Five Takeaways From the 2018 World Cup

I’ve never been a soccer. I always thought it was boring, much too slowly paced for my attention span. However, over the past month I watched a significant amount of the World Cup. I had dabbled in watching previous World Cups, but this year’s version caught my attention. Here are five takeaways from the 2018 World Cup from a soccer novice.

  1. Kylian Mbappe is the most exciting player in the world: Before watching the World Cup, I had never heard of Mbappe. He’s a 19 year old phenom who scored 4 goals for France this tournament. I thought perhaps I would get caught up in the greatness of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but the teenager from France captured my attention more than either of him. He was fast with the ball, had moves that would juke defenders out of his shoes, and always seemed to be pushing France further into enemy territory. Oh yeah, and he was the second teenager to ever score a goal in the World Cup Final, putting him in an exclusive club with Pele. Mbappe is an incredibly fun player to watch, and it will fun to see how he grows.Kylian-Mbappe-716600
  2. The U.S. missing the Cup probably enhanced my enjoyment: The odds of me consuming this much of the World Cup with the U.S. national team making the tournament would be significantly lowered. While I would have watched the U.S. games intently, I doubt I would have become invested in any of the other games. The U.S. missing the World Cup allowed me to focus on other teams and other games. I consumed the World Cup as someone with no rooting interest, and it was great.
  3. Soccer is more physical than I thought: Soccer has a bad reputation for players’ exaggerating physical contact and flopping. While there is definitely plenty of players who will flop like a fish out of water when anyone touches them (looking at you, Neymar), players are allowed to be more physical than I thought. There’s plenty of jersey grabbing and pulling and slide tackles. I was shocked at the amount of contact that occurred without penalty. The floppers are annoying, and really give the rest of the sport a bad name.
  4. Fortnite celebrations are lame: France’s Antoine Griezmann won man of the match in France’s World Cup Final victory, but his goal celebrations get a thumbs down from me. On two separate occasions, Griezmann put an “L” on his forehead and danced around, mimicking an emote from the game Fortnite. The dance just looks incredibly stupid, and on top of that it seems awfully disrespectful. I’m not one to bash sports celebrations, but this is one that I wouldn’t mind being retired. antoine-griezmann-france_uv3rpypdt2ip1suxcovb6re54.jpg
  5. I’m ready for more: The 2018 World Cup was a lot of fun, and made me become a fan of soccer. While I probably won’t consistently watch the MLS, or start watching foreign leagues, I am much more open to the sport. Next time I’m bored, I might flip on a MLS match over watching Rocky IV for the millionth time. Between the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, I think I watched one soccer game. I fully expect that number to be exceeded just by the end of the year.
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A Look At Promotional Giveaways in the MLB

Who doesn’t love free stuff? Promotional giveaways are common in sports, especially in the MLB. Baseball teams are especially prone to promotional giveaways because of the long season (81 home games). Franchises turn to giveaways to increase attendance and excitement surrounding a team. It’s a win-win: fans get something for free and the team sees an increase in attendance, buzz, and goodwill.

Bobbleheads are one of the most common giveaways in sports. Usually, a bobblehead is simply a figurine of a current player, but teams are starting to get more and more creative. Some teams have embraced pop culture and mixed it with bobbleheads. For example, on May 4 the New York Yankees gave away a bobblehead of Aaron Judge dressed as a Jedi for Star Wars Day. In July, the Pittsburgh Pirates are giving out an Incredible Hulk bobblehead. Teams are also experimenting with new types of bobbleheads, earlier this season the Arizona Diamondbacks gave out a bobblehead that plays audio of Diamondbacks’ radio call from last postseason. The Minnesota Twins are putting out three separate bobbleheads of their outfielders that all can stand on their own, but with all three you can put them together to form a miniature outfield. Judge-jedi.jpg

But it isn’t just bobbleheads that teams are giving away. MLB teams are giving away all kinds of stuff. From hollowed out bats, to foam fingers, to rally towels, to hats, to… beard growing plants? The Red Sox gave away a statue of Craig Kimbrel where plants grow to form him beard. It’s like a sports version of a Chia Pet. The Miami Marlins are giving out pool floaties. The Seattle Mariners are giving out wine-stopper with Robinson Cano atop of it. In the world of baseball giveaways, things get a little weird.

‘Tis the season for free stuff at your local ballpark. It’s worth noting that minor league baseball teams also have promotional giveaways that are worth checking out. So go checkout a game and come back with a pennant, bobblehead, or maybe even a nutcracker.

A Tale of Two Series: The NBA and NHL Finals Are Strikingly Different

After two marathon playoff seasons, the NBA and NHL playoffs are both down to the final series. On one side of the coin the Golden State Warriors face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive NBA Finals. On the other side, the Washington Capitals are making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1998, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are the first NHL expansion team to make the Finals since 1968. The matchups in the NBA and NHL final series couldn’t get much different.

It’s hard not to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James. This is his eight consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It’s an amazing accomplishment. And no one can downplay how dominant the Warriors have been the past four seasons. But here we are, two impressive teams about to face off for the fourth straight year, and it is hard to get excited about it. Maybe because it is a forgone conclusion that the Warriors will send the Cavs packing in a short series. The Cavaliers are one of the biggest underdogs in NBA Finals’ history. Regardless, the fourth successive matchup between these two teams just feels anticlimactic. LeBron2.jpg

Skating on to the Stanley Cup Finals, there are all kinds of story lines. First, how about the fact that there is an expansion team in the final series? It may seem unfair to long suffering fanbases, and maybe the NHL expansion draft rules need changing, but this is an incredible story. This is a collection of rookies and guys not protected by their former teams, the fact that they have made it this far is amazing. Meanwhile, the Capitals are back in the chase for the championship after their last appearance 20 years ago. The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup. Alexander Ovechkin is one of the greatest players of all time, and the only multi-time MVP not to win the Stanley Cup. The list of intriguing topics in the Stanley Cup Finals goes on and on. knights

So here we are, two final series that could not be more different. The Cavaliers-Warriors IV is like Shrek Forever After: the first two series/films were great and then followed by a dud. Watching the fourth installment seems more like a chore than a pleasurable experience. On the other hand, Capitals-Knights is like Baby Driver: a new, exciting series/film that is bursting with energy. Even though my love for basketball is exponentially higher than my feelings toward hockey, the Stanley Cup Finals has me more excited than the NBA Finals for the first time ever.

Reinventing SportsCenter

I used to love SportsCenter. I would watch it everyday, using it as a tool to catch up on the highlights of games I missed, seeing the very best plays that sports had to offer. Sure, I had to sit through a segment of baseball highlights I didn’t really care for, but what other choice did I have? I wanted to see what was coming next, highlights from games that interested me. There weren’t a whole lot of options as far as sports highlights go, SportsCenter was the definitive place to get caught up on the world of sports. And then it wasn’t.

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Now, you can get the latest highlights just minutes after they happen on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Podcasts contain a much more detailed analysis than anything you can find on SportsCenter because of time constraints. The downfall of SporsCenter has been much discussed over the past few years, and ESPN has seemingly acknowledged it by tinkering with the format and offering a more condensed show on Snapchat.

The problem is, there really is not a point to tuning into SportsCenter right now. When you can find any highlight you want, minutes after it happens, without sitting through segments of other stuff you don’t really care about, the whole purpose of SportsCenter has been defeated. The shortened edition on Snapchat is a move in the right direction, but there are other things that can be done.

Right now, one of the biggest mobile apps is HQ, a live trivia game. HQ goes live twice a day, at 3 pm EST, and at 9 pm EST. The latter game gets over one million users playing against each other live. It is one big communal event, and you have to be there to experience it.

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Riffing off of the idea, why can’t SportsCenter do something similar? Get people engaged with the content and have one time a day where thousands stop what they are doing and tune into SportsCenter. That’s a lot easier said than done. Here’s my proposal: SportsCenter: Fan Edition. This program airs (both on television and via an ESPN app) once a day and features highlights that are narrated by fans.  Fans submit their own clips, and the best ones are played live on the show. Think of the young kids, aspiring broadcasters, YouTube personalities, and just overall huge sports fans that would love to narrate a sports clip on television. People would definitely tune in to see if their clip made the show. For people not interested in submitting their own content, they are still treated to a very diverse and different cast of voices. While Scott Van Pelt, Steve Levy, and Linda Cohn are all SportsCenter staples, SportsCenter: Fan Edition would be a drastically different show everyday because of the thousands of different fan submissions that can be used.

SportsCenter: Fan Edition may not have the broad appeal of something like HQ, but it encourages fan engagement. It also offers a unique experience from the traditional highlight show and a reason to tune in live. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a SportsCenter for a new generation.

Playoffs? These Aren’t the Timberwolves of the Past 13 Seasons

The rebuild has stretched for over a decade, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally ready for the big time. Okay, maybe not the big time big time, but it looks like the 13 season playoff drought is about to come to an end. We’re only a month into the NBA season, but the new look Wolves have the makings of a playoff team.

Let’s start with what separates this Wolves team from the teams of the past. First, the team has a bonafide star in Jimmy Butler. Andrew Wiggins is a great young player, and Karl-Anthony Towns is probably already a top 20 player in the league, but they are both young and inexperienced. Butler can score, pass, and defend well. He is the glue that holds the team together, without him, this Wolves team probably looks a lot like last year’s edition. Next, the Wolves actually have a capable bench. The bench has been atrocious for a long time, but this time around it is pretty serviceable. Jamaal Crawford is a great scorer off the bench, Nemanja Bjelica is leading the league in three point percentage, Tyus Jones is helping the ball move, and Gorgui Dieng is better suited coming off the bench. With the starters off of the floor, it’s nice to know that the bench isn’t going to completely choke give away a lead.

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Things aren’t perfect for the Wolves, though. Despite adding Butler and Taj Gibson in hopes of bolstering the team’s defense, it’s still pretty weak. There are stretches where all of the starters actually look interested in defending (looking at you, Towns) and are capable of giving a solid effort out there. Then there are times when that motivation isn’t there and they allow back to back buckets in transition. It’s frustrating, and definitely the biggest weakness of the team as a whole. Hopefully as the season progresses, the defense will improve some.

The Wolves are currently sitting at third place in the Western Conference with a record of 11-7. It’s still early in the season, but barring injury, this is a team that should absolutely make the playoffs. The energy around the Wolves is undeniable, and it’s been fun to see the enthused crowds showing up at Target Center, and those fans have been treated to a 6-2 home record. The season is still young, but the Wolves are for real.