Monday, April 26, 2010, 4/26/2010 02:10:00 PM

Interesting Piece on the Trade Secrets of Sports: Fans Want to Know How The Winners Win

By Todd

Ryan Thies has an interesting thesis: NASCAR is governed by such secrecy the fans don't really know why their favorite driver is so successful or so unsuccessful. Here's the key arguments in his piece:

"NASCAR more than any other sport is shrouded in secrecy. How is Jimmie Johnson so dominant? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve watched every race and I can tell you that the 48 pit crew is one of the most mistake-free, I can tell you that Jimmie himself has an almost supernatural ability to avoid big wrecks, and I can tell you that Chad Knaus, his crew chief, is very good. The first two I know because I watch, the last one I know because of the box scores. Because I honestly can’t tell you what Knaus does. Even as the semi-star of “24/7” I still can’t tell you what he does. I know he wins, but I don’t know how.

In fact the 48 team shares a garage with Jeff Gordon’s team. They have the same car for all intents and purposes. Yet there are a great many races when one runs well and the other doesn’t. Why? Why are there aerospace engineers that leave Boeing to join NASCAR? Why does it take 30 people to design a car setup when NASCAR has tried to make them as uniform as possible?

I know that there is more to this sport than right-turns. These cars are a chess game...if you weren’t allowed to see the pieces move.

When HBO does their “Hard Knocks” series with the Jets this Summer it will be riveting. The Jets offseason additions mixed with Rex Ryan’s propensity for honesty will ensure that. But it won’t just be Braylon Edwards’ dropping passes, LT sulking, Antonio Cromartie impregnating women, Santonio Holmes doing drugs, and Mark Sanchez being poised. It will show us, at home, the real way the team is run. We will see special teams practices and coverage schemes that we will recognize again during the regular season; it will show us offensive plans (will they continue to run 30 times a game or will they use their two potential Pro Bowl wide receivers more often?) I’m not asking to know what Sanchez’s audibles are going to be or what plays they’ll run most often in the red zone, but if I watch 4 hours of (heavily edited) practices I’m going to expect to learn something about their strategy. Signing up for reality TV is giving up secrecy (read: potential success) for publicity (read: money) and everyone knows that going in.
Similarly when HBO’s 24/7 covers boxing, I don’t expect a fighter to give up all his secrets. But I do expect to learn something and sometimes in hindsight I’ll realize that I learned more than I first thought. During Pacquiao/Hatton’s 24/7, HBO actually showed Hatton’s team watching the previous week’s episode. They claim they gained nothing out of it, and Hatton’s performance would back that up. But if you have an extra 2 minutes in your day, re-watch that fight. You’ll notice that Pacquiao’s knockout punch came on an uppercut-and-dodge. If you re-watch 24/7 you see Freddy Roach and Manny doing that move a thousand times. It’s not a move he had used in any previous fight, it’s not something that HBO or Roach pointed out during the series, but they had a strategy, it was practiced repeatedly in front of cameras, and it worked to perfection.

Just because you show it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to stop it. Football has shown that even if the other guys know what you’re going to do (and they know it because they have tens of hours of gametape to watch), you can still be successful if you execute.

The single best comparison for what NASCAR could gain out of this is to look at poker. Go back pre-Rounders, pre-WSOP-on-TV, and imagine the first time someone suggested to card-players that the TV cameras would record what cards they had. Obviously no one would see it live, but everyone could go back and see if you were bluffing. They could see for certain what you had and how you played it. Love the 7-10 off-suit? Everyone’s gonna hear about it. I honestly don’t know if the first person to suggest that got laughed at or beaten up, but surely everyone had to be scared of the concept right? Every trade secret, every little trick, shown for all the world to see? But imagine the game without it now.

Letting the viewer in is a way to get more viewers. Trade trade secrets for more success. Trade privacy for money. It’s what reality TV was built on."

The problem Mr. Thies doesn't recognize is that if NASCAR teams shared on TV how they do what they do - it certainly will deprive them of the advantage they currently have, if there is any, in that their competitors don't know what they do. But, admittedly, the losing teams want to know exactly what the winning teams are doing.


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