• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, November 17, 2014

THINK BASEBALL WHEN PONDERING NASCAR 2014

To explain the NASCAR season, I first have to talk about baseball.

Bud Selig's long tenure as Commissioner of Baseball (I've always thought that, and Heavyweight Champion of the World, are the two most impressive titles in all of sports), will officially come to an end in a matter of weeks. But Selig's time effectively concluded with the World Series, determined by one run in Game 7.

And the Series featured a traditional winning team in the San Francisco Giants and a small market Cinderella Kansas City Royals. (The last thing I did before leaving the Philadelphia Daily News in 1980, for CART, was cover the Phillies winning the WS over the Royals.) No doubt Selig enjoyed the matchup, which short of Yankees vs. Dodgers or Red Sox vs. Cubs, was about as good as it could get for what Selig's tenure was all about. (Except for smaller market team translating to down TV ratings.)

By the way, let's note that WS competition was exactly the sort of "Wow" and "Game 7" type moments Brian France has been saying he wants for NASCAR.

Anyway, Selig's commissionership was certainly controversial. Even more importantly, though, it was CONSEQUENTIAL. Think about it: Wild card teams, play-in games, inter-league play, revenue sharing, drug testing, cancellation of a World Series due to a players' association strike followed by a long period of labor peace, refusal to reinstate Pete Rose, Congressional hearings, steroids, Barry Bonds, massive player contracts, doing away with separate league presidents and umpires, moving Milwaukee and Houston to different leagues, selling the MLB-run Montreal franchise to owners in Washington, D.C., new stadiums, rich TV deals, instant replay, a former team owner becoming President of the United States, having the post-Sept. 11, 2001 Series fall into November, specifying the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, pitching domination, slow pace of play, All-Star Game determining WS home-field advantage, Alex Rodriguez suspension, successful enough to hand-pick his successor. Baseball is a fundamentally different sport as Selig leaves than it was when he entered.

Whether that's good or bad is up to you, the fan -- and history -- to decide. My point is Selig became one of the Top 10 most influential people in baseball history. He was CONSEQUENTIAL. And will, unquestionably, have his own place in Cooperstown.

Which brings me to France, the NASCAR chairman.

Even if France left the stock car sport today, his time as CEO, starting in September 2003, mirrors Selig's as controversial, historic and consequential. 

Among the things to consider: Creation of the Chase format and its evolution to this season's "elimination" format, management restructuring, pressure for more side-by-side racing and exciting finishes, TV contracts which guarantee NASCAR's financial stability for a decade, digital and social media expansions, the Winston-to-Nextel-to-Sprint, Busch-to-Nationwide-to-Xfinity, Craftsman-to-Camping World series sponsorships for the three national series, relocation of the Cup championship celebration from New York City to Las Vegas, offices in Los Angeles, New York and Charlotte, broadening the mandate of the research and development center, Car of Tomorrow to the current Gen-6 vehicle, double-wide restarts, green-white-checker finishes, steering the sport through the 2008 national economic crisis, diversity programs, penalty structure, handling of the 2013 Richmond race manipulation mess, drug testing, creation of the Hall of Fame, retooling of the souvenir business, industry growth initiative. 

All is not perfect. The formation of the Race Team Alliance, born of escalating costs and continuous rules tinkering, tells us that.

Both Selig and France benefitted from good timing as the creation of Fox Sports 1 and 2 and NBCSports cable network increased demand for content to fill those thousands of hours of airtime. And that jacked-up the price from what either sport would otherwise have been able to demand.

Most could agree nothing has been more discussed and debated than the Chase. France's attempt to bolster NASCAR's season-ending stretch to better compete against college and especially pro football was copied by NHRA, the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, and others. He took it to perhaps its ultimate extreme this season by boiling the marathon 36-race championship season (and a couple of meaningless exhibitions, which should be done away with) down to a Final 4 and highest-finisher at Homestead being crowned as Cup titlist.

Winning, we were all told, was now the emphasis and would be rewarded. Yet winless Ryan Newman had a chance to claim the Cup at Homestead. Don't doubt for a second France and NASCAR dodged a bullet on that one. Kevin Harvick's superb winning drive at Homestead not only clinched the championship but all four finalists ran competitively for most of the race. Which was about as good as it could get for the NASCAR Powers-That-Be.

I predict a rule change will come, maybe not for 2015 as it obviously would be a slap at Newman, but it will come, to where all Final 4 drivers must have at least one points-paying victory during the season. That would have put Jeff Gordon in, and eliminated Newman coming out of Phoenix, and avoided a week of national mainstream media sniping at the prospect of a winless Cup champion which would defy the basic common sense of the American sporting public. And have no doubt France knows, if not publicly admits, that what the national media influencers say is important. To be prosperous in the long run, NASCAR must make new fans, and a key process in that is attracting attention via non-racing and non-sports media.

Virtually everyone agreed France's new system ramped-up intensity. And that helped lead to the post-Charlotte and post-Texas brawls. Which fed into the changing short-attention span American society's taste for conflict and instant gratification. It is very worthwhile to ponder the impression that leaves with America-At-Large.

One thing NASCAR not only doesn't do well, it doesn't do at all, is understate its presentation. Baseball has understood for generations how attractive that can be but NASCAR goes to the other extreme. I'll never forget, years ago, during the original Chase rules, when California Speedway was the season's second race. An MRN voice said during the pre-race show that Cal was very important because, afterwards, there would only be 24 more races before the Chase. Only 24 more races! The breathless and absurb hype of the meaningless All-Star race (which ceased to be an "All-Star" event a few years ago when Kenny Wallace got in) and Sunday's Final 4 introductions perfectly illustrates the true and real mindset in the NASCAR executives offices, especially under the current management.

Like it or not, what we got in NASCAR 2014 was not only what Brian France wrought. It was what he wanted.

My caution, going forward, is: Be Careful What You Wish For.

[ the year's last blog here mid-December . . . ]



Friday, November 07, 2014

JON EDWARDS WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Jon Edwards, who has been media representative for four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for almost 15 years, today was announced as winner of the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.


The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

As has happened before, the selection committee chose two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Elon Werner, of John Force Racing, was recognized last weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before the NHRA national event.

“Jeff Gordon is one of the most media friendly athletes in all of sports and Jon Edwards has played an essential role in making that happen,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “Jim Chapman would approve of the committee’s choice because Jon’s open approach in working with the media parallels what Jim did with his own roster of legendary clients, including Babe Ruth.

 “Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.

 “Jeff’s cooperation with the media has not only benefitted him, his team and corporate sponsors, it has benefitted NASCAR and all of motorsports. It’s very appropriate to recognize Jon’s many important contributions to this aspect of Jeff’s successful career.”

Edwards began as a PR/marketing assistant at North Carolina Motor Speedway while attending the University of North Carolina in the early 1990s. He joined Performance PR Plus, DuPont Motorsports’ agency, in 1994, managing PR in several series and trackside hospitality. In 1999, he was with driver Ricky Craven’s NASCAR team, then began working with Gordon in mid-2000 and became an employee of Jeff Gordon, Inc. in 2011. Edwards received NASCAR’s most valuable PR representative award in 2003 and 2007.

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

 “Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”

 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, November 02, 2014

ELON WERNER WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Elon Werner, who directs the publicity and communications for drag racing’s biggest  star John Force and Force’s championship team, today was announced as winner of the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before Sunday’s NHRA national event by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

Werner not only works directly with the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, but also Force’s rising-star driver daughters. Ashley Force Hood twice won the U.S. Nationals before stepping aside to start a family. Courtney Force has won eight Funny Car races while Brittany Force was last year’s top NHRA rookie in the Top Fuel class. Robert Hight, Force’s son-in-law, was the 2009 Funny Car titlist.

“Elon’s work in developing successful relationships with the media is reminiscent of Jim Chapman and so this honor is most appropriate,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.

“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.

“John Force has been NHRA’s greatest cheerleader for decades, working to create new fans and new customers for his sponsors. Elon has done more than coordinate the numerous interview requests for John. Just as importantly, he’s provided wise guidance to Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Robert, as they have followed John’s example. Elon’s outreach to motorsports-oriented reporters, and well as to those in the mainstream media, has helped produce a vast amount of news coverage for the sport, Force and his team, and their corporate partners.” 

Werner worked for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks before joining the Texas Motorplex as PR manager in 1993. He eventually became that track’s general manager. After positions with several Dallas-based sports agencies and coordinating media for a number of motorsports clients, he became John Force Racing’s PR director in 2007.

Significant national media placements have included Courtney Force’s ESPN The Magazine cover, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio and virtually every major motorsports publication. Werner also has built JFR’s social media presence.

With longtime Force publicist Dave Densmore the 2007 Chapman Award winner, this is the first time that the honor has been earned by two people from the same racing organization.

Knight also announced that, as has happened before, the selection committee has chosen two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Announcement and presentation of that person will be made next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994. 

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”
  
JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Elon Werner and TBA.
[ second Chapman Award announcement here Friday . . . ]