On Politics, Religion, Sex & Shutting Up Already

Blitz Magazine, November 2003

Remember the rule of the dinner party? ‘In polite conversation, one does not discuss politics, religion and/or sex.’

Who canceled that rule? When? And why? Because now, we not only discuss the above-mentioned, but everybody evidently feels compelled to beat each other over the head with their politics, religion and sexuality.

straight1In BC, magazines and newspapers are PST-exempt. We don’t collect it, and we don’t pay it. If we happen to pay it in the course of producing our publications, we get it back. And the BC Liberal government was hired, by the people of BC, to dig the province out of a desperate financial situation created by the left-wing New Democratic Party. And part of that administration’s duty is to efficiently collect taxes owing to the people of BC.

The Georgia Straight is a 36 year-old Vancouver newspaper. It’s unbound, on newsprint, available free at public outlets, and serves as an advertising vehicle for Vancouver retailers. It consists of pages of stacked ads, and a little editorial. Presumably, someone at the tax office saw this and said ‘Hey! The Georgia Straight is not a newspaper or magazine, because it has more advertising than editorial. So it’s not exempt.’

The tax office told the newspaper to pay $1 million in un-remitted Provincial Sales Tax.

Although it lists itself in Canadian Advertising Rates & Data’s community newspaper section, the Straight’s masthead says it’s ‘Vancouver’s News & Entertainment Magazine’. Either way, it claims that it has enough editorial to qualify as a magazine, because it prints free events listings, which its publisher says is “one of the ways in which the Straight serves the community.”

The tax guys claim that those listings are advertising.

I pick up the October 9th edition. It is 108 pages, including 21 pages of editorial and 7 of events listings. But the cover is a letter from Straight publisher Dan McLeod, in which he complains of the tax request, calling it “harassment, a “threat”, a “bizarre misuse of power”, and a “witch-hunt”.

MacLeod would have us believe that, because the Straight is left-wing, it is a target—that Liberals gathered one day and someone said: ‘OK, how can we shut down this paper!’ After evoking Richard Nixon (?!?!), MacLeod calls the tax request a “direct attack on all the arts and cultural and business life of the city,” [sic] and urges members of these groups to swear out affidavits in support of the Straight.

(Actually, money is what arts and cultural groups need, and they’d get more from the government if profitable businesses paid their taxes.)

I digress. Inside this issue, there is a 2/3-page editorial headed ‘Q&A About the BC Liberals’ Plan to Terminate the Straight.’ There is a cartoon of Premier Gordon Campbell with a screw emanating from his groin. There’s no by-line, so I assume that MacLeod wrote it. He refers to his paper as being threatened by politics and, believe it or not, mentions the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, announces a conspiracy between the BC Liberals and CanWest Global, and erroneously (way) claims that the Straight is the only independent journalistic enterprise in Vancouver.

What irks me is that MacLeod is saving his own political flag in our faces. He might as well be saying “I’m a Socialist and you have to join me in my fight against a government that is not Socialist so I can get out of paying my taxes!’

MacLeod runs a profitable enterprise. His paper sometimes covers issues that other papers might not, but it is, in fact, more of a lucrative business than a tool for social support, and people don’t need to hear about his politics or his conspiracy theories. He repeatedly mentions the Straight’s journalism awards, and refers to its ‘journalistic duty’ to fight the government, but appealing to left-wingers’ sensibilities in order to avoid paying taxes is journalistic abuse.

Also this week, a representative of the Catholic Church, irate about same-sex marriage, used the media to tell the Canadian Prime Minister that he ‘will burn in hell’. Who does he think he is? After what the Catholic Church has to answer for concerning the sexual practices of its representatives, condemnation of anyone’s sexual behaviour is hardly appropriate.

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Then I’m watching the ball game and the doorbell rings. A man stands at my door, clutching a copy of the Watch Tower. I don’t answer. Back to the game. A week earlier, I’d noticed that almost every member of the Florida Marlins crossed himself when he stepped up to the plate or makes a play. Now, the Sox are doing it. And the Cubs. They hit the ball and point to the sky. They make it to base and pull garish gold crosses out of their jerseys to kiss and flash. After one guy hits a game-saving home run, he tells a reporter: “I didn’t hit the ball. Our Lord Jesus Christ hit the ball.” (No, millionaire moron, you hit the ball.)

So now we have to tolerate spiritual exhibitionism in baseball? Didn’t Jesus purportedly say that we should keep our religious beliefs to ourselves and that proselytizing is a bad thing?

In the southern US states, there are Christian groups claiming to be planning to take over Israel and kill the Jews. There are Muslim nuts who want to kill all non-Muslims. American television is saturated with programming where members of the Religious Right tell people how to live their lives—and that if they don’t it right, in all senses of the word, they’ll be damned.

All of a sudden, people just have to go public with their beliefs. Why do they assume that others care what they believe? Or that we should care? Or that they have the right to insist that we care? In spite of all of our education and worldliness, and our knowledge of history, we’ve degenerated into a culture of spouters of the worst kind of rhetoric, all of which boils down to: ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’ ‘If you don’t practice what we practice, you’re on the wrong side.’ ‘If you don’t love correctly, we will oppress you.’ ‘If you don’t believe what we believe, we will kill you.’

Religion is about intangibility. Belief in the intangible requires that faith trump reality. Government is about facts, figures and stark reality. Ergo religion has nothing to do with governing. When people claim otherwise, I remind them of what happens when religion permeates government—Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and, increasingly, the USA. Religion is for the faithful only. It has no place in the practical reality of everyday life and it has no business trying to foist itself on society at large.

This same-sex marriage thing also puzzles me. I’ve been surprised at my friends—even the most liberal are appalled at the idea. As one friend put it: ‘Marriage is taken. Let them have their civil contracts.’ But, in this country, not allowing ‘them’ to marry has been deemed discrimination. And the law is the law—in a perfect example of the beauty of Separation of Church and State.

straight5I admit that watching two men or women making out can be off-putting—maybe gays and lesbians feel squeamish when they see heterosexual couples kissing. I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t care who consenting adults sleep with and I’m sick of hearing about it. From gays, from lesbians, or from anyone else.

Pierre Trudeau said that the State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. But that goes further. The Church also has no place in the bedrooms of any nation, or in the government of any nation. And publishers are not supposed to use their products to launch groundless accusations of conspiracy against governments who want them to pay their taxes. The same Charter of Rights & Freedoms that MacLeod leans on also allows gays and lesbians to marry and religions to freely operate.

Conversation and debate are healthy, and essential, to a free society. Trying to appeal to the worst elements of human nature, and trying to drag an agenda through a situation in hopes that people’s ignorance will stick to it, is extremely unhelpful. In a time of mass communication, it’s also dangerous.

I wish people would go back to the etiquette books. Practice their religions. Practice their politics. Practice their sexuality. Run their businesses. Live their lives. But quit using the media, and mendacious and intimidating tactics, to frighten others into joining their teams.

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Sing it Like it Is: The Star-Spangled Banner & O Canada

Blitz Magazine, September 2001

anthem2‘Tis the season. Baseball season. And, as is the case before every game, I sit and listen to the American national anthem. And, as always, I want to throw something at the TV.

A national anthem is a song of praise. It is meant to stir the soul, to remind people of the love and pride they share for their country. And it’s a song written in such a way that all members of a country can sing it. Together. All citizens, regardless of their location or circumstances of vocal capability, should be able to sing their anthem, along with their fellow citizens.

There’s nothing wrong with the US anthem—aside from the reference to rockets and bombs. (Actually, I think they should ditch the Star-Spangled Banner and go with America the Beautiful, but if I suggested it down there, someone would probably shoot me.)

What is wrong is that Americans have let their anthem be hi-jacked. While some Americans must mind, no one complains when, instead of having the anthem led by an able-voiced person who gets up and sings it the way it was written, the performer turns the US national song into a version of gospel entertainment, complete with vocal somersaults and senseless variations, always with excruciating effect. Instead of eagerly waiting to watch the Yankees dust Tampa Bay, you’re searching for the remote so you can mute the noise.

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The reason that Americans should mind is that, whether they’re at a stadium, in a pub, or in their homes, they should be able to sing along. It’s everybody’s anthem; everyone should be able to sing it, and share it.

This hasn’t been a problem with the Canadian anthem—so far. Our problem is that we have to quickly figure out if the occasion calls for the French version, and when we’re supposed to lapse into French. We end up blurring our words a little; it’s like singing Happy Birthday to triplets.

Enter David Foster, one of the many proud Canadians who call California home. Foster, one of the most successful music producers around, intends to run for the job of Premier of British Columbia and, to that end, is studying political science and economics at Pepperdine. (He needs a tutor—he told the Vancouver Sun that explorer James Cook was BC’s second premier.)

In June, Foster held a press conference to promote his new (not-for-profit) CD. The CD is called O Canada. It contains six versions of the Canadian national anthem, a full-length version with French lyrics added by screamer-come-lately Lara Fabian, and four standard two-minute versions edited from the original. Foster told the Sun that he tried to up-date the anthem and “put, I don’t know, my flair to it.”

ocanadaWhat? Hello? Foster’s ‘flair’ might have made Whitney Houston a lot of money, but it also turned a sweet little Dolly Parton love song into “And I-EE-I-EE-I will always lHUUUUV you-who-OOOOooWAAAA, HUWAAA will always lHUUUUV youooooooo WHOAHAA.”

And he wants to re-work Canada’s national song? I don’t think so.

If I go to a Canucks game, I want to be able to stand up and sing O Canada, just as it was written, along with my fellow Canadians—not stand there watching some large-lunged kid from the local church make like Celine Dion with a tune that no one can hope to follow. If Foster’s celebrity allows him to gain in-roads in his bid to turn our anthem into entertainment, I hope Canadians, unlike Americans, will stand up, sing their anthem the way it was written and tell the ‘talent’ to shut up.

 

 

 

Gretzky, Tylenol and the Real Spin City

gretzy1Blitz Magazine, November 1999

Watching the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease riddle Michael J. Fox as he testified before the US Congress recently, I wondered if Wayne Gretzky was also watching, and whether he felt horrified or mortified.

Gretzky, as you know, attached himself to a disease—osteoarthritis. He doesn’t have it; he’s never even been tested for it. He does have some pain, which (duh) he acknowledges as being the result of a lifetime spent playing a violent contact sport.

I don’t know how Fox’s 1998 announcement of his affliction affected Spin City’s ratings, but my theory is that it inspired a Johnson & Johnson spin doctor. That this person saw the sincere (and justified) outpouring of affection and concern for Fox and thought: ‘Hey! Gretzky’s a famous, popular, polite Canadian! A renowned athlete! He’s gotta’ be in some kind of  pain! We’ll tell the media he’s got arthritis! We’ll connect it to the non-profit sector! Sales of Tylenol will soar!’

On September 14th, this appeared, care of Canadian Press, in the Vancouver Sun: ‘The disease that affects more than four million Canadians has hit one of the country’s greats: Wayne Gretzy, recently retired hockey hero, seems to be suffering from arthritis.”

On the 15th, the item was on the front page of the Globe & Mail.

On the 16th, the TV commercials began. Interview format, Wayne Gretzky claiming to use Tylenol to treat the symptoms of a disease which he does not have.

Well, it blew up in the company’s face, with the media crying foul and Gretzky back-pedaling at slap-shot speed, telling the National Post that he often uses paying gigs to promote worthy causes, and claiming to be the victim of a newspaper war.

But Gretzky ain’t Bambi, and I doubt that it’s coincidence that the Tylenol/arthritis thing, the announcement of his new National Post column (yeah, right), the naming of an Edmonton highway after him etc., coincided with the launch of his clothing line at The Bay.

All of this got me thinking that Gretzky’s PR people forgot a crucial rule: Never make a journalist look foolish. There isn’t a journalist alive who hasn’t been duped–who’s been too busy, or too lazy, or too ambitious, or too short of time to check a fact. Who has printed information from a press release, or the newswire, without stopping to question the information. Who has then found himself with egg on his face.

‘Thing is, burned journalists have terrific memories. And the next time they receive information from that guilty PR firm, account executive or client, they will remember. And toss it aside. Or fact-check it until the subject screams for mercy.

The moral of this Gretzky story, then, is that unscrupulous, untruthful PR campaigns benefit no one, demean all involved and, in the long run, do nothing but damage.

 

The Molson Indy: Quick Thinking (Or How To Change A Race Around Without Losing Your Motorheads)

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Blitz Magazine, September 1998 

   

‘Chances are, you know a Motorhead. Someone who loves motorsports, who know the drivers and cars, who watches racing, reads about racing, plans vacations around racing.

          BC has lots of Motorheads. And lots of party hounds. Together, the two groups have propelled a beer promotion into an international sporting event.

          The Molson Indy began in Toronto in 1986. It was an immediate success; three years later, Molson decided to put a race in Vancouver.

          Until this year, the Vancouver Indy took place on the north False Creek shore, on land owned by international developer Concord Pacific Group. That site borders city property which, in turn, holds General Motors Place, BC Place Stadium and the Plaza of Nations — and includes busy roads and bridges. Obviously, landlord support was essential.

          Concord was immediately supportive. “Concord sells condos worldwide,” notes Stuart Ballantyne, General Manager of the Vancouver Indy. “For three hours each year, its Vancouver development is seen by 30 million people in 195 countries. It’s good advertising.”

          It took a little more to convince Vancouver City Council. “The Indy was a proven commodity in Toronto, but Vancouverites don’t necessarily care if something is successful in Toronto. Council wanted to know that we would do what we said we’d do — it had to be successful.”

          It’s been tremendously successful. Despite the fact that Toronto can pull from Ontario’s huge population, plus that of Quebec, New York and Michigan, Vancouver attendance is greater. While Toronto’s attendance hit an all-time high of 168,000 in July, Vancouver attendance has always edged 170,000, with 67% from Greater Vancouver, 25% from Alberta and BC and 8% from the US.

          The Molson Indy Vancouver is one of 19 races in the FedEx Championship Series. FedEx is the series sponsor, the series is owned by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the two Canadian races are owned by Molstar Sports & Entertainment, a division of Molson Breweries.

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          The Molson Indy cars are Champ cars or ‘customer cars’ — the team buys a car from a factory and an engine from an engine manufacturer. (Formula 1 cars are custom-designed and -built.) It costs $10.-$25. million to operate a Champ car and that money comes from sponsors, hence logo-plastered cars and drivers.

          In North America, there are four circuits: the super-speedway, the permanent road circuit, the short oval and the temporary street circuit, which is what the Vancouver race is. Every Labour Day week-end since 1990, this has meant bridge and street closures and lots of wingeing. But, says Ballantyne, “Vancouverites have been enthusiastic from the beginning.”

          The majority anyway. There have always been complaints about noise, pollution and the glorification of the automobile.

          “Some people believe that racing is not conducive to their environment,” continues Ballantyne. “But we do not pollute–Indy cars run on methanol, which burns more cleanly than the fuel we all use in our cars. For three days each year, we make a lot of noise. But that noise brings $20. million in direct economic benefit to the city. And there are no tax dollars involved.”

          Which is good news to other Vancouverites, who don’t care about pollution but don’t want to pay for the race. So Molstar pays. And pays. To construct the track and facilities. To pave and re-pave roads. For police, fire and ambulance services. It rents all land used by the race. Until this year, the race locked in BC Place Stadium, GM Place and the Plaza of Nations, so Molstar had to rent the three facilities and their parking lots.

          That changed when Concord’s development caught up to the track — a condo tower now sits at the former Indy hairpin turn. The track had to be moved. Motorheads freaked. Ballantyne had to find a new venue.

          There was furious rejection by Hastings Park residents. Surrey is too far away, various farmers’ fields lacked parking and transit access. Then Vancouver Mayor Phillip Owen came up with a plan–to shift the track southeast, along Quebec Street and onto the grungy wasteland south of Science World.

          Now everyone wonders why no one thought of this before. Because the new track is much better–a 2.9 km, 320 kph horseshoe, running around False Creek and Science World. With its waterfront setting and clear mountain views, it’s the most beautiful setting on the FedEx circuit. Traffic inconvenience is reduced, opportunities for entertainment and profit are increased — on race week-end, GM Place and BC Place hosted concerts and football and the Plaza of Nations became Indy’s front door and site of its MotorSport Show. Forty per cent of Indy-goers get there via transit and the new site holds two SkyTrain stations and a bus loop. The Science World park allows for more general admission guests; seating increased from 40,000 to 45,000.

          Most importantly, the race is better for Motorheads. Norman Stowe is president of The Pace Group, which handles media and public relations for the Vancouver Indy. This year, Stowe had the additional task of reassuring the race’s 70,000+ hard-core fans.

          “They needed to know the fundamentals — that the new track was faster and more demanding, with more turns and more passing opportunities, which is what fans and drivers want. We showed them how we used computers to analyze the track from the spectator and driver perspectives. And we had driver support– Greg Moore helped design the course, and he and Christian Fittipaldi and Patrick Carpentier went out on the track with the media.”

          Stowe says that media support is paramount. “We stay in touch all year and take media members to spring training in Florida. This year we showed them the new track from the air, then had them race carts on a scaled-down version. We also have strong partnerships with media organizations. The people who support the race financially get their opinion of it from the media. If the race isn’t playing well in the media it would be a much harder sell.”

          Each year, 600 accredited media members show up. Most are ‘hard cards’–professional motorsports writers who know the protocol, the cars, the drivers and the teams and need little attention. Then there is the local media, the aforementioned partners who start on Fathers’ Day with province-wide promotions. Indy does not allow media exclusivity, so everyone gets to leverage their participation.

          “We work with sponsors and media partners to make sure everyone gets the most from the dollars they commit,” says Linda Wirkowski, Molstar’s Director of Marketing & Communications. “Sponsors and partners do their own advertising and have their own objectives, but we know what the event can deliver. So we get them to team up. We have sponsor-partner workshops where we exchange ideas and see how we can all get the biggest bang for our buck.”

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          Wirkowski says that Molstar doesn’t have the resources to organize the race on its own. It is an enormous undertaking. It has five full-time employees; volunteers make that 2,000 by race week-end. Track and facility construction begins in March; it takes a month to dismantle everything. And the fact that its owner is a national brewery does not mean that funds are unlimited; Molstar has to find its own money.

          Indy sponsorships run from $75,000.00 for local programs, to $1. million for Molson partnerships. Benefits can include pre- and post-event marketing rights, usage rights of the Indy name and logo and product category exclusivity. Sponsors have access to the event customer database and logo placement on 63 on-site banners and signs. They receive broadcast time on the PA system, their spots appear on the grandstand video display screens, they can have four 30-second commercials a day and one five-minute feature piece.

          The Indy demographic is 71% men, half age 26-44. Half of attendees earn $35,000.00 to $75,000.00; half are professionals and executives. Sponsorship is, therefore, a great way to generate sales, boost visibility and introduce products. So selling sponsorships must be easy.

          “It’s a tough sell,” explains Ballantyne. “We used to have categories and sponsors just chose one. Now, a car company wants this, a food company wants that. We identify targets, come up with ideas, float them to prospects and see what sticks. Sometimes we’re not there. Making auto racing relevant to a cosmetics company takes a lot of creativity.

          “It also takes a lot effort to do the fulfillment. And every sponsor needs something different. Burger King wants to be a local sponsor but not do the national campaign. BC Tel doesn’t need national exposure; the auto and tobacco companies want the big campaigns.”

          The tobacco thing is a problem. Tobacco is a major supporter of motorsports. But the federal government is proceeding with the anti-tobacco Bill C71 and this could kill racing in Canada.

          “Bill C71 has a dramatic effect on our ability to stage this race,” continues Ballantyne. “At one time, C71 was going to ban every car funded by tobacco–Canadian or American. Well, if Marlborough can’t have its name on a car in Canada, Marlborough isn’t coming to Canada. C71, as it was first written, would have put us out of business. But we asked for an amendment and that amendment will continue until the US and Canadian legislation lines up.

         “Player’s alone spends $1. million on Indy. But it’s not just the money–Player’s has its own team and driver development program and we’ll lose immeasurable promotional value. We’re negotiating for Player’s to go further, but we’re going to have to replace that money — and we’ve not been able to, despite the fact that we have Canada’s two most successful sponsorship events.”

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          When asked about the special interest groups who’d like to see alcohol producers knocked out of sponsorship contention, the affable Ballantyne becomes less affable.

          “Beer is a legal product with a legal right to advertise. That right is accorded by governments who take tax revenue from that legal product. If the product is going to remain legal, then the people producing the product should be allowed to market it in a way which makes sense to them.”

          The Vancouver Indy takes in about $12. million and takes home about $1. million. There are five main revenue-generating areas: sponsorships, corporate hospitality packages, concession licensing, broadcasting and ticket sales.

          Molstar is paid for the broadcast by ESPN and the host broadcaster, the CBC; and it provides a world feed to CART. Broadcast production is not a big money-maker, but it helps.

          Percentages of merchandise, program and food and beverage sales also sweeten the pot. Molstar doesn’t want to have to worry about feeding 75,000 people so it licenses vendors, from the majors like Burger King, to professional concessionaires, to Mom ‘n Pop operations.

          Corporate hospitality packages are marketed as a way of networking, entertaining clients, rewarding employees and meeting celebrities. Corporations buy group-ticket packages or entertain 150 in Chalets, host 20 in Turn One Boxes or, for $25,000.00, buy 40-seat Pit Row Suites. These programs also include things like driver autographs, Paul Newman sightings and passes to the ancillary races (the Sports Car Club of BC Invitational, the Player’s Challenge for the KOOL Atlantic Championship and the PPG/Dayton Indy Lights).

          “A company can invest $40,000.00 in the hospitality options — for an international motorsports event, that’s pretty affordable,” says Ballantyne. “Sales go up every year; we had 75 private boxes or suites this year. We market hospitality through direct mail to our existing corporate list and to new sectors — this year, it was doctors, lawyers and pharmaceutical companies. Also new this year was a program to allow home-based businesses to buy seats within private boxes. We always have to think of new things to do.”

          Finally, there are ticket sales, with three-day general admission passes priced at $45.00 and three-day seats ranging from $60.00 to $170.00. This is where Molstar spends around $1. million on marketing — ‘not much for an event like this.

          “We can’t market Indy without the support of our media partners,” says Wirkowski. “One of our major accomplishments has been to generate tremendous awareness with more contra than cash. In return, we constantly look for ways to provide value for our sponsors, our partners and our fans. We have to make sure that everyone gets their money’s worth.

          “We do on-site research to collect data for sponsors and determine how to market ourselves. We find out what Indy-goers want. We sell tickets on-line, we use telemarketing to keep in touch with customers, then we follow up by mailing brochures, maps and information about early-bird offers, which give fans the chance to buy early and get the same seats each year.”

          Wirkowski writes the marketing plan for both races. That plan is then tweaked for Vancouver.

          “Vancouver and Toronto require very different approaches,” says Ballantyne. “Torontonians like to be part of the Big Happening. Vancouverites are race fans. In Vancouver, the nature of the site makes more of a difference. Toronto has a huge, high-tech trade centre next to the pit lane and the trade show is a much bigger component. Vancouverites want to be outside and be entertained by things unrelated to racing — this year we had concerts, volleyball, rock climbing and dragon boat demonstrations. Indy competes with theatre, football, concerts, golf, vacations — we have to make it appealing.”

          The creative for both races comes from BBDO Canada; the day-to-day work is handled by BBDO’s promotional arm, Generator Ideaworks. The race requires tons of material — posters, maps, programs, brochures, sponsorship and media kits, bus kings, billboards, print ads. This year, there was a five-week, four-station radio campaign and an eight-week television campaign.

          “We had three things to say this year,” says Jan Fricker, the Indy account director at Generator. “First, that the race was actually on. Secondly, that the new track was better. Finally, that people should buy tickets. We used the lines ‘The World’s Fastest Long Week-End Just Got Faster’ and ‘Think Fast’, and we ran lots of promotions, from little win-tickets things to a car give-away.”

          But what about the beer?

          Generator president Brad Vettese says that the Indy’s real purpose is to leverage beer sales. “Molson’s interest is to put on a world-class event while reaching into the community in such a way that people will think positively of Molson and drink its products. That’s the overall rationale for having a race in your set of marketing tools. But Molson wants to do things on an image-building, community-minded level as opposed to just a public relations level.”

          And it wants to sell beer. So for the fifth year, Generator and Molson produced 180,000 special cases of Molson Canadian — 18 cans packaged in a racing-oriented carton. Inside, there was a pass to the Friday race, and the pass held a number through which holders registered for the chance to be one of 150 guests at a VIP barbecue on race day — on the Thunderdeck, an area at the end of the straightaway.

          “This promotion gives the beer-selling side and the Indy side a place to meet,” says Vettese. “It rewards loyal drinkers for staying with the brand and  gets other people to switch to Molson.”

          Molson markets 17 brands in BC, and Molson Canadian has been here since 1959. Since the inception of the race, however, the trademark has increased by 70%. But Scott Ellis, VP Corporate Affairs for Molson, says that the race is only part of the big picture.

          “Indy is a world-class event that happens at the height of the beer-drinking season, and a lot of time and effort goes into building the brand while building the race. All along, you’re obviously trying to make the linkage with consumers. But you can’t do that with one event. You have to do it every day — with professional sports and local baseball clubs and recreational hockey leagues. It’s those things combined with big events that make the difference. But Indy happened because our consumers told us that high-profile sports events were of high importance to them. Our job is to give consumers what they want.”

 

On the End of Tobacco Companies as Event Sponsors

Blitz Magazine, September 1998

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A recent Goldfarb poll commissioned by Maclean’s Magazine found that 45% of Canadians reject the notion of a government ban on the sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies. The notion is supported by 23%, 31% don’t care.

          Another lobby which would like to end the sponsorship of sporting events by distilleries and breweries. The poll found that 52% of Canadians reject this notion, 15% support it, 32% don’t care.

          So the federal government is pandering to the minority by imposing Bill C71, which will delete tobacco money from the balance sheets of those organizations who depend on it. Motorsports in Canada will be damaged (although now that Quebec has a Formula 1 mega-star, things may not turn out as expected.) The Molson Indy Vancouver is only one of many BC events which have two years to find new money.

          Each June, the DuMaurier International Jazz Festival is attended by 350,000 people and brings $10. million in economic benefit to Vancouver. Although it is a fully viable event with the infrastructure needed to continue, it exists because of tobacco money.

          Each July, the Benson & Hedges Symphony of Fire provides four nights of world-class fireworks. Benson & Hedges spends $2. million on the event; Vancouver reaps $10. million. Two million people enjoy these fireworks, free of charge.

          We could have the Cheese Doodles Symphony of Fire, the McDonald’s International Jazz Festival, the Pepsi Indy. But then other well-funded groups who are obsessed with sanitizing society will produce ‘studies’ suggesting that Cheese Doodles, McNuggets and Pepsi cause dire consequences for The Fate of the Nation.

          Tobacco and alcohol aren’t good for us. Junk food isn’t good for us. Household cleaners aren’t good for us. But these are products which exist because members of society want them. They are legal products, governments profit from their sale and their producers have the right to advertise them.

          Events funding is a form of advertising. If corporations can’t promote their products in this way, we’re going to lose events which spin off into greater economic benefit, cultural enrichment and affordable entertainment for increasingly financially-squeezed and stressed-out Canadians. Stress isn’t good for us either.