Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Not So Great Gretzky

Let me say this from the outset: I love hockey.
I fell in love with it watching a lousy team that barely lasted two years. That would be the Kansas City Scouts. For those of you born after the Pleistocene era, the Scouts were one of the first National Hockey League expansion teams.
The Scouts were an unmitigated flop for several significant reasons: lousy management, lousy management, lousy management. Did I mention lousy management?
It's not like I didn't know. My boyfriend at the time was the team's director of public relations. He'd previously been the marketing director for what had been a very successful minor league hockey team: the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Back then, between Singapore Slings at Trader Vic's, we'd marvel at the incompetence of the ownership. The most pressing matter during the first season was what kind of canopy to install at the door leading to the arena's private club.
They didn't know a slapshot from buckshot.
In 1976 the team moved to Denver. It was named the Colorado Rockies. This time around the front office was staffed with some pretty savvy hockey folks like Munson Campbell and Ray Miron. There were some gung-ho sales and marketing folks, including Jan Buchholz.
Yeah, that would be me.
I sold corporate season ticket packages. What a trip. Sometimes I'd take players with me to meet with corporate execs. You know ... to make it a little more personal. A little more hands on. I'm not sure how successful that was given that most of the players who came along for the ride spoke only French. C'est la vie!
Despite my vow to spread the joy of hockey throughout the modern world, despite my devotion to the Rockies and its players (including my new boyfriend at the time), despite my enthusiasm for body checks and hooking, I could not save hockey in Denver. The Rockies eventually failed and the NHL moved the club to New Jersey.
Now here's the deal, folks. Hockey is a hard sell in the USofA. Kids in America don't grow up with a pair of skates by the door and an ice rink down the street, especially not in the Sun Belt.
There simply isn't a hockey tradition in this country. That's not to say hockey isn't a welcome diversion or that professional hockey can't succeed here. But it takes a hell of a lot more effort to run a successful NHL team than an NBA or NFL team.
Which now brings me around to the headline of this blog: The Not So Great Gretzky. Wayne, the great player, thought he could skate into town and run the Phoenix Coyotes at stick length. That's a not-so-great idea. Because any chance for the Coyotes to succeed demanded that a lot of time and effort be invested in selling the game of hockey to the masses. It would require a super-human power play that included an unwavering commitment to the community and an all out effort to engage fans.
The Coyotes organization never made that their mission.
Gretzky and his family really live in L.A. He and his glamorous wife have no passion for Phoenix or any sense of obligation to its fans. Could Janet even pick out Phoenix on a map?
Meanwhile, owner Jerry Moyes is a millionaire trucking company founder who apparently has no clue how to handle a business that doesn't run on diesel.
It's a wonder, and a shame, that this club has lasted this long.
Gretzky had plenty of time to build a winner on and off the rink, but he sat on the bench when it came to the really hard work of reaching out to the fans. I don't care how many goals he scored as a player, what I'll remember is his dismal performance with the Coyotes.
But don't worry about the great one. He'll be skating into the western horizon with only his paystubs to remind him of time poorly spent.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday Night, er Monday Morning Live starring Insomnia

I've been sarcastic and cynical probably since at least junior high. I vaguely remember penning satire for the Wheat Ridge Junior High School paper. Oh, and it just came to me that the summer between my 4th and 5th grade years at Westminster Hills Elementary the neighborhood kids and I staged a talent show. My talent? Writing and performing commercials. One in particular was about dishwashing detergent. I started out by showing my "beautiful" hands, which were painted with watercolor to look old and bruised and generally wretched. Of course I waxed poetic about the fine dishwashing liquid that was so gentle on my hands. The audience booed and cackled in melodramatic tradition. I ended up the shill by saying, "If you think this is bad, just look at the bottle." The detergent bottle had been cut up to look like it was corroded, no doubt by toxic chemicals.
The punch line was delivered with grand hysterics, or at least I thought the audience was guffawing with enthusiasm. After all, I am remembering the details some 50 years later.
If only my sarcasm could find a lighthearted outlet today. Right now it's all wrapped up in the business of business, especially the business that I labor in -- news publishing -- and the businesses I cover, mostly real estate and transportation.
Summer talent shows are no longer the medium. My blog is the real-me medium and at times, I'm told the message is biting.
But this is real life for me. Greed, ineptitude, irresponsibility, even cruelty. And no, I am not referring to myself, however flawed I might be. In all sincerity, we don't earn kudos in the newsroom for delivering PR banter. Sometimes informative enterprise stories even are hard to sell.
Still, I do think there is some kind of news form that could fall between the two extremes. What if I wrote about inspiring businesses and people who punctuate their careers with creativity and good will. Would anyone give a rip? More importantly, would anyone pay for it?
I know you're thinking, "Well maybe, but probably not."
But if money didn't matter (and all I care about is paying the basic bills), I would report about creative businesses throughout the Southwest....everything from boutique women's apparel to social media marketing firms to art galleries to independent fashion designers to neuro-studies. Does anyone care about this stuff? Or am I just a child of the Sixties locked into a post 2000 recession world? Got a map? I need directions.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Getting real about real estate reporting

Who knows if I'll be reporting on real estate when the recession recedes, but if I am, I sure hope I'm not a pushover again for developers who think I'm their automatic publicity pimp.
You see, I'm a little cynical about real estate developers these days.
When business is gangbusters and they've got a project on the table, they can't talk enough about their latest and greatest plan. Their public relations people call reporters every five minutes trying to snag front page play. Their clients, after all, are poised to change civilization as we know it.
Just let that gameplan fail, however, and these clients -- along with their PR consultants -- shift into "bin Laden" mode. That's where they are now, hiding out in a cave trying their darndest to escape detection.
I'm thinking particularly of some big name firms in Phoenix who have always prided themselves as being the top-of-the-heap developers. So much more credible and sophisticated than the other development riff raff.
Guess what? Those same companies are in deep doo-doo now, and there's not a living soul in their midst who will discuss the status of projects that impact surrounding neighborhoods and communities.
They don't think they owe any explanations. In fact, these developers now employ PR firms that take pride in keeping clients out of the press. For the record, I don't call that PR. I call that CS. Chicken Shit.
Granted, these are privately held firms that don't have to answer to a board of directors or shareholders. But they should answer to the communities they were so eager to engage in their big ideas.
After all, many developments require zoning changes and other variances, all a public process. For sure, they have to obtain design approvals from various government entitites. Real estate developers never operate in a vacuum.
Some of them may not be operating at all when all is said and done in this market contraction.
I better be on guard when the next cycle winds up.
A new developer will peddle a bigger and better project like it is a done deal blessed by the heavenly realms.
"What about the financing?" I'll ask right up front. "And, no, I am not your defacto marketing pawn who's going to tell your fascinating story to prospective investors."
In the meantime, I hope the local governments who so willingly acquiesced to the hyperbolic visions of haughty developers will smarten up, too. The city doyens of Tempe, Glendale and Mesa, in particular, have all been sold a bill of goods.
Oh, and by the way, trustees of the public dole, you are accountable, too. Expect my call soon.