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Monday Will Hold Onto Its Money, Thanks

What, No Steve Taneyhill? Unusually slow weekend, except for an interesting story in South Carolina's State implicating almost a dozen ex-South Carolina and Clemson athletes, as well as notables including Bob Stoops, Danny Ford and Steve Spurrier Jr., in the long, slow implosion of the digital music site BurnLounge. "Implicated" may be too strong a word - of the many athletes or coaches mentioned as BurnLounge investors, only former Gamecock halfback/ radio sideline reporter Rob DeBoer currently faces criminal investigation, but details about the impending demise of the site (or even what the site is/was, exactly) and its ramifications for the uninitiated are pretty vague.

BurnLounge markets itself as a "fan-driven digital download community," an alternative to iTunes begun in 2004 that theoretically allowed users to create their own pages and "storefronts" for downloading songs for a subscription fee; Fortune estimated the undisclosed commission for resellers through the site was a nickel for each 99 cent download off their individual IPO. In reality, according to a Federal Trade Commission suit filed earlier this month, the site is a pyramid scheme whose Delaware-based parent company, NuEworld.com Commerce, promised investors huge returns ("between 4,800% and 13,600%") but never moved to secure the necessary IPOs or business relationships with "strategic partners" as advertised. The real goal, according to the suit: signing up new investors, which could earn "operators" a $50 bonus for recruiting two new members and selling two albums per month from their BurnLounge site, while the albums only sold for 50 cents apiece.

Columbia, South Carolina, became "ground zero" for BurnLounge because of its relationship with DeBoer and his broadcasting partner, ex-USC quarterback Todd Ellis, who appeared in training videos and, according to an earlier report in The State, claimed he made almost $300,000 by recruiting 45 other people to the site, which in turn hosted events in Columbia clubs and homes to market its franchises. Those people apparently formed the "jock-inspired network of investors across the Sunbelt" that entangled Stoops, Ford, Spurrier Jr., Spurrier's still-playing brother Scott, 1980 Heisman winner George Rogers, former Clemson lineman-turned-broadcaster Will Merritt and ex-USC baseball players Kip Bouknight, national player of the year at Carolina, and D.T. Cromer, who played with DeBoer in the Oakland A's farm system.

DeBoer maintains the site is legitimate and he'll be cleared. Ford, who the newspaper says was once an unwitting part of a scheme that also lost money for Carolina coaches Brad Scott and Jim Carlen and sent assistant coach-turned-agent "Tank" Black to prison when the Securities and Exchange Commission shut down a car title loan company in Atlanta in 1999, said his name was attached to BurnLounge but, like Rogers, he didn't participate in any way:

Now Ford and Rogers are among the list of minor and major celebrities associated with BurnLounge, alongside the likes of Columbia's Hootie & the Blowfish.

Ford and Rogers acknowledge they were recruited into the BurnLounge network because of their names, not their knowledge of the online music business.
Other retailers paid the introductory fee for Ford and Rogers, each said.

"Somebody put me in that thing and paid my deal," said Ford, who had worries about a pyramid scheme. "I went to one meeting and never did anything on it. Never tried to sell it, never tried to buy anything on it, never did nothing."

Bob Stoops, it seems, was slightly more enthusiastic:

Besides ex-athletes, several coaches tried to make extra money in BurnLounge.

Gamecocks receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. invested in BurnLounge a year ago after Oklahoma coach Stoops introduced him to the concept.

"When Bob Stoops got me, he said, `I've spoken to a lawyer about this. I've spoken to my agent. I've spoken to some people to find out if this is a legitimate thing. And everything they told me, this is a legitimate (business). Put your name on it and go do it,'" said Spurrier Jr., a member of Stoops' Sooners staff from 1999 to 2001.

An Oklahoma spokesman said last week that Stoops was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

DeBoer reportedly made enough money through BurnLounge to leave his job as a marketing account executive with Gamecock Sports Properties. Merritt told the paper he made about $10,000, and Spurrier Jr. said Todd Ellis was "way at the top of that thing...he's making a lot." Only one person in the story was saavy enough to avoid any kind of investment plan that employed the melting red warning siren of part-time "members" appearing in training videos:

Reed Morton, a USC kicker from 1993 to 1996 and a USC School of Law graduate, said he had doubts about how BurnLounge was making money and resisted offers to invest.

"The people I feel for the most are the fans that got involved," he said. "Many of them entered into this blindly at the behest of a few people they admired and trusted. I imagine right now they feel a bit embarrassed and used."

The FTC will take its suit to court in Los Angeles next Tuesday for a hearing to justify an injunction that would halt BurnLounge's operations.


For Big Ten Network, Fight For Viewers an Uphill Battle: The New York Times gets all up in Comcast's dispute with the Big Ten Network, and is no more optimistic about the network getting itself in front of mostly apathetic eyeballs than anyone else not closely associated with BTN has been:
Comcast discussed becoming the Big Ten's partner in the network, before Fox entered, but the talks foundered over the cable operator's view of a more limited, less expensive channel than the conference envisioned.

Comcast is developing a campaign that will attempt to prove that the network is too expensive and too provincial to be broadly distributed.
"I have no doubt that the Big Ten will try to rile up their fans and alumni to say that big bad Comcast is denying their content to Big Ten fans and alumni," said David Cohen, an executive vice president of Comcast.

He added, "We'd like to make the network available to those who want to watch it and not force customers who have no interest in the content to have to pay for it."

Network president Mark Silverman wants to offer the channel for $1.10 in Big Ten states and 10 cents elsewhere, with the idea that far flung alumni will be interested enough in cheap access to shot putters and tiny teen gymnasts from dear old U to justify a national presence. On the other hand, according to the Times, "Comcast does not." Neither does the number two cable provider in the Midwest, Time Warner, as long as ABC/ESPN has first dibs on football and CBS on basketball games that really can draw some national interest.

Some regional sports channels charge nearly two dollars to be on cable plans - the Yankees' YES, and Comcast networks on the East Coast, as shown by the Times' chart reproduced to the right - the only national channel that costs more than the Big Ten Network wants is ESPN, for which there is, to put it mildly, decidedly higher demand. There is, in fact, considerably more demand for USA, the highest-rated network on cable, which costs customers less than half what the Big Ten Network is proposing for last place showdowns, I-AA beatdowns and rowing.

The Times makes this question simpler than anyone else has to date: why would anyone pay for this? And why would any other conference want to copy it?

Quickly: Mel Kiper rolls out his early top 25 for the '08 draft: Brian Brohm, Jake Long and Glenn Dorsey are there, along with zero player from the state of Florida ... Pete Carroll raves to reporters about the USC-like intensity of Oakland Raider practices, the NFL Players' Union complains about the intensity of Oakland Raider practices. Next time, maybe he'll think twice ... UCLA commit Hamani Stevens: "Less brain, more pain" ... Nebraska commit Blaine Gabbert, where everybody knows his name ... Cincinnati has already filled half its class for 2008 ... Incoming freshman Kevan Smith wants Pitt's starting quarterback job ... Be a Wolverine for a weekend - for a mere $2,500 ... Catching with Ohio State recruit Cameron Heyward, son of childhood Saint favorite "Ironhead" Heyward, on Father's Day ... Toledo students respond to the university's investigation into athletic department excess ... Questionable defensive end Jamal Cooper and wide receiver Xavier Harris will be with Wisconsin this fall ... Summer preview mags hate on Colorado ... Gene Chizik to Iowa State recruits: "You can help us now. Please." ... Texas Tech signees cut by "overflow" last February vow to become Raiders yet ... And Fort Myers Miracle fans can try to negotiate their way out of their ticket purchases Wednesday on the club's "Billy Donovan Night."

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Posting may be spotty over the next couple days, which will involve many hours of unavoidable driving for your humble host. Things could be normal, or slow, or spectacularly inspired (less likely). Stay tuned.