Ratto: Giant lesson in Super Bowl chaos


Ratto: Giant lesson in Super Bowl chaos

Feb. 7, 2011


Ray Ratto

There is a lesson in the steaming disaster that was the Super Bowl for the San Francisco Giants, if they are prepared to absorb and act upon it.Which, we would bet heavily, they are not. The moneys too good the other way.
The Super Bowl was a spectacular failure on all but football grounds. The ice that crushed the Metroplex, the people hurt when the stadium burped up part of the icy roof, the turbulent undercurrent of the labormanagement spit-fest, the tickets-that-werent-for-the-seats-that-never-existed, Christina Aguilera (who we thought was already retired) shrieking in some unknown code, the Black-Eyed Peas and their interpretation of an airport runway at night, and in all, the rigors of greed unchained and unashamed made this one of the worst Super Bowls ever. Except for Aaron Rodgers, and Mike McCarthy, and Ted Thompson, and the state of Wisconsin, that is. They had a hell of a time.
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So what does this have to with the Giants? Im glad I asked. As you may have noticed from FanFest, the Giants are hotter than theyve been since the day they got here. They turned away almost as many people as they admitted for the annual slap-and-tickle, and that may be an accurate gauge of the demand right now.
WATCH: Giants Fan Fest from AT&T Park
But heres the thing. The Super Bowl crushed its own mordant avarice. Charging hundreds for a party pass that allowed you to get close without seeing the game, setting up temporary seating areas that people who paid full retail couldnt use, and putting up a show of purest malignant excess all of it the karma that comes of squeezing the money lemon until the seeds explode in your eye.
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And theres the lesson. There is money the Giants dont want, and that money is too much. Finding new ways to choke a guys wallet ought to be beneath them. Charging for everything you can charge for is not only unseemly but antithetical to what Bow Tie Billy Neukom says he believes. And this requires an ongoing examination of how they deal with the marks . . . er, the customers. In short, where the Super Bowl asked the question How much can we charge for even stuff that has no value? and got the response, Heres a record-breaking ice storm, the Giants have to ask the question, What can we afford not to charge for? Its kind of a zen question, in fact, because the Giants need money to feed their pet Lincecums and Cains and Poseys. But they have also flogged the brand to a fine gray paste, to the point where they are either nudging the line of excess or treading merrily over it, depending on your position relative to your checkbook. The Giants have two choices here striking while the iron is hot, or gently nudging for a prolonged and triumphant future. Every kid who couldnt get into FanFest had a lousy experience, and it doesnt matter to him whether the team or the fire laws kept him out. There will be other moments where the customers dont get serviced, either, and thats where the creativity comes in. When someone gets shut out of an event, they should get something free in exchange. A T-shirt, a stuffed Machine, a suite for the Pirates series, something. And charging for everything is what they do in the Mob. The team orientation at this, their finest moment, should be, What can we not charge for? because those moments linger a lot longer than the Visa bill. Fans sign up for a lifetime when given something they didnt expect. This is the law. Conversely, fans walk away when their favorite team has its hand in the fans pockets at every turn, and they dont come back. The Giants are as close as theyve ever been to owning the market, but the more they try to own, the worse it will get. If fans are born through the influence of their parents, their parents get hooked on their kids being handed something for nothing, even if that something is as small as an autograph or just a smile. Which is why not charging for everything under the sun is the way to go here. The Super Bowl is the example of what happens when your appetite for other peoples money outstrips your ability to dance for it. And the task for the Giants is to find ways to put the price gun away. Can they do it? We suspect not. The instinct to double-down when youre hot is almost Pavlovian with most enterprises. To go the other way takes more discipline, but it also makes better sense in the long run. Even barflies know this -- buy the first round of drinks, and it wont be your turn again for quite some time. And thats what the Giants can take from Super Bowl Week. Well, that and keeping Christina Aguilera from showing up to yodel Battle Hymn of The Republic.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.