|Wednesday, May 22
Updated: May 24, 5:32 PM ET
Octopus-throwing tradition still has legs
By Darren Rovell
Don't be surprised if an octopus flies onto the ice at the Colorado Avalanche's Pepsi Center after a Red Wings goal.
The eight-tentacled mollusk has long been a symbol of the team's road to capturing the Stanley Cup, which formerly was accomplished by winning eight games. Though it now takes 16 victories over four rounds of the playoffs to hoist the Stanley Cup, and while it has become more difficult to sneak an octopus into the arena, the tradition remains strong.
"We give them plastic gloves and handy wipes so that their hands don't smell like the ocean," said Kevin Dean, co-owner of the Superior Fish Co., which figures to clean up so long as the Red Wings are alive in the playoffs.
With octopi going for $3.95 a pound, it also has become a lucrative business. Dean said he is looking forward to the Red Wings' return to Detroit and predicts his market could gross more than $1,000 per game if the team advances to the Stanley Cup finals.
Red Wings fans have purchased about 20 octopi per game for the first two games of the Western Conference finals in Detroit, but Dean said he expects to sell more than 100 per home game if the team makes it to the Stanley Cup finals.
Despite the crackdown by arena security in recent years, activists for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) say they are concerned by the recent increase in activity. Before Monday night's game at Comerica Park, the Tigers had an octopus-throwing contest after which the fan with the farthest toss received a short limo ride to Joe Louis Arena for Game 2 of the Wings-Avs series.
Rhodes said PETA plans to submit a letter of protest to the Red Wings after receiving numerous complaints from concerned animal-rights activists.
But John Hahn, the Red Wings' senior director of communications, said Rhodes' statement about Ilitch's supposed support of the controversial tradition "shows a lack of understanding about our rules."
"Octopi are not permitted in our building, and they will be confiscated if they are found upon entering our arena," Hahn said. "The octopus is part of our tradition, but if you are caught throwing one, you can be removed from the building and you will be subject to prosecution."
Although octopi are imported from the Philippines and Portugal, they are abundant, which keeps the cost down. "They're like hot dogs in Asia," Dean said. Most fans buy a 2- to 3-pound octopus, the size dependent on the fan's seat location and arm strength. Still, Dean said what he sells to Wings fans accounts for only 5 percent of his sales of octopi.
One of the largest octopi ever thrown on the ice, hurled during the 1996 conference finals, was believed to be a 50-pounder. Dean said he had a 62-pound octopus he dubbed "Octozilla" ready in 2000, but the team bowed out in the second round to the Avalanche.
Before an octopus is ready to be hurled onto the ice, Superior recommends in its "Octoquette" guide that the mollusk be boiled for 30 minutes to remove its natural moisture. This enables the arena's clean-up crew to easily remove the octopus off the ice, leaving minimal ink residue.
But not all Red Wings fans throw the eight-legged creature on the ice. Ray Martyniak paid $25 for a 5-pound octopus for his brother's wedding on Saturday. His brother is, obviously, a Red Wings fan. "I threw it on the dance floor in a plastic bag, but my brother wanted to take it out, so they stretched it out on the dance floor," Martyniak told ESPN.com.
Getting Tiger in the swing of things
Nike's irons, which hit stores this week at a cost of $899 per set, are blades -- meaning that there is no cavity in the clubs. Blades are recommended only for professional and highly skilled golfers.
Kelly acknowledges that, while the switch only can be made when Tiger is comfortable, a switch of irons is easier given that Tiger can customize the product to his exact specifications. Since roughly 20 percent of golfers customize their clubs, customization of Tiger's irons wouldn't mean Nike would be selling a product that Tiger does not use.
In August 2000, Nike was sued by a non-profit group, Public Remedies, because Woods endorsed the Nike Tour Accuracy balls in commercials but actually used balls that had a harder core. Nike later released the Nike Tour Accuracy TW, which is the ball Woods plays in competition.
Woods, who signed a five-year, $100 million extension with the company in September 2000, already plays with the Nike driver, which costs $399. In its first month of sales, it made up 4.6 percent of driver sales, according to the March retail numbers released by Golf Datatech, an industry market research firm.
"We want to be the No. 1 golf club company in the next five years," Kelly said. "Nike doesn't get into a market and say, 'We're going to be No. 6.' We're in it to win."
Just because the starter's gates spring open doesn't mean the betting windows have to close. One online sports book that sets interactive, in-event odds said it will make history on June 8 when it attempts to update the odds it offers for the Belmont Stakes during the actual running of the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"It's never been done because it's impossible to change the odds of every horse as the race unfolds," said Steve Schillinger of World Sports Exchange, which caters to some 1,000 gamblers who wager on odds that change by the stroke during PGA Tour events, by the down during football games and by the penalty or goal during NHL playoff games.
Gamblers will be able to bet only on the odds for War Emblem to win the race, and thus, the Triple Crown. Gamblers can buy shares of War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, at odds that vary depending on how the horse is doing in the race.
"At the start of the race, you might be able to buy shares of War Emblem for $50," Schillinger said. "But if he's got a big lead near the end, shares will cost $80." If War Emblem wins, World Sports Exchange will pay $100 for each share. Schillinger said odds will change on the company's Web site about every 10 to 15 seconds.
Hornets fans can find closeout prices on team merchandise that says "Charlotte" on it. A survey of offerings on eBay found the Hornets' 2001-02 media guide is selling for a cent, hats and shirts going for under $1 and logoed baby outfits at no more than $5.
But good luck finding any merchandise with the words "Charlotte" at the NBA Store in New York City. There's nothing on the shelves. "We have merchandise that just says 'Hornets,' but we took everything that said 'Charlotte' off the shelves and we're giving it to charity," NBA spokesman Matt Bourne said.
Since a team technically no longer plays in Charlotte, the league doesn't want to be selling it at its official store. But the league will not attempt to stop retailers from selling off the remainder of its Charlotte inventory, Bourne said.
This week, a group led by former NBA great Larry Bird, expressed interest in bringing a team back to Charlotte.
Looks are everything
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org