Helmet cameras for NFL players leave me with questions

Thursday, before the San Francisco 49ers were trampled by the Seattle Seahawks, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis donned a camera helmet and caught passes. The camera gave fans a chance to see what their favorite NFL players see on an average pass play.

The helmet, made by SchuttVision, live-streamed his warm up to Fox’s national audience. Players had worn helmet cams like it before, but this was the first time an NFL player demonstrated the live streaming capability for a Sports Vision Innovation-designed device.

The camera, according to a public relations email sent on behalf of the company, has been tested with blows as hard as 11.2 meters per second, also known as the equivalent of hitting a brick wall at 23 mph, without breaking or stopping recording.

The camera has also been approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment for use by players in any position, and during both practice and game-play.

That leaves us with questions: When do cameras become widespread? When do we get the “helmet cam” as another regular camera angle shown each game day? Do we want to see what’s on it?

The camera will have to be turned on for us to find out.

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Sports Executive of the Year: Jeff Long

I groaned and looked over at the girl in the lounge decked out in a red-and-gray sweatshirt, a creepily cartoonish Brutus the Buckeye staring at me.

Marcus Mariota — still with the Oregon Ducks then — picked himself up off the ground and futilely tried to get his Ducks to move forward, to pretend they still had a shot at the National Championship. They didn’t, as the Toledo, Ohio native and avid Buckeyes fan next to me in the lounge shouted. It was all Ohio State.

My freshman year, sitting in the Flint 3A lounge, seems forever ago and yesterday simultaneously. But whether it was yesterday or a million years ago, I will never forget the admiration for Cardale Jones and the Ohio State Buckeyes as the team toppled Oregon, forecasted to beat the snot out of OSU days before. I remember sitting at home with my mother, watching Ohio State-Alabama the week before as the Buckeyes — who barely made the playoffs as a controversial No. 4 team — neutralize the nation’s No. 1 squad. I remember the Bourbon Street Snapchats (OSU-Alabama was played in New Orleans) from a celebrating fan I knew from school.

That excitement and near-unbelievable storyline would have never been possible if it hadn’t been for the newly-instituted College Football Playoff. Instead of Ohio State sweeping in to take No. 4 from Texas Christian and Baylor, neither of which had lost a game or a player to merit moving them down after a win, there’d be a computer saying that (yawn) Alabama would play Oregon in the National Championship. I suppose I’m being unfair. The game wouldn’t have been a yawn, but in retrospect it would’ve because the best team in all of college football, the team on its third quarterback of the season after two Heisman hopefuls were hurt, wouldn’t have played.

The College Football Playoff made it all possible.

And the man that made that event possible was Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long. He should be the 2015 Sports Business Person of the Year.

As the chairman of the College Football Playoff, he’s the man I find directly responsible for bringing me the pure joy of watching four teams duke it out for the National Championship instead of two, for giving me an incredible storyline to tell for years, for giving me the redemption of Cardale Jones, who sent an unintelligent tweet and then made up for it. And when I say “me,” I think I represent every college football fan in the country. Sports fans as a whole even. Sports fans love sports for their unpredictable nature and their analogous look at real life. There are heroes and underdogs and surprise endings, much like the College Football Playoff.

Also, Long showed his smarts and lack of bias when he went with Ohio State, a Big Ten school, over TCU or Baylor, another southern school which faces South Eastern Conference teams, which Long is a part of.

There were more cheers than boos from the fans. In today’s day and age, shouldn’t that be enough? He gave us what we wanted, good sports and good stories. Give the man the medal.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

What the new TV ratings poll tells us

The Sports Business Journal analyzed the television ratings of each Major League Baseball teams. Surprising upstarts like the Houston Astros increased its ratings six-fold while the television mess in Los Angeles led to bottom five finishes for the Dodgers and Angels. But the main focus of the article was about the boom in Kansas City for the Royals’ television rating. The team averaged a 12.33 rating as of last week, which is a 90 percent increase from 2014. The most newsworthy aspect of this is that, if the ratings keep rising, the Royals would be the highest rated baseball team since 2002 (baseball’s dying, remember?) when the Mariners pulled in a 13.2.

This, I think, is largely due to marketing, management and finance. The 2014 Royals were surprisingly good with young talent and likeable superstars and seemingly parlayed talent into good performance to fan enjoyment at the game to fan identification with the team to a higher, more active fan base. It all started with the management to bring stability to one of baseball’s worst clubs in the early 2000’s to commit to excellence and rebuild over the long haul, investing in large quantities of cheap, high-potential young players. With a stable, level-headed manager he led the management’s assets to success and marketing took it from there. Finance is just, as per usual, reaping the rewards and assuring that monetary gain today is invested wisely. But the crux is marketing and turning success into profit. Without the marketing, there’d be no rise in TV ratings and no more money in the bank.

The implication of the poll’s release is a positive one for baseball. Yes, Kansas City’s increase is great for baseball there, but it doesn’t indicate an industry-wide trend. St. Louis also rose 31 percent even though the team didn’t improve that much. (The Cardinals owned baseball’s best record, but are consistently good, so it’s not an unbelievable increase.) However, the Houston Astros rose nearly 500 percent, the Chicago Cubs more than doubled and six other teams rose by more than 50 percent. On the flip side, the bottom four teams only fell by about 30 percent, which shows that baseball is gaining ratings in the 2015 faster than they’re losing them.

While Sports Business Journal doesn’t directly discuss any strategy or approach taken by a single organization, I think it’s interesting that I am seeing the results of a hard-working organization, mostly the marketing department. I would say that Kansas City’s approach is obviously working. From watching MLB.tv a lot this season (and consistently tuning to Kansas City games) the team heavily markets players, which, normally is a no-no. Theoretically, marketing departments should shy away from marketing players, but the Royals are in a unique position. The team’s star players (Moustakas, Hosmer, Ventura, Finnegan, Santana) are all young and under club control for at least two season after this one. Barring a trade (which no is inconceivable), the Royals will have the same stars, the same core, heading into 2017, which will be more than long enough for the marketing team to have run its course. So while the Royals are in a unique place, its decision to buck convention and market its young stars is clearly paying dividends.

The Man Who (Kind of, Sort of, Maybe) Changed the Course of Baseball

When the 2015 Major League Baseball season ended Sunday, the Philadelphia Phillies got a win, barely avoiding triple-digit losses and finishing with a final record of 63-99. On the same day, the Kansas City Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 6-1 to secure the American League’s best record, finishing with a record of 95-67.

But the worst team in baseball and the best team in the American League are linked by more than just their polar finishes. Seven years ago, one man flipped between those franchises. And the two club’s fortunes changed.

In 2008, the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in a five-game World Series. Things seemed to be going well in Philly. Young ace Cole Hamels won series MVP; 28-year-old Ryan Howard played in every game that season while posting ML-leading numbers of 48 home runs and 146 RBI; homegrown talents Bretty Myers, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell played key roles in the World Series win.

That year Kansas City finished 75-87, fourth-worst in the American League.

In the offseason, Baseball Hall of Fame General Manager Pat Gillick retired after three years with the Phillies. (Phillies fans got another blow when legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas died in the next season’s first month.) The Philly front office promoted 43-year-old Ruben Amaro Jr., whose story reads like folk lore. His first job with the team was in 1980, as a batboy. He then played in the big leagues and, in 1998 when he retired, was immediately hired as a Philadelphia assistant GM.

But Amaro Jr.’s success came at the expense of another Phillies’ assistant, Mike Arbucke. Arbuckle was an assistant GM himself, waiting in the wings since the 1990s. He was the scouting director who drafted Howard, betting on his power over swings-and-misses; who drafted Hamels and his broken arm in 2002; who drafted Phillies greats Rollins and Chase Utley. Arbuckle had already been passed over when the organization hired Gillick in 2006 so when Arbuckle didn’t get the job, he left the team and headed to Kansas City, near where he grew up. The Royals hired him as the senior adviser to the GM.

And the two teams haven’t been the same since.

In 2009, Amaro’s first season as GM of the Phillies, the team lost in the World Series. The next season, the Phillies lost in the National League Championship Series. In 2011, the team won 102 games but exited earlier than the season previous, after the Divisional Series. The Phillies won 21 fewer games in 2012, going 81-81. The next two seasons the team only won 73 games. This season, 63.

In 2009, Arbuckle got to Kansas City and the team won 67 games, two more than the year prior. Then the team started building. From 2009 to 2015, the Kansas City Royals improved every year, raising its win totals from 67 to 71 to 72 to 86 to 89 in 2014, the same year the team made a World Series appearance with a dominant bullpen and young star power. In this stretch of drastic improvement, the New York Times took notice of Arbuckle.

This season, Arbuckle’s Royals enter the postseason as the American League’s No. 1 team, guaranteed home field throughout the playoffs and with a blend of young and veteran talent.

Of course, Arbuckle is not solely deserving of credit. Royals GM Dayton Moore is the one who signed catcher Salvador Perez and pitcher Yordano Ventura; he drafted third baseman Mike Moustakas, designated hitter Billy Butler and pitcher Greg Holland; he made moves for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

Arbuckle’s change in employment may have just been a coincidence, but even on that 2014 World Series team, Arbuckle’s fingerprints are there. On the roster, and pitching in high-leverage situations, was 2014 first-round pick Brandon Finnegan. On the roster were two more Arbuckle first-round picks, shortstop Christian Colon and pitcher Aaron Crow.

While the Royals success in 2014 may have been due to Moore more than Arbuckle, the Royals future success could rely on the transplant from Philly.

And the Phillies, in a golden age hangover, still has one more season of the bloated Howard contract. The team no longer has hometown heroes Rollins and Hamels, spun this season for cents on the dollar. The public disdain for Amaro is widely documented. 

Since 2009, Arbuckle’s and Amaro’s careers have gone in separate ways. Only one of them is a General Manager. And only one of them has a chance to touch a World Series trophy this fall.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com.