Monday, April 16, 2007

AFL: Where Even the Owners are Better

Joseph Santoloquito has penned a mastery of Ars Apologia today on in a love note to the AFL, something which should be entered into marketing textbooks as an example of how to preserve value in the face of adversity.

The column gushes about Philadelphia Soul owner Jon Bon Jovi, full of passion for his beloved team, and starts with him willing them to prevail over the Georgia Force in their first game in the action-packed, don’t-miss-a-minute AFL season. By the way, have you purchased your AFL jerseys yet?

At one point a break goes against his team, and Bon Jovi responds with typical high-minded reserve: he flips off the referees. The gesture was caught by ESPN2 cameras, which broadcast it to the hundreds of family and friends of the players watching the game.

Santoloquito sets out to explain to us that that’s okay, because Bon Jovi “has a passion for the Arena League.” Bon Jovi has built up a model franchise, you see, the envy of the league, and we should expect him to be emotionally involved in the games. For his part, Bon Jovi later offered this explanation of his gesture:
"I didn't understand the ruling and [ESPN2 announcer Mike Greenberg] straightened it out for me after I flipped the bird. [Bergeron] did have possession. He did recover the ball. I reacted to something I didn't know the ruling of. The Georgia Force are a class act. I apologize for the middle finger thing. I didn't understand the rule. Simple as that. We'll be back next week."

Oh, well, that’s okay then. He flipped because he misunderstood the rule. It pretty much explains everything, doesn’t it? By this logic, Bon Jovi reserves the right to flip in the future. What sort of incidents warrant bird-flipping, in Bon Jovi’s estimation? Does he think the referees are purposefully trying to screw his team? As a reporter, Santoloquito doesn’t ask these question. I guess they didn’t occur to him.

We learn in this paean to Bon Jovi that he once bought his football team shoulder pads, he picked out the numbers for the cheerleaders, he cares for his team, and he’s got a fierce glare and wills his team to win. Read the article: I didn’t make any of those up.

Compare, if you will, this puff piece to the outcry against Michael Vick when he gave booing fans in Atlanta the same salute. Where was the explanation that Vick just wanted to win, was frustrated, was full of passion and vigor and just let fly without thinking? Not many places that I remember. I can’t fact-check, because the relevant articles have all disappeared into the ESPN server behind the “Insider” login, and I’m not an Insider. I did manage to find several articles ridiculing him, which I think is probably a more appropriate response. But I seem to remember one columnist (Woj? Hill?) criticizing him fiercely.

None of that from Santoloquito, who is wasting his talents writing about small-time miscreants like Jon Bon Jovi. He ought to be penning odes for truly vile characters, because he certainly shows a talent for it here.

I can’t imagine why the ESPN reaction would be so different to the two scenarios, but as chance would have it the Soul is also the same team that has Ron Jaworski, ESPN NFL analyst, as president. Also as chance would have it, the AFL is part owned by ESPN. And the AFL web page is currently playing host to webisodes about some Soul superfans as well, in another startling one-in-million stroke of luck. What a coincidence!

Santoloquito also makes sure to give us in passing the AFL Cavalcade of Stars. No, not the players, the owners:
While he is not the only famous face among the owners -- there's Tim McGraw in Nashville, John Elway in Denver, Mike Ditka in Chicago and Deion Sanders in Austin as well as NFL owners such as Jerry Jones (Dallas), Tom Benson (New Orleans), Bud Adams (Nashville) and Arthur Blank (Georgia) -- Bon Jovi undoubtably has the highest Q rating.
I suppose the referees should be honored to have been flipped off by the owner with the highest Q rating. Maybe they could make it part of the pregame show at every stadium, a forty-foot-tall Bon Jovi on the Jumbotron with the “Official’s Salute” right before the coin toss.

Look, I expect ESPN to be biased and to push hard to get the maximum return on their investment in the AFL. I would also expect them, with the resources of the ABC/Disney megalith behind them, to be just a little more subtle about it.