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Peyton Manning is out as Colts starting QB for 2010 season, as announced in a press conference at Colts headquarters on 56th street. He will be replaced by Curtis Painter for the upcoming 2010 season. “The situation came down to funding” said Colts president Bill Polian. “We really like Peyton as a QB and he has done a fine job for us in the past, but Curtis has the ability to put together a more favorable funding package for the team.”
Manning’s on the field problems stem from issues with his off the field sponsor endorsements. Recently Mastercard announced that it is pulling the plug on its “priceless” campaign. Company spokesmen indicated that the new advertising campaign rolling out in 2010 was not a good fit for Peyton’s persona and Image.
Painter is supported by a financial commitment from the PEZ candy company. Boyle R Maker, the creator of the PEZ dispenser and owner of the company was quoted as saying “We really believe in Curtis and wanted to see another Purdue guy starting in the NFL.”
Commenting on the change at QB Colts Owner Jim Irsay was quoted as saying “I think this is a great day for the team and the league. PEZ is going to do some exciting cross merchandising featuring the Colts and their players. Right now at a factory in China PEZ has already started to create 376 million dispensers featuring Curtis wearing a Colts Helmet. That sort of sponsor activation is priceless and is a real boost for our league”
Colts fans rioting outside the 56th street team practice facility were visibly shaken, many vowing to never support or watch the Colts or the League again. “This sucks, we’ll never win again” screamed an angry Kevin Lee who brought with him a Bill Pollian effigy that he planned to douse with gasoline and burn.
Though controversial, the “Pay to Play” business model is nothing new in sport. It began in Auto racing decades ago and has since spread into all major league team sports. Proponents say it keeps teams and leagues on firmer financial footing, helping to increase the number of teams and games that each league can field or stage. Critics suggest that it distorts competitive balance ultimately creating weaker leagues that lack connection, buy in or support from their fans. They site lazy owners who simply want to push the responsibility of financing their ventures onto the athletes themselves.
Indianapolis’ other professional franchise completed their transition to a Pay to Play business model back in 2005 when their last merit player, Reggie Miller, retired. Larry Bird, team general manager for the Pacers acknowledged that the transition was a difficult one, but pointed out that today he believes his team is an outstanding study in sustainability and stability, pointing to a half filled arena and a sub 500 team record and as a model of success. “While it is true that we won more games and had more fans back in the nineties before we switched to a pay to play model, the truth is that we are more profitable now than we ever have been.
When asked what he thought of the team, fan in the stands, Robin Miller, was quoted as saying “I probably had more fun back in the 90’s when the team was good, but the tickets these days are really cheap. I really like the new outfits the Pacemeats are wearing” referring to the one piece thong bottomed costumes the dance team adopted this year at the request of fans.
Two NFL organizations that seem to buck the P2P trend and cling to their throw back “merit based” approach to team staffing are the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. Between them they have won 12 out of the last 10 Super Bowls. This season they have won their games by an average of 97 points per game. Dan Rooney, Steelers Owner pointed out “That we really have no problems finding sponsors or fans to support the team. A winner is an easy thing for these stakeholders to get behind and support.”
When asked if he thought that he would have as much success and such an easy time finding this support if the league had 32 merit based teams instead of two, Rooney stated “That’s not anything I have to worry about, the other teams are broke and will never have the funds to catch back up” Asked if he was concerned that while fan and sponsor support was strong for his team, support and ratings seemed to be dropping for league, Rooney was quoted as saying “As long as we beat those Damned Patriots I don’t care”
One owner not happy about the current situation is Dolphins owner George Antonson. The Dolphin franchise hosts the Super Bowl and has lamented the loss of prestige the game commanded as the P2P system has crept into the league. “It really bothered me last year watching the Superbowl when the Steelers beat the Bears 127 – 3. Look at the Bears Line up, a 97 pound nose tackle named Wi So Wee. Their Quarterback, Dunna Milko had never even played football until a week before the first game of the season”. Antonson has admitted the thought of taking action and creating a new league comprised of merit based teams, but acknowledged that a split in the sport would be “Suicidal”.
“There’s no easy fix to the situation” said George Phillips, Senior Professor of Football History at Nashville College of Sports Administration. “The owners took it pretty bad during the NFL/AFL split. They spent so much money keeping both leagues afloat, that they have to make the sport pay now. It’s no longer just an expensive hobby”
When asked what could improve the situation, Phillips offered, “Changes to the cost structure as mandated by the league would certainly help. Are $25K carbon fibre helmets really necessary? Perhaps, because safety should be valued, but things like Teflon uniforms that teams like the Steelers and Patriots use to gain an advantage could be mandated away. The League has postponed changes to shoulder pad specs so that the less well funded teams can delay having to purchase new ones. But this is all meaningless if the owners simply pocket the savings for themselves. These changes have to allow talented but marginally funded players into the league.”
Recently the P2P system has created strange migrations of players across leagues and sports. Based on demands from agents and sponsors, Colts Defensive End Dwight Freeney has recently begun playing Hockey part time during the football offseason. Freeney who will play the Defenseman position with the Toledo Storm of the ECHL was quoted as saying “It really is no different, I just have to hit people hard. The shoes are a little different, cleats vs skates but I am sure I will adapt quickly”.
Another example of sponsor based player migration occurred when Wrangler became the Official casual wear supplier to the League. In signing the deal, Wrangler planned to build its marketing campaign around fan favorite Brett Favre, only to have Favre’s Packers team pull the plug on him when Aaron Rogers offered a better financial package to the team. The league was left in the situation of finding an owner willing to play Favre at QB for the 2008 season or elicit the ire from their new sponsor. Wrangler has since become the official league sponsor and has supported Farve financially to find a home with the Vikings for the 2009 season.
Perhaps the players affected by the P2P system the most, are young, up and coming players such as MIT All American Quarterback RJ Brandehild. Brandehild, who many league scouts acknowledge as the best QB prospect since Manning came out 12 years ago, is having a hard time finding a home in the NFL. He has not been able to put together a financial package to obtain a starting QB position in the NFL.
Brandehild’s struggles have not gone unnoticed by the NFL fanbase. Season Ticket holder and DirectTV League Pass purchaser Jeff Iannicci commented, “What’s the point of even having a college game expecting the fans to support it if a player so superior to his rivals can’t make the jump to the big leagues. It makes me question my support for the league in general.”
People everywhere have pitched in to help Brandehild out, John Pemberton, a third grader at Robert Moorehead elementary on the Indianapolis east side has given up drinking milk with his lunches and now saves his milk token money for the RJ4QB fund he has started. So far he and his classmates have saved $87.36 to support RJ. Pemberton was quoted as saying “We think RJ is cool!”
Brandehild admitted his frustration “Sure it sucks, but what can I do? I complain too loudly and I will be blackballed by the team owners”. For now, “Unless the stars align” Brandehild plans to keep sharp by playing in a semi pro league organized at the local YMCA.
As for Manning, what does his future hold? “I’m not sure. I can take my Sony endorsement and get the back up position with the Lions. We are working on something a little better, we are waiting on a final decision from a sponsor that might get us the starting position at the Bills”.