Thursday, June 10, 2010

A real "playing field"

Ashley-Madison founder Noel Biderman sent a letter to the CEO at New Meadowlands -- obtained by TMZ -- declaring, "At this stage, we are prepared to make a preliminary offer ... of $25,000,000 for the Naming Rights for a five-year term." He adds, if the stadium gets better offers, "We would be pleased to match any such superior offer." The offer (which works out to $5 million a year) is pretty big, but it's still below the average for other stadium sponsorships -- Bank of America pays $7 million a year to sponsor the Carolina Panthers stadium and FedEx drops $7.6 a year on the Redskins stadium in D.C.
So, let's see if the gang at New Meadowlands is willing to sell naming rights to a web site that promotes infidelity. That's the real test, isn't it? To see if a professional sports franchise is honest enough to take money from a company that may not align itself with conventional thinking. Would they sell the naming rights to a company for less if that company promoted something that was in the mainstream, like cigarettes, big banking or big oil? Probably, but would that make the deal any more palatable? Probably not.
You see, sports likes to distance itself from certain things, like alcohol, even though they promote alcoholic beverages at every commercial break, and use the eraser phrase "Please drink responsibly." That makes it good, right? Suppose they decided to call it "Jesus Christ Memorial Stadium?" Would that offend anyone? Sure it would, but they wouldn't do that either.
On the home page of Ashley Madison's web site, they use the phrase "Life is short. Have an affair" as a way to sell their site to prospective customers. They say they are "The world's premier discreet dating service with over 6,190,000 members." For those of you who may not know, the word discreet, when used in that context, means that their users don't want anyone to know what they're doing - like their husbands or wives.
In fact, they gurarantee that you'll have an affair within 3 months if you sign up for the membership. If you don't, they will refund the $249 membership fee. Business must be booming, because they're offering millions to the Meadowlands stadium to put their name on the front of the building.
Of course, the Meadowlands people won't sell the naming rights to a company like Ashley Madison. They'd have a lot of questions to answer, and they don't like answering questions. After all, the porn industry makes about $10 billion a year, yet nobody would ever admit to watching a pornographic movie. People have affairs, yet none of them would ever tell anyone where they found somebody to hook up with.
That would be way too honest and above-board for anybody associated with professional sports to do. The same people who willingly participate in legalized ticket scalping, sports betting and promoting alcohol.
Why stop there?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Geez. First of all, thank you to the thirty of you who have taken the time to follow me on this little Internet voyage. If you feel like the rantings get tired, there are 4 years of stuff to search. Start going back over the things you missed since you joined me and you might think I was either (a) funnier or (b) the same as now, only older and more tired. Either way, It's been an interesting time, and I wonder where my pent-up rants would have wound up if it weren't for the Internet.
I haven't written much about the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Partly because I figure that you're already aware of it and partly because I'm at a loss to describe how I feel about it. I think I said that it would make the Exxon-Valdez look like "a Bounty commercial," but it goes beyond that now. The thing I can't figure out is how BP didn't have a plan for a pipeline break. As a driller and a major player in the oil industry, you'd think that they would have devoted at least part of their operations manual to "what to do when the pipe breaks." At least I would think that, but I suppose guys making millions of dollars a year don't have to concern themselves with such mundane problems when they can just point their fingers at someone else.
Some of the nation's largest and most elite universities stand to gain millions of dollars from selling the names and addresses of students and alumni to credit card companies while granting the companies special access to school events, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund has found.
The schools and their alumni associations are entitled to receive payments that multiply as students use their cards. Some colleges can receive bonuses when students incur debt.
When I was in college, I remember seeing credit card applications plastered on the bulletin boards at gathering places, and I wondered, "How can these kids afford a credit card, and how can they even get one when some of them have no income?" How naive I was. What I failed to realize was that the very people who were providing me with an education were also profiting from the banks who issued the cards to their students. As though it wasn't enough to rape them for $50,000 a year for tuition, they had to include credit card fees into the equation.
For granting such access and information, schools can receive royalty payments based on the number of students opening accounts and the amount they spend, the contracts show. Most of the schools are entitled to earn more whenever a student carries a balance from year to year. Some consumer advocates question whether colleges participating in affinity agreements are failing to safeguard the young people in their care.
"Universities should place the welfare of their students as their highest priority and shouldn't sell them off for profit," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG.
Obviously, it isn't enough to make kids and their parents pay through the nose for an education. Some colleges (mine probably included) think that it is necessary to profit from debt as well. Shame. That doesn't discourage the banks from rationalizing their actions...
The contracts call for a range of minimum payments by banks. At Brown, Bank of America agreed in 2006 to pay $2.3 million over seven years. At Michigan, the bank in 2003 agreed to pay $25.5 million over 11 years. The bank says it's not taking advantage of students; it's amassing new customers whose loyalties can span a decade or more.
"Our objective in serving the student market is to create the foundation for a long-term banking relationship," Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess said in an email, adding that the bank offers reasonable rates and low credit limits on student cards, and that it primarily solicits graduates and sports fans.
Of course, they're not taking advantage of students. They are merely acquainting them (or educating them, in college parlance) in the ways of the world. If they can't learn from mounting debt, what can they learn from?
The University of Michigan alumni association, facing growing scrutiny from consumer groups, says it reached an agreement with Bank of America to stop marketing to students in early 2008. Jerry Sigler, chief financial officer of the alumni association, said he made the decision begrudgingly.
"Managing credit is as much a part of education and maturation as anything else going on campus," he said. "Credit isn't bad, it's a reality."
The benefits are not always so obvious for students whose families already face soaring tuition costs and hefty loan payments. College seniors graduated in 2008 with average credit card debt of more than $4,100, up from $2,900 four years earlier, according to data compiled by student lending company Sallie Mae.
Well, at least the alumni association (emphasis on the "ass") has the students' best interests at heart, right? Sure, only after "growing scrutiny." There's a life lesson for you kids. And managing credit is a part of maturing, until it becomes too big to manage, which is where Bank of America and their cronies figure in. Books are expensive, so why not CHARGE it? At 20% interest, you'll learn quickly how to manage credit.
From a bank's perspective, students represent an important demographic: Not only do many first-time cardholders hunger for credit; they are likely to stay customers for quite some time - up to 15 years, according to a 2005 study by Ohio State University researchers.
"Student credit cards are hugely important to a bank," said Kerry Policy Groth, who negotiated collegiate affinity agreements as an MBNA account executive from 1998 to 2005. "Your first credit card is usually the one you keep."
It's the one you keep because it's the one you can never pay off. Never look at anything from a bank's perspective. It makes you cross eyed.
"Building a future customer--that was really the goal" of affinity agreements, said former MBNA executive Groth. "You're not out to gouge them; you want a positive experience."
But if you do gouge them, you're not going to feel badly about it, are you? After all, you're building a future customer - for the next 50 years until the debt is paid off. Thanks for doing us all a favor, you blood-sucking bastards.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The glamour of misery.

Site of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, seen from just in front of the monument off Hurd Road in Bethel, NY. (Photo by me)
I was almost 12 years old in August of 1969. My recollection of the Woodstock music festival is enhanced by television and movies, and I'm not sure how much I remember and how much I learned over the years. I had a nice record collection as a kid, but almost none of the artists who appeared at Woodstock. The music of my childhood was limited to what was played on Top 40 radio, and almost none of the music of Woodstock was Top 40 stuff.
I was in Saratoga Springs, New York for a Dave Matthews concert over the weekend. The return included a side trip to Bethel, the site of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. The town of Woodstock is about an hour away, but it's too boring to tell you why it was called Woodstock. Just go with it.
The photo above shows the site of the concert. The stage was where the gravel area is to the left, and the hoards of people stood on the grass area to the right, up the hill. Beyond that is the site of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is a fancy name for an amphitheater. Inside the Center is the Woodstock museum, which is a fancy name for something that makes money off history.
The Center and amphitheater are fairly new. The museum was built 2 years ago, and the amphitheater about 5 years ago. It's a beautiful place, but it's difficult to get to. Although not nearly as difficult as it was 41 years ago when nearly a half-million people descended on this little town (population 2,700 in 1969) to spend three days taking drugs and listening to music.
The organizers expected about 150,000 so to say they underestimated is an understatement. In addition to running out of food, they didn't have nearly enough toilets; it rained like Hell twice; the New York Thruway was closed, (trapping travelers on the road and causing even more potential attendees to turn around) the locals were stuck in their houses for three days, cars were parked all over the streets and after the concert the field was stewn with trash. Otherwise, it was a great weekend. Some of the music was great, but most of it was poorly performed, and the artists who went on at night could not be seen because of the lack of lighting and occasional power outages.
All of those things are dulled by time, and the subsequent film made it seem like an adventure, which I suppose it was. Take yourself back 41 years and leave your cell phone, WiFi Internet connection and e-mail at home. It seems charming in the hindsight of history, but many of those who were there were miserable. Imagine if the promoters hadn't filmed the concert (which they almost didn't) or recorded the music for posterity. All we would have are faded memories and the healing power of time. Fortunately for the folks who still own the production rights, they did film it and record the music, otherwise how would anyone continue to make money off it?
We like to look back on misery and glamorize it. The 1960s were violent and politically turbulent times. What we like even more is trying to duplicate something and make money off it. Subsequent festivals (Altamont comes to mind) tried but failed to revive the feeling. But we quickly learn that feelings cannot be revived, and sometimes, things that happen once do so for a reason, and the serendipity of the event is its charm.
Movie sequels are often grim reminders of how good the original was, reunited bands make us long for our youth and television programs often last longer than they should because people want to milk money out of something that was once good - or something historic that we remember differently than the actual experience. That's part of the odd experience of places like the Holocaust Museum, war memorials, battle sites and those bouquets and crosses people put on the side of the road where a loved one died in an automobile crash. We're funny with the way we remember misery.
Perhaps more of our historical sites and commemorative places glorify misery than happiness. That's strange, isn't it?