• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TAKEN FOR GRANTED

Even though my home is in the highly-desirable golf destination of Scottsdale, I don't play. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in the sport. One of the great days of my sportswriter life was to follow Jack Nicklaus for 18 holes from inside the ropes. And, I find the golf industry fascinating from a business perspective.

The other week, the LPGA announced that, as a requirement of membership, players would have to speak English. At least adequately enough to interact with media, fans, officials and sponsors. With Annika Sorenstam (I'm a fan) on the way to retirement and the tour increasingly dominated by Asian players, I agreed with this decision. As I have tried to tell assorted sports car sanctioning executives over the years -- with frustration but not success -- journalists need to talk to the athletes to write and broadcast stories. In over 40 years in-and-around racing, I've yet to see a reporter interview a car, no matter how eye-catching the Ferrari or Porsche or Acura or Corvette or Audi may be.

In truth, the LPGA's decision was more about cash than publicity. Corporate types pay for the fun of teeing-it-up in a pro-am with one of the professionals. It's not such a good investment when you can't speak with your playing partner. Considering that South Korean television rights constitute a major revenue stream for the LPGA, one would think the policy was duly considered.

Unfortunately, as has so often been the case under the current commissioner -- the LPGA's equivalent of Andrew Craig -- this backfired like a '49 Ford. The rule wasn't officially announced, but leaked out from offended parties. Quite predictably, the empty suit TV talkers jerked their knees as if struck by a Big Bertha, calling for the ACLU (which is so left it ought to have its headquarters inside turn one at California Speedway) to get involved. Such "informed" commentary, sadly, overlooked the fact that countless legal rulings have upheld the right of organizations to establish reasonable and legitimate membership requirements.

Last week, the LPGA backed off. They handled the matter like a 5 iron in a thunderstorm, but I cheer the attempt to actually set some standards.

Which brings me to the Chase 5.0, which opened with Greg Biffle's victory last Sunday at New Hampshire.

Even with the dark clouds hanging over Detroit, NASCAR is in a stronger position than most sports orgs to weather our national economic storm. (But the announcement that NASCAR Holdings is buying Grand-Am has potential important implications, as I'll explain in upcoming weeks.) That does not mean attracting attention (or selling tickets) for the Chase races is as easy as a one-foot putt.

Filling seats is almost entirely a local job. Let's just say some tracks do it better than others. There are race "organizers" and then there are (a few) "promoters."

And then there are those who take the media and coverage for granted.

That is an astounding reality.

I understand that might seem hard to believe, especially in today's challenging media environment, but I'm here to tell you it's true. For all the level of "sophistication" the racing business supposedly has these days, I know this: In the 1970s, when I was at the Philadelphia Daily News and covered all the big events at Pocono, Dover, Trenton and Watkins Glen, people at those speedways (two didn't even have full-time PR directors!) knew enough to do meaningful relationship-building with key journalists.

Did it take a little work? Yes! Maybe some extra effort? Absolutely! Was it worthwhile? You better believe it!

Think about that, please. There were PR people more than 30 years ago who knew more and did more than some in the contemporary crowd. (!) Some today consider a few lame words transmitted via a lazy E-mail is good enough. I guess they don't have the strength to pick up the telephone even when good manners and good business demands it.

Say what you will about the antics at Charlotte and Texas, but no one thinks the promoters there take media coverage for granted. It's as natural as breathing for them to walk through the media center to say "hello" and "thank you." Some others would need a brain transplant to get that thought.

I'd like to see NASCAR put an addendum on its sanction agreements. Maybe NASCAR can't legislate common sense. But it surely can mandate higher standards. At least the LPGA had the right idea.
********************************************************************
NHRA's playoffs began last Sunday with what, by all indications, was an ultra-successful debut in the Carolinas at Bruton Smith's new drag palace. To repeat what I've said before, I consider drag racing to be an under-covered sport. So I'll be including the Countdown to One in Blogging the Chase. With Kyle Busch's problems at New Hampshire, and Tony Schumacher's record-setting victory (seven in-a-row, 12 this season, 28 straight rounds, 53 in his career) in Concord, the Army Top Fuel driver should have moved ahead in the Driver of the Year competition. In addition to Drag Racing Online.com and the other sites I mentioned in this space the other week, a good way to follow the Countdown is via ESPN2 NHRA anchor Paul Page's blog: http://paulpage.tv/

* I'm continually impressed with the regular updates John Bisci, the PR manager at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, provides NHRA team/sponsor publicists to help them do their job. And help publicize the two Powerade weekends at The Strip. Bisci is one of the VERY FEW current-day track publicists who understands that reaching out and generating goodwill among the teams and sponsors by sharing his local knowledge is smart -- and good business.
********************************************************************
Here's a link to my new "All Business" column in the September Drag Racing Online, headlined: "Crafting a Public Image".
http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_9-1.html
********************************************************************
I'm not big on surprises, but . . . I've been notified that I won a gold medallion for commentary and a bronze for interviewing in the International Automotive Media Awards. The gold was for my "The Bottom Line" column, on the state of the Indy 500, that was published in the May/June 2007 Race News magazine. The bronze was for my Brian France Q&A in the Nov. 11, 2007 Arizona Republic.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]