I had an interesting weekend in Florida, but I’m now leaving the action as the rest of the NFL world descends on this little slice of earth for parties, meetings, outings, events, media minutiae and 12 minutes of live football squeezed into thousands of hours of broadcast programming. Having been to many Super Bowl weeks, there’s always a world of things to do, and at some point you realize there’s a game coming up. It’s such a different atmosphere than, say, the conference championship games, where it’s all about football.
On Friday, I was in Gainesville participating in a sports law symposium at the University of Florida Law School, sharing my thoughts on issues in sports law and collective bargaining – many of the same I share here and in my classes at Wharton. The university is impressive — I particularly enjoyed running the steps of the Swamp, with markings on the field from the Gators’ last game against Florida State in November.
The inevitable question I receive at events such as this and from my students and dozens of emails each week is how to get into the sports business. I wish there was a formula as there is for lawyers, doctors, etc. The sports business is truly “right place, right time.” However, like a player suddenly called up to play, every person trying to get into the business should be as prepared as possible to step up if the opportunity arises. Knowledge is power, so learning is key. The webinar I’m offering is one source of information, and there are others.
From Gainesville, I decided to move farther south to Pro Bowl weekend in Miami. Arriving at the practices on Saturday and staying around another day, I noticed a few things:
• Sometimes we in the business forget about the impact these players have. Pro Bowl practices were loose, with fans right up on the field. I watched the reaction when the players walked out to practice and saw the eyes of kids get big as saucers as players like Ray Lewis and Vince Young came near. There’s no greater sight than a child’s eyes get big from excitement.
• Many, including myself, have criticized Chad Ochocinco for his attention-seeking behavior. On Saturday, though, I saw the power of Ochocinco, a beacon among a sea of stars shining through with media and fans. He has truly become a transcendent star, even beyond football, through his skillful efforts marketing his own brand.
• One of the most prolific autograph signers was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who drew a crowd similar to the players. As he signed, one young fan yelled, “One day I want to have your job!” Said Goodell, “You want it right now?”
• Speaking of that, both sides of the labor debate expressed frustration with the collective bargaining process despite multiple meetings. The meetings have been well attended by attorneys from both sides — including longtime NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler – plus financial people, players and owners (John Mara of the Giants and Mark Murphy of the Packers were at the last meeting, with Mara making public comments expressing frustration). I’ll be breaking down all the issues as the March 5 deadline approaches, as will the Webinar. For now, pay no attention to the rhetoric. Nothing to see here.
• In visiting with league officials, they are genuinely not concerned about the negative feedback of having the Pro Bowl played prior to the Super Bowl. Of course, they anticipated some outcry with the Super Bowl players not participating, but the absenteeism beyond that has been like any year. Players from the conference championship games always pull out, as many did this year, and the usual decliners such as Brett Favre stayed true to form.
• It’s clear to me that Miami is a wonderful site for the Super Bowl. Although crowded and expensive, especially at the beach, the city bustles with energy and an international vibe. Exposing its many cultures to the biggest event in football can only help its global marketing. And the weather can’t be overstated. While the rest of the country freezes, Miami presents the best chance to be warm, and warm weather usually promotes warm feelings about a place. As the Super Bowl travels next to Dallas and Indianapolis, Miami weather will definitely be missed.
• Speaking of international, I watched a bit of the USA vs. the World game on Saturday after Pro Bowl practices. While some of the best high school talent in this country played a group of “world” players, mostly from Canada and Samoa, I watched with USA Football chairman Carl Peterson as he hoped and prayed that the game — televised on NFL Network — would stay competitive. It did for the most part, with USA winning 17-0. It took me back to my days with the Barcelona Dragons, where the fans cheered at all the wrong times.
• I was asked frequently about my note last week on Kurt Warner and his Cardinals contract specifying that he will not receive the deferred half of his $15-million signing bonus. Clearly, the retirement scenario was anticipated when this contract was negotiated in the offseason. It allowed for a smooth way of enforcing the retirement forfeiture provision in every contract without the ugly scenario of the Cardinals going after a previously paid bonus. As I wrote, Warner left his team and teammates with $11.5 million – the $7.5M bonus plus a $4M salary — that they can spend on a host of issues they have to address: Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, etc. These are overused clich