in their history. They are 3-23 for the month with a staggering string of 14 consecutive losses in one-run games. Along the way they lost a manager, and the return of ace right-hander Josh Johnson keeps getting pushed back: He is headed for an exam of his valuable right shoulder by the same surgeon who repaired his elbow.

Not the way the to build excitement and momentum for next season’s opening of the new ballpark in Miami. Even the stream of glowing progress reports from the construction site was interrupted by the first glitch with the disclosure of numerous hairline cracks in the support beams of the parking garages.

With nine months to Opening Day, the Marlins expressed confidence the problem will be corrected and work completed on time. But it’s par for an unsettling June in which cracks seem to be spreading throughout the fabric of sports.

It extended to the world stage, as only two Americans finished in the top 10 of the U.S. Open and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy rewrote our record book. The Williams sister went out early at Wimbledon, as did Andy Roddick as American men were headed for their 11th year without a title.

The Florida Gators made a nice run to the College World Series finals, then got swept.
In South Florida, the local team having the best June was the long down-trodden Florida Panthers, who drafted a high-scoring junior center, acquired proven veterans Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky and are heading into the free-agency period with money to spend.

With the Panthers finally showing reason for hope, will the feeling spread in July?

Indications are the NFL is heading toward a labor settlement, if not before the July 4 weekend then soon. Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith are meeting by themselves, which is being interpreted as a sign negotiations are in the final stages.

Details of latest negotiations suggest that owners will walk away with a marginally larger share of the revenue pie, but not to the extent they were seeking. For fans, the bottom line is the likelihood the league will be ready for some football this fall after all.

The situation with the NBA does not appear as promising. A negotiating session is scheduled for Thursday and the deadline could be extended if progress is being made, but it is hard to find anyone holding out hope that a lockout will be averted.

POSTED IN: Sports trends (1)

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Nat Moore Foundation awards scholarships

The Nat Moore Foundation awarded nearly $100,000 in scholarships and gifts to 26 South Florida high school graduates. The scholarships will assist the students in paying for expenses associated with their higher education, including tuition and fees, housing, and books and equipment.

“The Foundation’s scholarship programs honor students who have not only excelled academically, but those who have participated in multiple school activities, yet find the time to give back to their communities through volunteer services,” said Nat Moore, the former former Dolphins wide receiver and founder of the foundaton. “Some of these students also work to help with their family finances. They are an amazing group of smart and community-minded young people.”

Six students will receive a four-year $10,000 award ($2,500 per year for four years) through the Foundation’s 2011 Urban Scholarship Program. Seven students will receive various awards ranging from one-time $1,000 awards (2 students) to four-year $2,000 awards (5 students to receive $500 per year for four years) through the Foundation’s 2011 Clear Channel Outdoor-Nat Moore Foundation Scholarship program, which were awarded to graduates from Miami Edison, Miami Jackson and Miami Northwestern Senior High Schools.

“We received more applications this year than we have had over the last three years combined,” said Bob Pechon, Vice President of the Nat Moore Foundation and Chair of the Scholarship Committee. “All the students were outstanding. We had such difficulty selecting the winners that the Foundation’s Board decided to award additional scholarships and gifts to 13 finalists for the Urban Scholarship Program.”

The Foundation awarded six students with a four-year $4,000 award ($1,000 per year for four years) and seven students received their choice of either an Apple iPad or a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer.

POSTED IN: Miami Dolphins (186)

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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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