By Jens Odegaard on February 4th, 2009 • Sports, Life

Sports are as much a part of our lives as eating food or drinking water: the most popular sporting event in the U.S.--the Super Bowl--had a record 98.7 milllion people tune in laststadium.jpg Sunday; the NBA All-Star Game is next weekend; baseball spring training is just around the corner; and NASCAR is revving up this month (check out the Feb. cover story I wrote about NASCAR driver Marc Davis).  In other words, it's a perfect time for a sports stat blog.

Sports are a lot more than just a ball, some tires, or a little entertainment--they're businesses driven by fans and raking in cold, hard cash. According to The Harris Poll, the U.S.'s five favorite sports in 2008 were: pro football (31%), baseball (16%), college football (12%), auto racing (8%), and men's pro basketball (6%).  

The fan to cash correlation shook out like this:

But it's not only sports leagues that are raking in serious cash. Here's the list of the 2008 top ten most valuable teams in sports, according to forbes.com:

1. Manchester United (English Premier League soccer): $1.8 billion
2. Dallas Cowboys (NFL): $1.6 billion
3. Washington Redskins (NFL): $1.5 billion
4. New England Patriots (NFL): $1.32 billion
5. New York Yankees (MLB): $1.3 billion
6. Real Madrid (Spanish La Liga soccer): $1.29 billion
7. Arsenal (English Premier League soccer): $1.2 billion
8. New York Giants (NFL): $1.18 billion
9. New York Jets (NFL): $1.17 billion
10. Houston Texans (NFL): $1.17 billion

Sports is big business, and though the weak economy is affecting the sports industry, sports are typically recession-proof because of their entertainment value. So don't worry about your favorite franchise closing up shop any time soon.

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decaf.jpgAs a non-coffee drinker, I’ve always regarded java like I do Red Bull: you drink it for the effects, not the taste. That’s why I was surprised by Starbucks’ decision to limit their brewing of decaf coffee after noon. In an effort to cut costs, company bigwigs have stated that stores should only brew unleaded sludge on an as-needed basis.

This is part of Starbucks’ plan to save $400 million by September of this year. The plan also includes lowing waste by brewing smaller pots of coffee, eliminating 300 stores and 6,700 jobs. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is a good move, as they have already closed 600 stores since July.

This begs the question: Do decaf drinkers actually exist? And if you’re going to go without delicious caffeine, why pay $3.50?

–Cody

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By Cody Wetmore on January 26th, 2009

tailpipe.jpgPresident Obama has called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review applications from 14 states to increase emission and fuel efficiency standards on new automobiles. This stands in contrast to the previous administration, which stated in their rejection of the applications that it would set a confusing mixture of differing regulations from state to state. The auto industry also argued against these regulations, claiming they would reduce efficiency, forcing them to make multiple models of each vehicle.

California, which has proposed the strictest regulations, would reduce emissions from new cars by almost one third before 2016, four years before the national standard. This would require automakers to increase the mile per gallon average on new cars from 27 to 35.

Opponents think these new regulations would be too much for the struggling industry. General Motors, the U.S. auto company that last month received a $13.4 billion federal bailout, eliminated 2,000 jobs from its Ohio and Michigan plants today. While in the long term these new standards might help sales of U.S. vehicles, the short term costs to overhaul their plants might prove too much.

Do you think that these new rules are necessary? Do the long term gains outweigh the short term risk? Would an increase in fuel efficiency make American cars more appealing, or do you see this as too little too late?

–Cody

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chinese.jpg"Gung Hay Fat Choy!" to all of you. While you may not immediately know what that means, I'm going to assume you have an idea, given the title of this post. As a child I remember singing that chant over and over again–to the complete annoyance of my friends and family–and am now starting back up again. I just can't help it, it's really fun to say.

"Gung Hay Fat Choy" is a Cantonese New Year's greeting meaning "May you become prosperous." During the Chinese New Year elderly people and married couples often gift red envelopes filled with money to children and unmarried people, which is supposed to give them good luck for the rest of the year. You may want to pass that information on to mom and dad if you're low on funds.   

The Chinese New Year falls on Monday, January 26th (it changes every year, as it's based on a lunar calendar), and I'm happy to announce that this is my year–the year of the Ox! All you cool kids (including me and fellow brass blogger Jens) that were born in 1985, it's time to celebrate our fabulousness and bask in the glory that is sure to descend upon us this year.
dragon.jpg
Click here to find out what animal your birth date fell under.

According to Chinese astrology, Oxen are natural leaders, hardworking, ambitious and modest. I hate to toot my own horn, but I've definitely got the modest part down. However, it also says that we can be materialistic and narrow--minded, which doesn't sound quite as accurate.

Either way, there are a lot of interesting traditions that take place during the 15 days of New Year festivities (learn more about them here) as well as some great parties. Even if you feel like staying in, you can still celebrate by cooking a traditional Chinese New Year recipe.

 

The pictures are taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

3213193271_8e293908fb.jpgYesterday's inauguration has provided us with an abundance of material, so get ready for an extra stat-arific Wednesday.

The swearing in of our new president went down without a hitch--save for a slightly mangled oath (proof that even Obama can make an oratory misstep).

If you were not one of the estimated 1.8 million people in attendance at the inauguration on Tuesday, here are some stats to give you a better feeling of how it all went down:

  • Total cost: We're looking at some pretty big numbers here, with most estimates putting the final tab at around $160 million.
  • Safety first: That final number includes the cost of having more than 20,000 police officers, National Guard troops and Secret Service agents patrolling the area.
  • Swear words: The actual swearing-in ceremony should be considered a bargain, costing only $1.24 million.
  • Wait your turn: 5,000 port-a-potties stylishly lined the walkways between Capital Hill and the Lincoln Memorial, averaging out to 1 port-a-potty for every 360 people.
  • Party's over: Washington's trash trucks have already hauled away 90 tons of garbage left by revelers, with at least 40 more tons to go.

And there you have it. The presidential powers have transitioned and it's back to business as usual.

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By Cody Wetmore on January 19th, 2009

There’s nothing that’s actually dubious about the decline of the dollar, I just like alliteration. But it’s easy to see why our currency would become devalued, what with a near collapse of the financial industry averted by a massive creation of new money, giving us a record deficit. Basically, by dumping more money into the system already rocked by a financial crisis, we make all of our money worth less.

The value of the dollar is most commonly judged by the U. S. Dollar Index (USDX), which compares the value of the dollar to other currencies such as the Euro and the Yen. In recent years, the dollar’s value has fallen to record lows, but recently has had a slight rebound.

This decrease in the value of the dollar makes imported goods more expensive, as well as increases the cost of foreign travel. This can be problematic, as goods like electronics mainly come from other countries.

On the other hand, this devaluation could help our economy in the long run because it encourages foreign investment, and U.S. companies become more attractive to invest in, as any money spent will go further. Also, the U.S. will become a better place for foreigners to travel and dump off their exotic wealth (I’m looking at you, Baron Von Schmitckenvergendinkston.) In addition, domestic companies become more competitive, as their products will become cheaper to consumers here as well as abroad.

So, with the dollar at a historic low, a budget deficit topping $1 trillion, and the new administration proposing a new $825 billion stimulus plan, the dollar could potentially keep going down in the short term. However (fingers crossed), this radical measure could help everyone in the long run. And if it doesn’t, I’ll be forced to bust out more alliteration.

–Cody

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3040508093_50104084b2.jpg2009 is shaping up to be one record-breaker of a year. Not the good kind, mind you (see Most Tennis Balls Held in Mouth by a dog), but more of a depressing, wake-up-and-smell-the-prolonged-recession kind of record.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office, the federal budget deficit is estimated to reach $1.2 trillion in 2009. That figure more than doubles the previous record of $455 billion, set last year. And no, I'm pretty sure no one will be receiving any congratulatory medals.

That figure however, doesn't cover everything. Those deficit predications for 2009 do not include Obama's plan for a $775 billion stimulus package that would raise the country's deficit to more than $1.6 trillion if passed. For those of you who don't think in terms of dollars, or if your brain starts to convulse at the thought of high numbers, the 2009 deficit amounts to 8.3% of the United State's gross domestic product—the largest percentage since the end of WWII.

Yup, those are some pretty astounding statistics. My natural reaction is usually to panic, but instead, I feel a strange calm settling over me as I write this. No panic. Only passive acceptance. Maybe this is what they call the eye of the storm.

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The cruddy economy seems to be killing off businesses and jobs like they’re  going out of style. However, it seems to have zombified a service whose popularity peaked in the 1950s: the layaway plan.

When purchasing something on a layaway plan, the store holds the item while you pay it off in installments. After you pay off the balance, as well as a small fee, you’re allowed to take it home. This service enables people to make payments on an item without accruing the interest one would with a credit card. Plus, if you decide you can’t afford payments, you can get any money back you have paid toward the item, minus a small fee.

Many thought layaways were finished when Wal-Mart dropped the program in 2006. Until the recent crisis, Kmart was the only major retail chain that still used the plan. With many stores offering credit cards to anyone with a pulse, as well as the availability of credit in general, fiscal responsibility was thrown to the wayside in place of instant gratification.

But with the faltering economy, coupling a restriction of credit with a bleak economic horizon, layaways offer a way for stores and consumers to win (or at least not lose quite as much). Consumers win because they can make payments on items without having to take on debt, and stores win because they can actually sell merchandise in this slow economy.

Retailers like Burlington Coat Factory and TJ Maxx advertised layaway programs over the holiday season, but it is too early to know the extent to which consumers utilized the service. However, sites like elayaway.com have claimed their business has doubled compared to last year.

With the economy the way it is, are layaway programs something you would want to use, or is half the fun of making a big purchase getting it right away? What retailers would you like to see implement this program? Let me know.

–Cody

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By Cody Wetmore on January 7th, 2009 • Budgeting, Food, Music

Here at the brass|BLOG, we’ve featured a lot of sites and strategies to get stuff cheap. But there’s a difference between getting something because of a low price and getting something you really want. Yea verily, in these tough economic times it’s important to know the difference between being cheap and being frugal.

Cheap is when you get as much stuff for as little money as possible. That’s getting two Alvin and the Chipmunks CDs for $19. Sure, you get two CDs for the price of one, but it isn’t a really good value unless you like setting up some kind of freaky Chipmunk surround sound.

Frugal is waiting for something you really want and getting a good price. Like when I waited to buy a certain soccer video game (two levels of nerdy). Instead of buying on impulse when it first came out, I held off for a month until I found a good sale, taking $22 off. It’s something I really wanted and will get a lot of use out of, but I waited until I could get it at a good price.

This division is made most clear at discount grocery stores like our local Grocery Outlet. There is a lot of cheap stuff there, but it’s not all stuff you want. “Mature” produce may be cheap, but it’s probably disgusting. Instead, you can be picky and buy things that you would buy anyway, like delicious Chili Cheese Fritos for only $1.79.

So, what cheap or frugal purchases have you made lately? What purchases do you make more often?

–Cody

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3090392251_911be4dfaf.jpg2008 was a rough year on all of us. It seems that everyone is having trouble making ends meet, including cash-strapped cities and towns across America. So what are money--challenged local government agencies supposed do to boost their revenue?

The answer, apparently, is to increase the number of tickets they give out for traffic violations.

While that may not be a fair solution, it certainly proves itself to be an effective one. An article from MSN Money concludes what we've always suspected, that "tickets are often as much about revenue as safety." When the economy takes a dive, tickets invariably go on the rise. Cities and counties are stepping up their efforts to catch and fine speeders and other traffic violators in hopes of filling up holes in their budgets. If you're not careful you might be one of the unlucky charged with patching up those gaps.

Beyond the original cost of paying for a ticket, getting caught committing a traffic violation has other ramifications. Most notably (and annoyingly) is the effect it has on your insurance policy. Even if you've had a clean driving record for years, a single ticket can still drastically increase your insurance costs.

If saving money is on your New Year's list of resolutions (and c'mon, who didn't put that on there?), then make sure to keep a close eye on your speedometer. Being cautious and aware while driving not only helps prevent accidents but may save you some serious cash as well.

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