Friday, June 4, 2010

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth. 

Get Every Call Right Every Time
There was a firestorm in the sports media on Wednesday evening and Thursday as Armando Galarraga's perfect game was taken from him on a bad call by one of the best umpires in baseball, Jim Joyce. 

So now the debate on the use of instant replay in baseball has begun in earnest.

This is not the first bad call that's ever been made. In last year's playoffs alone there were at least six clear umpiring errors, including two in one game by Tim McClelland, another umpire many call the best in the game.

When even your best umpires are consistently making egregious errors, it's time to do something. And on a night when Major League Baseball and its fans were robbed of a bit of history, the National Hockey League showed them how it should be done.

The NHL places cameras on the crease so an independent official can review every goal to determine whether the puck completely crossed the goal line or not. On Philadelphia's second goal, on ice referees blew the call. It was a tough one, as the puck was on its side spinning, but replays clearly showed the puck had crossed the line. After the next stoppage of play, the replay official notified the crew chief and a goal was awarded to the Flyers. The entire sequence took less than two minutes in real time.

The biggest argument against replay that I hear is that the games take too long as it is and this will only make them longer. Point taken. 

Between batters who step out after every pitch, catchers who feel the need to visit the mound more often than Paula Abdul sees her shrink, and a strike zone that's the size of my bald spot, most games have become interminably long. But if the games are going to be long and boring, they might as well be right. (And for the record, the Galarraga perfect game was a brisk 1:44. I think they had time for replay on that one.)

The second argument I hear is that human error has always been a part of the game, so we should keep it that way. Accepting errors and poor judgement as a standard business practice is what drove Chrysler into bankruptcy. You really want to follow their lead?

So here's what MLB should do to institute instant replay, starting as soon as they can get people trained and the technology set up.

1. Put a couple of hi-def monitors in a booth overlooking the field in every stadium, manned by two people. Run a feed of every camera directly into one monitor with a switcher that allows the officials to call up any camera on the other to see it full screen.

2. Booth officials review every call in real time during the game. Reviewable calls are limited to:
        a. Safe/out calls at every base
        b. Fair or foul balls along the boundaries
        c. home run calls
        d. catch/trap calls in the field

3. If the booth official sees an obvious blown call or a close play he wants to review, he immediately contacts the crew chief through an earpiece that the crew chief will now wear. If the official cannot find evidence to overturn the play in 90 seconds, the play stands as called on the field.

Umpires are right with their calls a huge percentage of the time so this system would rarely need to be implemented. And given the circumstances under which they work, their performance is amazing. But when they get a call wrong, as happened Wednesday night, one of the best umpires in the league becomes known as the guy who blew the call on the perfect game.

It's unfair to the umpires. It's unfair to the players. It's unfair to the fans. And ultimately it's unfair to the game I love.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This song is over

Ford announced yesterday that it will put the ailing Mercury brand out of its misery. Not a big loss from an automotive standpoint. Current Mercury products are merely rebadged Fords with slightly different trim levels and fairly unremarkable. This wasn't always the case.

The brand had enough juice at one time to inspire Stevie "Guitar" Miller to write this great blues tune.

Which raises the question: where are all the great car songs of this generation?

AdAge argues that the digital age is bringing an end to car culture, but I'm not buying that 100%. After all, I don't hear any songs of praise for the iPad or Facebook.

Cars today are better mechanically than they've ever been. They're more reliable, safer, more efficient and handle better.

What they're not is more interesting.

In an effort to appeal to everybody, automakers have moved to the middle making sedans that all look and drive alike, becoming automotive appliances that do their jobs well, but don't inspire. And until that changes, we won't be hearing anymore car songs.

Too bad. I'd love to hear what the Black Eyed Peas could do with Hyundai.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Imperial Apple

When your behavior deviates significantly from your perceived values, it creates dissonance with your customers and opportunities for your competition.

That's the case with Apple's censorship of applications for both the iPhone and iPad. Steve Jobs has become the Big Brother he railed against in the famous 1984 commercial by not allowing satirical content including political humor and by forcing magazine editors to modify their content for their iPad editions.

So now people on the fringes are buzzing about Apple's intransigence, even lifelong Mac users like me.

And while it hasn't seemed to impact the sales of iPads – they've sold 2 million units in less than 60 days – if they continue to operate at cross purposes with one of their core values, it opens the door for competitors to create products that offer all the utility and a little more "freedom."

I wouldn't be surprised to see this happening in the very near future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Too Big to Succeed.

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker.

Microbrews, brewpubs, seasonals and regional brands have provided those of us who like our beverages malted with an almost infinite array of options. From cheap lagers to finely crafted ales, there's a beer for every taste and budget.

Which is why there has never been a worse time to be a mass producer of beer.

According to Ad Age, Bud Light and Miller Lite, two of the best-selling beer brands in the country, saw their sales fall 5.3% and 7.5% over the past four weeks. That's significant, especially since this is the lead up to the height of the beer selling season and both brands have been spending heavily on advertising. Interestingly, Coors Light sales also declined, but only .5% while beer sales overall have fallen 4%.

So what's going on here?

First of all, as evidenced by my recent trip to Woodman's, home to one of the largest beer selections in the world, there are a lot of choices out there. Just as all those new cable channels are eating into the networks' ratings, Bud and Miller/Coors are getting nibbled to death by ducks. No one brand is taking it to them, but when beer drinkers try something new every so often, Bud and Miller lose the most since they're the big players.

Second, in a recession people look for two things: value and quality. Miller and Bud offer neither. There's nothing special about them and they aren't the cheapest beers in the case. So if I want something interesting I might pay a little more and pick up a six of Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. Conversely if I'm looking to fill the cooler with a lot of beer for the guys, I might grab a couple of cases of PBR and save a few bucks. What I won't do is spend a lot of money on a bland beer.

Finally, there's the millions of dollars they waste every year in marketing. Miller Lite sells us crap like the Vortex bottle and Bud Lite continues to try to win us over by making us laugh. Neither brand owns a true benefit that's meaningful to the consumer. At least Coors Light is focusing on refreshment, something we hope to get when we drink a beer. Maybe that's why their sales have fallen the least of the three big brands.

Bud, Miller and Coors took over the market when people thought all beer was pale and flavorless. Now that they know it can be so much more, the Big Three's long slow slide is inevitable.