ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
Let me say first we were inconvenienced, not devastated directly by Sandy. I had many friends who have suffered for days, at least one who lost everything and many more who went without heat, hot water and many possessions for days. I have friends who may have lost houses but don’t know yet, one who had a seawall push into his porch and somehow kept the flood waters OUT of his house. Another whose family owns a popular shore area pizzeria who had some damage but was far enough away from the rising waters to open their doors again soon. Amidst all that damage to homes is the damage to schools, elementary, middle and high schools, as well as the toll that the ongoing cleanup has taken on the students, not just over the next few weeks but over the next year.
In that mix falls the end of the fall sports season, especially the high school football season, which will culminate next month at Met Life Stadium. In a year other than this, teams from across the state would be earnestly readying for the playoffs, with hopes of a state title playing through the heads of boosters, families, students, student-athletes and coaches. However the havoc that Sandy brought has created doubt for many. Should the rest of the season and the playoffs even happen this year? Should the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association take the lead of the New York City Marathon or the New York Urban league Football classic, both of which canceled their plans to play. Should States go away not just in football, but in soccer, field hockey, and cross country.
Kids who play sports in towns like Rumson and Fair Haven, Point Pleasant Beach and Manasquan, Toms River, Berkeley Township, Manahawkin, Sayreville, Ocean City, Cape May, and Little Falls all are coping with much bigger losses and challenges than they face on the athletic field. Should everyone focus on the rebuild and not worry about the logistics or the extra distractions of the games?
This weekend many football games will go on, a week that could have been quiet, making up those games lost or misplaced from last weekend. Many towns will use the games as a donation center, waiving the 50/50 raffle or the ticket price in exchange for donations of dollars and items for recovery from north to south. Players will pause and the games will be played. It will bring hopefully a welcome respite for some who have been deeply affected; especially the players and coaches at undefeated Point Pleasant, all of whom lost something and some lost everything during Sandy’s push ashore. In all likelihood, the Gulls will become the media flash point for what sports can do to heal a community.
Whether that is true or not, it is hoped that the play of the athletes, and the character of a team that spent days in the recovery effort for others, helps remind people that the giving shouldn’t and cannot end yet. Not anytime soon.
There are many who say that this is where play should end…not with playoffs but with the regular season. Give everyone a chance then get back to the bigger task at hand.
The NJSIAA will have trouble seeding teams, some say, because of the loss of games and fields and it will create an unfair advantage for some teams, and maybe cheat some schools out of a deserving playoff berth. Others argue that the quest for state titles helps lift a community, and a large turnout by fans for the finals at Met Life could send a loud message to those whose memories are waning that New Jersey is united and rebuilding. There are those that feel that not having the playoffs may somehow cheat deserving athletes from a shot at the memory of state supremacy, and could potentially have some student-athletes in the quest of scholarships lose an opportunity without other games for recruiters to evaluate them on.
It’s a very unusual year and a very unusual call to make for the NJSIAA. I don’t know all the logistical issues, and certainly can understand that there are political ones. Does the mental toll of not playing create more ill will than going on with the system as it is? Will the system ever return to normalcy and wont the same problems also exist for when winter sports start for those kids and the families that are still facing a huge climb back, if ever, to normalcy?
Maybe there is a way to have the games be a massive call to action to brands that benefit from youth participation, like fitness, apparel, energy products, equipment, to step up even more to chip in dollars and product needed in the recovery. Maybe there is a way to get the championship games more exposure via traditional and social media, with a call to fill the stadium with everyone coming who can making a donation that goes directly to relief.
Maybe it is a silly waste of time to play the games now and divert time and effort away from the relief. Maybe it should, on the week we decided an election, be not left to the NJSIAA. Maybe the athletes and their families should have a say.
We have lost a great deal as a state and a region the last few weeks. Athletics is supposed to be a slave in many ways from the everyday, a respite from the drudgery, games played with great passion by young people. They should not be a painful distraction.
It won’t be an easy choice to play or not. Not running the marathon was correct for many reasons. The Giants playing on Sunday was also the right choice for the region. Sports and after school activities help break the drudgery for young people and families who are struggling, you just hope that if they are played, the results for those in the stands are positive. No one needs any more losses.
If the games are played, here’s hoping people turn out in drives to support and share. If they are not, here’s hoping people spend that time they would have been at a game helping in some way in the rebuild. Somewhere down the line hopefully the talk will be just about the games and those who play, not the collateral damage that play or not play has created across the state and around the region.
Joe Favorito has over 24 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.