Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Radio is all about "Right Size" These Days.

I listen to a lot of news/talk radio. It might say something about my politics that I have never listened more than a sentence to two of Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other right wing ranters In a spirit of equality, I've never listened to Air America, either. Politics bore me except when presented on National Public Radio. Mostly, I prefer listening to hosts and callers who exchange views on topics of the hour. My greatest pet peeve about talk radio are the relentless traffic and weather updates. Is it really necessary to tell me every ten minutes "on the sevens" or "eights?" Well it is if your real motive is to create properties for advertisers to sponsor.

Radio executives bemoan the fact that listeners tend to flip the dial every few minutes. Maybe they'd be less inclined to do that if the station didn't repeat itself every ten minutes. It might also help if traffic, weather and sports were presented in a more meaningful manner than merely rattling off a couple of key statistics. the format of talk radio today doesn't give thoughtful hosts the opportunity to delve into topics because about the time they present their point of view, it's time for traffic again. 

There is a noticeable trend in Chicago stations to which I listen. Other than an occasional exception, the commerials promote free "trials" for wight loss products, ranging from "smoothies" to pills and meal packages as well as medically related topics. Have unsightly vericous veins? Suffer from some newly identified nervous disorder? Feel bugs crawling under your skin? There's a trial product available for that. Howver, you must call within the next ten minutes. "If the lines are busy, keep trying." Want to find ways to get rich from real estate, gold or silver? Yes, Virginia, there are "free" programs available to help you find the path to wealth. The only break from these seemingly relentless "get well, get rich" ads are the pleas to donate your car, RV, or boat (on trailer only) to one alleged charity or another. I am particularly aware of the jingle from the folks who spell cars and kids with "K's" and offer a "free" weekend getaway for your donation. Does it surprise anyone that the company behind this effort is being investigated by various attorneys general and good business practice watchdogs? Is there anyone left in America after the Cash for Clunckers program with an old used car that doesn't know these charities typically consign the cars to a third party who pays them a flat fee of a couple hundred dollars regardless of the condition or value of the car? In the case of the "K" people, it's not even that significant.

It seems commercial radio, at least the stations I hear on the Chicago dial, have become vehicles for snake oil sales, and assorted scams. Like most listeners, legitimate advertisers have gone elsewhere. It almost makes you want to hear more frequent traffic reports.

The Real Legacy of David Beckham to Soccer in America

The Real Legacy of David Beckham in America

By: Jim Paglia
Just before the public announcement was made that David Beckham was coming to America to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS, I predicted his impact as a guest columnist in Soccer America and my views were reprinted by a reporter for the New York Times. Much of what I wrote has come to pass:
He proved he still has world-class skills;
He only enhanced his already astonishing celebrity and has expanded his endorsement across a wide variety of products sold in the US;
His first visit to each MLS city drew phenomenal record crowds;
Future visits didn’t draw anywhere near as well;
He was largely, singlehandedly responsible for the huge increases in MLS merchandise sales;
The Galaxy record is no better as a result of his presence;
His soccer camps got a big boost;
Aside from publicity, his impact on the professional game in this country is the equivalent of his wife Victoria announcing she was reuniting the Spice Girls. (I had no way of knowing that only days after this story first appeared, she did indeed announce the Spice Girls were launching a limited engagement world tour in selected cities. Apparently, they selected the wrong cities, because the tour was cut short due to lack of ticket sales.)

However, despite what appears at first glance to be my rather “spot on” assessment his impact to the game in America, I must admit I really couldn’t anticipate what I now believe will be his greatest legacy to the sport in this country.

Beckham has reinforced the notion among some self-serving coaches, administrators, parents and at times, players that it’s perfectly alright to walk out on your team and your commitment if a better offer comes along.

It’s well documented that I am not a fan of MLS, but the embarrassment caused to that league by the Beckham debacle is of little concern to me. It should have been no surprise to Beckham or anyone else that the caliber of play in MLS is well below the standards at which he has played most of his life. He had to be aware he wasn’t going to gain international match readiness playing against the likes of the Columbus Crew.

For all the obvious good his presence has done to promote interest in the sport among young players, I worry that Beckham’s greatest legacy will serve to demonstrate to generations of players who follow that individual self-interests outweigh commitment to a team and a club.

Before I go any further, let me be clear that I am a big fan of David Beckham, the player. He has been, and remains today, one of the most gifted set-piece players, and passers in the game. I’m thrilled to see him back in uniform for England. I even enjoy watching him play for AC Milan.

But I can’t help but wonder how many coaches, parents and players see his example as license to expand the already epidemic proportions of “hopping.” Coaches recruiting players to advance their own careers, parents living vicariously through their young children and praying for an unrealistic NCAA Division I scholarship, and players just looking for free snazzy warm-ups and gear, or a trip to Disney World; all conditions that are polluting the game. Sadly, Beckhams’s example, and ultimate legacy may be further opening the floodgates of this mentality.

Soccer: Where Are All the Children Going?

People know soccer is one of the most popular youth sports in America. But it might surprise you to learn it is also one of the fastest declining youth sports. Every adult connected in any capacity with the sport should be concerned. Research conducted by a variety of bodies including the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association suggests that while soccer does the best job of attracting young children among all sports, it loses them at an alarming rate after the age of eight or nine. The decline continues through the age of about twelve or thirteen. Beyond that age, the number of players modestly increases again through high school.
It’s widely accepted the falloff is largely related to the way soccer clubs are structured and parents and society influence the equation. The theory goes like this: Up to the age of eight or so, kids play mostly for fun. At about eight or nine years of age kids are told by coaches and parents they have promise, or they do not. Teams that were once defined by friendships and carpooling convenience are now being reorganized by skill level and training programs. Among some soccer administrators, the expression that is widely used, but never to a player’s or parent’s face is, “You are either good, or you suck.” Players and their families are aware of this through the Premier, A, B, C, and Recreational designation of teams. The concept of “playing up an age group” is introduced.

For every child that is encouraged to strive for greater advancement in the sport, there is at least one child who is given signs that even at the ripe old age of eight, they just do not have what it will take to be a standout player. Players are separated from friends, and assigned to teams for the less gifted. The theory suggests that children are being discouraged and thus leave the sport.

While I do not argue with this theory, I think it is one part of a complex, multi-faceted problem. I contend that what soccer is facing is not unique to the sport. Retailers and fast food restaurants have been dealing with the dilemma for years. McDonald’s invented the term “tweens” to describe customers between the ages of nine and twelve whose motives changed when they outgrew the Ronald McDonald® experience.

Briefly, McDonald’s learned a love of Ronald, and a commitment to visiting the restaurants is directly motivated by a child’s sense of fun and imagination. When a child reaches eight or nine years old, their influences and motives change. There is a desire to break with habits and interests that defined them as a “little kid.” Peer recognition and the element of “being cool” become much larger influences. Ask any parent of a child who used to love a visit to McDonald’s, and they can pretty much pinpoint this age as the one where their child was no longer interested in visiting the Playland®, or ordering a Happy Meal®. Try as they might, McDonald’s could not convince tweens that there was anything cool about Ronald.

People who study consumer habits recognize unique patterns and influences in this target market. What do most nine-year-olds want to be? Teenagers. What do most twelve year-olds want to be? You guessed it, sixteen - for the range of freedoms associated with driving.

The experts also agree that once a young consumer goes away, it extremely more costly to regain their allegiance than it might have been to hold their interest. The experts also agree that once lost, a large percentage of consumers will NEVER return.

The way children from nine to twelve define fun is radically different from their earlier years, yet coaches, administrators, and parents often fail to recognize this in relation to soccer. Not only is “fun” different for tweens, but also a host of other factors influences their interest in the game.

It’s true, the same age drop off happens in other sports. So why are the numbers leaving so much more dramatic in soccer? It’s the GIRLS, silly! No other mixed gender sport has such a high percentage of girls. 52% of all soccer players in this country are females. Eight and nine are also the ages when girls and boys take even more pronounced separate directions in the way they socialize, are influenced by their peers, and are affected by media and other societal factors.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A message from a Marine

I did not write the following, cannot vouch for its authenticity, but thought it was a very powerful message worth sharing with as many people as possible so I copied it and pasted it here. As you ramp up your Holiday celebrations, take a moment, reflect, and remember these men and women in a meaningful way. God Bless our troops.

Subject: [Fwd: Enhanced understanding of Afghanistan - Though the eyes of a Marine]

Not Pulitzer prize material but much better than those that win the "P".

Subject: Enhanced understanding of Afghanistan - Though the eyes of a Marine

You'd have to be there in order to write it this well. Interesting reading.. Writing dated Nov 25, 09.

From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan.

From the Sand Pit. It's freezing here. I'm sitting on hard, cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains, along the Dar 'yoi Pomir River, watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that
leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.

I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I've actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but them scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.

The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that's where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the
hardware. We bash some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement.

It's all about intelligence. We haven't even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they're in for. We are but days away from cutting off supply lines and allowing the eradication to begin.

I dream of bin Laden waking up to find me standing over him with my boot on his throat as I spit into his face and plunge my nickel-plated Bowie knife through his frontal lobe. But you know me, I'm a romantic. I've
said it before and I'll say it again: This country blows, man. It's noteven a country. There are no roads, there's no infrastructure, there's no government. This is an inhospitable, rock pit shit hole ruled by eleventh century warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs.

Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join the opium trade or join the army. That's it. Those are your options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a goose with stomach flu, if that's your idea of a party. But the smell alone of those 'tent cities of the walking dead' is enough to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for eighteen hours a day.

I've been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and even a couple of Pushtuns, for over a month-and-a-half now, and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of 'em, are Huns... actual, living Huns. They LIVE to fight. It's what they do. It's ALL they do. They have no respect for anything, not for their families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life. They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the family honor. Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other's barbarism. Cavemen with AK-47's. Then again, maybe I'm just cranky.

I'm freezing my ass off on this stupid hill because my lap warmer is running out of juice, and I can't recharge it until the sun comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters, right? Do me a favor, Bizarre. Write a letter to CNN and tell Wolf and Anderson and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to stop calling the Taliban 'smart.' They are not smart. I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is 'cunning'. The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless, and when confronted, cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create nothing and destroy everything else. Smart. Pfft. Yeah, they're real smart.

They've spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor plumbing to be products of the devil. They're still figuring out how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you in the eye with it.

OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon, so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but I'm good at it. Please, I tell you and my fellow Americans to turn off the TV sets and move on with your lives. The story line you are getting from CNN and other news agencies is utter bullshit and designed not to deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through the commercials. We've got this one under control. The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we're doing over here, because you have no idea what we're doing, and really, you don't want to know. We are your military, and we are doing what you sent us here to do.

You wanna help? Buy Bonds, America..

Saucy Jack
Recon Marine in Afghanistan
Semper Fi

"Freedom is not free... but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dockers Khakis Helps Men Be Men

Please!!! The best Dockers' ad agency could do was suggest there were times when men wore the pants?  Yes, I recognize this was done with tongue in cheek, and yes, I recognize the web ad has buttons for men's and women's shopping. But seriously, when do the ad geniuses give up trying to merely gain attention and start selling something again?
Did the executives at Dockers think this was clever? Did they expect America would be swept up in the "playfulness" of the campaign? Would America flock to stores to buy their khakis to salute the progress society has made in advancing issues of gender equality? These same folks who approved this really lowered the bar on a brand that once fueled American society's shift to casual Fridays and ultimately the entire "business casual" office attire movement. With all the unique brand attributes Dockers has to tout, and defining itself as the "soft" khaki, I doubt that term was ever meant to reflect their skill at crafting ads. I expect this campaign to die the quick and merciless death it deserves. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Starbucks by any other name

Starbucks has begun opening coffee shops under different names. Each location has a different identity and and as I understand it different decor. The company is trying to appear to be a small local business in each community. The idea that Starbucks can reinvent itself as a collection of local coffee shop is plain dumb. The early sales results are confirming this. The new stores put in existing locations are generating significantly lower sales than the original Starbucks.

Be who you are. Starbucks is willing to pretend it is whatever they think the customer will buy. Naming each new location for the street on which it is located, but running it just like they do every other Starbucks is about as disingenuous as a company can get. At this rate, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, and even the local coffee house need only to stay the course, and wait for Starbucks to self- destruct. How long might that take? Ask Blockbuster Videos, KB Toys, Krispy Kreme, Wickes, and Sharper Image stores. Admittedly, all these major brands faced widely different and profound marketplace challenges before their demise, but in the end they all share one trait - they failed to be true to who they were while still innovating.

Starbucks is caught up in an expansion death spiral for the sake of their stock price. It’s a nonsensical grip that has many successful companies around the neck. How is it possible that every company can expect double digit growth forever? When did the definition of corporate success morph into share price above all else? When did profit through budget management succumb to growth at any price? Where is it written that companies can't have up AND down sales years and still be successful? Must every week be a 52-week sales and stock price high? Adding more stores to disguise declining year-over-year, same-store sales is what executives do at big companies to protect their bonuses, and stock options.

Starbucks stopped innovating and started replicating. Expansion trumped innovation. “More customers” does not always mean more business. One of the best exercises in the world is asking yourself, "If I didn't add a new customer for an extended period of time, what would it take for my existing customers to continue to do business with me at a rate and margin that would sustain me?" AND then, do that! It makes sense that which is authentic and encourages existing customers to do more business with you will also be an ingredient necessary to attract new customers.

Could Starbucks be a successful company if it focused on being a better company rather than a bigger company? I think so. Starbucks could be turned around but it is very doubtful it will be because the leadership is locked in to a compensation plan that is driven by a "case count" mentality rather than raving, satisfied customers.