Sunday, November 29, 2009

100 Miles an Hour on a Dead End Road...

...I need a little Detroit in my soul.

You know what? I love Detroit. Detroit is one of my favorite cities, I love several things about it. I love it's backbone, I love it's faded excellence, and I love the role it played in building this country. Detroit is a real city, a city with a soul and although all the naked eye can see of Detroit is the torn, battered skin of a wounded city, there's much more to it than that. It's easy to take a dig at the Motor City, and many people do, but it's not really fair.

Over the last two weeks all you've had to do is pick up a sport page or view a sports blog from any nouveau riche city in America and see various writers having a laugh at Detroit's expense due to the sale of the one-time home of the city's hapless NFL team, the Pontiac Silverdome. It's true, houses in many cities sell for much more than that, but does it really matter? The stadium was costing a financially pummeled city -- and many cities are in that position -- over $1m per year in up-keep, without any use the city had no choice but to get shot of the place, and they did. Now, if the new owner's plans come to fruition, the stadium will be a benefit to the city's tax coffers. Though they should've gotten much, much more for the land alone, the mere existence of the stadium as a property of Pontiac was going to break the city.

The owner, Greek-Canadian real estate magnate Andreas Apostolopoulos, wants to bring a soccer team to the Silverdome, possibly an MLS team, possibly not, but I think putting a team in Detroit, or even Pontiac, is a good idea. A lot of people will scoff at that, and say Detroit is dead and putting a team there would do damage to any league that dared try it, but they'd be wrong. Detroit has a great history of supporting sports teams, even in hard times. I mean, the Lions still draw fans. Yes, they get blacked out occasionally, but the fact that the fans still show up for what is at most, an impotent team, is a testament to their dedication. Would that translate over to soccer? Maybe, maybe not. But you're more likely to find concrete support in a city like Detroit than you are in a city with a transient population that could well up-sticks in two years and be on the road to the next hot spot.

I hope a team in the new NASL ends up in Detroit, possibly even a revival of the Express. It doesn't look like Detroit is even on the radar for MLS, and the professional structure of the USL appears to be falling apart at the seems, so NASL is a good option for what is becoming a mid-sized city. The Silverdome needs some work before a professional team can move in, let's face it, the stadium has been around the block and it looks like the best days of the Silverdome are in the past, but it still has potential following a touch-up.

I realize that people will disagree, and some will inevitably bash Detroit. That's a given, and is somewhat understandable, it's bleak up in Detroit and with the noteworthy exception of Ford -- who, to their credit, seem to be putting their ship right -- the future of Detroit's motor industry looks bad, but Detroit is always going to be there, and it will always have a place in American culture. It didn't just spring up over night, and it won't go away in a day. There's a chance Detroit could turn it around, and if it does, Detroit is a city any American sports league should be in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mecklenburg County is a Massive Second Grade Class

Hough High School isn't going to work because someone is going to pronouce it "Ho High", and even then "Huff High" has drug connotations so it simply shouldn't be the name of the new High School in Northern Mecklenburg County, according to folks from Northern Mecklenburg County who just so happen to have the mental capacity of the average seven-year-old.

Yes, this is actually being debated at school board meetings, and it's become somewhat of a hot button issue. In fact, people are pretty much bitching non-stop about the school board. Now, don't get me wrong, there are reasons to bitch about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, it's a shoddy, inept organization that went from being a school system to a workforce development assembly line. But that's important. Screaming out that a new High School is going to have a silly name and then picking your nose and eating the booger isn't important, it's a waste of everyone's time.

W.A. Hough, Jr., for whom the school is set to be named, wasn't a whiner, he was an educator in the truest sense of the word, and much more than simply a Principal. Mr. Hough was instrumental in the integration of North Mecklenburg High School. To attempt to change a school named in his honor because of what amounts to nothing more than an immature bunch of self-important horse shit is both disrespectful to the man and what he accomplished, and disturbingly childish.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stadium for a Fiver - The Pontiac Silverdome

Wow. $538,000 for the Pontiac Silverdome, that's daylight robbery. Surely the very land it sits on -- about 130 acres -- is worth more than $538,000. But that's what it sold for, less than 1% of what it was constructed for between 1973 and 1975.

Most Americans know the Silverdome as the former home of the NFL's hapless Detroit Lions, nearly everyone turned on their television every Thanksgiving and saw the stadium in all it's, err, glory? It isn't really much, just a basic dome in line with so many others scattered about North America: Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome, BC Place in Vancouver, and Minneapolis' Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. All have been routinely criticized for lacking character, like so much architecture from the 70's and 80's, it was build for function and not always for form. With that said, the Silverdome has done it's job and has hosted some great events: A Super Bowl in 1982, World Cup matches in 1994 with the aid of a raised field and transplanted grass pitch, and of course WrestleMania III, which the WWE claims had an attendance of 93,173, although some dispute that number and say the actually attendance was closer to 73,000.

But getting back to my point, there are houses three streets away from me sitting on less than half-an-acre of land that sell for more than the Siverdome did, I know the City of Pontiac is severely despressed financially -- to the point where Michigan's Governor basically stripped civic officials of all power -- but to sell so much land for so little money is insane.

The Silverdome seats 80,300 people, which I believe is good for 22nd largest in the United States. It's a massive stadium, but it also carries a massive bill, upkeep of the aging behemoth is reported to be around $1.5 million per annum, which goes a good way as to explaining why Pontiac was so eager to get shot of it, but still, wow.

If possible, and recalling a piece I did for Pitch Invasion, run by the brilliant Tom Dunmore, I would look into making the Silverdome a "green" venue, along the lines of the World Games Stadium in Taiwan, or St-Jakob Park in Basel, Switzerland. The roof of the cavernous venue is vast and several solar panels could be installed on it, possibly saving a bundle in electricity, and if the upkeep for the stadium is as high as it's said to be, you need to be saving every penny possible.

The owners, who have yet to be revealed, have expressed a desire to have the stadium play host to a soccer team, possibly a new Major League Soccer franchise. I wrote about that here. If this is true, I certainly expect a reduction in capacity, because there isn't an ice cube's chance in Hell that they'll sell out the Silverdome for Major League Soccer, not right now.

Hopefully the new owner can find some use for the stadium, it's a shame to see it -- and more importantly the land it occupies -- go to waste. Seeing it sit idle like it has makes me think of Dixie Square Mall, in Harvey, Illinois...and that's not a good thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Did Google just powerbomb AT&T?

Today Google announced that it has purchased VOIP provider Gizmo5, which is similar to Skype except it's open-source. This could potentially position Google to offer phone service for next-to-nothing, and this should probably scare the likes of AT&T.

As everyone knows, as the internet goes, Google is a juggernaut and it can pretty much take whatever it wants. This is worrying to some people, but for the most part Google has been a good giant. AT&T on the other hand is one of the most arrogant corporations in the history of mankind, in the phone world AT&T could pretty much take whatever it wanted -- until the Droid, anyway -- and did, pretty much every chance it got. It's the only option for land-based phone service in some areas, and is very protective of it's territory.

Recently AT&T and Google have been in a pretty bitter war-of-words as to whether or not Google -- through Google Voice -- should be considered a "common carrier" of phone service, and thus subject to regulations. Google says it isn't, but that might change with the acquisition of Gizmo5. The two are also locking horns over the hot-button issue of Net Neutrality -- Google is possibly the issue's greatest champion. Needless to say, they don't care for each other, and it appears that AT&T's baboon-esque approach to the battle -- you know when baboons throw their own feces in a fit of rage, that's what AT&T was like recently -- may have seen the telecom giant poke the wrong bear, and it may well be about to get bit.

As longtime VOIP consultant Andy Abramson puts it, "If AT&T is Coca-Cola, Google is now 7-Up."

Meanwhile, AT&T is fighting another battle against one of it's own kind. Ma Bell 2.0 is furious at Verizon over their "there's a map for that" ad. AT&T says they have Edge (2.5g) coverage for places on the map that Verizon leaves blank. Of course, that's because it's a map of 3.0 coverage and it's kind of like saying you have an ATV for places your rival has a Jeep Wrangler. Yea, it works, but really?

But what's next for Google? I don't think they'll be slowing down soon. Maybe a partnership with Nintendo since Microsoft is keen to go head-to-head with Google? That'd be way too good.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When a giant falls - Curtains for FC Nippon?

Chances are, you don't know much about Tokyo Verdy FC, if you know anything about them.

Verdy was once Japan's foremost soccer club, a giant in a sea of minnows. Originally known as Yomiuri FC -- owned by the same company that owns baseball's wildly successful Yomiuri Giants, thirty-times Champions of the Central League -- Verdy was founded in 1969 -- thus it's old name: Tokyo Verdy 1969 -- and eventually ascending to the top of Japanese soccer, the Japan Soccer League First Division, in 1977 before winning their first trophy, the JSL Cup, in 1979. This success was the first of many for Yomiuri FC and inevitably spurred comparison's to the Giants causing Yomuiri to envision a soccer version of their famed baseball team, complete with top stars and massive crowds. Yomuiri took to boastfully calling the club "FC Nippon", Japan's team, in an effort to attract fans from every corner of the Land of the Rising Sun.

To a degree, it worked, eventually Yomuiri would claim continental glory in the form of the Asian Club Championship in 1987/88. Yomuiri's success would continue on into the '90's when the JFA decided to move away from corporate club and onto clubs with a more civic or provincial styling with the foundation of the J. League in 1992. Yomuiri became founder members of the new league under the name Verdy Kawasaki, a homage to their green uniforms and Kanagawa hometown. The first three editions of the J. League were extremely successful for Verdy as they claimed two championships and played before crowds of well over 20,000 each season. But that success would come to an abrupt end in 1996 as Verdy finished 7th of 16. The 1996 Emperor's Cup would prove to be Verdy's final triumph of the decade, and final trophy in Kawasaki.

In 2001, following a succession of poor seasons both on and off the pitch Verdy decided to decamp for Tokyo in an effort to tap into what they saw as an under-served market and to get farther away from the cluster of successful clubs, such as Yokohama Marinos and upstarts Kawasaki Frontale, which called Kanagawa home. The move backfired, spectacularly. By the time Verdy moved in Tokyo was already home to a J. League club, the beloved FC Tokyo, and FCT's fans wanted no part of Verdy and began to taunt the former giants with banners proclaiming their club as the "Real Tokyo FC". Verdy's crowds did improve from Kawasaki, but were still short of FC Tokyo's numbers. A continued lack of success on the field eventually drove fans away from Verdy, and to the Gas Men, who despite not being terribly successful had always been Tokyo's club.

FC Tokyo supporters before the Tokyo Derby. From: yken0109

In 2005, despite the best efforts of their lionhearted Brazilian Washington, Verdy were relegated. FC Nippon was facing away trips to the likes of Mito Hollyhock and Avispa Fukuoka. It was embarrassing for what was once considered footballing royalty in Japan, and even more embarrassing were the crowds that turned up at the Ajinomoto Stadium: 5,700. Following a mid-table finish, Verdy were able to claw their way back into the top flight as runners-up, back where they belonged, or so they hoped. 2008 saw an impotent Verdy relegated once again, and could have proved the final blow to an aging giant.

It has been reported that Verdy must come up with $6,000,000 by November 16th or the club will hit the wall as Nippon TV, who purchased the club from Yomiuri in the late 90's have attempted to rid themselves of the club.

It's not right to gloat at other's misery, but it's difficult to feel bad for Verdy as a club, though it's easy to feel sympathy for it's supporters. They didn't move the club, after all. With that said, there would be some poetic justice if Frontale, the pride and joy of Kawasaki, were to win their first title in Verdy's final season.