federerWe have almost finished 2009 and have witnessed an eventful sporting year on and off the pitch. Who cannot remember the win of the Steelers against the Cardinals in the superbowl or the stunning race of Usain Bolt in which he broke the 100 metres world record by a mile, or Tiger’s great comeback after his injury (although he didn’t manage to win a major and did take a sidestep at the end of the year), or Roger Federer breaking Pete Sampras’ grand slam record. In spite of all of this 2010 should be a much more eventful sporting year given bonus events such as the Winter Olympics and the World Championships of Football. We briefly discuss the 10 biggest sports events to look forward to.

1. American Football (NFL). In the NFL the Colts should beat the Saints in what would probably be the dream final of the 2009-2010 season. Two teams with 2 great quarterbacks should deserve to battle it out in Miami, with Peyton Manning likely to be the big star. And if any of these two teams won’t make it to the Superbowl, look for the Chargers or Vikings as potential stand-ins.

2. Vancouver 2010, the Winter Olympics. Lots to look forward to. In hockey crazed Vancouver, team Canada should get away with the gold, beating the Swedes in the finals. That’s an easy one and chances for a surprise winner in this field are virtually zero. As far as the countries taking away the most gold medals, it should be a battle between Germany, the US and Canada and don’t be surprised if the Canucks, feeling strong on home soil, take it away. The biggest golddiggers? Speedskaters Sven Kramer and Shani Davis will probably battling it out, both of them going for 3 gold medals. Or could Ole Einar Bjorndalen (biathlon) do it one more time in his fourth Olympics? Although he still regularly wins, I doubt whether he will pull it off this time……In any case it will be fun and the great city of Vancouver will only add to the pleasure!

3. Golf. It could be Phil’s season but don’t count out the Tiger! Having put behind the illness of his wife, Phil Mickelson could be back with a vengeance and win a couple of majors. Much will depend on Tiger. If he will divorce from his wife, he could put all his attention back to golfing, if not the story might be different. It is still my guess Tiger will be back in time for the first major, the Masters in Augusta. Tiger’s fire to beat the record of Jack Nicklaus should still be burning. If having put behind his private matters, don’t be surprised when Tiger gets away with another major this year. And the dark horses? Look for the young guns Martin Kaymer and Rory Mcilroy.

4. Sailing, the Americas Cup. After a long and ridiculous legal battle off the water, the 33rd Americas Cup now looks set to take place in Valencia mid February. Sailing should take place on the water and not in the court room. With recent emphasis having been taken away from sailing, I doubt whether this has been doing any good to the sports and to the brand value of its main sponsors BMW and Oracle as well as the ones of Alinghi. It is to hope that clear rules will be set for the 34th Cup. In any case hopefully attention will turn back to sailing in mid February. That is to say if BMW Oracle’s latest claim of Alinghi’s sails not been made in Switzerland (the rules require that the boat and all equipment be built entirely in the country represented) will hold. If the claim will be awarded, we will see further delays. If not, sailing should go ahead and in that case I opt for Alinghi, which should have had more testing time on the water.

5. Tennis, Roger and Kim once more. Of the three Gillette triplets only Roger Federer still stands firm, Tiger Woods and to some extent Thierry Henry (after his hand ball in the all important France Ireland match) have fallen from grace. I cannot believe Roger will fall into the same kind of trap. On the contrary, he should continue gaining further support and winning several grandslams once again. I doubt Nadal will get back to his old performance level and if he does, how long his knees will hold. Del Potro is probably the guy to watch. For the women it should become more interesting again now that Kim is back. Clijsters veni vidi vici in the US Open should see further confirmation in 2010, which should be a welcome change after the reign of the Williams sisters.

6. Motor racing; Formula 1, Schumi is back! A blessing for Formula 1, that’s how one can summarize the come-back of 7x world champion Michael Schumacher. Over the last few years the popularity of Formula 1 has clearly come down, as fans no longer felt sufficiently connected to the sports, due to the combination of a lack of charismatic drivers, several scandals (crashgate) and the economic downturn. With Schumacher being back and several new racing teams on the grid, Formula 1 should bounce back. It should be an interesting season. Will McLaren and Ferrari be able to return to the front and head-up to Mercedes? In any case, it should be fun to see Schumacher fight with the new generation drivers such as Hamilton and Alonso. My pick for the 2010 season: Hamilton!

7. Cycling Tour de France; Contador for third time in a row. Who can beat Alberto Contador in 2010? Despite his great comeback in 2009, I do not expect Armstrong can pull it off. Despite gathering a very strong team around him this year with many of the old teammates of Contador, the years start to count, whereas Contador looks stronger every year. On the other hand never say never; I wouldn’t be surprised when Armstrong would have a few more tricks up his sleeve! Elsewhere Schleck, Valverde, Evans and Wiggins should fall short again, whilst it probably is still a bit early for Dutch condor Robert Gesink. So few dark horses in a Tour de France which hopefully will lack any doping scandals.

8. World Championships Football 2010. In summer the spotlights of the world will be on South Africa, the first African country to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the World Championships Football What to expect? Italy should be unable to retain the worldcup after the recent mediocre performances of the national team as well as that of the club-teams. Spain, the reigning European champions is the country to watch with some fantastic individual players. Spain’s track record in the Worldcup has been dramatic, but winning the European championships should have put an end to that spell. Nevertheless, it won’t come easy and particularly England could spoil the party, they should be seen as Spain’s main threat, certainly with the current confidence of the lads, it could finally be their time again. The dark horses? Brazil, Holland and as always Germany. Topscorer? Look for David Villa

9. Swimming, back to basics again! No major championships this year, but what will make the sports interesting is the absence of high tech swimsuits. Technique will become more important again at the expense of pure muscle power. So it should be! It probably means there will be new names to watch! And of course some names will remain the same; Michael Phelps will continue to be a class on his own. So swimming will be swimming again with one exception; the number of new world records should be limited……

10. Basketball, will it be the Lakers again? Who dares to bet against Bryant and company? Not many, in most polls the Lakers are leading by a mile. Nevertheless, the Cavaleers proved during Christmas that the Lakers are far from unbeatable. With King James assisted by a determined Shaq doing his last few tricks, don’t be surprised when the Cavs pull it off!

tiger.alex2010 is nearing the end and hence lists of names are popping-up everywhere summarizing the greatest moments, sportsmen, sportswomen etc. Clearly we are not staying behind and add our own list. As 2010 has seen many confessions of big (former) stars, we briefly stand still to look at the 10 biggest confessions in sports in 2010.

When analyzing the confessions one can recognize broadly three categories; sex related confessions, drugs related confessions and confessions related to malpractices in the sport. Clearly all three have either a direct or indirect effect on the performance of an athlete, a club or a sport. However, there is simultaneously also a huge difference between the 3. Sexually related escapades have nothing to do with breaking the rules of a sport. What someone is doing in his private life is his/her choice. However, being role models to society, moral judgement is likely severe and hence there is a clear indirect impact on performance. As far as honesty is concerned, drugs related fouls are much worse, as they are directly impacting the performance of an athlete. Hence there is no longer a level playing field, on the contrary often one can speak of unfair competition. In spite of this we have listed the confessions according to the (of course arbitrary) impact they have on either society or the sports.

Biggest confessions of 2009:

1.Tiger Woods: Tiger confessed he has been unfaithful to his wife having had several affairs with other women. Clearly Tiger is not breaking any golf-related rules, but the noise it has created and the impact Tiger has on the sport of golf and sports in general, make him the clear number one of the list.

2.Gareth Thomas: Gareth Thomas, a British sports legend and international rugby star, announced he is gay. In the male chauvinistic rugby world this is a brave and huge step forward. Sports should have nothing to do with sexuality, yet there are still some bastions left like soccer and rugby. It is to hope that Thomas’ confessions will lead to a breakthrough although we have our doubts whether this will be the case.

3. Nelson Piquet: better known under the name crashgate, this has been one of the major offences in sports history. Nelson Piquet was asked by team leaders Briatore and Symonds, to deliberately crash his formula 1 car in order to help the team. With this “strategy”, security for Nelson himself, the other drivers and the spectators, was severely endangered. Moreover, the credibility of Formula One was severely dented. In the mean time Briatore and Symonds have been banned from the sports, whilst it is doubtful whether Piquet will ever return to Formula One.

4. Marcel Schuon: Schuon is the first soccer player who has come forward in the match-rigging scandal now coursing through European soccer to talk publicly about a deal to fix a game. Since his confession, police have raided addresses across Europe, smashing what they believe is a 200-strong band bribing players, referees and coaches in at least nine countries to influence matches that they would then bet huge sums on. Although bets did not take place on matches in the major leagues, it does put a dent into European soccer.

5. Johan Museeuw: in the beginning of 2009 the great cyclist Johan Museeuw confessed he used doping at the end of his career. Like so many others he used the performance enhancing EPO. This once again was a blow to cycling, which frantically tries to get clean. Slowly the sport manages to get a better grip on doping, but each year there are still those that are discrediting the sport and are willing to risk suspension. Asterloza and Di Luca were just 2 of the more well-known cyclists, who were caught this year. Johan Museeuw’s confession should not only resemble himself but also all those others who used performance enhancing drugs.

6. Andre Agassi: Agassi confessed he tested positive for the highly addictive drug, crystal methamphetamine, and then duped the Association of Tennis Professionals into believing he had taken it by accident. Although the drug is said to be a recreational one and not performance enhancing, it was forbidden. Agassi lied about it and is bailing himself out of it by writing a book. Nevertheless, he still is connected to the sports of tennis, which sadly doesn’t help the image of tennis, ironically a sport he once hated.

7. Rick Pitino: the famous Louisville basketball coach confessed he had sex and paid for an abortion for the woman accused of trying to extort him for USD 10mln. Being a catholic, Pitino’s reputation got a severe dent. In spite of an integrity clause (which includes dishonesty and moral depravity as grounds for firing) in his contract Louisville retained his services.

8. Alex Rodriguez: days after Sports Illustrated reported he tested positive for steroids in 2003, A-Rod, ex toyboy of Madonna, confessed that he used banned substance while he played for Texas Rangers between 2001 – 2003. As widely known, he was not the only one during that era, who used performance enhancing drugs. Nevertheless it was a sad moment for baseball that one of America’s favourite role-models took part in it. It’s good to see Major League Basseball seems to finally taking this problem seriously.

9. Yuri van Gelder: one of the world’s top gymnasts, “lord of the rings” Yuri van Gelder confessed he had regularly used cocaine for recreational purposes. Following his confession, the gymnast got suspended and was fired by his employer, the Dutch army, which had a zero tolerance policy. Van Gelder is in rehab and hopes to return to gymnastics.

10. Christoph Daum: Christoph Daum, coach of the Turkisch football club Fenerbace confirmed 4 of his players took part in sex marathons in a hotel in Istanbul. Whether the 4 players can stay with Fenerbace is yet unknown. Clearly one can say it is none of our business what sport stars are doing in their private life. Fact of the matter remains that stars are always in the spotlight and are representing their club. It is the price one pays for being a celebrity and role-model. In the end such publicity can affect the relationships in the locker room and hence the club and its fans.

Surely there were plenty more confessions. Come to think of it, Michael Phelps and his waterpipe! We deliberately did not put him in the list. Phelps was suspended from competition for three months by USA swimming but this was not for violating anti-doping rules as it was outside competition. It was merely to send out a strong message to Michael for disappointing so many. As Phelps did not violate any anti-doping rules we decided to keep him out. Arbitrary of course, but then again the entire list is……….

woodsOver the last few days most of Tiger Woods’ sponsors have published press releases on their future relationship with him. Gillette and Accenture have dropped him, whilst Tag Heuer and Nike continue their support for the time being. Critics have been quick to criticize particularly Gillette and Accenture claiming that Tiger’s private matters should have nothing to do with his performance levels on the golf course. Who are we to morally disqualify him (or anybody else). True but not relevant! They are missing the point. These companies have always supported Tiger, as his values seemed to match with the values of their own. As this seems no longer the case, their decision is logical.

When looking at Tiger’s brand identity, Tiger has always come across as Mr Clean; a family man and a person that is always showing great dignity and integrity on and off the pitch. Tiger’s values could possibly be summarized as loyal, trustworthy, integer, reliable, focused. Most of these values probably still stand but integrity and reliability can be crossed off the list I believe. Surely one is allowed a mistake but not one of such significance, particularly given his emphasis on virtues of being humble and honest. Stardom comes at a price I am afraid and Tiger’s authenticity and credibility have been severely dented here.

Now let’s go back to the sponsors. It is to appreciate that Nike, EA Sports and TAG Heuer will continue to support Tiger, “the athlete”, at least for the time being. However, it has to be said that it is much easier for them than for example for Accenture, Gillette and possibly AT&T. Why? The core values of the likes as Nike, EA Sports and Tag Heuer do not conflict with Tiger’s actions, whereas this is the case for the other 3.
Although Nike does not specifically state its core values, its mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. As Tiger as a golfplayer still is inspiring many, this does not really conflict with Tiger’s actions so far. Hence Nike can permit itself a sit and wait strategy, also taking into account that Tiger is commercially tremendously important to Nike. For TAG Heuer things are not that different. TAG’s core values are excellence, performance and exceptional achievement, all values still applicable to Tiger as a top athlete.

Now let’s look at the core values of Accenture and Gillette, who seem both to have more broadly defined core values. Those of Accenture are client value creation, one global network, integrity, stewardship, best people and respect for the individual. Tiger’s actions particularly conflict with integrity and respect for the individual. Additionally Accenture’s commercial “we know what it takes to be a Tiger” does not help in this respect. Gillette’s core values are achievement, integrity and collaboration. Again Tiger’s actions conflict with integrity, as did the recent action of Thierry Henry by the way (both feature in the same commercial). In any case you can barely condemn these companies for acting in accordance with their core values or better said, their DNA. They have “to practice what they preach”, “walk the talk” so to say. If not, they can barely be taken seriously, which particularly is the case for Accenture, which sometimes advises clients on these matters. In this perspective I would not be surprised if AT&T would do the same as Accenture and Gillette. Clearly, the actions of these sponsors do not condemn Tiger as an athlete, no one disputes his greatness in this perspective. What it does tell is how companies connect with sportspeople representing their brand identity and that all of them seem to have acted in accordance with what they stand for. Tiger has lost his authenticity and integrity off the course, which is coming at a large price and may take years (if ever) to repair.

minoprioThis weekend Adam Minoprio and his ETNZ/Blackmatch Racing crew were crowned as the new world champions of the ISAF World Match Racing Championships series, winning the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia, the last race of the circuit. The finals were telecasted live and clearly demonstrated that matchracing is fun to watch and very suitable for television in contrast with for example fleet racing. With modern on board coverage and back-up graphic tools, the viewer is enjoying a live-man-to-man yachting experience. Adding the fact that match racing in the WMRC format should be attractive for sponsors spectators and cities and taking into account the growth of the sports, I believe match racing has a great future ahead.

Matchracing, skill, tactics and savvy required! A match race can be described as a duel between two identically-matched boats with a winner – and a loser. Match racing has its own set of rules, which are slightly different from the regular racing rules that create very close, aggressive competition. It also has on-the-water judging, with umpires doling out “instant justice” on the water. Match racing is tremendously exciting to participate in. And, unlike watching other sailing competitions, match racing can be thrilling to watch. Before the start, the boats vie for control, circling each other and trying to wipe each other off on spectator boats in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. After the start the boats will sail to an upwind mark, round it, hoist the spinnaker and sail to the downwind mark. The boats will round the marks 2-3 times before the winner crosses the finish line. Unlike fleet racing you have only one opponent; hence tactics are quite different and there are plenty of different ways to win a race.

Fun to watch both on television and ashore, enjoy the experience! The format chosen by the World Match Racing Tour is one made for both television and live spectators. A race is relatively short and last around 20 minutes and is packed with action. As the course is short and can be set close ashore, spectators have a perfect view on what is happening. Races are short, fun, fast and furious. Additionally Match Racing is also ideally suited for television. I was commentating the semi finals and finals of the Monsoon Cup this weekend and felt part of the experience, it’s fantastic, it is as if you are participating in the race. There is a bow cam, a mast cam and a cameraman on-board. This does not only result in spectacular views, it also gives better insight in what tactical choices are being made (you can overhear the conversation between skipper and tactician). If there is a collision (and they happen quite frequently), you see it happening with your own eyes and hear the cursing on-board, you are part of the crew. Apart from this, computer graphical software provide you instant information on distances towards the mark, boat speed, laylines etc. Unlike fleet racing, this makes it much easier to see who has the advantage. After a race there is an immediate interview with the skipper, who explains what has happened. Concluding, you barely have time to breathe and it is far better than the coverage of the last America’s Cup. I am sure this is the way how sailing will be televised in the future.

Match Racing should enjoy further growth in the future. Match Racing appears to become slowly more popular over time, but growth should actually accelerate. Firstly, in the current format the sport seems to become more attractive to the public, which should give it a boost. Secondly Match Racing will become Olympic in 2012 for women only but men may follow later. Thirdly, colleges in the US now will finally switch towards match racing and as America is lagging behind Europe, this could be a catalyst for further growth. Fourthly, the attention for Match Racing should also increase as the world’s top yachtsmen are actually participating. There are few opportunities where you see top-notch skippers such as 3x Olympic Gold Winner Ben Ainslee and Peter Gilmour fighting against each other. Moreover Match Racing has always been recognized as the source of America’s Cup sailing talent

Match Racing should be attractive to all user groups. Match Racing has all the ingredients to become more popular. For spectators and television audience the sports is attractive and with the right investments can be put to the next level. For sailors Match Racing is an ideal opportunity to show their skills, whilst offering an opportunity to develop their sports and earning decent money with it. For sponsors, match racing offers a wide array of opportunities. Sponsoring of teams (Emirates Team New Zealand, Team Origin are just a few examples) could easily be leveraged, whilst the events offer great on-site opportunities for client entertainment. Moreover, it also offers a good platform for city marketing, as the sport lends itself ideally for in-port racing and should be significantly less expensive than for example hosting a stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race

If taken to the next level…..The product can clearly be further enhanced and will require further investments. If done properly, it could become a mainstream event and hence should result in very decent returns. Peter Gilmour (who is one of the investors in the WMRT) recently stated that he believes the Americas Cup is a good example; “in 1983 it was just a small regatta off Newport, Rhode Island and it grew to a point that it charged tens of millions of dollars for television rights, sponsorship and so forth in 2007 in Valencia. Nobody would have believed that 25 years ago and I think it just needs a little bit of that same style of thinking. This is the second level down, the second main event of match racing in the world and certainly has a great opportunity to grow and expand itself”. As a start the organisation will extend the number of races in the coming few years. I would not be surprised seeing the sport taking off during these years.

Manchester_United_Premier_League_Champions_20_863950 It is still early days in the different European football competitions. In most cases we are not even halfway yet. Nevertheless speculating in the different countries on who will become the league champion has already started again. In most leagues the usual suspects are being mentioned, no surprise really….However, in some leagues there seem to be some new kids on the block. Whether it is FC Twente in The Netherlands, Sporting Braga in Portugal, Odense in Denmark or Bayern Leverkusen in Germany, all are relatively new to the art of winning their league, but all these teams are currently in the lead. The odds (as we will see) are against and I’ll bet you that in the end quite a few of these exotics will not realize their dream, at least not during this season.

Competitive balance in Europe appears to be far away. It seems to be a fairytale that leagues in the different European countries are highly competitive, they are not. Ask someone who will become champion in Spain? Nine out of ten will answer Real Madrid or Barcelona. So they should, as during the last 25 years the two of them won the national times 21 times out of 25. It can even be worse; Celtic and Rangers in Scotland have won 24 out of the last 25 times. In most leagues it is not significantly different. Clearly there is competition within the league but predictability on who will become champion is relatively large

  Number of times being league winner         Clubs having won
Country Best club 2nd best club Third best club Top 1 Top 2 Top 3 the league
Austria Austria Wien: 8x Rapid Wien: 5x Salzburg: 5x 32% 52% 72% 7
Belgium Anderlecht: 12x Brugge: 7x Genk: 2x, Standard: 2xx 48% 76% 84% 5
Denmark Brondby: 10x Kopenhagen: 7x Aalborg 3x 40% 68% 80% 8
England Manch. United: 11x Arsenal: 5x Liverpool: 3x 44% 64% 76% 7
France Lyon: 7x Olympique Mars: 5x Bordeaux: 4x 28% 48% 64% 8
Germany Bayen Munich: 14x Dortmund: 3x Werder Bremen: 3x 56% 68% 80% 6
Greece Olympiakos: 13x Panathinaikos: 6x AEK: 4x 52% 76% 92% 5
Iceland Akranes: 6x Reykjavik: 5x Hafnarfjordur 5x 24% 44% 64% 8
Italy AC Milan: 8x Juventus: 6x Inter Milan: 5x 32% 56% 76% 8
Holland PSV: 14x Ajax: 8x Feyenoord: 2x 56% 88% 96% 4
Norway Rozenborg: 18x Lillestrom: 2x 5 diff. teams each 1x 72% 80% 84% 7
Portugal Porto: 17x Benfica: 5x SC Portugal: 2x 68% 88% 96% 4
Scotland Rangers: 15x Celtic: 9x Aberdeen: 1x 60% 96% 100% 3
Spain Real Madrid: 11x Barcelona: 10x Valencia 2x 44% 84% 92% 5
Sweden Goteburg: 8x AIK: 3x Malmo 3x; Djurgard. 3x 32% 44% 56% 11
Switzerland Grasshoppers: 7x Basel: 4x Zurich: 3x; Servette: 3x 28% 44% 56% 10
Turkey Galatasaray: 11x Fenerbace: 7x Besiktas: 7x 44% 72% 100% 3
Average   45% 68% 80% 6.4

The table above summarizes how many times the best clubs have won their leagues during the last 25 years. One can see that Rosenborg from Norway is record holder in Europe: it has won the national title 18 times out of 25, closely followed by Porto, who won 17 times and Rangers, who won 15 times. The percentage columns tell it all; they are telling us on how many occasions during the last 25 years, the best 3 clubs in a certain country have seized the championship. So in Turkey and Scotland, things are really predictable. You are a pretty brave rascal if you are going to bet against either Galatasaray, Fenerbace or Besiktas of winning the league in Turkey. Besides these countries Portugal, Holland and Greece also score high on the predictability ladder. This is to say when looking at history and that is where the fun comes in. History is by no means a guarantee to the future as last year’s Dutch league winners AZ Alkmaar blatantly proved. AZ was the first league winner in 25 years outside the traditional top 3, PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. Nevertheless, averaging the different European leagues, one can conclude that in about 80% of all cases, it is one of the traditional top 3 teams, which becomes league champion.

So which countries are giving us the biggest headaches upfront? Surely Sweden and Switzerland, where there have been 11 and 10 league winners respectively during the last 25 years. It is clearly difficult to predict the winners here, which must be fun. Hence in these smaller leagues competition seems to be more balanced. Let us briefly compare with American Football’s NFL. Looking over a period of 25 years, there have been 13 different winners, whilst the 3 best teams won the superbowl only 10 out of 25 times or 40%. The World Series Baseball even was won by 17 different teams over the last 25 years. Talking about competitive balance……. The reasons behind? I would not be surprised if it has anything to do with a phenomenon called salary cap……Food for thought I believe.

In the mean time, will the new kids on the block such as Twente, Braga, Odense and Leverkusen win their leagues this year? Never say never, but the odds are against. Do not forget they have not been in this position before; the closer one gets, the more difficult it becomes. Fighting for a national title will result in a different kind of pressure new to most of these teams. Surely there will be a surprise package somewhere, but I doubt whether all four of them will have this fortune.