Sunday, December 30, 2007


In 2003, I ran into this book called No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, written by Canadian activist and journalist Naomi Klein. Klein is known as one of the most vocal critics of the corporate umbrella and No Logo* became a significant manuscript for the anti-globalization movement. The book centered on branding and its impact on the world, most notably the largest brands such as Nike, Pepsi, McDonalds, Wal-Mart and MTV. Klein attempts to discuss how branding has ruined many third-world countries while it has enabled companies to try to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes through elaborate public relation campaigns and governmental assistance.

This book seems to be a contradiction to my undergraduate education at Babson College, and every single way it is. Whether I completely agreed with the book’s points is another matter completely, but I walked away with awareness of a business phenomenon called coolhunting. Coolhunting describes the efforts from marketing and advertising professionals to observe existing trends in culture and predict newer, emerging trends.

Coolhunting itself is nothing new. In fact, if we dig deep enough, it may be the basis for all that we love and give such attention to. Anything that we devote such time to starts with curiosity and slight interest before growing to become full-blown passions. All of us have varying levels of interests in sports, but there is no doubt that the casual fans are the ones who seem to have the greatest sway in how popular a sport can become. You can think of coolhunting in the way that empires used to colonize countries and consume the foreign resources.

Last night while in the press lounge for the historic matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Giants, the word popped up immediately after grabbing the game’s program. A fellow media head with season credentials told me and SPJ that there were 75 additional media requests for the game. The press box at Giants Stadium accommodates 250 people, has ten broadcast booths and the lounge itself houses a few dozen more. As expected, some of the additional media were extra television heads from CBS, NBC and the NFL Network (it was simulcasted) as well as the omnipresent ESPN. Then there were national columnists from various newspapers across the country such as Bill Rhoden from the New York Times (who attends a few Giants games throughout the season), Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times and Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star (and other depots of infamy). Somehow, someway, I’m walking out of the lounge at game’s end next to Taye Diggs, who for some reason, not well-received by a lot of women. It reminded me of something SPJ said earlier in the night; “this isn’t just a football phenomenon, but somehow the NFL has made this a pop culture phenomenon.”

Now, there are playoff games and major boxing matchups – both I have been fortunate enough to have covered in 2007 – that can make you stand up and take notice of the influx of bandwagon fans with some sort of wealth to pay top dollar for the hot tickets in sports. The bandwagon media didn’t make too many regulars very happy, either, but it speaks to the reality that if an outlet isn’t covering an event, it’s too late in the overall discussion. Yet, all sports have had these peaks of popularity that can only be explained as… well, it may not be explained fully or at all.

The NFL has become the ‘Heroes’ or ‘Entourage’ of sports. It has always enjoyed a great national popularity; however, it seems as if it has never been promoted more heavily and more star-crossed than in the current day. From the advertising push of Peyton Manning to the use of popular artists for theme songs preceding the games themselves, the NFL is everywhere, even in its offseason. Baseball speaks of a boon of its own attendance figures and pats itself on the back about the advent of the wild card, which allows for more meaningful games in August and September than at anytime in its history. The NBA was probably the first sports league to grow globally, but in the 1980s and 1990s, it gave Madison Avenue, Main Street and Wall Street a universally revered player named Michael Jordan. Even in 2007, Major League Soccer and mixed martial arts organizations such as UFC have gone sexy in their own ways thanks to David Beckham (the most recognized active athlete in the world) and Chuck Liddell. Every sport wants to bring on more fans, especially casual fans that are looking for something to sink their teeth (and if lucky, wallets) into. The casual fan in sports may be the same person that looks for the ‘most talked about’ new TV show or blasts radio hits on the way to work. They’re looking to grab onto what’s hot right now, to colonize an unfamiliar form of entertainment, if you will. They’re interested in something because of what they heard from someone else or because they want to be in the know, yet there had to be something to lure them in. Sports organizations give them superstars and are well schooled in the art of creating them for good reason. No matter how passionate a team’s fan base can be, it needs a ‘face’ that can attract casual fans and corporate dollars. Yet, once these new sets of eyes are fixed on a game, what’s next?

The biggest problem with coolhunting in this realm is that the newbies aren’t learning anything. We have an absurd wealth of information, not only because of digital technologies, but because there are too many people in the world to not learn something from. However, with sports organizations seeking celebrity status through the media and marketing, there is little effort to actually explain their games to the new found consumers. Sports media, itself, is the most responsible for this lack of education. Outside of a few shows explaining the basics of a sport or DVDs geared to fine tune a young athlete’s game, you don’t see the major media outlets making a similar effort to attract new readers, listeners or viewers. For the most part, the casual fan may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game that allow the superstars to perform. Much of the time, the casual onlooker may not be as interested in the soul of the game as much as he or she is interested in seeing the end result – the superstar or his/her team scores.

On the way to The Meadowlands last night, the parking lots were full and brimming with fans, scalpers and stale beer. Normally, the stadium isn’t filled until a few minutes into the first quarter, but this was two hours before kickoff! A stadium that seats just over 80,000, yet there must have been a few thousand more there to tailgate and purchase ticket stubs at game’s end. With many New Englanders in town mixed with the New York/New Jersey population, it was a mix of Yankee Stadium and the worst fraternity house in your alma mater. In the two years I have covered the Giants, I had never seen anything like it before. Yet, this is what happens when something is ‘it’. The coolhunters want a piece.

Say What?!?!: Were my eyes deceiving me or did the Lakers wear the short shorts in their game against the Celtics? Maybe it’s been too long since we’ve seen John Stockton and Dennis Rodman in those just-below-the-booty length shorts, but Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza look a little… Forgive me; I’m just lost for poignant words right now.

*If interested in the book, look to

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