Monthly Archives: April 2011

TV Ratings for the NHL and NBA

This post is a bit of a momentous occasion for the Rally Cap – it’s the first post written in response to comments left on this blog and on our facebook page.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post detailing attendance figures for both the NHL and NBA.  This post prompted some feedback from readers mentioning that attendance only tells part of the story when it comes to a franchise’s business success.   Those readers were correct, most modern sports get a large portion of their revenue from HUGE television deals.  While I briefly covered television deals in a post about MLS back in March, the Rally Cap has yet to  explore television ratings.  Note: Since then, the NHL signed a new, massive (for them) television contract with Versus/NBC Sports.  The contract will average $200 million per year for 10 years.  While the NHL’s television contract does not come close to either of the other Big Four sports, this is a substantial step in the right direction for the league.

NBA local television ratings. Some of the statistics are pretty interesting. (Source: SportsBusiness Journal)

As with attendance figures, the SportsBusiness Journal is a great source for those interested in TV ratings (click for an explanation of what the ratings measures are) for teams around the NHL and NBA.  The April 18-24 issue of the SBJ has an article about television ratings in the NHL; the SBJ website posted a corresponding article on the NBA.   The numbers used are through April 11, which accounts for virtually the entire regular season (minus a game or two). The numbers presented in the SBJ article on NHL attendance are a bit incomplete.  While the NBA numbers are missing two teams (New Orleans and Toronto), the NHL numbers are missing the 6 Canadian teams (Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa).

Now to the interesting part – the numbers.

Things we learned:

Teams without competition do well – Some of the top performers are teams that are in one team markets (those that have either an NHL or NBA team, but not both).  The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA in local television ratings with an average 10.19 rating, which was almost double second place Utah (5.6). Pittsburgh led the NHL in local television ratings at 8.68, Buffalo was second with a 7.03, and the St. Louis Blues were a surprising fifth with a 3.07.  Clearly it helps being the only thing in town.

The Cavs fans don't miss LeBron. TV ratings and attendance were still strong despite James taking his talents to South Beach.

Cleveland doesn’t really miss LeBron – Despite the largest season-to-season drop in ratings (54%) in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers (another team from a one team market) were still 7th in the NBA in local ratings (3.93).  Combine the TV ratings with the attendance figures and it’s pretty clear that Cleveland loves their Cavs, King James or no King James.

New Jersey Hates its Teams – The Garden State just doesn’t support the Devils or the Nets, despite the fact that they are the only two teams that play in New Jersey that actually admit it.  The Nets played before the lowest average attendance in the NBA and had the lowest ratings in the NBA by a wide margin.  The Nets averaged a .29 rating, which is over three times lower than the Clippers (.99) who were next to last. The Devils just missed the bottom 5 in NHL TV ratings and attendance, posting a .47 rating and playing before under 15,000 fans per night.  The bright side for the Devils is that they posted better numbers than the Nets in both categories.

Atlanta Hates its Teams Too – The Hawks ranked 22nd in the NBA in attendance, drawing around 15,600 fans and are the only team in the playoffs to end up in the bottom 5 in average ratings at 1.17.  The Thrashers were second to last in local TV ratings in the NHL (.23) and played before an average of 13,400 fans.  Maybe a deep run in the playoffs, they already knocked off the Orlando Magic, will help the Hawks.  The only thing that will help the Trashers is moving somewhere cold.

Boston Loves its Teams – While New Jersey and Atlanta could care less about their NHL and NBA franchises, Boston is the only city to appear in the top 5 in local ratings for both the NBA and the NHL.  The Celtics averages a 4.73 ratings, while the Bruins pulled down a 3.12.  The cold New England winters have to help (what else are you going to do?), but most of the success comes from the fact that both teams were battling for the top spot in their conferences for most of the season.

Some Markets Like Hockey More than Basketball – One of the those markets is Washington, D.C.  Not exactly known for being a hotbed of hockey enthusiasm, the Capitals drew a 1.8 rating, while the Wizards drew a 1.15 (check out the article here).  As mentioned above, even though New Jersey hates its sports teams, the Devils outperformed the Nets.  Complete numbers for all teams were hard to come by, but based on previous years numbers Philadelpha loves the Flyers more than the Sixers and Minneapolis/St. Paul supports the Wild more than the Timberwolves.  I’m guessing the numbers might be different, but the outcome is still the same for both Philly and Minneapolis.

The NHL Needs to Give Up it Warm Weather Pipe Dream – As mentioned in my post on attendance, warm weather teams are not well supported.  Seven of the bottom ten teams in the NHL in attendance are located in the South or California.  Four of the bottom 5 NHL teams in the television ratings are in warm weather cities (the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers).  The only team in the bottom 5 of the NHL ratings not in a warm weather city are the Islanders.  It will be interesting to see if the NHL thinks about moving any of these teams now that they have their lucrative new TV contract.

The NBA Had a Good Year – Attendance was up for the NBA; television ratings too. According to the SportsBusiness Journal, “Overall, the local ratings story was a good one for the league. Fourteen of the 28 teams that SportsBusiness Journal obtained ratings on saw double-digit increases, including big market teams like the Los Angeles Clippers (up 130 percent on Prime Ticket), Chicago Bulls (up 91 percent on CSN Chicago) and New York Knicks (up 89 percent on MSG).”  ESPN reports that national numbers mirrored the increase in local numbers, “…[the NBA’s] three national TV partners all had their most viewers ever this season, topped by a 42 percent increase for TNT. ABC was up 38 percent and ESPN had a 28 percent jump, the league said Friday.”  Not bad for a league that might not have a season next year.

… And So Did the NHL - According the The Triangle Business Journal, citing information from the Sports Business Journal, the NHL on Versus saw a 19% increase in viewership and NBC saw a 3.9% increase.  Not earth shattering numbers, but moving in the right direction.

Next season the NHL could be presented with a unique opportunity – it could open the season (or play the entire season) without competition from the NBA.  If the NBA labor situation isn’t resolved, will the NHL benefit?

Disagree/agree/just have a something to say, leave a comment.

Champions League Semifinal Preview: Real Madrid – Barcelona

Yesterday, we previewed the Manchester United-Schalke match, if you missed it check it out. The second semifinal (April 27th at 2:45 Eastern) will be the 3rd edition of El Clásico in 11 days (the first match was a 1-1 draw at the Bernabéu , the 2nd a 1-0 Real Madrid victory in the Copa Del Rey final).

  Much has been written about this matchup, which is widely regarded as the best rivalry in world soccer, and maybe even in sports – apologies to Red Sox-Yankees, Dodgers-Giants, and Duke-North Carolina.  Real Madrid vs. Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals should be a treat.

The Champions League trophy has arrived in London ahead of the final. Hopefully, London mayor, Boris Johnson takes better care of this trophy than Sergio Ramos. (image from of UEFA.com)

Barcelona has been the best side in world soccer for the past several years and are looking for their 3rd title since 2006 (2006 and 2009).  Sure Inter won the Champions League last year, but Barcelona has been dominant in La Liga the past three seasons and won an unprecedented 6 trophies in the 2008-2009.  Currently, Barça sit 8 points clear of Real atop the La Liga table. Pep Guardiola‘s side, led by mighty-mite Lionel Messi, play some of the most attractive soccer in the world.  Messi has been brilliant this season, scoring 50 goals in all competitions.  It’s not out of the question that the diminutive Argentine could hit 60 this season.  While Messi gets all the praise, he isn’t alone.  Midfielders, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta have been superlative this season, and David Villa (21 goals in all competitions) has proved an excellent deputy to the reigning World Footballer of the Year.

It was originally thought that Iniesta might miss the first leg of the semifinals after deliberately provoking a yellow card in Barcelona’s first leg defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk. UEFA decided to forgo any further punishment.  This is a huge boost for Barça who would have certainly missed Iniesta’s creativeness in midfield.  While Iniesta will be available for the Catalan giants, Adriano will not.  The defender/midfielder is out for four weeks with a torn thigh muscle.

Update: In addition to Adriano, Maxwell has now been ruled out for the match.  Barcelona will be scrambling to patch together a back four.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carles Puyol play LB with either Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets play CB.  Busquets has played CB multiple times this season, and Mascherano turned in a fine performance in central defense in Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over Osasuna on Sunday.  Barcelona will need to find a defensive alignment that works in order to stop Real’s offense.

Real Madrid, who won their first Copa del Rey since 1993, against Barcelona earlier this week and looked excellent in their game against Valencia following their victory. Los Blancos are looking to make it to their first Champions League final since 2002 when they defeated Bayer Leverkusen. Real, who have played second fiddle to Barça for the past 3 or 4 seasons, attempted to address their short comings this summer with the signing of José Mourinho as manager.  While it appears the league will slip through the grasp of the Special One, the ultimate prize – the Champions League trophy – is still a possibility.

While Barça have Messi leading the way, Real have Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo leads Real with 42 goals and 12 assists in all competitions.  That output is bested only by Messi.  Gonzalo Higuaín (10 goals), Karim Benzema (21 goals) and Ángel Di María (9 goals, 13 assists) have provided extra spark for Mourinho’s side.  One player who will be missing from the side when they take the pitch in Madrid is German international Sami Khedira. Khedira, like Adriano, suffered a torn thigh muscle that could keep him off the pitch for the rest of the season.  At a minimum, he will miss the next several weeks.  The defensive midfielder will be missed, as he has featured in 8 of Madrid’s Champions League games.

Real Madrid and Barcelona face off for the 4th and 5th time this season for the right to play for the Champions League title.

Prediction: Despite Madrid having the momentum following their Copa del Rey victory, I expect Barcelona to advance to the final. The Special One will certainly have something up his sleeve when the two teams meet, keep in mind he led Inter to victory over the Catalans in last season’s semifinal, but Barcelona are just too good.  Expect home wins from both side, with Barça finding the extra goal needed to advance.  Also, as an American sports fan whose teams have befallen curses for their transgressions, I expect Real to pay the price for running over the Copa del Rey.

While the Champions League trophy has already arrived in London, we don’t know the teams that will walk out on the pitch at Wembley on May 28th.  The games on Tuesday and Wednesday should go a long way to providing us the answers.

Champions League Semifinal Preview: Manchester United – Schalke

For soccer fans, the end of April can be a melancholy time.  Domestic leagues around Europe are winding down, and the transfer window doesn’t open until July 1.  But, one thing that makes the end of April exciting is the culmination of the season long UEFA Champions League.

This year’s Champions League semifinals should offer some exciting soccer.  Three of the most well-known soccer clubs in the world are in the final 4, and there is a Cinderella team for all those fans who like cheering for the underdog.  What more could you ask for?  As an Arsenal fan, I suppose I could have asked for the Gunners to make it to the semis, but I’m just excited at the prospect of some good soccer.

Schalke, the surprise team of the season, look to continue their magical run against Manchester United.

The first match (April 26th at 2:45pm Eastern), will see this season’s surprise team, FC Schalke 04, take on one of the preeminent sides in Europe, Manchester United. While this match may not have the flash of the other semifinal, expect some good soccer.  It pits a side that has hit its scoring stride (Schalke outscored Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate in their quarterfinal meeting) against a side that has conceded just three goals in 10 Champions league games!

Schalke have been a classic example of a Jekyll and Hyde side this season.  Prior to sacking Felix Magath in March, die Königsblauen (the Royal Blues) were struggling in the Bundesliga and still sit just 10th.  While their domestic form left something to be desired, Schalke was simultaneously turning in strong performances in both the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) and the Champions League.  Since Ralf Rangnick‘s appointment it seems the German side has found some joy on the pitch.  Under Rangnick, who spent a spell as manager with Schalke in 2004-2005, Schalke have parlayed their form in cup competitions into better form in the Bundesliga (2 wins and a draw away to Werder Bremen).

While the team, as a whole, has underperformed, Raúl seems to have found the Fountain of Youth in Gelsenkirchen.  The Spaniard, a legend for Real Madrid, has scored 18 goals and assisted on 6 more in all competitions for Schalke this season.  Playing sidekick to Raúl, the Royal Blues boast Peruvian playmaker, Jefferson Farfán and Dutch forward, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Farfán has been a creative force throughout the Champions League and has tallied 4 goals in the competition (10 goals, 8 assists overall).  Huntelaar, hampered by injuries of late, he hasn’t played since the end of February, but could be back for the clash with the Red Devils.  His presence on the field (10 goals in all competitions) would certainly boost the Germans’ hopes.

On the other side of the pitch, Manchester United again find themselves the last English team standing.  The Red Devils will be looking to make it to their 3rd final in the last four seasons (winning in 2008 against Chelsea, and losing in 2009 to Barcelona).  The beginning of the season saw many pundits writing of Manchester United’s demise – the team was too old, Wayne Rooney had lost his form, the big money teams of Chelsea and Manchester City had bought too much talent.  It turns out rumors of their demise were greatly exaggerated.  Man U has lost just 3 games in the Premier League this season, and hasn’t lost in the Champions League.

Like Raúl, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar seem to have found the Fountain of Youth in Northwest England.  Both evergreens are having excellent seasons.  Giggs has 3 goals and 10 assists in 34 appearances this season, while van der Sar has 13 clean sheets in league play and 7 in the Champions League.  The Red Devils aren’t just getting contributions from their veterans.  Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández has been a revelation this season, scoring 11 times in the EPL and another 4 in the Champions League.  Nani has developed into one of the best wingers in the world (9 goals and 14 assists in the EPL this season), and Wayne Rooney has seem to have refound his form since his amazing bicycle kick goal.

This matchup would seem to favor Manchester United, but Man U does not have the best of luck with German teams in the Champions League.  Check out this post on the Red Devils’ history against Bundesliga teams. While past results are not indicative of future performance, you have to wonder if Schalke will find some magic.  With the first game taking place at Veltins-Arena, the Royal Blues will have every chance to take a lead heading into the 2nd leg.

Prediction: Manchester United advance, but don’t win as convincingly as most EPL fans might expect.  I see a draw or even a loss for the Red Devils in Germany, followed by a victory at Old Trafford.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m crazy?  Leave  a comment, and come back tomorrow for a preview of the second Champions League match – Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.


Blood Red Clay

Somewhere in Monte Carlo, Novak Djokovic is licking his chops.

The world No. 2  may not have played this year’s iteration of the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, but he won it anyway.  The ATP computer won’t show it, but the week in the Principality ended with a clear message, there’s blood in the water, or on the dirt, if you will.  The only question left: Is Djokovic ready to feed?

The spring hardcourt season ended with a refrain to which we’ve grown quite accustomed: “We will see what’s going on when we get to the clay, no?”  For the last six years, what’s gone on is an unprecedented streak of brilliance from World No. 1 Rafael Nadal that’s led to five triumphs at Roland Garros, his only loss in that span being a four set revolt in 2009 when he lost to his own tendonitis-plagued knees.

Monte Carlo, though no longer mandatory according to the ATP, has proven a harbinger of the dominance to come on the terre battue.  Six consecutive years, Nadal has come and seen off all challengers, thrice turning back the arguable “Greatest of All-Time” Federer at the final stage and last year all but humiliating his compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-0, 6-1.

This year the story is a bit different.  Federer is now 3rd in the rankings and losing ground.  Instead of the preordained final tilt with Nadal, Federer fell meekly to Jurgen Melzer, a player whose lunch Federer used to eat with nary a thought.  It was Federer’s first career loss to Melzer, a solid Austrian who shook off the journeyman tag with a career defining run to the top 10 over the past year or so.

How does a player stay at the top of the rankings?  Very simply, they beat the players they’re supposed to beat.  Frankly, it’s Andy Roddick’s specialty.  Melzer falls directly into this category.  These are the matches Federer needs to win to stay in shouting distance of the top two.  In short, he’s not winning them anymore.  Federer’s 285 weeks at No. 1 ended on last year’s clay court swing.  His time of contending for the post may have ended at the beginning of this year’s.

Federer has often spoke of his love of the game keeping him on tour even once Nadal had dethroned him at the top.  Now though, it’s not just the polite young man who had served as the Mighty Fed’s apprentice  encroaching on his territory, it’s the rank and file of the second tier.

Winning as many matches over a protracted period as Federer has builds deep reserves of confidence, but one suspects given his recent form that they are beginning to run dry.  Confidence’s brother-in-arms is pride, and pride is far harder to lose.  When you spend literally half of your career as the consensus favorite in virtually every match you play, how long can you keep your chin up suffering the indignity of having the weekends free for shopping?

That said, Nadal isn’t exactly exalting in Federer’s decline.  The Spaniard at his best plays a brutal game of chess disguised as tennis.  Although the knees aren’t taped that doesn’t mean the way Nadal plays isn’t taking its toll.  For as much as has been written about the Spaniard’s physicality, his greatest strength has always been mental.  Like Sharapova with a better forehand, but the same pre-serve hair tuck ritual, Nadal is icily cool, calculating, precise with his Babolat in hand.

Not so this year.

The inability to capture the Australian Open, the Rafa Slam and a measure of one upsmanship over his career rival and buddy Federer seems to have exacted a toll.  Much like with Federer though it’s primarily mental and driven by the same question.  What are they playing for?

When you’ve won it all, the only thing left is to lose.

Despite being at different points in their careers from an age perspective, Federer and Nadal’s resumes are equally gilded; their trophy cases gleam with all of the most spectacular hardware on offer; their bank accounts provide them a fair measure of financial security.  What’s there left to hunger after?  Both men need to ask themselves that question, especially the Spaniard.

Nadal played compatriot David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo final, a physical specimen himself and a dogged competitor.  Ferrer is not a man who gives away matches.  He may be beaten, but he rarely beats himself.  Nadal put on a tentative display, defending from behind the baseline, waiting for errors on rally balls and trying to take the legs of a man built like the shortest California redwood in history.  The explosive precision to which we’re accustomed was largely left inside his racquet bag today and frankly all week.  Nadal played not to lose, which is not often enough against a man, like Djokovic, who will go all out out to win.

Novak Djokovic sat out this week, but he appeared in the principality to practice, ostensibly to ensure he was abiding by the residency rules of the tax haven and as a specter of things yet to come.

Ultimately, Nadal inherited the King of Clay honorific from Borg and Vilas, not his more immediate dirt dog predecessors like Ferrero or Kuerten and as such it will not be surrendered over the course of an event or a season.  The throne however has begun to wobble.

Oh yes, Nadal won the match 6-4, 7-5 over Ferrer, he won his 7th Monte Carlo title, 19th Masters title and 44th ATP crown overall today, but you can’t help feeling it was a turning point.  Watching this match, you have to assume Novak Djokovic is smelling blood.  Whether Nadal and/or Federer can fend off the coming attack is the question.  By the time we leave Paris, we will have our answer.

Attendance in the NBA and NHL

While Cavs fans might feel betrayed by LeBron James, they have shown their support for the team despite a 19-63 record. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Beyond my interest in sports as fan, my interest in the business of sports has grown over the past several years.  One of the aspects of sports business that I find the most interesting are attendance figures for teams in the various leagues. I’m interested in the raw numbers, but also in what cause fluctuations from year to year or within seasons.  A helpful tool for my odd obsession with attendance figures is the SportsBusiness Journal’s Turnstile Tracker.  The SBJ, in its April 4-10 issue, published the latest Turnstile Tracker for the NBA and the NHL and some of the statistics were surprising.  Let’s take a look at the NBA first.

NBA – A couple of things jumped out at me as I was perusing the figures.  These numbers are through March 29, which accounts for between 35-38 of an NBA team’s 41 home games.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2nd in the NBA in overall attendance at 763,636 fans through 38 games (the Chicago Bulls are first by a wide margin – 803,874 fans through 37 games).  While the average (20,096) isn’t 100% of capacity (which is 20,562 for the Quicken Loans Arena), it’s still pretty impressive.  Cleveland wasn’t competitive this season, finishing just 19-63, and lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in the offseason. It’s almost like the fans in Cleveland came out to support the team as a way to stick it to LeBron.  Impressively, 24 home games counted at the time of publication, were played before an arena holding 98% or more of capacity.  The only other teams – the Boston Celtics, Chicago, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Utah Jazz,  to match that are in the playoffs or in Utah’s case are the only thing in town (no offense to Real Salt Lake who don’t play for most of the NBA season). Several playoff teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks – couldn’t match Cleveland’s support.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers played the most games (25 out of 35) in front of crowds that were less than 75% of capacity.  This surprises me.  The 76ers got off to a rough start, but were competitive throughout the season and made the playoffs.  On average only 70.8% of the seats in the arena were filled on any given night.  It’s pretty clear that the Sixers have slipped to #4, and maybe even #5 behind the Philadelphia Union, in the pecking order of Philadelphia sports.

3. Only two teams (the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers) played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans.  New Jersey played a game before just 8,866 fans, and Indiana played before 9,466.  An interesting fact about the Nets – despite playing before the lowest crowd in the NBA this season, the team has enjoyed an 8.6% increase in attendance from last year.

4. Overall, the NBA has seen a 1% increase in attendance vs. last season and is playing before arenas filled to 90.1% of capacity.

It seems like a lot of fans will be missing the NBA if the current labor situation does not get resolved before the start of next season.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 and the possibility of a lockout looks more and more likely. That said, there are clearly a couple of markets that probably wouldn’t miss the hardwood too much if the 2011-2012 season if the NBA shortens or cancels its season.

NHL – The NHL, more than the NBA, relies on putting fans in the seats to pay the bills, and is having a pretty good year overall.  The numbers cited below account for between 37-40 of the NHL’s 41 home games. Some interesting numbers:

1. The NHL is averaging only a couple hundred fewer fans per game than the NBA – 17,071 for the NHL to the NBA’s 17,262.  Not bad for a sport that is a distant 4th in the pantheon of American sports.

2. While it might have seemed sad that the Nets and Pacers played before fewer than 10,000 fans, they have nothing on the NHL.  The New York Islanders played a game at Nassau Coliseum in front of just 3,136 fans.  It is worth mentioning that this game was played during the post-Christmas blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast in over a foot of snow, but other teams were still able to but fans in the seats.  There were 4 other teams that played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans – the Atlanta Thrashers (8,461), the Columbus Blue Jackets (9,128), the New Jersey Devils (5,329) and the Phoenix Coyotes (6,706).

3. Of the teams with the 10 lowest average attendance figures (click here to see the list from ESPN – this list doesn’t match the SBJ list exactly, but it is illustrative), 6 are located in the South and 1 is in California.  It’s pretty clear that the NHL’s strategy to expand into the South isn’t working and some of those teams need to be relocate to areas that will support the teams.

4. Chicago loves it NBA and NHL teams.  The Blackhawks and Bulls are the leaders in average attendance for both leagues.  While part of this can be attributed to the United Center’s ability to hold nearly 20,00o seated fans for hockey and nearly 21,000 for basketball, both teams are playing to capacities of over 100%, meaning fans are flocking to see the Blackhawks and Bulls play and are willing to stand to do it.  Impressive.

Philadelphia fans have been turning out in bunches to see the Flyers, but have abandoned the Sixers.

5.  While Philly has seemingly abandoned the playoff bound Sixers, the Flyers have seen an uptick in attendance compared to last season.  The Flyers are 3rd in the NHL in average attendance and have played before 100.9% of capacity over the course of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL capitalizes on the potential NBA labor strife.  If there is a shortened or canceled NBA season, will that mean more fans going to see hockey?  Time will tell.

Champions League – Quarterfinals Review

The quarterfinals looked like they would serve up some good matches, but all drama is gone as 3 of the 4 are already decided.

Typically, I like to write a post about the upcoming Champions League round before it actually happens.  Clearly, that’s not the case this time.  For those that are interested, I went 5-3 with my predictions from the round of sixteen.  Certainly better than I did in my NCAA bracket.  I picked Shakhtar DonetskAC MilanValenciaBayern MunichReal Madrid, BarcelonaManchester United and Chelsea. My incorrect picks – Tottenham beat AC Milan, Schalke beat Valencia, and Inter Milan beat Bayern.

Since my slacker tendencies prevented me from getting this post up before the first leg of the quarterfinals, I’ve had to tweak what I was going to write.  At this point, there is no reason to predict who is going to make it through to the semifinals, as three of the quarterfinals are well and truly over.

Here's a screen shot from the video of Dejan Stankovic's golazo against Schalke. Check out the video, it's worth watching.

In what has to be considered a shock, Schalke destroyed Inter in Milan 5-2.  Inter certainly were not helped by defender Cristian Chivu drawing a red card in the 62nd minute, but by that point the Nerazzurri were already down 4-2 to the Germans.  The one highlight for the Italians was Dejan Stankovic’s wonder goal that started the scoring.  Check it out.

Barcelona similarly dismantled Shakhtar, 5-1, at Camp Nou.  Five different players scored goals for Barça – Andres Iniesta, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Seydou Keita and Xavi.  Barça are truly an incredible team to watch.  They play some amazing soccer.  With a 5-1 lead heading to the Ukraine, Barça have booked their spot in the semis.

The other Spanish team, Real Madrid, similarly dismantled their competition, winning 4-0 over Spurs. Things looked bad from the outset when Emmanuel Adebayor scored off a corner just 4 minutes into the game.  Things went from bad to worse when Peter Crouch was sent off for his 2nd yellow card inside of 15 minutes.  Spurs could never gain or hold possession and Real just kept putting more balls in the back of the net. Based on the way they played, Spurs would have lost even if Crouch has stayed on the field.

Rooney's suspension will not affect his eligibility for the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. Good thing for Manchester United, as he scored the only goal in the first leg.

The only match that still has some drama going into the second leg is Manchester United vs. Chelsea.  Man U secured a vital away goal at Stamford Bridge, beating the Blues 1-0. Chelsea enjoyed more of the possession and outshot Man U 21(7 on goal) – 8(2), but the were unable to find the leveler.  Chelsea will be hard pressed to advance when they play the Red Devils at Old Trafford, especially since Man U have that away goal in their pocket.

With the second leg of the quarterfinals being played on Tuesday and Wednesday, look for a semifinal preview in the next week or two.  Hopefully, the matches will be more competitive this time around.  Happy soccer watching!