Monday, May 17, 2010

Q&A Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard

Like most people, Randy Bernard likes to put the pedal to the metal. "Who doesn't like to drive fast?" says the freshly minted CEO of the Indy Racing League. Like most CEOs, Bernard knows all about marketing, brand building, wall-to-wall meetings and 24/7 workdays.
Oddly, what he doesn't know much about is Indy-style open-wheel car racing, where daredevil drivers zip along at speeds of up to 225 miles per hour.

For the past 15 years Bernard, 43, was CEO of Professional Bull Riders, where he learned the business from the ground up. He transformed a cowboy pastime once reserved for rodeos into a mainstream, made-for-TV, sponsorship-rich sport. He boosted the number of PBR events from eight to 400-plus, and increased sponsorships from $360,000 to $26 million.

So why not just coast and keep working at a gig he aced? Why start from scratch — again? Why take a job in an industry you know nothing about? It's a league that's fighting to win back fans, is lacking in brand-name icons such as hoops star LeBron James, is losing ground to NASCAR, and is still trying to recover from a nasty 12-year split with a rival open-wheel racing league, despite a highly publicized "reunification" of the sport in 2008.

In an era when jobs are tough to come by and workers need to reinvent themselves to survive, Bernard offers tips on how folks can break out of their comfort zones, avoid complacency and take a calculated risk to succeed at a new gig. He'll also get you up to speed on his accelerated learning curve at his new job and what's next for Indy, which is gearing up for its 94th Indianapolis 500 race on Sunday, May 30.

Q:A former PBR rider said, "There always comes a time when a man needs to saddle a new horse and go in a different direction." Is that how you felt about your decision to join Indy as a newbie to the racing game?

A: It is really important in all of our lives to embrace change. When you step outside your boundaries, you grow in another way. It's no different than folks that take classes their entire life and want to learn more. I had security at PBR. I had an offer to stay until 2012, but I believe 15 years within a single sport is a good time to leave. If you are at a place too long, you can get complacent. I saw so much opportunity at Indy Racing League, and that is what really excited me the most.

Q:What was your biggest fear before taking the job?

A: I never had any fear. It was strictly if I would be accepted in a world I did not come from. That was my biggest anxiety. It was important for me in the due diligence process to meet with the influencers in the racing industry — team owners, corporate sponsors, boards of directors — and look them square in the eye and make sure they would accept me. It was refreshing to see they would stand behind me. That relieved my anxiety.

Q: Bloggers have voiced concerns about Indy hiring a guy like you with no background in racing. Does coming in stone cold make your job harder — or easier?

A: There are pros and cons. One of the pros is I have no background in the politics of the sport, especially with the reunification, where there are deep-rooted issues, such as what side of the fence you were on. I don't care. My goal is to take Indy back to the top. The con is you do have a blind spot. The difference is not knowing the sport, the tradition, the culture. But if you can't teach the CEO about a sport, how are you going to reignite America on Indy racing and bring new fans in?

Q: In your first Indy press conference, you said you would do what it takes to learn the sport. What have you used as learning tools, and what have you learned so far?

A: I knew I would bust my butt to learn the sport. I have been spending two hours a week for the past four weeks attending a class about the history of the Indy 500 at a high school in Speedway, Ind. Donald Davidson, an Indy 500 historian who teaches the course, is brilliant. Tonight, I am going to watch sprint car races in Bloomington, Ind. It's not even an Indy event. It's a dirt track. I just want to learn more about racing and other facets of the sport. I want to see the fans of that form of racing. I want to take it all in.

Q:I heard you never saw an Indy race until you took the job. Was it similar to a kid going to Yankee Stadium for the first time?

A: My first one was the São Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil back in March. My first impression was: the speed. I was blown away by how fast these cars go. It was a street course, and they were traveling upwards of 180 miles per hour. And then there was the danger element. On the very first lap between turns one and two, there was a wreck involving Marco Andretti, and another car ended up on top of him right in front of me. My first comment was, "Oh my God! Not even one lap into it." I was praying to God, let him be all right. I didn't realize how much danger there was.

Q:Every sports league needs stars to promote. At your last job, you "humanized bulls" to the point that people wanted to know what they ate and how much Gatorade they drank. I know Mario Andretti and the Unser and Foyt names from my childhood, but no other current drivers come to mind, other than Danica Patrick, mainly because she is female. Who is Indy's LeBron James or Sidney Crosby— and do you have to promote them more?

A: We have stars. There's last year's Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Brazilian who was the winner of Dancing with the Stars in 2007. (Scotland-born) Dario Franchitti. Tony Kanaan. And then you have Danica Patrick. In my opinion, we haven't created good enough story lines for fans to follow and understand and appreciate our drivers as athletes. Fans have had a difficult time connecting with our athletes except for Danica, who keeps pushing the limit as one of the greatest drivers in the world, which people respect. Our drivers have phenomenal personalities, and we have to promote them more. How? The best example I can give is this: I could care less about watching the Winter Olympics — until they start. And once they start, and I sit down and watch those feature stories about the athletes, I am invested in following through to see if the star wins gold.

Q: As a new CEO, and an outsider at that, what's the secret to gaining the trust of your new employees?

A: The most important thing I can do is to listen. I want to listen to everyone. Not only the best driver in the world but also the 24th-best driver. The No. 1 team owner and the smallest team owner. It is my job to make sure I can understand all their concerns, while at the same time do what is right.

Q:To learn what PBR fans were thinking, you had all e-mails to the website routed to your personal e-mail. Are you doing that at Indy?

A: Not yet, but I will. I want to get a pulse of America. The fans that will send you e-mails are purists and traditionalists. They have great ideas. And getting feedback from them is invaluable. At PBR, I was looking for e-mails (that highlighted problems or ideas). If I saw a complaint from one or two people I would listen. But when I saw 25, 30, 50 or 100 e-mails on a certain issue (that needed to be addressed), I would forward it along to the appropriate department and get a response on how we could fix the problem.

Q: The mid-1990s split between Indy and CART hurt the sport, and despite the 2008 unification with the renamed Champ Car, open-wheel racing is still trying to regain its mojo. Why?

A: At the time of the split, drivers had to choose what way they wanted to go. Most of the stars went to CART. So you no longer had all your stars competing in the same races week in and week out. A perfect analogy would be if Tiger Woods and his guys created their own golf tour, but the Masters stayed in Augusta, Ga. (and went on without them). A lot of fans got frustrated and left the sport. Once you lose someone, it is much more difficult to get them back.

Q: Are you still trying to lure fans back, including those that defected to NASCAR?

A: Yes. You have to walk a fine line, because what you learn with 99 years of history is you have purists and traditionalists that see the sport in one way. These are the people that can tell you exactly what year they watched their first Indy 500, and what kind of chassis and engines were used and who was driving. Then there is the core fan, the people that just love cars. We have to reignite the core.

Q: Your old boss said you have a tireless work ethic. Are you an all-work, no play, 24/7 kind of guy? Is that what it takes to be a CEO?

A: I'm not sure about most CEOs, but from my standpoint, I need to eat, sleep and breathe it. Two months ago, racing became my life, and my family has an understanding of how I operate. Thank God they accept that.

Q:What's a typical day at your new gig?

A: I'm up at 5 a.m. and at the gym by 5:30. I do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio using the elliptical and treadmill. Then I do a very light weight workout. Typically, I'm at the office by 7:30 a.m. I check e-mails and phone messages. Then it is wall-to wall meetings. I take my own notes and have three or four notepads that are completely full right now. I never get home before 10:30 p.m. But I love being a CEO. I have a spring in my step. I enjoy what I do. I'm excited to get up every morning.

Q:What's the most important thing you learned at PBR that you will bring to Indy?

A: The importance of brand and the perception of the brand. We have a great sport. We need to let the fans know that the best drivers in the world are competing in Indy races.

Adam Shell, USA TODAY

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hispanic Millennials: The Future of MLS

Major League Soccer’s future success is contingent upon its ability to market its game to first and second generation Hispanic-Americans.

The United States Census Bureau estimates there are 48 million Hispanics living in the United States, a number which is expected to increase to 73 million by 2030. I contend that this figure will be driven by an increase in American born Hispanics, opposed to immigration. Arizona may be considered a rogue state today, but we are nation which is increasingly moving right of center. However politically untenable the situation may become, I believe the rate of illegal immigration will decrease in the coming decades. Thus, any increase in the Hispanic population of the United States will be attributable to an increase in birth rates; a development which my statistics suggest will serve MLS well.

I recently recruited 202 survey participants from the Facebook fan pages of five MLS teams, and Hispanics accounted for 25% of survey participants. I acknowledge the economic bias of my recruitment method; however, I contend the disparity between immigrants and first-generation survey participants is indeed indicative of a trend amongst MLS fans.

First-generation Americans accounted for 76% of Hispanic respondents, with immigrants accounting for the remaining 24%. The lack of second-generation Hispanic-Americans, indicates first-generation Hispanic-Americans of the Baby Boomer generation assimilated into American culture through football, basketball and baseball, and did not communicate a passion for soccer to their children. First-generation Hispanic-Americans from Generation X did not face the discrimination of their predecessors, and gravitated to soccer without the fear of being ostracized. This generation will produce a second-generation of Hispanic-Americans whom share a passion for soccer with their fathers. However, to maximize the potential of the Hispanic demographic, MLS must attract more Mexican-Americans to its games.

Mexican-Americans account for 68% of Hispanics in the United States, but only 30% of Hispanic survey respondents. It has been theorized that Mexican-Americans have been slow to adopt MLS because of the availability of Mexican First Division matches on Spanish language television in the United States. Mexican-Americans can continue to follow teams in their native country, unlike their Central and South American counterparts. Furthermore, the escalating rivalry amongst the national teams of Mexico and the United States, inhibits many Mexican immigrants from accepting any form of American soccer. Mexican immigrants’ indignation towards American soccer will not transcend generations.

MLS provides first-generation Hispanic-Americans the opportunity to define their American identity, without abandoning their cultural attachment to the sport of soccer. First-generation Hispanic-Americans from Generation X have proven that they will embrace MLS. Therefore, it stands to reason that first-generation Hispanic-Americans of the Millennial generation will continue to gravitate to the league. Their support, in conjunction with their second-generation counterparts, provides a reassuring confidence to MLS; the only professional sports league which is expanding domestically.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Milk: It's the "Real" Thing?

They’ve gotten away with calling their products “milks” for decades, but the makers of soy milk, rice milk and other plant-based dairy-beverage substitutes may no longer be permitted to, well, milk their lactose-related terms of en-dairy-ment.

The dairy industry wants the milk moniker all to itself. Only milk is milk, the dairy interests say – and everything else is just, well, vegetable juice.

The National Milk Producers Federation has written to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration asking that the term “milk” be reserved for cow’s milk, although it would also permit the word to describe goat, sheep or other “mammalian lacteal secretions.”

The group wants the FDA to require that plant-based beverages be labeled something else, such as “drinks,” “beverages” or (spit take!) “imitation milk.” That's cold.

Unlike a decade ago -- the first time the dairy industry made this request of the federal government -- milk interests are taking their battle to the streets as well. For example, the federation has launched a Facebook page titled “They Don’t Got Milk.” And the group’s spokesman decried “the bastardization of dairy terms” to USA Today.

The challenge posed to milk by plant-based beverages is much stiffer than a decade ago. Soy milks, led by the Silk brand, have become a $1-billion industry. New types of plant-based milk substitutes are proliferating, including almond milk and even hemp milk. And almost without exception, these products have acquired a reputation for healthfulness in large part because they lack the animal fats of dairy milk.

Clearly, plant-based beverage brands also have benefited from the use of the term “milk” over the years because consumers have associated them with the good things about dairy milk – color, texture and mouthfeel – but not with the negative. Anything the purveyors of real milk can do to interrupt those associations will only be to their favor.

Meanwhile, consumption of so-called "real" milk by Americans has continued to decline over the last quarter-century as consumers, especially young people, have abandoned it for soft drinks, energy drinks, bottled waters and other beverages.

Overall, the dairy industry has managed to hold its own because of the continued popularity of other milk-based products, including cheese and ice cream, and the rise of yogurt.
And lately, dairy-farmer and industry groups have mounted a nascent effort to redeem the reputation of milk.

New research, for example, has questioned the wholly negative nutritional reputation of saturated fats in milk. Some savvy dairy brands also have seized on the growing reputation of chocolate milk as the ideal post-workout “recovery beverage” for athletes.

Milk may be down, but it’s not out.

Credit Suisse and the Arts Sponsorships

Credit Suisse and the New York Philharmonic announced today that Credit Suisse has renewed its Global Sponsorship of the Orchestra for three years.

The partnership, which began in the 2007–08 season, has enhanced the global brand presence of Credit Suisse, and represented the Bank’s first signature cultural sponsorship in the United States, involving all events in New York, across the United States, and around the world. The collaboration unites two longstanding institutions that share historic commitments to excellence and creativity. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The global partnership has created an unprecedented level of corporate support for the New York Philharmonic, making its performances increasingly accessible beyond the boundaries of its home, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, through regular national and international radio broadcasts, Internet streaming, recordings and downloadable concerts, and residencies and international concert tours.

Beginning in September 2007, Credit Suisse has been instrumental in supporting the Philharmonic’s Free Dress Rehearsal on the opening day of each season; in generously underwriting Orchestra Galas; and in helping to bring world premieres and continent-spanning tours to new audiences — on the Asia 2008 tour; the Tour of Europe 2008; the Winter U.S. Tour 2009; the Asian Horizons tour in October 2009, with a debut in Hanoi, Vietnam; and on the EUROPE / WINTER 2010 tour.

“Credit Suisse has been a fantastic partner of the New York Philharmonic,” said Philharmonic Chairman Gary W. Parr. “It is a company with a commitment to quality, integrity, and innovation, and its support has been critical to the Orchestra, both at home in New York and abroad in the numerous cities to which we have traveled in the past three years. It is the kind of organization that we like to be associated with, and we greatly look forward to the continuance of this important partnership.”

Award-winning actor Alec Baldwin, who hosts the Philharmonic’s national radio broadcasts, shared his own thoughts on the partnership at the press conference announcing the Orchestra’s 2010–11 season. “We have to thank Credit Suisse,” he said, “because to have this kind of corporate underwriting in the world of classical music is so important. Finding corporate underwriting for arts endeavors that are as substantial as the

New York Philharmonic and the mission of the New York Philharmonic is expensive. We can’t thank Credit Suisse enough for what they do for the arts, and for the arts here in New York.”

“Credit Suisse is proud to renew our exclusive Global Sponsorship of the New York Philharmonic,” said Paul Calello, CEO of Credit Suisse’s Investment Bank and New York Philharmonic Board Member. “This partnership underscores our commitment to excellence, which the Orchestra certainly exemplifies. We look forward to continuing to sustain the orchestra's important achievements as a vital institution in New York City and, through its extensive touring, as an American treasure that is highly regarded around the world. We also look forward to taking part in the many exciting opportunities that our sponsorship provides to our clients, our colleagues and our communities.”

Credit Suisse and the Arts Extraordinary and lasting relationships develop over time, which is why Credit Suisse adopts a long-term approach to its partnerships. Classical music is one of Credit Suisse's key themes in sponsoring cultural engagements worldwide. In addition to financial support, an integral part of our partnerships involves supporting young musical talent through education programs that ensure that cultural diversity is maintained in the future. The Bank’s current global sponsorship portfolio includes the National Gallery in London, the Salzburg Festival, the Bolshoi Theatre, the Lucerne Festival, and the Shanghai Museum, among others.

credit: BWW News Desk