Jan 25, 2009

Super Bowl Outlook

So here we are again in the bye week between the wildly exciting NFL playoffs and the sure-to-disappoint Super Bowl.  Why do I say that?  How many Super Bowls are exciting.  Even last year's Giants-Patriots matchup seemed a bit of let down.  No NFL needs a two week buildup.  And they can't live up to it.  The hype and bologna around the event dwarf the game itself.  Just wait until this week when every station sends someone to Tampa - every radio show, tv show, newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, town crier will have someone there.  And there will be 168 hours of coverage, culminated by the ten hour Super Bowl pregame show and the parade of commercials.  And then eventually the game itself (with Bruce Springsteen playing at halftime).  The game is almost an afterthought.  It takes something unbelievable to launch the game into legen-(wait for it)-dary status.

For the NFL, this is often based on the teams involved.  A truly great matchup with two truly great teams don't need hype.  That will organically happen.  But when you have games like Carolina vs. New England or Arizona vs. Pittsburgh, the hype machine starts running.  Why?  The NFL needs the ratings.  They need the whole country to be involved.  And in the NFL, the way to make sure that happens is to have the right teams in the game.  Basically you can break the NFL down into four categories as far as interest in the teams go: National, Regional, State, and City.  A National team has fans all across the country.  Regional teams have tons of fans in states all around its home base.  State teams are pretty much THE DEAL in their state, or have lots of fans in their state and right around it.  City teams, um, have fans in their city - and that's about it.  These are the teams that always are in danger of relocating.  They just don't have the support they need in the modern NFL market.  

National teams usually are teams that have been successful for a long time - and have had success in several decades.  They have fans of all ages.  They are always relevant - even surviving bad stretches.  Each of the National teams had bad streaks, but they became players again.  (You can actually do this with every sport.)  Regional teams are wildly popular in their area - and may be on the verge of becoming National teams.  Some of those teams have been good for a while, but they don't have the older fans (Indy, N.E.).  Some were good, but have been out of it for a while (San Fran, K.C).  Here is how I break down the NFL in those categories.

New York Giants
New York Jets
Green Bay

New England
San Francisco
Kansas City

San Diego
St. Louis
New Orleans


I'm sure I would catch some flack for some of these categorizations.  But I tried to evaluate based on several things.  First, as I travel around, I notice which teams are popular in which areas.  How far is their reach?  How many miles away can you get their merchandise in gas stations?  Second, based on going to games in Jacksonville and Tampa, I look to see which visiting teams sell out the stadium.  I've been to Pittsburgh vs. the Jaguars.  More Steeler fans than home town players.  The same deal with the Packers.  When it comes to Houston, Buffalo, Detroit - lots of very empty seats.  Third, which teams are considered "marquee" teams by the League?

Sure, things can change with the teams.  A really good player can escalate a team (Manning with the Colts).  A really stupid coach can submarine a team (Marvin Lewis with the Bungles).  The challenge is whether those teams will be viable or rebound after the current lineup leaves town.  Remember, the Cowboys went 1-15 once.  Their head coach was once a guy named Dave Campo.  But they still are the highest selling team in the NFL - even if their current roster plan is trying to compile a real life The Longest Yard.  

Now, the NFL would ideally be able to put on Super Bowls with some combination of the National teams - with appearances by up and coming Regional teams, with hopes of them becoming National teams.  So the NFL is thrilled when a matchup like last year comes along - a National vs. a big time Regional (Giants vs. Patriots).  Throw in the back story of the quest for 19-0, the underdog Giants, a Manning brother at play.  Let's just say it is hard to top that.  Cowboys/Steelers has happened three times to huge ratings.  So that's ideal.  When a team like Atlanta, San Diego, Tampa, Cincinnati gets involved - it may make for good stories.  But it just doesn't make for good ratings.  There just isn't a big following for those teams.  [The exception would be the Buffalo Bills during their heyday.  They are a total City team, but their players and story were quite engaging.  Watching the same team choke away four straight Super Bowls?  Man, that is just amazing television.]

However, the addendum to this is that the NFL wants to engage as many areas of the country as possible.  You want an Eastern team to play a Western, or a Northern to play a Southern.  Ideally, if the teams were in two major markets, even better.  The Colts/Bears game was two big Regionals with Peyton Manning, the minority coach story line.  It should have been huge.  But since both teams were within the upper Midwest, it seemed small.  I remember some of the biggest games from ones I watched were Oakland/Washington, Giants/Broncos, Cowboys/Bills.  There was a big distance involved, which seemed to ramp up the interest.  When you get games like Chargers/49ers, Eagles/Patriots, Tennessee/St. Louis - they just seem smaller.  

So we get to this year's matchup.  You have a National team (Pittsburgh) against a State team (Arizona).  There is a good distance going on.  Phoenix is a big market, even though Pittsburgh is not - its huge fan base will make up for that.  You have some big stars and some good stories going on.  The problem is that the Cardinals have virtually no fan base.  Most of Arizona are still Cowboy fans.  And the St. Louis fans have either abandoned them or jumped on the Rams or Chiefs wagons.  Honestly, they get so little airplay that most people couldn't name ten of their players.  That is going to hurt viewership.  A lot of people think the matchup is not even close, assuming the Steelers are going to destroy the inexperienced Cardinals.  That will hurt.  And the commercials have been so disappointing lately, combined with the fact that advertisers are spending less.  So I doubt that there are going to be any hall of fame ads going on.

So here is my prediction.  I think the game will seem dwarfed by the surrounding goofiness.  It will be exciting, but ultimately disappoint.  I doubt it will be a blowout - Warner, Fitzgerald, Boldin won't allow that.  There will be some cool movie previews to watch.  And it will be mostly forgettable.  But The Boss will probably put on one heck of a show.  

Oh, you wanted a sports breakdown?  Go read ESPN.  I don't know that stuff.

Jan 24, 2009

Oscar 2009: The Nominations

Every year in each major sport, there are end of year awards. The most prestigious award for the players is the Most Valuable Player. This is supposed to be the biggest individual award for any player to receive. Each year the debate rages over whether the award should reflect the "Best Player" or the "Valuable Player." Should it be the player whose team needed him the most or the player who just had the best year? This is what passes for a debate in the sports world. Why? Because the sports industry gets it. Reward the most deserving. Even in years when the best player gets passed over (every year Michael Jordan didn't win, every year Steve Nash or Karl Malone did win), at least the winner had a big year.

Now, if the sports world were the Oscars, then the MVP would not go to someone like Peyton Manning or Michael Turner or Tom Brady. It would be fought over between two punters, a long snapper, a middle linebacker, a punt returner, and a tight end. Are those important positions? Yes. Might those people have had a good year? Sure. Should those positions ever in a million years be named MVP? No freaking way.

Yet, every year the Oscars comes down to a battle between movies no one has seen. As I mentioned last year in my nominations review, I keep track of the Oscar nominations. I look to see how much money the Oscar nominated movies make. Allow me to share with you this year's crop of films vying for the naked golden man.
  • Best Picture - $37.36 million (avg)
  • Director - $37.36 million (avg)
  • Best Actor - $30.04 million (avg)
  • Best Actress - $16.66 million (avg)
  • Supporting Actor - $139.24 million (avg)
  • Supporting Actress - $37.2 million (avg)
  • Overall - $79.4 million for the 13 nominated films
So, how does that rank with last year, which was one of the worst years in movie history as far as money making goes? Glad I asked.
  • Best Picture - $43.32 million (avg)
  • Director - $37.28 million (avg)
  • Best Actor - $24.12 million (avg)
  • Best Actress - $24.38 million (avg)
  • Supporting Actor - $34.5 million (avg)
  • Supporting Actress - $45.20 million (avg)
So, for Best Picture, this year is the worst year since I've been keeping records - that was 1998 by the way. $37 million average? Are you kidding me? That means only about 4 million people saw those films. How good can these movies be? I can honestly say I not only have not seen any of the films, but I have absolutely no desire to see any of those films. Now, some may say that the Supporting Actor and Overall numbers don't look too bad. Allow me to rain on that parade.

The late Heath Ledger was nominated for his insane portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight. This movie took in $531 million by itself, which obviously threw off the numbers. After all, The Dark Knight took in more than THE OTHER 12 MOVIES combined. Yes, its $531 million take was higher than the $504 million that the other movies took in. Now, it is my opinion that if Ledger has not died, he would not have been nominated. That may seem cold to say, but it is true. That is a role that has been passed over so many times in the past (Jack Nicholson in Batman 1989, Robin Williams in Aladdin, Val Kilmer in Tombstone). Those were Supporting parts that so dominated the movie they made the main characters look silly. But they all missed out. And if Ledger had not died, he would have been passed over also. So if his spot was replaced with, say Michael Sheen from Frost/Nixon, the Supporting Actor number drops to $34.8 million and the Overall number plummets to $42 million - which would have been right down at the bottom of the last decade.

It is pointless to even get worked up about this any more. As I said last week, this was Hollywood's chance to get back in touch with the movie-going public. Sure, Benjamin Button made over $100 million, but do you know anyone who loved this movie? I knew people who said it LOOKED amazing, but no one who loved the movie itself. And the Academy tossed its quirky Supporting pick at Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder - mainly to acknowledge his amazing year. If they were truly gutsy, they should have given him Best Actor props for Iron Man. When 2008 is thought of in the future, the movies that will come to mind will be Iron Man, Dark Knight, WALL-E, maybe Mamma Mia if you live in England. And, just like other movies from years past that had a huge impact on film (Bourne Identity, Ratatouille), those movies that actually will stand the test of time will be tossed to the side by the Oscars in favor of ones that no one will even remember. I really think this will be the year that ratings just hit rock bottom. How can the average American even care any more?

Jan 8, 2009

Nominations are Coming

First of all, yes I have been away for a while.  It is hard to sit down at the computer and write when you keep falling asleep.  It is also hard to drive when you keep falling asleep.  But that is a different and far more disturbing point.

The topic that has awoke me from my blogging slumber is the movie award season.  As I have stated numerous times over the years, I love movies.  This year, I was able to watch quite a few films.  And I actually enjoyed most of them.  I have watched the awards thus far with a jaded eye.  I want to care, but I know what is going to happen.  And, as the Oscars are about to announce their nominees, I am torn between what I expect and what I wish for. 

If you go through the archives of this blogs, you will see that I have researched the Oscar race for a number of years.  I looked at how much money each film made, the box office vs. awards, and popularity of films.  In recent years, the Academy has been following a disturbing trend of rewarding films no one watched and ignoring ones that people saw.  The argument has always been that the popular films are not worth awards.  In return, people are abandoning the Oscars by the million - since it only deals with movies they couldn't care less about.  

HOWEVER, this year it is completely different.  This is the year for the Academy to decide its future.  There are actually several wildly popular movies that deserve awards.  WALL-E is one of the best movies I have ever watched.  The performance by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (and many say in Tropic Thunder) was amazing.  And, even though I STILL haven't seen it, $500 million worth of people think a little movie called The Dark Knight may have been worth a thought or two.  Legitimate award contenders AND box office monsters.  We haven't seen that since Lord of the Rings.  

So the Academy is at a crossroads.  It could do the right thing, which would be reward mainstream films for also being amazing.  WALL-E and The Dark Knight for Best Picture.  Christopher Nolan (maybe even Ben Stiller) for Best Director.  Downey for Best Actor and/or Best Supporting Actor.  Obviously, Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor.  I'd even go for Meryl Streep for Mamma Mia.


It could do what it usually does (and probably will do).  It could nominate Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, and Doubt for Best Picture.  (You are so going to be impressed if that is right.  Are they good films?  I'm sure.  But NO ONE FREAKING WATCHED THEM.  We'll see acting nominees from Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler and Gran Torino and Benjamin Button .  And the big films, IF they get squat, will get a screenplay nomination or the technical awards.  

It is pathetic.  1994, to me, was one of the best years ever for movies.  The Best Picture nominees would have all won in any other year (Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show).  Critical AND financial success was evident everywhere.  But now, I wonder if that could ever happen.  Would an Academy voter be able to see past Gump's $300 million take and cultural impact to nominate it?  Or would it be TOO popular?  I know that if the big films get jilted this year, expect the ratings to nosedive.  The average moviegoer will once and for all consider the Oscar as highbrow, narcissistic back patting.  And they would be right - although, typically, the Oscar wouldn't pay any attention to that popular opinion either.