Deposed Tour de France champion Floyd Landis and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones are the latest athletes to make headlines and lose awards because of doping scandals. And there are more to come with former Sen. George Mitchell preparing to name names when he issues his report on steroids and Major League Baseball next month.
With the growing scrutiny, many pro sports teams are looking for ways to prevent athletes from ingesting banned substances, and many of them have turned to Robert Nickell, chief executive and owner of Torrance-based HNP Pharmaceuticals. Many common over-the-counter drugs are deemed "performance enhancing" by various sports' governing bodies and athletes can unknowingly run afoul of the rules. Nickell ensures that athletes only receive medications and vitamins that meet the requirements.
Nickell, a licensed pharmacist, counts pro football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams among his clients. He tracks prescription drugs and dispenses medications for everything from coughs and colds to pain management and physical therapy rehabilitation medications.
"I focus on the management of prescription drugs and how to meet regulatory requirements," said Nickell. "Each year, drug policies in major sports get more stringent."
Nickell became involved with pro sports more than a decade ago, when the NFL's Raiders played in Los Angeles. He was introduced to the team trainer and they hit it off. Nickell told him of a software program he'd been working with that tracked medications and produced reports showing what athletes are taking.
"The Raiders needed some assistance tracking medications," said Nickell. "We cleaned up the whole operation."
Soon after, other local teams including the Angels and Dodgers called and business grew steadily. Sports clients currently account for about one-third of HNP Pharmaceuticals' $6.2 million in 2006 revenues. The company employs 85 people.
In 2004, Nickell became the first pharmacist to join the U.S. Olympic medical staff. He accompanied the U.S. team to the Athens Olympics and will join the team in Beijing next year.
"Athletes rely on the medical staff to make sure that they only get U.S. and FDA approved drugs. We are the team pharmacy to all three Olympic training centers," said Nickell.
Nickell will ship all medications for U.S. athletes to China in preparation for the Games, so that all the medications taken by U.S. athletes during the Games will come from the U.S. rather than Chinese pharmacies.
Internet entrepreneur Ben Padnos led a group of investors who purchased Barry Bonds' record-tying 755th career home run baseball for $186,750 on auction earlier this year.
The group formed a Los Angeles-based company called EndtheDebate LLC to determine the fate of the ball because Bonds is suspected of using steroids while trying to make profit on it as well. A Web site was created to allow fans to vote on what should happen to the ball. Two choices are offered: save the ball or smash the ball and destroy it.
A few days later, fashion designer Marc Ecko created a similar site. Ecko bought the ball that Bonds broke the home run record with during an online auction for $752,467. Ecko then set up a Web site that also let fans vote on the fate of that ball: donate it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; mark it with an asterisk before donating it; or send into space on a rocket ship.
Ecko's site drew more media attention and Web traffic, in part because it was free. It doesn't cost anything to vote on www.endthedebate.com either, but advertisers have the option of purchasing tiny squares on the background of the home page for $200 each. With 7,550 squares available, the Web site was set to generate $1.5 million. At this point, however, Padnos admits that the group will most likely fall short of its lofty goal despite receiving hundreds of thousands of hits on the site.
"We modeled our business after the success of 'Million Dollar Home Page,'" said Padnos, referring to the Internet phenomenon created by a British college student who made $1 million by selling a million pixels for $1 each on a Web site as a way to fund his college education.
For advertisers who got in early, a mere $200 led to thousands of hits for some their ads, many of which were small businesses. The exposure through that small initial investment allowed those companies to reach a worldwide audience.
"I run a small business myself," Padnos said. "I can't buy a Super Bowl ad, but a small business can get access to a huge audience of people with creative advertising."
Sports executive Casey Wasserman has been elected to the board of LA84 Foundation. Wasserman is chairman and chief executive of Los Angeles-based Wasserman Media Group LLC, which he formed in 1998 as a sports management and content business.
Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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