Friday, December 29, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 17

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it.

My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 86-63-1 on such games (.577). Published on Get Untracked, we're 33-26-1 (.559). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

WASH +2.5 giants

CIN -6 pit

HOU -4 cle

mia +9 IND

KC -2.5 jax

NO +3 car

sea +3.5 TB

TEN -3 ne

sf +10.5 DEN

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Your NFL Network Update

As your primary source for updates on the continuing feud between the NFL Network and the cable companies, be advised that the Texas Bowl between Rutgers and Kansas State will be available on both Time Warner and Cablevision. As a public service, here's all you need to know:

Time Warner customers who subscribe to the "digital" package will receive free access to the NFL Network on channel 199 until Saturday at 8pm. This gives Time Warner subscribers the ability to watch both the Texas Bowl and the Insight Bowl (Texas Tech vs. Minnesota). The end of TWC's free access coincides with the start of the Giants-Redskins game. However, New York and Washington-area subscribers will be able to watch this game on free local television, as required by law.

Cablevision, on the other hand, is providing free access to the NFL Network only for the Texas Bowl. All Cablevision subscribers will be able to watch the game, not just digital subscribers. Channel listings are available here. Again, local fans of the Giants and Redskins will find the Saturday night game on regular TV.

A few items of note:
- The NFL Network's page describing this week's free access to its channel (the "freeview") contains at least one incorrect channel listing - for Cablevision. This could be a simple typo, or - conspiracy theory alert! - it could be the NFL Network making it more difficult to find the game in New Jersey, where Cablevision has a monopoly. Customers who can't find Rutgers on TV will blame the cable company, not the channel. We've already seen that New Jersey state politicians were planning to pressure Cablevision to include the NFL Network in its regular channel package until Cablevision agreed to show the Texas Bowl. The NFL could be sending Cablevision customers to the wrong channel so they get pissed and call their congressmen, who then stick it to Cablevision. Or it could just be a typo.

- If you clicked on the links above, you saw that Time Warner Cable is using NFL Network imagery on its website to promote the freeview but Cablevision is not. This bodes well for TWC subscribers who are willing to pay for the NFL Network. Time Warner's display of logos, fonts and other NFL-themed imagery is valuable advertising for the NFL Network, so this is likely a show of goodwill by TWC in its negotiations to permanently carry the channel. Expect the NFL Network to be available on Time Warner Cable in time for the 2007 season.

- The freeview is not available in high definition for TWC and Cablevision customers. I know this in the first case because I called Time Warner and asked, and in the second case because I am a Cablevision subscriber, so I can see that the channel they're reserving for the freeview is not an HD channel. I tried calling the NFL Network (310-840-4635) to find out whether the game is being filmed in HD, but the switchboard doesn't open until noon Eastern time. I'll find out and let you know. I believe that the NFL Network, a new cable channel looking for subscribers, would be smart enough to show its entire freeview in HD as a way to separate itself from crappy little startups like, oh, CBS, but I'm not yet sure.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 16

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 82-61-1 on such games (.573). Published on Get Untracked, we're 29-24-1 (.547). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

kc -6.5 OAK

no +3 GIANTS

wash +2 STL

CLE -3 tb

chi -4.5 DET

JETS +2.5 mia

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Poor Ryan Leaf

Watching the awful Las Vegas Bowl between BYU and Oregon, we're told that Oregon QB Brady Leaf is the brother of failed Charger/Cowboy quarterback Ryan Leaf.

Back in February, we learned that the elder Leaf was taking the quarterback coach position at D-II West Texas A&M University. What we didn't know at the time was that Leaf was working for free. (Not that Leaf needed the money after getting $11.25 million to sign with San Diego in 1998.)

Anyway, Brent Musberger is pretty excited to let Ryan Leaf announce he's going to be paid for coaching at West Texas A&M next season. Is "quarterback coach" a newly salaried position in 2007? No. Has Leaf been promoted to offensive coordinator? Nope. Turns out Leaf will become the new men's golf coach.

" 'I am honored that I have been given this opportunity and to continue to be a part of this University at something other than a volunteer level,' said Lead. [sic!]"

Yep. Ryan Lead "will be expected to guide the team primarily in the areas of team building and leadership." For money!

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 15

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 76-57-1 on such games (.571). Published on Get Untracked, we're 23-20-1 (.535). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

SEA -9.5 sf [as posted yesterday]

dal -3 ATL

phi +5.5 GIANTS

hou +11.5 NE

BUF -1 mia

TEN +3.5 jax

den - 2.5 ARIZ

kc +8.5 SD

OAK -2.5 stl

IND -3 cin

Greg Maddux is a Corvette Sting Ray

Tim Sullivan writes of recent Padres signee Greg Maddux, "If he has lost some of his fastball to the ravages of time, he has retained the fuel economy of a parked Prius. He is maximum efficiency with minimum exertion."

I see where Sullivan was going with the metaphor. My favorite MLB box score of all time is from Maddux's 76-pitch complete game in 1997. But it's clear Sullivan is a sportswriter not an engineer. (I'm not an engineer either, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Select last night.)

If a Prius is parked with the engine running, the car is as inefficient as it can be. Efficiency is the ratio between useful output and energy consumption. If the car's parked but the engine is running, it consumes gasoline (or battery power) but isn't doing anything productive. Maximum efficiency for a Prius occurs when the gasoline engine is making 76 horsepower at 5000 RPM or the battery-powered engine is making 67 horsepower at 1200 RPM. That's why your father always told you to shut the car off when you're waiting for someone - running a parked car is a waste of gas.

If we're going to compare Maddux to an automobile, let's do it right and explain why Greg Maddux is very much like a Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.

It takes 40 years to make a classic.
1966 is the year Chevy introduced the legendary "427" big block V8 engine, now prized by collectors worldwide. It's also the year the legendary Gregory Alan Maddux was born, now considered an inner-circle hall of famer. The Prius has only been around since 1997 - it has a long way to go to reach "classic" status.

There's a whiff of controversy in the air.
That 427 engine actually came in two flavors: a 390-hp version (the "RPO L36") and a 425-hp version (the "RPO L72"). The L72 reportedly put out even more power than what Chevy quoted - 450 horsepower - but they deflated the specifications on paper to stay under safety regulators' radar. Greg Maddux has won 333 games by changing speeds and moving the ball around the strike zone like he has it on a string. Mark Buehrle is not the only one to accuse him of doctoring the ball.

Chicks dig it.
The side exhaust pipes, the split rear window in the fastback, gills on the front-quarter panels. Automobile magazine named the Sting Ray one of the world's 25 most beautiful cars. The Prius will only help you pick up ladies at a Sierra Club convention. As for Maddux...

By the way, Tom, they'll stop worshipping the guy in March of 2005 and he won't sniff the Hall of Fame in 2007. Gotta love the billboard. Surrrrrrrre it's the shoes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

R.I.P. Lamar Hunt

From the obituary of Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who died last night:

Hunt long campaigned to let teams other than Dallas and Detroit play at home on Thanksgiving Day. To honor his effort, the NFL scheduled a third game on the holiday this year -- in Kansas City. Hunt missed it, though, because he was in the hospital and couldn't get the game on TV.

KC-Denver was the first game broadcast on the NFL Network. It's a sad irony that the man who coined the term "Super Bowl" couldn't see - from his deathbed - a game scheduled to honor him.

The Wisdom of Crowds chimes in on tonight's game: SEA -9.5 sf

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

That's It?

If published reports are true, the Red Sox and Scott Boras, agent for Daisuke "Skyline" Matsuzaka, are only $3 million in yearly salary apart. Boston wants to pay $8 million a year, while Boras countered with $11 million a year.

It seems that neither side has a problem with a six-year contract. I was under the impression that contract length was the sticking point. Boston would want a long deal (5+ years) to spread out the cost of Skyline's posting fee. Boras would counter with a short deal (3 or 4 years) so the Japanese ace could go back on the market at the tail end of his prime.

If six years isn't the issue for Boras, then I'll be shocked if the parties can't come to an agreement. Boras's asking price plus the pro-rated posting fee of $8.52 million per year ($51.11 million / 6 years) yields an average annual value of $19.52 million. In a world where Gil Meche is worth $11 million a year for five years, Skyline's easily worth $19.52 million over six.

Get ready for tomorrow's press conference announcing the signing.

Watch NFL Network For Free

Editor's note: Click here for a quick recap of the controversy between the NFL Network and the cable companies.

The NFL has offered New York-area cable companies seven days of free access to the NFL Network during the last week of the year. This isn't an unusual move by Roger Goodell and company. Networks like HBO ocassionally provide free access in an effort to gain viewers. It's a moneymaking play for networks, because customers who watch the premium content during the free period are more likely to pay for it when the trial run is over.

Make no mistake, the NFL is not acting altruistically here. By making this offer to Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, the NFL Network gets the New York viewers it's been missing, and it gets to associate itself with the word "free" in the public eye. More importantly, the free access period happens to include December 28, the date of the Texas Bowl between Rutgers and Kansas State. The Royal We noted that the NFL Network owns the right to broadcast this game, so by allowing viewers in New York and New Jersey to watch for free, the NFL avoids an intervention from Garden State politicians, who might have otherwised forced the NFL to lower its per-subscriber asking price in order to get Rutgers on the air.

Cablevision realizes all of the above, and has already announced that it has accepted the NFL's generous offer to show the Rutgers bowl game. Left unsaid? Cablevision will not be showing any other NFL Network programming during the free week. It seems like a neat slap in the face to the NFL, which wouldn't generate NY/NJ ratings for its signature content (NFL games). However, it's mostly an empty gesture because the Giants-Redskins game that Saturday night (scheduled for the NFL Network) will be broadcast on over-the-air television in those teams' local market for all to see, as required by law. In other words, New York viewers get the Giants game anyway, probably on channel 11 or channel 9.

Both the NFL and the cable companies continue to screw over their customers. Neither side deserves our support. And as a public service, here's an end run around them both. It's called Sopcast. Download the free software at, then click over to a blog called Streaming NFL Games, where they'll tell you the code to enter into your Sopcast window to pick up the live feed of the NFL Network, with no commercials!

Enjoy, from your friends at Get Untracked.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pujols Should Cost $300 Million

Back when I had time to play video games, I would have fun with Baseball Mogul 2005, a free one-player GM simulation. You could start the game with players on 2004 MLB rosters or choose "shuffle players" to mix it up. The best way to ensure sucess in your first season is to trade for Albert Pujols, signed for six years at a way-below-market $2.2 million. The players shuffled onto the free agent wire always change. When Pujols is there, he's worth $25 million a year.

Over at the website for The Book, they estimate that if Albert Pujols were a free agent in today's market, he'd be worth $300 million over 8 years. In related news, if Alex Rodriguez hit free agency today, the Dodgers would still have signed Juan Pierre.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pacific League -0.5 MLB

The latest news on Daisuke ("Skyline") Matsuzaka? Report: BoSox's talks with Matsuzaka nearly dead. The reality? It's more like even money that he'll be taking a physical on Wednesday and signed by the Thursday deadline.

In a recent column, Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus elegantly explained how the Boston Red Sox "queered the process" of the posting system between MLB and the Japanese Pacific League. If you're not a BP subscriber (though you should be), here's a quick recap:

1) Boston overbid for the exclusive right to negotiate with Matsuzaka; their bid of $51.11 million was almost 30% higher than the second-place Mets' bid.

2) The Red Sox have refused to offer a market value contract for a starting pitcher of Skyline's ability. If 33-year-old Jason Schmidt is getting $15.66 million a year, the in-his-prime Matsuzaka should get $20 million/year.

3) Neither the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka's team in Japan, nor Skyline himself, have any leverage in these negotiations. If the Red Sox and Scott Boras fail to agree on a contract, Seibu gets zero dollars instead of $51.11 million. Skyline would then have to go back and play in Japan, where his salary is only $3 million. He wouldn't become eligible for true free agency until after 2008.

4) Seibu has the incentive to return some of the posting fee to the Red Sox so the American team can better afford to add Matsuzaka to their rotation. If Boston gets a $10 million mail in rebate on Skyline and are able to sign him to a five year deal, that would lower the average annual value of the contract by $2 million. But MLB nixed that idea as against the spirit of the process.

5) Even if a side deal goes down, the Red Sox have broken the posting system. As Sheehan wrote, "For the teams that the Sox outbid in the blind process, nausea rules the day. It may turn out that the Lions receive less from the Red Sox than what the next-highest bids would have brought in straight up, which renders the process a farce. "

Just because next year's arrangement between MLB and the Pacific League will be different than the current posting system, one should not take the ESPN article at face value when it says Matsuzaka's on his way back to Japan. The article quotes a "source familiar with the negotiations," but also says that attempts to reach Boras for comment were unsucessful. That means our article's source is likely affiliated with the Red Sox, the other party to the talks. And what better way to exert Boston's leverage than through anonymously sourced news articles?

Two more reasons the Red Sox will have Matsuzaka in their 2007 rotation: First, they need him - they can't count on Schilling and Wakefield for 350+ innings. Second, MLB, which has notably intervened in the Astros' bid to re-sign Andy Pettitte, doesn't want to insult the Japanese by screwing over one of its baseball teams in the process of bringing their best player over to America. My guess is that Skyline signs with Boston for about $13 million per year.


The system's been broken before. In 1994, Hideo Nomo "retired" from the Pacific League so he could sign with the Dodgers. Three years later, a 21-year-old Alfonso Soriano pulled the same stunt. But as rich as Soriano became this November, the real catch of the 1997 offseason was one Hideki Irabu. To get a leg up on MLB, the San Diego Padres signed a working agreement with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Irabu's Pacific League team, essentially turning the Marines into a minor league affiliate.

That prompted Major League Baseball and the Pacific League to conjure up the posting system. Now that the Red Sox have exposed the fatal flaw, here are two possibilities for the next agreement between MLB and the Pacific League.

1) Allow subsequent bidders to step in after the winning team's 30-day exclusive window has expired. This would create pressure on the winning team to sign the Japanese player because someone else could get him. There's a chance that the second- or third-place bidders could also lowball the player in question, following in the footsteps of the auction's winner. But that's unlikely; because those teams' initial bids were lower, they'd have less trouble playing the average annual salary that the player's agent is seeking. And there's something to be said for getting the player your opponents also wanted.

2) MLB could pay the Pacific League a yearly fee in lieu of the bidding process in exchange for shortening the time before Pacific League players become free agents. Pacific League players would love to gain earlier access to the free market. Right now they must wait ten years after first signing. [Edit: It's nine years, as reported by the Japan Times. But the same article tells us that, unlike in MLB, Pacific League players don't accumulate service time while injured(!)] This agreement could reduce that time to seven or eight years, more in line with American leagues. MLB benefits on the field by having more of the world's best players in the world's best baseball league. They also benefit in the bank with some basic economics - by increasing the supply of players, the prices on those players will fall. Pacific League teams would receive a regular income stream from MLB, perhaps $40 million a year split among all teams in the league. This would allow the entire league, rather than individual teams, to benefit from Japanese stars migrating to America. It would also provide the Pacific League teams with regular income instead of the random postings we've seen over the last seven years.

However the parties agree, the Red Sox will be remembered as having paid the largest-ever posting fee under the old posting system.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 14

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 68-54-1 on such games (.557). Published on Get Untracked, we're 15-17-1 (.469). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

PIT -7 cle [as posted yesterday]

giants +3 CAR

atl -3 TB

min +1.5 DET

JAX +1.5 ind

WASH +1.5 phi

oak +11 CIN

MIA +3.5 ne

gb +4.5 SF

den +7.5 SD

chi -6 STL

The Get Untracked Sports Fan Index

College bowl season and all its crazy sponsorships got me thinking about the interaction between sports and the larger business world. Major league baseball stadiums now resemble their minor league counterparts with all that advertising, and as Peter King wrote a couple weeks back: "The NFL on TV is one giant commercial interrupted by football."

Companies wouldn't be willing to pay so much for advertising to sports fans - $2.5 million for a Super Bowl XLI ad, for example - unless they expected a positive return on that investment. Because we as sports fans are contributing so nicely to corporations' bottom lines, why shouldn't we also reap some of the rewards? Readers of Get Untracked are emotionally invested in the sports world. Here's a way to become financially invested as well: The Get Untracked Sports Fan Index.

Below are the ten publicly traded companies that will constitute the initial Index. I will invest a virtual $1,000 in each and provide periodic updates, using the Powershares Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment exchange-traded fund (PEJ) as a benchmark. (In reality, I own no shares in any company in the GUSFI.)

Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. (BUD, $48)
Sports fans drink beer. Lots of beer. And nobody sells more of it in the U.S. than Budweiser. They've just installed August A. Busch IV as CEO. Some see it as typical corporate nepotism. Instead I see that the guy is only 42, and that he oversaw the original Bud frogs, Whassup, and "I love you, man" ad campaigns. He is better situated to understand today's beer buyer than the 64-year-old he's replacing. Bud is practically a value stock (18.2 price-to earnings ratio) compared to the rest of the beverage industry (19.71 P/E) and the food and beverage sector as a whole (18.98).

Sodexho Alliance (SDX, $60)
This French company is actually the number one service provider at college stadiums and arenas in the U.S. So when you're buying an eight-dollar bottle of water at the Rose Bowl, chances are Sodexho's Sports and Entertainment division gets most of the profit. They've just increased their dividend by 27%, a strong sign of growth going forward.

Pepsico, Inc. (PEP, $63)
The "-co" at the end of Pepsi's name should remind you that Pepsi is more than the signature colas and Mountain Dew. Their other major brands include Frito-Lay chips and sports drink leader Gatorade. Pepsi received antitrust clearance yesterday to purchase the Naked Juice Company, which will dovetail nicely with Pepsi's Tropicana division.

Time Warner, Inc. (TWX, $21)
The next two picks should be considered sports fans' "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" selections. Time Warner owns cable monopolies across the country, and recently purchased (with Comcast Corp.) the assets of bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications. Beyond the cable and ISP businesses, Time Warner owns AOL, HBO, New Line Cinema and TBS, among other holdings. We're six years past the AOL-Time Warner merger, enough time for this company to become a sleeper despite its status as a massive media conglomerate.

Walt Disney Company (DIS, $34)
There's nobody better at exposing the men behind the curtain at The Worldwide Leader than the Royal We, but even Master Leitch would admit that his "To Watch Tonight" segment features ESPN links more often than not. Sure, the cellphone service idea was a flop, but it proves they're thinking outside the box. Disney was out in front with putting shows like "Desperate Housewives" up on the internet, and its purchase of Pixar demonstrates a commitment to maintaining its technological advantage.

Best Buy Co., Inc. (BBY, 53)
Expect consumers' adoption of HDTV to accelerate in 2007, as the cost of 40-inch flat panels fall below $1,000. The next few years should also see a transition from standard DVD's to their high-definition counterparts. Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer, stands poised to benefit from both trends. Best Buy will also open its first store in China this month, where it will uniquely provide the kind of one-stop shop for home appliances and digital products like cellphones and mp3 players, which in China are usually not sold by the same store.

Dover Saddlery Inc. (DOVR, $9)
What, the Barbaro craze hasn't convinced you there's a huge market for equine products? By failing to get this post up last night, I missed out on today's nine percent run-up in the stock. Still, Americans have never had more leisure time or more money to put into high-end hobbies like riding horses. Founded by members of the U.S. Equestrian team, Dover is the largest direct marketer of such products.

International Game Technology (IGT, $45)
National news in the gaming industry has focused on the Bush administration's ill-conceived ban on internet gambling. State legislatures, however, keep authorizing Indian groups to build casinos, either on their own land or as part of horse racing tracks. The casinos will stock their slot rooms with machines from this designer and manufacturer of gaming machines. Established casinos continue to replace old spinning reel slot machines with network-connected video models, a market in which IGT is a worldwide leader.

K-Swiss Inc. (KSWS, $32)
Nike and Adidas, of course, are the most well-known athletic footwear brands. Each recently completed acquisitions, with Nike purchasing Converse and Adidas buying Reebok. K-Swiss remains independent and solidly profitable. About to launch a new clothing line throughout Europe, they could be about to break out of the shadows.

Under Armour, Inc. (UARM, $51)
Synthetic microfiber performance products were not on the sports radar five years ago; now Under Armour is a $300 million business. But they don't just sell tight-fitting muscle shirts. You've seen their "click-clack" ads for football cleats, but now they're expanding into hunting apparel and the ski market. By looking for opportunities that the big boys at Nike ignored, Under Armour will continue to grow in leaps and bounds.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

NFL Network Can't Beat Dog Show, Smackdown, Skins Game

They've finally posted the television ratings for Thanksgiving week. The Broncos-Chiefs game shown (they say) on the NFL Network doesn't crack the top 14, beaten by such "sports" programming as the National Dog Show, with 4.8 milliion households, Friday Night Smackdown, with 2.8 million households, and The Skins Game, with 2.3 million households. Publicly available sports ratings only list broadcast programs, but it says here that the only 1.8 million households watched the football game.

The NFL Network claims it has 41 million subscribers. For the Thanksgiving night game to have drawn more eyes than some exhibition golf event, a mere seven percent of subscribers needed to watch the game. Aside from the chalk covering in the first two weeks, this tells us two things:

1) Most who currently subscribe to the NFL Network do so unwittingly because they don't care about the games. The cable companies argue that it makes little financial sense to put this channel on the "basic cable" tier because ratings prove that over 93% of cable customers who have access to the NFL Network aren't interested in this programming. However, the NFL Network responds that most cable channels are provided in just this fashion. You don't want Lifetime or Oxygen channels, but you pay for them anyway.

2) The cities likely to give the NFL Network its highest possible viewership still can't access the channel without subscribing to a satellite service. Cities served by Time Warner include Buffalo, Cleveland, Dallas, Cincinnati, L.A., New York, Houston, Charlotte and Green Bay. Then there's a company called Bright House Cable, which monopolizes Tampa, Orlando and Indianapolis. Charter Cable won't let you watch the NFL Network in St. Louis or Madison.

Both sides have spent millions campaigning for your vote, and I'm not pleased with either of them. If cable companies weren't granted monopoly powers, I could subcribe to Verizon's FIOS service and get the NFL Network. If the NFL didn't allow DirecTV a monopoly over NFL Sunday Ticket (subscribing to Sunday Ticket gets you the NFL Network), I could buy that package and watch all the games I wished. Both parties in this debate are anti-consumer. How about some free market cable franchise reform?

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Email Your Favorite Bowl President

As a public service, below are email addresses for the person in charge of each bowl game, to the extent available. Some interesting notes:

- The Armed Forces Bowl and Las Vegas Bowls are actually run by ESPN employees.

- Can we take a collection to buy the Hawaii Bowl a domain name? Hotmail is so 1990's.

- The Peach Bowl is run by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

- The same guy who runs the Motor City Bowl in Detroit the day after Christmas is directing the International Bowl in Toronto on January 6.

Tickets may still be available!

Rick Baker, President

Derrick Fox, President/CEO

Paul J. Hoolahan, Executive Director

Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director

John Junker, President & CEO

Tom Starr, Executive Director

Bernie Olivas, Executive Director

Gary Stokan, President

Gary Cavalli, Executive Director

Keith R. Tribble, Chief Executive Officer

Frank Modarelli

Scott Ramsey, Executive Director

John Junker, Executive Director

Ken Hoffman, Executive Director

Gary Beck, Executive Director

Ken Hoffman, Executive Director

James P. McVay, President/CEO

Bruce Binkowski, Executive Director

Missy Setters, Executive Director

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, Executive Director

Billy Ferrante, Executive Director

Mitch Dorger, CEO

Bruce Binkowski, Executive Director

Jim Donovan, Executive Director

John Junker, President

Richard Catlett, President

Friday, December 1, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 13

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 64-49-1 on such games (.566). Published on Get Untracked, we're 11-12-1 (.478). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

CIN -3 bal [as posted yesterday]

GIANTS +3.5 dal

STL -6.5 ariz

jax +1 MIA

sf +7 NO

det +13.5 NE

sd -6 BUF

DEN -4 sea

car -3 PHI

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bettors Ignore Thursday Night Football

Forget what the NFL is telling you about the success of its new Thursday Night Football package on the NFL Network. The people that truly drive football ratings - gamblers - have spoken, and they're saying "who cares."

Before each week's NFL games, the New York Post publishes a pull-out Bettor's Guide. Aside from definitive game lines (used here to make NFL picks), the Post also provides a listing of every televised sporting event all weekend. For $0.25, it's a bargain (although you do have to throw out the other 80 pages of newsprint).

The Bettor's Guide is published on Fridays, in plenty of time to get your picks to your bookie. But the week of Thanksgiving, they put it out on Wednesday so you don't miss picking the holiday games.

I was wondering whether the Guide would keep coming out on Wednesday for the rest of the year, to encompass the Thursday Night Football game. Nope. It didn't appear yesterday, and it's not there today. If the NFL Network broadcast a game on Thursday night, and nobody bets on it, does it make a sound?

For the record, Wisdom of Crowds takes CIN -3 bal.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Check out Fox's scoretracker in the top right corner of the screen... Oakland gets a touchdown overturned by replay one point at a time.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wait Till Next Year

This MLB offseason, we've seen the dawn of a new economy, with teams offering big-money, long-term contracts to players who aren't exactly hall of famers.

Juan Pierre, he of the career 727 OPS, got five years at $9 million from the Dodgers for his age 29-33 seasons. Alfonso Soriano's set to make $17 million a year through 2014. Sori was tremendous in 2006, but only two guys are signed through 2013: Soriano and David Wright. Wright will be 30 that year; Soriano will be 38. And now, Gary Matthews, Jr will get $10 million each season from the Angels while he's 32-36 , despite a mediocre career line of .263/.336/.419.

All of these guys are past their prime, yet their average yearly salary is but $2 million less than that of Albert Pujols! What's the one thing Pierre, Mathews and Soriano (not to mention Mark DeRosa and Nomar Garciaparra) have in common? They're all available now. Teams are spending like there's no tomorrow, busting their budgets on mid-level talent, but the smart GM's should wait till next year.

Looking at a list of players who will hit free agency in 2007, who would you rather have...
  • CF: Juan Pierre or Milton Bradley (pictured)? Bradley is a year younger than Pierre and has a career OPS over 50 points higher, 783 to 727. Bradley hit more home runs in 2006 than Pierre's hit his entire career.

  • CF: Gary Matthews Jr. or Andruw Jones? Andruw is almost three years younger and has a career OPS almost 100 points higher, 850 to 755.

  • CF(?): Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells? Sure, Soriano's a 40-40 guy, but Wells is more than a year younger, plays gold-glove defense in center, and has a career OPS of 828 to Soriano's 835.

  • 1B: Nomar Garciaparra or Adam Dunn? Dunn is more than six years younger, has stayed injury-free, and his career OPS of 893 isn't far off Garciaparra's 907.

  • 2B: Mark DeRosa or Marcus Giles? Giles is almost three years younger and has a career OPS of 809, compared to DeRosa's 735.

Other marquee 2007 free agents? Chris Carpenter, Carlos Guillen, Ichiro, Michael Young and Carlos Zambrano. If your team missed out on the Skyline Matsuzaka sweepstakes or has thus far failed to sign anyone, don't complain that your GM is sitting on his hands. Instead, praise him for saving money today so he can spend it next year, when a real free agent class hits the market.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

So That's Why He Lost

Derek Jeter lost the American League MVP to Justin Morneau of the Twins not because of some anti-Yankee bias, but because west coast voters couldn't spell his name right.

Here's the headline from today's San Jose Mercury News:

Jetyer settles for 2nd in MVP race

The Associated Press reports that if all Jeter votes were totaled with Jetyer votes, Morneau would have finished behind the Yankee shortstop.

In other news, the guy who voted for A.J. Pierzynski claims he voted for Jetyer too, but his spellcheck was broken.

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 12

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 59-42 on such games (.584). Published on Get Untracked, we're 6-5 (.545). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, using today's New York Post Bettor's Guide for our lines:

DET +3 mia

tb +11 DAL

KC +1 den

giants -3 TEN

BUF +3 jax

pit +3 BAL

cin -3 CLE

MIN -6 ariz

STL -5.5 sf

no +3 ATL

car -4 WASH

NE -3 chi

gb +10 SEA

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Football Field as Jumbotron

What if the yellow first down line you see when you watch a football game on television was visible from your seat in the stands? The official turf provider to the Arena Football League (and provider of turf to two NFL teams) is called Sportexe, and they've got a patent that proposes to do that and more.

Forbes reported on the company, which is 40%-owned by Ravens owner Art Modell. Like the other major turf company, FieldTurf, Sportexe installs artificial surfaces made up of millions of individual blades of plastic grass, with rubber pellets underneath to simulate dirt. The patented technology places fiber optics inside each blade of grass. Each blade acts like a pixel in a computer monitor, working together to produce a larger image.

The first-down line on NFL broadcasts is really helpful for viewers, but I'm not enamored with graphics that literally create a "red zone" when the offense drives to the 20. And do we really need an on-field graphic that explains a kicker's accuracy from a certain distance - right as the kicker steps into the ball? The least appealing aspect of the new technology is the certainty that it will be used to run advertisements on the field itself, perhaps even between plays.

I'm all for the onward march of progress, but am often disappointed by the way broadcasters choose to use it. (Who's this week's White Castle Steamer of the Week? Text your vote to 86648 right now!!!) At least everybody attending the Super Bowl wouldn't have to worry about DVR-ing the commericals.

Monday, November 20, 2006

True Hoop Dance

The Get Untracked Guide To Buying An HDTV For The Playoffs

Last week, BDD @ KSK wrote "We're in mid-November now. The heart of the football season." His look at preparing for the playoffs was a bit different than what follows, but it inspired me to provide a guide on a subject I know a little bit about: High-Definition Television.

I was lucky enough to win a 26" LCD in a contest last July. That screen was good enough to show the quality difference between regular and HD programing, which must be seen to be appreciated. But I've been researching current models so I could upgrade to something I wouldn't need lasik to view from nine feet away. If you're still without an HD set, even if you own the 35" Sony Wega that was all the rage two years ago, it's time to get primed for the playoff run.

As with most things in life, so it is with buying an HDTV. There are two types of people: People who want a television that will last them the next ten years no matter the cost today, and people who want an HD set that's perfectly fine for now without breaking the bank. Let's break it down.

The future-proof HDTV: Sharp Aquos LC-52D62U - LCD ($3,200)
This is the sixth generation of Sharp's bestselling LCD panel, and the best choice for someone looking to buy an HDTV today. The screen size is huge, especially for an LCD. Historically, LCD manufacturers had trouble selling such a large display at a reasonable cost. A year ago, Sharp was selling its 65-inch LCD for $20,000. I'm sure you've seen ads for larger HDTVs, but most of those are "DLP" TVs, which are not flat panels like LCDs or plasmas; DLPs weigh twice as much and are more than twice as thick. That means you can't hang a DLP on the wall. The elegance of a beautiful HDTV hanging on the wall is a key selling point you can use on your wife or girlfriend. One estimate shows women driving flat screen purchases over DLPs about 60% of the time, so if you've got a lady in your life, a flat screen is the way to go.

Aside from the large screen, the technical specs of this LCD put it far and above anything else on the market at this price. This LCD has true 1080p. That number refers to the resolution on the screen and measures the pixel count of the display. You've been able to buy an HDTV with enough pixels to display 1080p for over a year, but HDTVs sold before... well... pretty much now, couldn't accept a 1080p input. This Aquos does accept 1080p, which means that a few years from now, when you have a bunch of HD-DVDs or Blu-Ray discs (e.g., Playstation 3), and when all HD content is broadcast in 1080p, your HDTV won't already be outdated.

Two more reasons this screen is so great... Its contrast ratio of 10,000:1 (basically, how dark it displays the color black; most LCDs can only get to dark gray) and its screen refresh rate of 4ms (how well it displays fast-moving action like sports). Compare those specs to other LCDs and you'll see why, if you've got the free cash to spend, the Sharp Aquos LC-52D62U is just about perfect.

Honorable Mention: Sony Bravia KDL-52XBR2 ($5,500)
This Sony gives you the same ability as the Aquos to accept true 1080p inputs, the same screen size, and a slightly inferior contrast ratio and refresh rate. The price premium gets you a beautiful glass bezel around the screen and BRAVIA Engine PRO image processing. Image processing is the method by which your rectangular HDTV makes square pictures look good, and it's useful for people who watch a lot of regular-definition programming or standard DVDs. But in five years the importance of image processing will be diminished because so little programming will be shown in a format other than 1080p. If money is no object, the Sony is the better HDTV, but the Aquos' value gives it the edge in this comparison.

The HDTV to enjoy without breaking the bank: Panasonic TH-42PX60U - Plasma ($1,300)

After all that talk about accepting 1080p inputs and viewing 1920 x 1080 pixels, why would I recommend a screen that can only display up to 720p (1366 x 768)? Because sports are broadcast today in either 720p - on ESPN/ABC and Fox - or in 1080i on CBS and NBC. Right now the only 1080p content available comes from new high-definition DVDs and the Playstation 3. If you don't have either of those, you can get by with a 720p tv for at least a couple more years. In fact, Fox claims that 720p is better than 1080i (not 1080p, mind you) for viewing sports.

Because the Panasonic is a plasma not an LCD, a 10,000:1 contrast ratio is to be expected; the color black looks great on this screen. A plasma is thin like an LCD, so you can hang it on the wall. The drawback to plasma, that an image can "burn in" to the screen, is something you should be aware of, but if you're careful, this plasma will give you a much better picture than comparably-priced LCD tvs.

As Drew wrote: "You have your marching orders." Now, just don't fall for the extended warranty!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Gotta love the outstretched arms of Cal quarterback Nate Longshore as he watches the football roll sloooowly away after USC's Lawrence Jackson forced the fumble.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Simmons: Here's your answer!

If you haven't read the Sports Guy's latest mailbag, you missed him asking his readers for a nickname for new Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Bill, How about Daisuke "Skyline" Matsuzaka. Here's what it has going for it:

1) It will remind everyone in New York, home of a world-famous skyline, that neither the Mets nor the Yankees, with all their cash, bid enough to get Matsuzaka.

2) It rolls off the tounge. Say it: Daisuke "Skyline" Matsuzaka.

3) Doesn't "Skyline" sound like an unbelievably expensive nickname that reflects the sky-high expectations Boston's gonna have for him?

4) Some geek made an excellent comparison of the pitcher to a car of the very same name.

The Wisdom of Crowds - NFL Week 11

Before I started elementary school, my mother had taught me the basics of blackjack and 5-card stud. When I was 10, my father let me participate in the weekly NFL pool at his office. By age 14, I was running it. My friend, who I've known since first grade and who shall remain anonymous until he chooses an appropriate pseudonym, is quite the avid sports fan.

For more than 10 years, we've picked against each other on every NFL game. The number of games we agree on varies from week to week, but we've found that when we agree, we're correct to a significant degree. For the 2006 season, we're at 53-37 on such games (.589). Below are our Wisdom of Crowds picks for the week, as always using the Friday New York Post's Bettor's Guide for our lines:

JETS +7 chi

oak +9.5 KC

cin +3.5 NO

pit -3.5 CLE

atl +4 BAL

stl +7 CAR

HOU -2.5 buf

MIN +3.5 mia

ARIZ -2 det

SF +4.5 sea

DAL +1 ind

Dropouts: Albert Haynesworth

You remember the guy from college who dropped out. Maybe he couldn't cut it academically. More likely, he found the required classes cutting into his previously-scheduled time for parties and sleep. You weren't surprised at what he got away with before leaving (or getting kicked out), but you knew he wouldn't cut it in the real world.

But college athletes are said to "declare early" or "go pro" when they don't finish school. When these guys screw up outside of their protected university environment, remember that we're talking about college dropouts. Maybe that's why the players introducing themselves on Monday Night Football often cite their high school rather than their college: it's the place they actually got their degree.

Name: Albert Haynesworth, III
College: University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Major: Education
College hijinks: Going after a teammate on the practice field with a metal pole.
Dropped out: After his junior season

NFL history books will forever celebrate The Catch and The Drive, but they hope to forget The Stomp. MJD did a fine job covering the suspension, and the Royal We made sure we knew what Keyshawn thought about all this. Because Haynesworth's expected to play on Sunday now that his five-game sabbatical is over, I point you to this 2002 Sporting News article about a certain defensive tackle prospect:

"Haynesworth, I honestly believe, will be a dominating player in this league," an AFC scout says, "if he can keep it all together upstairs." That always was the concern with Haynesworth--what was going on in his mind. But something happened to him before the 2001 season. It might have been the experience of becoming father to a son born last summer. Or it might have been the realization that time was running out on a career very few are afforded. Whatever it was, Albert Haynesworth found Albert Haynesworth. ... "I've matured," Haynesworth says. "I know what I have to do to be successful. It's a process."

Further maturity might be necessary to keep Haynesworth out of the Tyson Zone.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

J.P. Ricciardi is no Billy Beane

Reports out of Toronto have the Blue Jays signing Frank Thomas to a two-year, $20 million contract to serve as the team's designated hitter. While the money's been flowing freely since the free agent period began, the difference between Oakland's offer last winter (1 year for $500,000 plus $2.6 million in incentives Thomas earned) and Toronto's (reported) offer today is so vast that if I didn't know that J.P. Ricciardi was Beane's top assistant a well-regarded scout in Oakland during the early Moneyball years, you couldn't convince me that they ever worked together.

When the White Sox let Thomas walk as a free agent, Beane saw a player who had been injured for most of the previous two years, but who continued to put up excellent OBP and SLG when he was available. Thomas's traditional 2005 line looked awful to the non-sabermetrically inclined. A .219 average, 12 HR, and 26 RBI would be a great Hacking Mass line if accomplished over 500 at-bats.

But looking a little deeper, those 12 HR were hit in only 124 plate appearances. Adding three doubles (and, no kidding, zero triples), Thomas slugged .590 in 2005. To compare, Albert Pujols slugged .609 that year. Thomas also continued to display the batting eye that's made him a Hall of Famer, walking in 13% of plate appearances. So Beane made sure Thomas was healthy and signed him to a no-risk deal. If Thomas hit, great for the A's. If he didn't hit, Beane loses barely more than the minimum veteran salary. We know what happened next. Big Frank hit .270/.381/.545 in 466 ABs. He was Oakland's entire offense for much of the season, leading the team to the brink of the World Series.

Ricciardi, the Blue Jays GM since 2001, is taking the Anti-Beane approach to signing a slugger. Thomas is coming off a monster year, is far past his prime (the proposed two-year deal will cover his age-39 and -40 seasons), and is clearly not undervalued by the market, even if the Blue Jays are the market. Gary Sheffield, who's one year younger than the Big Hurt, will get $14 million a year from the Tigers in 2008 and 2009. And those in the know are panning that deal too.

Last offseason, when Ricciardi signed two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, to big-money five year contracts, J.P.'s apologists argued that the cost was justified if the Blue Jays were to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox and that the scarcity of top pitchers made the contracts worthwhile. This year, after finishing in second place in the AL East, they'll say that Thomas is replacing a bunch of crappy designated hitters who combined for only 16 home runs all year, so the payout is necessary.

I don't buy it. Will Carroll won't give Thomas better than a yellow light in next year's Team Health Report. Toronto should be happy if Thomas's counting stats over the next two years equal his output in 2006 alone. Spending $10 million a year on a guy who may himself not hit 16 home runs next year? Maybe J.P. needs to re-read that little book Billy wrote.

Thanks to Will at BP for correcting my memory of J.P.'s job in Oakland. Seems like I need to re-read Moneyball too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cable Companies -2.5 NFL Network

Next Thursday the NFL will offer up its traditional Thanksgiving games. The Detroit Lions have played every Thanksgiving since 1934 (except for the 1939-44 commercial break otherwise known as "World War II"), and the Dallas Cowboys made it a doubleheader starting in 1966. Does anybody reading this remember a Thanksgiving without exactly two NFL games?

So imagine my surprise when I learned that, starting this year, a third Thanksgiving game will be played. This year's night game will feature the Chiefs and Broncos. Thing is, you can't watch that contest unless your cable provider allows you to subscribe to the NFL Network. I should know: I live in the metro-New York area, where the two cable companies, Time Warner and Cablevision, don't make the channel available at any price. The battle's been brewing since July, when the NFL held the Thursday night package back from network bidders, leaving big bucks on the table in order to televise the games on its own cable channel.

The gist of the fight is as follows: Cable companies argue that the NFL Network is trying to gouge them with per-subscriber rates of 70 cents each, up from the channel's current price of about a quarter. The NFL Network responds that it has the country's most-watched programming, so the cable companies should pony up. For comparison's sake, ESPN is the most expensive channel for cable companies to provide, at nearly $3 per subsriber. As the parties head back to the bargaining table for one last week of negotiations, let's handicap this matchup.

Home Field Advantage

The game's to be played on the cable companies' turf because they own the infrastructure necessary to bring programming to your home. If everyone's home had an "unobstructed view of the Southern sky," we'd all have already switched to DirecTV to buy the Sunday Ticket package. As it stands, if you want sports programming, you pay for cable (and probably digital cable so you get the HD feed). It's the only way. Advantage: Cable companies. As we know, home field in the NFL is worth 3 points.


CBS and Fox paid $8 billion to broadcast the NFL through 2011 because pro football games are the most consistent ratings-generators in the television business (crappy MNF games like Panthers-Bucs or Seahawks-Raiders notwithstanding). The NFL Network knows it has a tremendous product, so it can realistically ask for high subscriber fees. However, cable companies don't want to pay (70 cents) * (all their subscribers) for a network most people wouldn't watch and that, oh yeah, happens to have a measly eight NFL games during only two months of the year. That's a solid argument. Slight advantage: Cable companies. This moves the line another point and a half.


The cable companies have been fighting this battle for years. You might remember the fight over the Yankees' YES Network or the fight over the Mets' SportsNet New York. They've got a gameplan: They offer to put the channel on a special "sports tier" of programming for which subscribers may pay extra if they choose. This way the people who subscribe to cable for the Food Network or MTV or HBO don't have to pay extra for sports they're not going to watch. On the other side of the boardroom is Steve Bornstein. He used to run ESPN, so he knows how important sports are to people like you and me. He'll use the time-tested strategy pioneered by George Steinbrenner and the YES lawyers - people really care about watching this stuff, so you better give it to them. That tactic works if viewers can't see 90% of a team's games over six months of a baseball season, but I'm not sure it'll work for a random slate of eight NFL games. Slight advantage: Cable companies. The line moves one more point.

The Mob

I'm not referring to the Gambino crime family or point-shaving, though the pun was intended. I mean the dirty, unwashed public, otherwise known as the millions of television viewers who pay the subscriber fees keeping cable companies in business. The great unknown is how much of a stink people like us will make. When Cablevision refused to carry the Mets' regional network, SNY, so many Mets fans complained that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg inserted himself into the negotiation and the parties eventually reached a compromise. There's precedent for public opinion working hard against the cable companies, especially since each cable company is a monopoly in its viewing area. Advantage: NFL Network, but it's not the lock that you had with local baseball teams. My guess is that there's enough football on free tv and ESPN this time of year that those eight NFL games might not be missed. Move the line three points the other way.

Check my math, but totaling the above puts the cable companies as 2.5-point favorites going into this last week. I think you'll get the chance to watch the NFL Network games, but you'll probably have to pay for the special sports tier. Hell, Cablevision doesn't even offer ESPN2-HD on basic digital cable, so I don't see Cablevision handing the NFL Network a coveted basic cable spot. At least the NFL can rest assured that they can keep running their float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Daisuke Matsuzaka is a Nissan Skyline GT-R

Everyone seems blown away by the fact that the Red Sox just bid $51 million for the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with Japanese superstar pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Setting aside the question of how good he's going to be, let me explain why the new Boston hurler is merely a metaphor for the fine ride to the left, the 2008 Nissan Skyline GT-R.

It's only been available in Japan.

We Americans have trouble looking past our borders (unless we're at war or trying to build a fence to keep out Mexicans). Imagine if Ferraris weren't sold in the U.S. They might have the same cachet and name recognition, but I doubt it. The Skyline GT-R has only been sold as a right-hand drive model, so it's never made its way over here. Matsuzaka has pitched his entire career in the Japanese Pacific League, that country's equivalent of our MLB. (He never pitched in the minor leagues.) So you hadn't heard of Matsuzaka before ESPN started hyping him. That doesn't mean he didn't exist.

The statistics are undeniable.

Over the last four years, Matsuzaka's put up numbers in the Pacific League that compare to the 2003-2006 version of Roger Clemens, the 2004 NL Cy Young winner and 2005 ERA champ (1.87!). The Skyline GT-R will have a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V6 driving the rear wheels and a suspension tuned by Lotus. That's about 100 more horses than the BMW 650i.

It's been around a really long time.

Even though it's never been brought to American shores, the Skyline GT-R has actually been around since 1969. That's not as old as the Corvette, which debuted in 1953, but it's only five years younger than the Mustang, a car Ford just redesigned with retro styling cues. Matsuzaka has been a national hero in Japan since 1998, when he threw 250 pitches to notch the win in a quarterfinal game of the Japanese high school baseball tournament (think March Madness, now mulitply national interest by 17). In the semi, Matsuzaka played the outfield but got a save. In the final, he threw a freakin' no-hitter. The next year, he won the rookie of the year as a 19-year-old in the Japanese major leagues. Dwight Gooden was 20 when he won the NL award in 1985.

It opens up an entirely new market.

Sure, the Red Sox need a quality starter after their 2006 rotation of Schilling, Beckett, Clement, Wakefield and Wells didn't work out. Of course, Boston's ultrahigh bid was designed to fend off the Yankees. But more than anything else, this deal is about generating Japanese interest in the Red Sox. Of course there are stadium advertisements in the Bronx and Seattle, where Hideki Matsui and Ichiro! play, respectively. But have you noticed the Japanese ads in Toronto? The Yankees come through less than 20 times a year, but some company's paid to get its name in Skydome (or whatever they're calling it these days) just so it can be televised on the Yankee games broadcast back in Japan. Boston wants a piece of that, no doubt.

The same goes for the Skyline GT-R. Nissan sees an opportunity to get in on the luxury sport coupe market dominated by the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche. And note that the Skyline will be sold as a Nissan not an Infiniti (Nissan's upscale brand), as Nissan looks for a "halo car" to bring deeper pockets into its showrooms.

It's expensive, but worth it.

The MSRP on a z06 Corvette (the exclusive, high-powered version) is $70,000. Nissan plans to price the Skyline GT-R at $65,000. For those with the cash, the 2008 model will outperform the Z06 and a Porsche 911 Turbo while lending the exclusivity that an entirely new car can bring.

When the Sox sign Matsuzaka to the five-year, $75 million contract people expect Scott Boras to negotiate, the pitcher's total cost including the bid will be the same $25 million/year that everyone's favorite punching bag Alex Rodriguez makes with the Yankees. There's a reason A-Rod earned such a large contract: He was a Gold Glove-quality shortstop with unprecedented hitting skills (for the position) coming into his prime. Despite complaints about Rodriguez's lack of "clutchness," the numbers he's put up each year justify his high salary. Middle infielders - even if the Yankees play him at 3B - who hit 35+ home runs every year are not widely available. The Red Sox see Matsuzaka the same way. He's a Cy-Young quality pitcher just entering his prime, with the added bonus of a marketing gold mine to come.

Do I wish the Mets, who finished second with a bid of $39 to $40 million, had won Matsuzaka instead? Yes. Would I rather have a new Skyline GT-R parked in my garage? Yeah, I think I would.