Empire of the Son?
Fans and merchandisers ponder a future without Dale Sr.
Dale Earnhardt was a ninth-grade dropout, but when it came to
marketing himself, he was every bit the equal of the
Stanford-educated Tiger Woods. Earnhardt was the first driver to
regularly run with different paint schemes--which in turn
allowed him to sell a different die-cast model car for each one.
He once sold $900,000 worth of tchotchkes in less than two hours
on QVC, and by some estimates he generated one quarter of the
circuit's $1 billion in merchandise sold last year. Within four
days of Earnhardt's death at Daytona on Feb. 18, the number of
Intimidator-related items for sale on eBay--from hats to tube
socks to the rights to the domain earnhardtsenior.com--jumped
from 3,000 to more than 100,000.
"Earnhardt outsold other drivers three or four to one," said Joe
Hearne, a souvenir vendor who was at Rockingham for last
weekend's Dura Lube 400. "Some guys out here will tell you he
accounted for half their sales." Hearne expects Earnhardt's
death to cut into revenue, but not too severely, because with
Dale Sr. or without him, people will still come to the races.
"If you're a race fan, you're a race fan," Hearne said.
"Everyone's going to miss him, but they're still going to show
up at the track."
What they'll do with the quarter of a billion dollars they spent
annually on Earnhardt gear is another question, one unique to
auto racing. More than fans in any other sport, a race fan is
passionately loyal to one competitor, a bond based on a sense of
a personal link--so where does that loyalty turn when the hero
dies? The answer could have a significant impact on the GDP of
the nation-within-a-nation that is NASCAR.
Many fans who root for Ricky Rudd do so because he drives the
black Texaco number 28 car that Davey Allison drove before he
died in a helicopter crash in 1993. The driver who has inherited
Earnhardt's ride with Richard Childress Racing is up-and-comer
Kevin Harvick, but don't expect him to inherit many of his
predecessor's fans. Instead of the familiar black number 3 car,
Harvick will drive a white one bearing the number 29.
More likely, the Earnhardt faithful will stick with a name they
know, that of second-year Winston Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
26. Keith Pierce of Tiffin, Ohio, a fan of the Intimidator ever
since he met him at a race at Sandusky Speedway in 1986, spoke
for many Earnhardt fans at Rockingham when asked about his
allegiances. "I'll probably follow Dale Jr.," he said, "but it's
kind of hard to say right now."
Whomever Pierce follows, he doesn't see himself laying out the
kind of bucks on souvenirs for his new driver that he did on his
Intimidator collection, which includes a slew of T-shirts and
hats and some 300 Earnhardt collectible cars. A dozen or so of
those were attached to a white construction helmet on his
head. --Mark Bechtel
See Winston Cup Grow: Attendance, 1975-2000
'75 Attendance 1,286,000 Races 31 Average 41,484
'80 Attendance 1,555,000 Races 32 Average 48,594
'85 Attendance 2,118,000 Races 28 Average 75,643
'90 Attendance 3,336,675 Races 29 Average 115,058
'95 Attendance 5,326,721 Races 31 Average 171,830
'00 Attendance 6,500,000* Races 34 Average 190,000*
*Estimates; NASCAR has not released final figures.
The XFL and the Media
How seriously is the XFL being taken by the cynical press? The
answer may be found on local sports pages, where the maxim of
less is more seems to apply: The less big-time sports activity in
a town where the league has a franchise, the more coverage the
In Memphis, a city with no major league pro franchise, the WWF's
foray into conventional pro sports is getting the benefit of the
doubt. The town's major daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal,
has had a beat writer following the hometown Maniax since
training camp began in January and provides an elaborate preview
each week, complete with color-coded charts and stats. The
subsequent game story runs on the sports section's front page.
"Cities like Memphis, Birmingham and Las Vegas are giving us very
good coverage," says Jeff Shapes, an XFL spokesman. "It's been as
much as we could have hoped for."
The league is less thrilled, however, with the ink it's getting
in larger markets, where it must compete for column inches with
reports on local NBA and NHL franchises, college basketball teams
and the hometown baseball club, now that spring training has
begun. The sports section of the Chicago Tribune has yet to have
a game story on the Enforcers on its front page. "We didn't even
staff them when they were on the road," says Tribune sports
editor Dan McGrath. "I don't think we'll cover them on a daily
basis. It's very competitive here."
Asked if his paper has a beat man covering the Los Angeles
Xtreme, Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyer blurted out,
"Oh, good God, no! Please!" Dwyer's opinion of the new league
may best be gauged by the fact that he has assigned Larry
Stewart, the Times' sports media writer, to provide most of the
paper's XFL coverage. "You can't treat this as a serious
competitive challenge to the NFL," Dwyer said, laughing. "We've
addressed the buzz and been properly sarcastic about it. But
this is L.A.! We've got Shaq and Kobe fighting!" --Mark Beech
What's Allen Iverson wearing on his right arm?
Rest assured, that tube-sock thing drawing attention on Iverson's
arm is not some sort of bizarre tattoo. It's a sleeve specially
made to protect Iverson from aggravating the chronic bursitis in
his elbow. The outside of the sleeve is a tubular elastic bandage
called a Compressogrip, which helps control swelling. It also
holds in place a flexible plastic case containing a cushioning
material called Orthogel, which fits around Iverson's elbow and
protects it when he dives to the floor for a loose ball.
The sleeve seems to be the answer for the Answer. Since donning
it for the first time, in mid-January, Iverson has been scoring
more than 37 points per game, an increase of about 10 from his
pre-sleeve average. More important for Iverson, he hasn't
experienced any bursitis flare-ups. "I've gone through a variety
of elbow pads with him this season, but we've finally found
something that works," says Sixers trainer Lenny Currier. "As you
can tell from his hair, Allen's a meticulous person, and the pad
needs to fit just right."
Wrigley vs. the Rooftops
In Chicago, taking in a Cubs game from a Wrigleyville rooftop is
a tradition nearly as sacred as the wretchedness of the baseball
at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs' owner, the Tribune Co., is
talking about changing that this year--not by upgrading the
roster but by extending Wrigley's bleachers by 12 rows, thereby
threatening the views from the rooftops of 14 apartment
buildings on Sheffield and Waveland avenues.
At stake is a lucrative business that has sprouted over the last
several years. Jim Murphy, president of the Wrigley Field Rooftop
Association and owner of 3649 Sheffield Avenue, says he rents his
rooftop to groups and corporations for as much as $4,200 a game.
Crain's Chicago Business estimates that the rooftops generate
$7.5 million in revenue a year, none of which goes to the Cubs.
"The demand is there," Murphy says. "We're an extension of the
bleachers, actually." While confident he can reach an amicable
agreement with the Cubs, Murphy rejects the notion that the
rooftop owners have been stealing from the club. "We add
something to the park as far as historical value," says Murphy.
"We've contributed to Wrigley's success. I see nothing wrong in
benefiting from our contribution."
The first three letters of the word notwithstanding, there's very
little fun in fundamentals. Still, the creators of Baseball
Bunch, a half-hour TV program that aired in the early '80s, made
learning the game's intricacies a joy. Each week, host Johnny
Bench was joined on a sandlot in Anywhere, U.S.A., by one of his
big league buddies and a group of preteens. Tommy Lasorda, in his
Dugout Wizard get-up complete with absurd turban, competed for
laughs with the San Diego Chicken. The result was sublime
Saturday-morning fare, equal parts Tom Emanski and Barney.
The allure of the show came in part from the fact that it hit TV
before cable became widespread and saturated television with
baseball. Back then kids in Cleveland just didn't get to see
Ozzie Smith very often. The show also made us feel good about
looking up to Bench and his pals as role models. It was hard to
think ill of someone, even Gary Carter, who spent his Saturday
mornings giving pointers on throwing out would-be base
stealers--in Carter's instance, the Chicken, who was literally
trying to make off with second base.
The Bunch didn't make me a major leaguer, but it did make a
lasting impression--and I can proudly say that in my days as a
Little League catcher, no runner ever absconded with
second. --Mark Bechtel
Australian cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman, 92. The greatest
batsman in the sport's history, he dominated for two decades,
from 1928 to '48. Fellow cricketer and renowned writer R.C.
Robertson-Glasgow said of Bradman in 1949, "He was, as near as a
batting man may be, the flawless engine. Poetry and murder lived
in him together. He would slice the bowling to ribbons, then
dance without pity on the corpse." Last year an Aussie edition of
SI dubbed Bradman "not just the most revered Australian
sportsman, but the most revered Australian, period."
Honda, from advertising on XFL broadcasts. Said Gerry Rubin, CEO
of the company's ad agency, "The programming is not consistent
with what was promised." He also noted that there were few
import cars in parking lots at games.
By Rounder Records, Joe Louis: An American Hero, a CD containing
15 musical tributes from the 1930s and '40s to the heavyweight
great, by artists such as Count Basie and Cab Calloway.
By the USOC, exemptions for baseball, basketball and hockey
players from its drug testing policy. Unlike most other potential
Olympic athletes, Americans in those sports are tested for
performance-enhancing drugs only after they are selected to the
Olympic team. Now those who wish to compete, including NBA and
NHL players, will have to give their names to the USOC 12 months
before the Games and submit to random tests.
The par-3 12th hole at Wentworth Country Club in Tarpon
Springs, Fla., by Yankees coach Don Zimmer, who tossed his ball
in the water afterward. Said Yanks manager Joe Torre, "He was
celebrating, I guess--unless he wanted to put it where his other
The NBA's longest-running reality show--When Grizzlies Attack!
Horrific Tales of Blowout Losses and Bryant Reeves--could be
filming in a new city starting in 2002. Pending a requested
deadline extension, Vancouver owner Michael Heisley had until
Thursday to declare whether and where he's moving his franchise.
Suburban Chicago recently popped into contention, joining a
handful of locales bereft of pro basketball. Herewith the
credentials for some of those hoops-hungry towns.
St. Louis PRO HERITAGE NBA's St. Louis Bombers (1946-47 to
1949-50); Bob Pettit's St. Louis Hawks won '58 NBA crown; ABA
Spirits (1974-75 to 1975-76) COLLEGIATE TRADITION Saint Louis U
has made four NCAA tournament appearances in the past decade
HOMEGROWN TALENT LaPhonso Ellis, Larry Hughes, Darius Miles, Jo
Jo White PLAYGROUND REPUTATION City gyms are bumpin' year-round,
and players wear out the nets weekly at the Forty, a court off
U.S. 40 ODDS ON GETTING GRIZZ 75 to 1
Louisville PRO HERITAGE Artis Gilmore (left) and his Kentucky
Colonels won ABA title in 1975 COLLEGIATE TRADITION Two NCAA
titles (1980 and '86) for Louisville; Denny Crum's repugnant
sport coats HOMEGROWN TALENT Derek Anderson, Allan Houston, Wes
Unseld PLAYGROUND REPUTATION The Dirt Bowl summer league is a
time-honored institution ODDS ON GETTING GRIZZ 20 to 1
New Orleans PRO HERITAGE Lost Pete Maravich and the Jazz after
five-year run (1974-75 to 1978-79); home to the short-lived
Buccaneers of ABA COLLEGIATE TRADITION Tulane had three NCAA
tournament wins in the '90s HOMEGROWN TALENT Jaren Jackson,
Avery Johnson, Kerry Kittles PLAYGROUND REPUTATION Not nearly as
strong as the party rep ODDS ON GETTING GRIZZ 5 to 1
Anaheim PRO HERITAGE Weakly claimed Lakers (and on rare
occasions Clippers) as its own; ABA Amigos (1967-68) COLLEGIATE
TRADITION Zilch HOMEGROWN TALENT NBA referee Ron Garretson
PLAYGROUND REPUTATION Within driving distance of L.A.'s
street-ball meccas, including famed Venice Beach courts ODDS ON
GETTING GRIZZ 3 to 1
Las Vegas PRO HERITAGE UNLV COLLEGIATE TRADITION Hot-tubbing
with undesirables HOMEGROWN TALENT Greg Anthony PLAYGROUND
REPUTATION Sunset Park's eight courts teem with ballers
year-round ODDS ON GETTING GRIZZ 100 to 1
Seems Mike Piazza's acrimonious departure from the Dodgers three
years ago still burns, at least in Hollywood. Universal Pictures
recently paid $800,000 for a screenplay titled Go to Hell, Mike
Piazza. Ben Stiller is reportedly attached to the project to star
as a former childhood classmate of Piazza's (below) who blames
the slugger for everything that has gone wrong with his life.
"It's flattering to have your name out there," Piazza says. "It's
kind of like Being John Malkovich." So would he appear in the
movie? On one condition: "My mom's kind of upset with the title.
If they were to approach me, I'd have to ask for something a
little more subtle. I'm a Catholic boy."...
Add real estate mogul to Shaquille O'Neal's resume. He's part of
an investment group that has been quietly buying up chunks of
property in his native Newark, where revitalization plans
include a proposed arena for the Devils and the Nets. So far,
says O'Neal, the group has snapped up "department stores,
sporting goods stores, jewelry stores, strip malls. Every store
that has a for sale sign on it, I'm looking to buy." O'Neal also
is looking at shopping plazas in Orlando and Los Angeles. "Strip
malls are my thing," he says....
Bulls forward Ron Artest's mom, Sarah, was a bit concerned for
her son's future after he scuffled with the Bucks' Glenn Robinson
on Feb. 20. She called to ask him, "Are you going to get kicked
out of the NBA?" Don't worry, Ma: He got a mere one-game
suspension and a $7,500 fine.
Percent of NBA players who use marijuana, according to Raptors
forward Charles Oakley.
Times NBC censor Jackie Singer used the five-second delay button
to delete profanity on the network's first three XFL broadcasts.
Amount the USOC had budgeted quadrennially since 1980 to provide
Opening Ceremonies tickets to parents of Olympic athletes, a perk
it says it can no longer afford.
Canadians who play golf, according to a survey by Statistics
Canada, 300,000 more than who play hockey.
Winning bid on eBay for one of 5,000 Allen Iverson bobble-head
dolls given away at a Feb. 16 Sixers game.
Amount Diamondbacks players will defer from their contracts to
provide financial relief for the ailing team.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Boxer Darrin Morris, who died in October of meningitis, climbed
up the WBO's super middleweight rankings from seventh in
November to sixth in December and fifth in January before
officials realized he was out of title contention for good.
Celtics swingman, after shooting 4 of 16 at Portland while
suffering an upset stomach he blamed on a bad hotel meal: "What
the hell am I doing ordering clam chowder in Oregon?"