The Wrong One, Baby
If Shaquille O'Neal intends to take Michael Jordan's place as the globe's foremost human billboard, he's off to a great start. Just like Mike, Shaq is so big that his off-court business contracts sometimes take precedence over basketball, which, if memory serves, is the reason that he's getting all the big-money deals.
O'Neal was not among the 10 NBA stars named last week to the U.S. team for next fall's world championships in Toronto. That's because Pepsi, one of the companies for which Shaq is a million-dollar pitchman, said "unh-unh" to Shaq's participation. The conflict is similar to the one that pitted Jordan and Nike against USA Basketball last year: To wit, the company objects to its man signing a contract that may call for him to endorse, tacitly or otherwise, a competitor's product.
In Shaq's case, USA Basketball, the agency that oversees American participation in international competition, has a deal with McDonald's, which has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. "We're not going to be a pawn for the NBA's promotional partners," says Pepsi.
O.K., so Pepsi's point is valid, as was Nike's last year when it objected to Jordan—and other Nike-paid Dream Team members—wearing Reebok sweatsuits during the Olympic medal ceremony. (That flap was resolved when Jordan draped an American flag over his shoulder to hide the Reebok logo.) But what corporate America should realize is that it can't win these battles. The public doesn't care about corporations' exclusive contracts with athletes. The public wants to see Shaq in a USA uniform, and if it perceives that Pepsi is the stumbling block, then Pepsi will pay the p.r. price.
The Final Five
Next week the 28 NFL owners will meet in Chicago to select the two cities from among Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis and St. Louis that will be awarded expansion franchises to begin play in 1995. The owners will base their decision on such factors as size of TV market, status of stadium, civic commitment, advance ticket sales and the financial wherewithal of the prospective buyers. Keeping those factors in mind, and taking into account the final pitches made two weeks ago by the wannabe owners to commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the league's expansion and finance committees, here are the five hopefuls, from the most likely to gain a franchise to the least likely:
•Baltimore (Bombers or Cobras). Pluses: Former home of the Colts is a sentimental favorite. Has two finance groups bidding, the richer headed by Florida billionaire Malcolm Glazer, who by himself can write a check to cover the cost of an NFL franchise. A state-funded 70,000-seat stadium is waiting to be built next door to Camden Yards. Minus: With the Washington Redskins next door, how will they draw?
•Charlotte (Panthers). Pluses: Lead money man is former Baltimore Colt Jerry Richardson, now head of Flagstar Companies, a food-service firm, formerly known as TW Services, that took in $3.7 billion in 1992. Racism charges against the company's Denny's restaurant chain have faded. Carolina region considered hot market with vast potential TV audience. Minus: Debt on construction of privately funded $160 million, 72,300-seat stadium.
•Memphis (Hound Dogs). Pluses: Richest partnership ever to bid for a pro sports franchise includes cotton baron William B. Dunavant Jr. and Wall Street heavyweight Paul Tudor Jones II—not to mention Elvis, or at least the King's estate. which is worth $100 million. Have already collected deposits for 8,450 premium seats, even though stadium plans call for only 8,302. Minuses: Aging Liberty Bowl badly needs proposed $60 million renovation and expansion from 63,000 to 68,000 seats. Memphis generates little big league excitement around the NFL.
•St. Louis (Stallions). Pluses: Former home of an NFL team. Magnificent $258 million, 70,000-seat domed stadium under construction. Largest TV market without an NFL team. Headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, which spends $43 million a year in advertising with the league. Minuses: Former front-runner faltered in recent weeks after ownership shake-up (James Busch Orthwein, hometown boy with $200 million fortune, pulled out as a principal partner due to conflict of interest with his role as principal owner of New England Patriots; he remains a limited partner. New majority partner Jerry Clinton has been hard-pressed to find replacement investors). Only contender to fail to sell all its luxury boxes.
•Jacksonville (Jaguars). Pluses: Financing backed by J. Wayne Weaver, who built a $270 million fortune from chain of shoe stores. Several owners admire Weaver's style and would like to see him in the league—but not with Jacksonville. Renovation planned for 73,000-seat Gator Bowl. Sale of 10,000 premium seats in 10 days proves city is hungry for NFL. Minuses: Group temporarily pulled out of running earlier this year. Smallest TV market of the five.
Did Michael Jordan's announcement on Oct. 6 that he was retiring from basketball (page 28) cause a stir not only under the NBA boards but also on the Big Board? That day the Dow Jones Index was up nearly 12 points, but the five companies with products endorsed by Jordan—Nike, McDonald's, Sara Lee (the parent company of Jordan-hawked Hanes underwear and Ball Park franks), Quaker Oats (Gatorade) and General Mills (Wheaties)—all closed down on the New York Stock Exchange, from ‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ to, in the case of Nike, ¾ of a point. Who says one Bull can't affect the market?
Faced with post-cold war cutbacks, the ever resourceful defense industry has begun beating swords into...sporting goods. As contractors retool, athletes reap the benefits from an array of previously unavailable high-tech materials such as bullet-resistant Spectra fiber, which, though still being used to protect United Nations forces in Bosnia, is finding its way into racing sails, kayaks and climbing ropes.
Aircraft-grade titanium has flooded the world market since the Soviet Union's breakup and is turning up in such peacetime items as mountain bikes, softball bats, golf club shafts and ski poles. Boralyn, a material used for tank treads and Apache helicopter armor, is going into arrow shafts, race car brakes and hockey and lacrosse sticks. G. Loomis, a manufacturer of fishing equipment, is now using a graphite/resin system in its fly rods. The resulting GLX "Anti Gravity" fly rods are, according to Loomis, the lightest ever built.
Of course, they also happen to be among the most expensive, retailing for more than $500 a rod. None of the other state-of-the-art items comes cheap cither. Mountain bikes made with Boralyn start at $1,700, and the titanium softball bat retails for—take a deep breath—$400.
Then again, cost control never was one of the defense industry's strong points. "Remember," says one converted contractor, "we're the guys who brought you the $1,300 coffee pot and the $2 million toilet."
Timing Is Everything
Just in case you didn't notice: Harry Gant, 53, a 14-year veteran of the NASCAR circuit, chose Oct. 6 to hold a press conference announcing his retirement from racing after the 1994 season.
In a break from tradition Massachusetts governor William F. Weld announced last week that Boston's new harbor tunnel, currently under construction, would be named not after a local politico but after Red Sox legend Ted Williams. In a ceremony attended by the Kid himself (above), Weld dedicated Ted Williams Tunnel to "the greatest hitter who ever played the game of baseball."
"Gee, I thought I was kind of a hated man here," said Williams, in a reference to past battles with the Beantown press. "This thrills me more than I can say."
Lt. Governor Paul Cellucci's suggestion: "In the event there is a lane shift in the...tunnel—particularly when traffic has to shift from left to right—I propose we call it the Boudreau Shift."
They Wrote It
•Tony Kornheiser, in The Washington Post, on why he wanted to see Philadelphia in the World Series: "Shawn Bradley can act as foul pole."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is upon Us
A Swedish public-radio station paid Roma, a first-division hockey club in that country, $1,320 to have a player wear a jersey bearing the number 100.2—the station's frequency.
They Said It
•Home Long, Los Angeles Raider defensive end, on playing against former teammate running back Marcus Allen (right), now with the Kansas City Chiefs: "it's kind of like watching your wife cook dinner at somebody else's house."
Devalued and Diluted
Expansion may be good for the NFL, but it has not helped boxing. For all the talk of bum decisions and fixed lights, the sport suffers even more from a proliferation of sanctioning bodies and weight classes that cheapen the idea of world titles. There are 8,000 professional fighters today, and 49 of them—one of every 163—bold world titles. In 1950 there were 15,000 pro boxers, only eight of whom—one of 1,875—were world champions. Compare the generally faceless group below with the titleholders of 1950.
Julio Cesar Vasquez
Julio Cesar Chavez
Miguel Angel Gonzalez
Yung Kyung Park
Jung II Byun
Sung Kil Moon
Myung Woo Yuh
The Class of '50
Sugar Ray Robinson