How long can sports survive its business side?

The NFL’s last domino for the time being has fallen. After the Chargers and Rams left St Louis and San Diego in favor of sharing the nation’s second largest media market and with the City of Oakland having clearly moved on (Mount Davis’ ROI proved pathetic after its PSL financing mechanism fell apart), the Raiders are now moving to Las Vegas. Each of these franchises left countless passionate, loyal fans behind for the promised riches of a larger market and a new stadium.

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I have been a pretty big sports fan for most of my life, but today I worry about the next generation of sports fans and the games themselves. At the end of the day, what are we rooting for? The players increasingly come and go. The owners are just some random billionaires. What’s left? The laundry? Personally, I root for the teams that I root for (Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors & San Francisco 49ers) largely out of the nostalgic connection to my childhood. I cannot wait to take Henry to his first Sacramento Kings game and expect I will develop more of a connection to the team as they become a part of Henry’s childhood.

I never cared that the Coliseum was looked down on by the league or minded sitting in the nose bleed seats. I have fond memories of sitting huddled under a blanket at chilly April night games with my family. I never cared that the Run T-M-C and later 90s Warriors teams were terrible defensively, I just enjoyed how much fun it was to watch all those points being score. The first NBA game I ever went to saw the Warriors and Nuggets combine for 320 points . What kid wouldn’t love that?

I have struggled to maintain my connection over the years as the A’s have continuously threatened to move away (made worse by my childhood hero facing steroidal disgrace). Would I still root for them? Would the laundry’s connection to my childhood be enough, even if they were no longer from my hometown? Probably not. So should they stay there perpetually despite the MLB choosing to relegate them to small-market status because of favorable territorial rights bestowed on the Giants? That’s a harder question to answer. The Las Vegas Raiders answered that forcefully, breaking the hearts of many longtime, loyal Oakland fans. The The Los Angeles Chargers and Rams broke their San Diego and St. Louis fans’ hearts just as callously over the last year.

Should we blame them, given the economics of the situation?

That’s a tough question to answer. But I will answer it this way: Professional sports, as a business, has always been built on the loyalty and irrational exuberance of a prideful, local fan base. That was a good business for many, many decades. It made a lot of people a lot of money, while bringing pride, joy and sometimes the most beautiful kind of suffering to their communities. Over the last two decades, though, professional sports have gotten a major taste of national TV dollars. With that taste, they have become addicted and are shifting their business model to ensure they get more and more. Loyalty matters less because they are cashing in when you are tuning in, no matter which team you root for. But there are two problems with that model (aside from any ethical questions):

First, the centralized national TV model is dying and ESPN is a big part of what is driving consumers to cut the cord. The technology on this is accelerating and the current model is unlikely to survive to the end of the next decade — it might not even survive this decade. Once we’ve shifted to an a la carte system, the NFL, etc will either have to put up a serious financial barrier to entry for fans, in order to generate TV revenue, or else figure something else out.

Second, if you cut the relationship between communities and their sports teams, you are going to stunt the development of future fans. My friends in Oakland and San Diego are not likely to teach their kids to love the Raiders or Chargers. Most of them will probably largely just forget the NFL exists. If you live in San Diego and can go to the Beach in November, why would you spend that time in front of a TV? I love football, but I love football because of the 49ers. If you cut off that relationship, football is meaningless to me. I couldn’t care less about college football. Why? It’s the same sport, that doesn’t make sense. Simple, I went to non-BCS colleges, so I have never developed a connection to and really could not care less how it plays out. If the A’s move from Oakland, Henry will never watch their games or likely any others. He will never grow up with a relationship to Major League Baseball and he’ll find something else to do with his time and money. He may not even grow up with a relationship to Minor League Baseball, given the Rivercats own lack of loyalty. I’m not sure if he’ll be better or worse off because of it, but I’m pretty sure MLB will lose out just like I’m pretty sure the NFL is losing out by alienating the 17th and 20th largest metropolitan areas in the country. But hey, Mark Davis, Art Spanos, and every other NFL owner, just got a little richer, so I guess the economics work out in the short run.

At least one NFL owner, Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins, seems to get it, in casting the lone ‘No’ vote, he said:

My position today was that we, as owners, and as a League, owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted. I want to wish Mark Davis and the Raiders organization the best in Las Vegas.

As he so often does, Jack Ohman succinctly cut to the heart of the issue:

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I have said it before and I will probably say it again, it is much too soon to meaningfully claim Sacramento’s new arena to be a financial success or failure. That said, I am glad that with the Kings’ new home locked in, my son will not have his little heart broken by the Kings leaving his hometown for at least the next several decades.

Of course, any readers now yearning for a simpler team in sports may wish to attend the State Library’s upcoming event, “Sacramento Baseball from the 1870s to the River Cats” on April 5th.

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Take a (Urban) Hike!

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Sacramento is one of the most walkable cities in California. In 2014, house selling and buying website Redfin named Sacramento one of the 12 cities where you can affordably live in a walkable community. Moreover, Sacramento has a strong commitment to walkability and adopted a Pedestrian Master Plan over a decade ago.

Why Take an Urban Hike?

I don’t need to tell you to “get your steps in”—you’re probably hearing that from your smartphone as you read this. Walking really does get you to your healthy New Year’s resolution fitness goals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one-third of Americans are obese, which can have serious health consequences. On average, the annual cost of medical care for a person with obesity is $1,429 higher than a person’s that maintains a normal weight. Walking is a simple way to get people to be more physically active. When people are “physically active [they] live longer and have a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers.”

Walking under Sacramento’s tree canopies also has health benefits. According to the Sacramento Tree Foundation, there are health benefits to urban forests, such as “lower crime rates, reduced stress, and increased social cohesion”. A recent study using data from the California Health Interest Survey concluded that people are healthier, primarily due to weight loss/obesity reduction and improved social cohesion, when living in neighborhoods with more tree cover.

Off the Beaten Path:  Urban Hike Suggestions

In addition to the health benefits, taking an urban hike is one of the best ways to get to know your Sacramento neighborhoods! (And yes, there’s much more to see than just Downtown Sacramento…) Our neighborhoods are wonderful communities, each with their own charms. Capitol Park, Old Sacramento, and Land Park are Capital City must-sees, but, chances are, you already take your visiting family and friends to these classic Sacramento sites. Below, I include suggestions for urban hikes that take you further into Sacramento’s neighborhoods and communities.

McKinley Park/East Sacramento/J Street

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The charming and vast McKinley Park sits just on the “other side” of the freeway from Midtown Sacramento. With its beautiful and newly renovated Rose Garden, large family and friends picnic sites, kids’ playground, open fields, tennis courts, and ~1 mile walking/running track, this is a great place to be physically active and simply spend an afternoon outside. While you’re there, you can feed the ducks and geese, visit the on-site library branch, or take a dip in the neighborhood pool. If you get thirsty, head over to Tiferet Coffee House at H and Alhambra Streets. After you’ve had your fill of McKinley Park, take a walk through the lovely East Sacramento neighborhoods with their early 1900s craftsman and brick houses. Walk up J Street for a beer at Bonn Lair, Czech food at La Trattoria Bohemia, tacos at Cielito Linda or Midtown Taqueria, or an amazing meal at Formoli’s.

Broadway/Oak Park

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Spend a whole day (maybe a weekend!) walking, eating, and drinking your way down Broadway. West of Highway 99, catch a movie and some dessert at Tower Theatre and Café; take your pick of tasty Thai food at Taste of Thai and Chada Thai; enjoy a beer at New Helvetia Brewing; and, sample one of Sacramento’s classic neighborhood ice cream parlors at Gunther’s. East of Highway 99, experience Oak Park’s thriving restaurant and business scene, which certainly reminds me of Portland’s Hawthorne and Alberta Districts. Pick up some coffee and refreshments at Old Soul, enjoy Mexican food at La Venadita, and take a break from your boutique shopping for a beer at Oak Park Brewery.

R Street Corridor/Midtown to Downtown

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Tree canopies and Victorian homes meet teeming urban food and shops in Midtown Sacramento. Sacramentans are well aware of J Street staples such as Tres Hermanas, Harlow’s, Centro, and Rick’s Dessert Diner and the Handle District’s (18th/19th and L Streets) incredible eats and drinks, including Mulvaney’s, Water Boy, Aioli’s, The Press Bistro, Zocalo, Devine (gelato!), the Rind, Paesano’s, Old Soul, Rubicon, Broderick’s, and many more.

However, the up and coming area of Midtown is further down the alphabet: R Street, extending into Downtown. Start at Fish Face at R and 11th streets in the Artists’ Lofts for delicious poke and fresh sushi handrolls, wander the shops and gallery near Fox and Goose across the street, take yourself into the Shady Lady for an afternoon cocktail at R and 14th, and wander over to woodsy Fremont Park, the square block in the center of an increasingly bustling corner of midtown at 15th and Q streets. Check the calendar to make sure that you catch one of the great outdoor community events at the Park (such as Chalk It Up) while you’re on your stroll. Enjoy dinner at Hot Italian, Magpie, or Orchid Thai and get after dinner coffee at either Insight or Naked Lounge.

Sutter’s Landing

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Take your favorite pet, your swimsuit, bocce ball set, and your walking shoes up to Sutter’s Landing (28th and C streets). Walk/bike/drive up across the levee on 28th street across the train tracks and suddenly find yourself in the middle of open land with river access. There’s a great dog park with stunning views of the Sacramento skyline (particularly at sunset); bocce ball courts; a skate park; and, a trail that takes you right up to the shores of the river (within 100 yards of the parking lot!). Grab your camera to take breathtaking river and railroad bridge shots as you walk along the river’s shores. It’s perfect for a quick dip to cool off during Sacramento’s scorching summers too.

So, what are your favorite urban hikes in Sacramento? Please let me know in the comments below!

Sacramento Needs a New Flag

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Sacramento, I love you. But it’s time we had a frank discussion about our flag.

It’s… well, ugly.

Behold:

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Sacramento’s flag reminds me of that type of inoffensive abstract art that is the go-to for corporate hallways. There is a lot to dislike here, from the lack of symmetry, the odd blobs in the corners, the unappealing color palette (and two different shades of blues?), to the Rorschach test of what’s being depicted.

And it’s not just me who hates our flag. The world does. In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association conducted an internet beauty pageant asking the public to grade the municipal flags of America’s 150 biggest cities. Sacramento’s scored a 4.97 out of 10. Not the worst of the bunch – get it together, Pocatello – but it’s still a failing grade.

Which is too bad, because a city’s flag can be a source of civic pride. If you go to Oakland, for example, you will see the city’s official logo – an Oak tree – everywhere. People actually tattoo the city’s tree on their arms. Like the Kings logo does for basketball fans, a city flag can help rally and unite its citizens and become a part of that city’s identity. But for a municipal flag to go from obscurity to mainstream it needs be appealing, instantly recognizable, and easily reproducible.

Sacramento’s flag is none of those things. But the good news is that while Sacramento is California’s oldest city, her flag is one of the state’s newest, and we have not shied away from rebranding in the past…

Meet the New Flag…

The history of our current flag dates back to 1989. In honor of Sacramento’s 150-year anniversary, the city council appropriated $25,000 for city celebrations, including $5,000 “for the design and fabrication of a new City Flag.” A team of five volunteer artists from the Art Directors and Artists Club of Sacramento set to the task, generating four options for council consideration. After nine months of design, public review, and debate, our city’s new banner was finally unveiled by Mayor Anne Rudin at the Radisson Hotel to top off the Sesquicentennial celebration.

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The four contenders.

As one flag expert delicately put it, Sacramento’s flag has a distinctly “modernistic design.” Or, as one internet wag put it, “Sacramento… what the f— is going on there?”

What is going on there, for those interested, is a potent bouillabaisse of symbolism. To wit:

“White represents the city’s virtue, strength, and bright future. The two blue sections represent the city’s rivers (the Sacramento and the American), green stands for the agricultural heritage, and the gold color represents the gold miners so important in the history of California and of Sacramento, the center of the Gold Country and the 1849 Gold Rush.”

…Better than the Old Flag.

But, as ugly as the present city flag is, it is orders of magnitude better than the third grade art project that was its predecessor. Behold again:

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Much like its clip art, the old flag has a colorful history. By 1964, Sacramento was one of the last major cities without an official flag. This gave E. A. Combatalade, the enterprising founder of the Sacramento Camellia Festival Association, a grand idea. He approached the city council about adopting an official flag to mark the city’s 125-year anniversary. (Sound familiar?) They agreed. Working with a flag manufacturer and an assistant editor at the Sacramento Bee, he designed a flag steeped in Sacramento’s 19th century heritage:

“Centered at the hoist is the C. P. Huntington locomotive, in profile toward the fly, commemorating Sacramento as the terminus of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. … Centered at the fly is a Pony Express rider on horseback, headed at full gallop toward the hoist, marking Sacramento’s role as the western terminus of the Pony Express. … In the lower center … is the state capitol dome, denoting Sacramento as the state’s capital. … [A]bove the dome is a bearded miner, kneeling by a stream, panning for gold, and symbolizing the discovery of gold in California.”

And what flower adorns the base of the capitol dome? Combatalade’s beloved Camellia – Sacramento’s official flower.

Can there be a good flag?

It turns out there is no law that municipal flags have to be unattractive. There’s actually an excellent TED talk on how to Make Local Flags Great Again.™ And, in fact, the good people at the Vexillogical Association have distilled down the designing of a smart local flag to five key principles:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism.
  3. Use two to three basic colors.
  4. No lettering or seals of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive.

Consider, for example, four city flags that beautifully illustrate these design principles:

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These are simple but memorable designs, using bold colors, that tell a story of what each city is about. The fleurs-de-lis on New Orleans’ flag is a nod to that city’s French heritage; Denver’s flag nestles the city below the Rocky Mountains; Chicago’s blue strips represents the two branches of the Chicago river and each star a major episode in the city’s history; and Phoenix … has a phoenix.

Third Time’s the Charm

The last two flags were adopted to celebrate Sacramento’s 125-year (1964) and 150-year (1989) anniversaries. Unfortunately, Sacramento’s 175-year anniversary (2014) has already passed – but that does not mean we should wait until the 200th to commission a new flag.

Sacramento in 2017 is a city undergoing a renaissance. The arts, culinary, and sports scenes are booming; downtown is metamorphosing into a landmark destination; and residents from all corners of the map are excited to live in and claim the city. Even outsiders are recognizing that – gasp!Sacramento is cool.

Let’s seize this electric moment, and give Sacramentans a banner to finally match our pride in our city.