Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Latest 'Test' Gains Popularity, But Mostly Fails

Sometimes a phrase becomes popular seemingly overnight and jumps into common use on radio and TV sports coverage.

While many were trying to find a way to put a pun to Jeremy Lin's name in the past couple weeks, the latest cliché culprit was establishing a strong foothold in sports at the start of the calendar year. It could be heard on just about every possible sport, but the NFL Scouting Combine and end-of-the-season runs for the NCAA Tournament have helped its proliferation.

The cliché in question? Any reference to "the eye test," "passing the eye test" or "the look test."

It's meant as a tip of the hat to the obvious, a statement that does not require convoluted collaboration or statistics. If something "passes the eye test," it's good on its own merits -- something that should not be overlooked. In terms of quality, what's being looked at belongs, no justification needed.

Unfortunately, because so many individuals and teams have been deemed as "passing the eye test" in recent weeks, those who pass the test have become a blur of brilliance as determined by play-by-play talents and color commentators.

In addition, amidst all those who supposedly qualify, others have implemented "pass the eye test" incorrectly.

Among the most worst offenders were the ESPN college basketball studio analysts who recently -- in just one example -- addressed the postseason men's basketball credentials of West Virginia. After stating that the Mountaineers "passed the eye test," the case for the team to make the NCAA Tournament was supported by a five-step on-screen graphic that recounted pieces of the team's resume.

But such supporting arguments are the exact opposite of "the eye test." Passing the test means how the team plays and what it does on the court clearly reflects it's merits and proves it's worthy of postseason play. Backing that up with statistics would be unnecessary if a team truly passes the test.

It would be best if the test were just tossed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NFL, NASCAR Share Vision with Potential

With the NFL Scouting Combine under way in Indianapolis and NASCAR ready to jump start its season in Daytona, Fla., the all-powerful, TV-dominant pro football league could learn at least one thing from stock-car racing's top circuit -- how to better serve fans who attend events in person.

Because the NFL has long understood that it's providing television programming as much as quality competition, it has grown into TV juggernaut. During the fall TV season, for example, NFL games dominated the ratings, with 23 regular-season games among the season's 25 top-rated programs. And, of course, the Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots was the most-watched TV show in history.

Honestly, the NFL's only competition, in terms of putting fans in the stands at stadiums across the country, comes from the NFL, and fans with high-definition, wide-screen TVs in their living rooms across the country who might prefer to watch from home rather than tailgate and watch in person at the stadium.

The stay-at-home experience has become so good that it has impacted attendance (albeit slightly) on gameday. It's a minor problem for the league and owners at this point, but they know they must combat the problem and make coming to the game special.

To do that, the NFL should more widely adapt and utilize FanVision -- a tool a third of league teams have already tapped and that gets widespread use in NASCAR. The hand-held device provides broadcast content to fans on location, and it differs from that available on smartphones and other wireless devices because it does not rely on cell-phone providers or Internet connections. Instead, it's pretty much direct access to a local (stadium-only) broadcast of the game or race.

With FanVision, NASCAR fans get access to live broadcast feeds and replays, eight on-board cameras, a digital radio scanner, official timing, statistics and even the ability to follow specific drivers. For the 10 NFL teams that use the service, the offerings are similar -- replays, statistics, broadcasts of other games, fantasy football statistics, the NFL Red Zone Channel and even self-selected views of the game.

It's important that the NFL, and all pro sports leagues for that matter, expand use of FanVision as a means to enhance the gameday stadium experience for fans. It's not possible to rival the huge, high-definition TVs that fans have in their homes, but technology (even through a smaller screen) can help change the experience of fans who attend games or races in person.

In fairness to some fans who adopted the technology early, FanVision made its predecessor, FanView, obsolete. That obsolescence came at a price, and it has probably hurt NASCAR's efforts at least slightly in the short run. Because the devices are costly, even to rent, NASCAR should do a better job than it has so far of helping those with the now-outdated FanView.

Still, FanVision has the potential to help revolutionize how leagues and teams improve the experience for fans at the stadium. Some NFL teams have made the device available to certain pockets of their fan base, and that's a good start. Finding a way to keep the service cost effective and make it more widely used could be another positive TV-related move for the league, though.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Online Record Offers a Glimpse of the Future

Beyond the record 111.3 million people who watched the Super Bowl, beyond the several on-field records, the most interesting number associated with the game might be 2.1 million.

That's the number of people who watched the game online, they're technically referred to as "unique users."

It's a number up exponentially from typical numbers for a regular season NFL game -- or at least the 250,000 or so who usually watch "Sunday Night Football" games on NBC, which represents the only strong comparison. And it's an especially interesting viewership trend because the Super Bowl is generally considered an exercise in group viewing.

Still, the Super Bowl dominated online. While the game drew 2.1 million viewers, online tracking services reported that other web surfing diminished a bit as the game progressed. In addition, the 2.1 million dwarfed the 524,000 people who watched the BCS national championship game earlier this year through ESPN's online channel.

While leagues and networks have long worried that online options would hamper TV ratings and viewership, sports fans will find their team in the best place they can. And online coverage done well can compliment game coverage.

During the regular season, NBC touts is online extras, including Facebook and Twitter updates from sideline reporters, as well as the opportunity for viewers to be in control.

Those watching online like those kind of options, too. Especially the ones that put them in control. During the Super Bowl coverage online, there were 1.8 million camera switches made by users.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl Advertisers All Seek to Standout

When airtime for an ad costs $3.5 million for 30 seconds, the advertiser wants to make the most of it -- and every advertiser has a slightly different plan leading up to the Super Bowl.

Some plan to stick with safe standards, animals and comedy. Others hope to tap celebrities, some off A-list and others in the not-quite-so-famous variety.

For almost all of the advertisers, the ad (or ads in the case of automakers, beer/beverage companies and movie makers) goes far beyond the 30 seconds, minute or more that the ad airs during the game itself.

Some companies put their ads online as a preview days ago. Other companies plan to wait until the game itself. That's just part of the strategy, though, because every ad is part of an overall effort that ties in online, print and social media as much as possible.

Five of the best already out there online include spots from (in alphabetical order): Budweiser, Coke, Honda, Pepsi Max and Volkswagen. Here's a look and some background on each --

They told two rec league hockey teams they were making a documentary. They lied, and the result is special.

The polar bears return, watching the big game, and they'll be featured a couple of times Sunday, including spots supposedly tailored to the action on the field.

With a nostalgic tip of the hat to "Ferris Bueller," actor Matthew Broderick takes a sick day centered around his vehicle. Probably a spot that needs watched a couple of times to catch nuances along with the main message.

Pepsi Max
A continuation of the annual Pepsi-Coke delivery man spots. While it might seem the genre has been tapped, a great checkout moment and a surprise winner (plus a cameo from Regis Philbin) keep it fresh.

On its own, the first 2/3 of the ad works well. How can a dog and humor together fail? Then VW challenges viewers to remember last year's (and ongoing) Star Wars-related spot. It might resonate, but it'll be interesting if viewers get the context.

Among others that will return to the Super Bowl commercial lineup are GoDaddy.com (with Danica Patrick), Acura (with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno) and even spots featuring Motley Crue and Elton John for Kia and Pepsi, respectively.