About Me

My photo

I conceive and execute sports creative projects, play in bands, and like a lot of other stuff, too.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Talking the 1976 Olympics and Women’s Basketball with Billie Moore

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

In 1972, the members of the United States basketball team declined their Olympic silver medals after losing the title game in controversial fashion to the underdog Soviet Union team.

Four years later, a USA basketball team again watched the U.S.S.R claim Olympic gold, but this time the runners-up treasured their awards.

While the two teams earned the same results, the second group of Olympians differed significantly from the Munich team in one key respect: their gender. Indeed, the Montreal competition marked the first time women from any country had competed in an Olympic basketball tournament. The men played in ’76, too, of course, and Coach Bobby Knight’s team reassured American hoops fans by reclaiming gold. But for Billie Moore, the women’s coach, her squad’s finish carried both immediate and lasting significance.

In this video interview, Coach Moore explains how the US nearly didn’t make the Olympic Games despite the presence of future Hall of Famers like Pat Head, Anne Meyers, and Nancy Lieberman. A Hall of Famer herself, Moore also details what their showing meant to the future of the sport.

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ed Belfour on Hockey and His New Business Venture

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

Ed Belfour’s goaltending propelled the Dallas Stars to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup win. He formed a unique bond with that team’s coach, Ken Hitchcock. Now the club has rehired Hitchcock in hopes of returning to an elite level. In this video interview, Belfour offers his feelings about his former coach coming back and why Hitchcock might be even better this time around. The Eagle also talks about a team he has assembled and the work they have been doing to create a North Texas distillery to be called Belfour Spirits.

Videographer Dave French and I did this interview in Louisville, Kentucky where we were recording images of the exchange and refinement of ideas related to the development of the distillery. I observed elements analogous to the Belfours’ sporting backgrounds (Ed’s son Dayn, also a former goaltender, is his partner in the venture, as is his daughter Reaghan) . Firstly, they truly tried to assemble a team and let them play their positions. The Belfours didn’t pretend to know everything (although they have certainly done their homework on the industry), but they did try to have a good representation of the diverse factors that go into creating a distillery from scratch. Those included building design and construction, event space planning, branding and marketing, production workflow, and finance.

BelfourSpiritsMeeting_8138 I also thought about how Ed Belfour approached the game of hockey. He had a reputation for paying close attention to details, wanting to keep on top of everything from the sharpness of his skates to new techniques other goaltenders had adopted around the league. He approached the distillery business the same way. Everyone we talked to at the meetings agreed that he was keen to make sure nothing fell through the cracks. Architect Wayne Estopinal, who describes himself as a “detail freak,” viewed Ed’s approach as a positive.

“I think that’s helped a lot,” he told me. “If we had a guy who just threw out a big idea and left it to everybody else to implement it, for them it’s kind of a hollow feeling. You want somebody engaged and he certainly is.”

They came out of their meetings knowing what they wanted and how much it might cost, and next steps will include figuring out financing it and what to do first. It’s probably similar to building a hockey team, come to think of it. Stars fans will no doubt hope both Belfour and his former boss will experience success with their new, yet in many ways familiar, teams.

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More Than Just 3,000 Hits

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

It’s not an unusual sequence. When a Major League Baseball player records his 3000th hit, effusive praise follows. We get to see video of hit number one in his career and endless replays of his milestone.

Since the Rangers’ Adrián Beltré doubled in his second at-bat Sunday, the kudos have rolled in. Teammates’ quotes have lauded his accomplishments and pundits have extolled his Hall of Fame credentials.

I took especial notice of a blog post by Rangers reporter Emily Jones, probably because much of her experience with the great third baseman mirrored my own. I worked for the team when he arrived in 2011, and had the privilege of interacting with him for the purpose of shooting TV commercials and certain other video and audio projects, as well as the occasional live event.

Like Jones, I wasn’t sure what to think of Beltré when he arrived. He takes his job seriously, and his facial expression often reflects that, even in the clubhouse where someone in my position, or Jones’s, would need to solicit him to participate in some video. He also was an established star, and that status means you might approach him a little more slowly than, say, a rookie eager to do whatever anybody in the organization asks.

We figured out pretty quickly we didn’t have anything to worry about. He might set that intimidating jaw to good effect in the batter’s box, but he could break into an infectious grin on a moment’s notice.

photo courtesy Brian Gagnon/Texas Rangers

We saw it shooting a commercial that featured him and teammates Josh Hamilton and Darren O’Day. Not only did he not mind being there, the superstar asked if he could wear the goofy foam cowboy hat we had brought for a prop. We shot some takes with it, although it didn’t make the final spot. He and Hamilton joked about whether Josh was allowed to touch his head while wearing the getup.

photo courtesy Tim George/Texas Rangers

Jones mentioned how good he is with his teammates and his family. In fact, you’d often see him pitching to his son in the outfield during the afternoons before a game. But Beltré also embraced those he’d never met before. At another commercial shoot, the juvenile actor seated next to him had a runny nose. The guy best positioned to solve this problem was our $96 million infielder. The father of three did as I am sure he has many times and applied tissue to nostril, stanched the flow without complaint, and laughed about it afterward.

His first two seasons in Texas were my last two with the club. I was at every home game he played and considered it a great privilege to see him do something amazing pretty much every night. He was even good at choosing walkup music that got the whole ballpark control room singing along in Spanish. He performed remarkable physical feats on the field, and also showed off a deep appreciation for the game and a fierce competitive spirit.

I’m reminded of his performance at a Park Place Dealerships Triple Play charity game show night. The players competed in a version of the $40,000 Pyramid. Host Eric Nadel gave them a list of terms and they had to figure out what tied the words together. As Nadel read “Oh . . . Aaron . . . Mays . . . Sosa . . . Bonds . . . Thome,” you could see the question marks pop up over the contestants’ heads. But you could also observe Beltré deep in thought, and he finally rang in. “Players who have hit 600 home runs” was the answer and he had deduced it. His playing partner, Elvis Andrus, asked about “Oh,” and Nadel explained it referred to Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh, and noted that Yu Darvish probably could have explained it. I bet the student of the game Beltré could have, too.

And someday in the future when people are playing games and trying to name players who have achieved great things in the game, the correct answer will, on many occasions, be Adrián Beltré.

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

A Window on the Trading Deadline

This post originally appeared in the Stuff section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

A baseball trading deadline revolves around seeing the future. A team acquiring proven talent attempts to peer three months hence and occasionally as much as 15 months. A franchise adding prospects needs to see further, sometimes as much as four years or more.
Ironically, a word we use when talking about a baseball club’s ability to try to predict its near future is “window.” A winning club’s collection of talent is said to have a period of time when it’s a viable title contender before those players age and leave due to free agency, retirement, or cost-benefit analysis.

Heading into this season, the Texas Rangers returned the core of consecutive division title-winning teams led by the 2015 American League Manager of the Year. They added fan favorite and power threat Mike Napoli, plus TCU product Andrew Cashner. They had reason to expect continued progress from young players like Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo. 

Their window of opportunity seemed open. The 2017 Rangers have shown promising bursts, including May’s 10-game win streak and another five-gamer in June against first-place teams Washington and Houston. Overall, however, they have won fewer games than they have lost. Young players have not taken necessary steps forward, though the 23-year-old Gallo’s OPS north of .830 shows progress. Veterans have mostly underperformed. Cole Hamels missed time with an oblique strain. The relief pitching has inexplicably beached itself, as bullpens sometimes do.

This season’s window of contention, then, has likely rattled closed for the Rangers, and their trade deadline activity reflected it.  July 31 represents a key date in the baseball calendar, because it is the last date teams can trade players without sending them through waivers. From now through the end of the season, a team wishing to trade a player must put him through revocable waivers, a process that allows any team to claim him. At that point, the player’s current club must either pull him off waivers and keep him, trade him to the claiming team, or let the claimant take the player and his salary. Each player can only go through the process once a season, so it can stymie a lot of August trades. Teams therefore generally decide by July 31 whether their windows to win include the current campaign.
This July, the Rangers traded three established players for younger ones unlikely to help them win games this season. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy went to the Rockies for a player to be named later; relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress moved to Milwaukee for minor league right-hander Tayler Scott; and starting pitcher Yu Darvish headed west to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, and Brendon Davis.

The returns for Lucroy and Jeffress will not have a substantial impact on any Rangers window. With the former posting a career-low batting average and the latter’s ERA at a career-high 5.31 at the time of the trade, the Rangers had to sell low. rated both at below replacement level in 2017, implying that any average player would have performed better. One could argue that moving them might have made sense no matter where you found yourself in the standings, especially given that Colorado now has to pay a portion of Lucroy’s $5-plus million salary.

Darvish, however, likely offers substantial present value to any team. Baseball Reference estimated his WAR at 2.8, higher than any other Ranger. He has struck out more than a batter per inning and offers a bewildering selection of pitches. Banister declared that losing his team’s only All-Star selection doesn’t mean his group won’t have a chance to contend. He should say that, because his job entails motivating the men he manages, and players view the possibility of October baseball as an important enticement. Also, Banister could be right. We don’t know because we haven’t played the games yet. Other contenders could suffer slumps or injuries, and his roster could improve its performance. Darvish’s departure makes it unlikely, however, that the Rangers’ window of contention will extend into 2017.
The Rangers fan must ask that if 2017 is not the team’s window, when is? The team’s current run dates to 2010, with Texas playing beyond the standard 162 regular season games every year since then other than an injury-crushed 2014. Its success rested on a strong minor league system fortified by prescient trades, draft choices, and international signings. The club supplemented its internal promotions with free agent signings and by using its farm depth to trade for the likes of Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Mike Adams.

If General Manager Jon Daniels polishes the glass on his crystal ball and spies a chance to contend next season, it means he sees enough tools either currently on the roster, ready to be promoted from the minor leagues, or likely to be acquired in the offseason. Perhaps internal evaluations indicate they can expect improved performance from current guys. They might also look at signing free agents. Darvish will become available again, if they want to make a run at him. Last year, the Yankees effectively rented Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs before re-signing him in the offseason. The Cubbies did the same the year before in bringing Jason Hammel back from Oakland after dealing him there mid-season. 

Darvish makes $11 million this year and can expect to command more than double that next year, barring injury. Texas has $61.5 million in combined commitments to three thirtysomething players next year (Hamels, Adrián Beltré, and Shin-soo Choo) and the 29-year-old Elvis Andrus. Could they afford to re-up with Darvish and, since they would need to improve on what they had this season even with the big right-hander, also add another big-ticket free agent like Wade Davis or J.D. Martinez?

In a sport without a hard salary cap, the Rangers’ revenues have an impact on payroll acquisitions. The way ticket sales cycles go, the club will likely have less money to work with for next year’s budget. A non-playoff season means less money coming in during the all-important winter season and group ticket sales period. We can also expect limited sponsor revenue-producing additions to the current ballpark (à la the Hyundai Club or left field video board of recent years) with a new stadium on the horizon.

In terms of internal help, it’s not out of the question that Calhoun or Ronald Guzman could emerge from AAA to impact the big club next year. Perhaps Nick Martinez will surface as a reliable starter. The Rangers’ farm system is not what it once was, though, weakened in part by the trades for Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and others, made to extend the current competitive window. This year’s trade deadline deals won’t hurt, but they won’t move the needle there, either.

If the Rangers’ next window isn’t 2018, when is it? To get back to winning its division consistently, and earning its best chance at succeeding in the crapshoot that is the postseason, Texas must overcome its A.L. West foes. Most of the teams have remained bunched in the middle of the standings this year. Various services rank the minor league systems of the Rangers, Angels, and Mariners in the lower third of baseball. The A’s get placed a bit higher, and their own deadline trade of Sonny Gray improved their system further, but unless they get a new facility and improve their ability to boost payroll, Oakland isn’t a long-term threat.

The young and talented Astros present problems, however. In addition to running away with the division in 2017, they possess one of the major leagues’ top development pipelines. How can the Rangers match up with them in 2019 and beyond? In 2008 and 2009, Daniels and his staff, along with then-president Nolan Ryan, brilliantly identified who in their current organization could help them win and which players they’d need to acquire. They thought they might surprise in 2009 (and they almost did), and they knew they would in 2010. That’s their challenge now — to figure out when they’ll be good again and who needs to still be here when it happens. It’s not an easy process, because everyone wants to win now, but the organization needs, above all, to be realistic about it.

Daniels’ office, like many on the fourth floor of Globe Life Park in Arlington’s center field building, has a window overlooking the diamond. Every so often, workers walk the ballpark balconies cleaning the glass. Rangers fans hope they do a good job, because for JD and his staff, it’s all about clear vision and windows. 

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports, Mint Farm Films, and FourNine Productions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rangers Trading Deadline History

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

As baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline approaches, we find ourselves asking important questions. Are we buyers? Are we sellers? Are we standpatters?

Teams really try not to be standpatters, and not just because it’s actually not a word. You either want to get better for this year so you can win the World Series now or improve for subsequent years so you can win the World Series then.

Should the Rangers be sellers this year, unloading veterans in return for young players who need seasoning but have high upsides? Or should they buy talent at the price of their own farm system depth? I’m a flip-flopper, because while the hometown team is not currently in playoff position, part of me thinks they could sneak into a wild card slot, and once in the postseason teams can get hot. Darvish and Hamels could pitch lights out and Beltre could rake and that new-bullpen-piece-we-acquired-because-we-decided-we-were-buyers could dominate.

Or the team might give up prospects for proven talent and tank anyway. Both scenarios have happened to clubs before. So if I can’t predict the future, I decided I would look at the past.  Perhaps you’ll remember some of these in-season exchanges.

On May 30, 1972, that first Texas team traded Norm McRae to the Tigers for Dalton Jones. McRae never threw another pitch in the big leagues and Jones hit .159 for the Rangers that year in what would turn out to be the final 166 plate appearances of his Major League career. Jones was the older player, so we can characterize the Rangers as buyers. However, they were 16-23 when they made the deal and would lose 100 games, so they should have been sellers. In fact, Rangers manager Ted Williams knew Jones from his time with the Red Sox and I’ll surmise that had something to do with the club’s first-ever “deadline deal.”

In those days, the non-waiver deadline was earlier, June 15, and only two teams per league made the postseason. When the deadline moved to July 30 in 1986 and the playoffs expanded in 1994 and 2012, mid-season trade activity increased. The stakes have also risen as prospects have become an increasingly valued commodity. Deals get made after the deadline, too, although they are more difficult because other teams can block the trade by claiming a player off waivers (with the risk that they may have to take on his salary if his current club decides to unload it).

The guys in Arlington have made some solid deals as buyers. On July 9, 2010, they sent Matt Lawson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Justin Smoak to the Mariners for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe. Do they reach their first World Series without Lee? Probably not, so it’s hard to say any deal had a bigger impact than that one. None of the other players in the deal really did a lot until Smoak’s breakout season this year for Toronto.

On July 31, 2015, Jorge Alfaro, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, Matt Harrison, Jake Thompson and Nick Williams went to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jake Diekman and Cole Hamels. Hamels and Diekman have been key contributors to two playoff teams, so no matter how good the young players they gave up become, it’ll be hard to count this as something other than a win.

Perhaps the best deal as a buyer actually worked out more like a seller’s deal for Texas. On July 28, 2006 Julian Cordero, Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix went to the Brewers in exchange for veteran Carlos Lee and stalled prospect Nelson Cruz. Coco became Milwaukee’s closer and Lee hit ok for the Rangers in an ultimately fruitless ’06 playoff pursuit. But the deal’s “insurance,” Cruz, became perhaps the most impactful postseason player in Rangers history.

As sellers, one deal that’s still paying dividends is the July 31, 2007 one in which Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira went to the Atlanta Braves. Texas received Beau Jones, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and their current starting shortstop, Elvis Andrus. They also picked up David Murphy from the Red Sox that day and he now contributes as a broadcaster after posting some good years on the field for winning Rangers teams.
photo credit: Brian Gagnon/Texas Rangers
photo credit: Brian Gagnon/Texas Rangers
The July 19, 1985 trade of an aging Buddy Bell to the Reds for a player to be named later and Duane Walker turned out well for the Rangers when future closer Jeff Russell became the PTBNL four days hence.

They don’t all work out as well. Robb Nen might been Russell’s heir as closer had he not gone to the Marlins with Kurt Miller for Cris Carpenter (not to be confused with future Rangers nemesis Chris Carpenter) on July 17, 1993. Nen saved more than 300 games for the Marlins and Giants.
One deal that drives one crazy is the 2011 Chris Davis/Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara trade with the Baltimore Orioles. Davis became a star, which would have been fine if the Rangers had gotten what they needed from the trade. While Texas did go to the World Series that year, Uehara inexplicably had the highest ERA of his career pitching three months for the Rangers and didn’t make the World Series roster. Two years later he became ALCS MVP for the Red Sox and allowed no runs in five World Series appearances. Rangers fans may recall a need for a shutdown reliever in a certain Game 6.

Fans might feel a similar frustration about the August 19, 1983 trade that sent Rick Honeycutt to the Dodgers for Dave Stewart and Ricky Wright. Stewart’s talent never emerged with Texas, but he became a star for the Athletics teams the Rangers chased in the late 1980s.

Another tough one came in 2001 as Ruben Mateo went to the Cincinnati Reds for young pitcher Rob Bell. Bell never realized his high upside, but the teenager the Reds convinced Texas to add to the deal became All-Star infielder/DH Edwin Encarnación.

On June 29, 1989, the Rangers traded Tack Wilson and Scott May to the Milwaukee Brewers for Todd Simmons and LaVel Freeman. None of those players ever played in the bigs for their new team. And had that been it for 1989, the year would not have been included in this roundup. Unfortunately, however, there was another trade that summer. Exactly a month later, Texas picked up a veteran bat they thought might propel them to their first postseason berth, plus a serviceable utility infielder. Harold Baines and Fred Manrique did not get the Rangers across the threshold. However, Wilson Alvarez, Scott Fletcher and Sammy Sosa went to the Chicago White Sox in the swap, making this likely the most notorious trade in Rangers history.

As sellers on July 11, 2003, Texas executed a superb exchange in sending Ugueth Urbina to the Florida Marlins for Adrian Gonzalez, Will Smith, and Ryan Snare. And it would have been a perfect example of the vet winning a ring and the young player developing into a potential Hall of Famer for his new team, except that Gonzalez had his superb career with the Padres, Red Sox, and Dodgers after later deals.

More than one player, including Saltalamacchia, has been both acquired and traded at separate deadlines. Ryan Dempster went to the Marlins on August 8, 1996 for veteran right-hander John Burkett, which helped Texas to its first division title. On July 31, 2012, Texas brought Dempster back at the cost of Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks. Dempster posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts with Texas, but Hendricks helped push his new team, the Cubs, to a World Series win last fall.
The guy who went with Dempster to Florida came back to the Rangers on August 12, 1997 as the Rangers were sellers. Ed Vosberg went to the Marlins, who were on the way to their first championship. Rick Helling returned to the club that had drafted him and led the starting staff of two Rangers postseason teams.

In 1998, the club picked up another one of those twice-dealt guys, Esteban Loaiza, along with Todd Stottlemyre and Royce Clayton in deadline deals. Those players helped push Texas to a second A.L. West title.

Who’s the best player ever acquired by Texas in an in-season deal? You could make the case for Cruz, Hamels, Lee, or for Michael Young, who came to Texas with Darwin Cubillan on July 19, 2000 for Loaiza. The Rangers also picked up future Hall of Fame curveballer Bert Blyleven in a 1976 deal. But this is, in fact, a trick question. The best player Texas ever acquired was . . . Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. By the time of his August 19, 2009 re-acquisition from the Astros, he was no longer the perennial Gold Glover and offensive force of his first swing through Arlington. But he’s Pudge and I expect to get no argument from Rangers fans about this selection.

So now you have an overview of past Rangers deadline deals. If I left out your favorite Ruben Sierra or Ed Kirkpatrick trade, I apologize. Perhaps in a few years they’ll be included when I write about how we just reacquired Justin Smoak or Nick Williams.

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports and FourNine Productions.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Doing More Than Just Talking About It

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

Thursday night, someone asked a group of noted play-by-play men about the most difficult venues in which to call a game. New York City native Chuck Cooperstein of the Mavericks, the subject of this post’s video interview, reluctantly cited his beloved Madison Square Garden’s subpar sightlines. The Rangers’ Eric Nadel noted that he loved Chicago’s venerable Wrigley Field in general, but not its lilliputian broadcast booth. (He observed that early broadcasters “apparently were very small people.”) Brad Sham from the Cowboys placed Washington, D.C. first. He also named them second, third, and on up through number 32. Sham explained that the visiting radio booth is low and in the corner and he has to call certain distant plays using the monitors in the instant replay booth next door.
photo by Carrie Adams
photo by Carrie Adams
At the Talk of the Town event, radio announcers for North Texas’s top four pro sports teams assembled to swap inside stories about their profession. The audience could submit queries on note cards and the venues question was one of the first moderator John Rhadigan read. Dave Strader wasn’t on stage at that point and we didn’t find out his answer to it. The Stars’ announcer had planned to attend, but a recent complication in his cancer treatment prevented him from being physically onsite. It didn’t stop him from participating, however. A few minutes after the broadcast booth discussion, Rhadigan introduced a classic call of a Steve Yzerman playoff overtime goal, one Strader had made as the voice of the Detroit Red Wings. As it ended, the skinny but energetic hockey broadcaster appeared on the video screen via Skype and described how they had just watched his final call as a Red Wings team broadcaster.
photo by Carrie Adams
photo by Carrie Adams
Strader then stuck around virtually, contributing his viewpoint to every question and clearly enjoying the night. After the event, he tweeted “Thank you for having me! It meant a lot.” I’m sure the experience raised his spirits, and it lifted the room up a lot, too. Perhaps my most enduring memory of a fully enjoyable evening will be of the occupants of the Dallas Stars’ table, including former Stars forward Vern Fiddler, watching their colleague on the screen and clearly being moved by the sight.

In addition to serving as a pick-me-up for Strader and his Stars colleagues, the event also benefited five charities dedicated to serving less-fortunate children. Earlier in the evening, after Sham had described the challenges of having no depth perception when calling a Cowboys-Redskins game, he had added a caveat.

“The one thing you won’t hear us do is complain about it. Because one of the things I think we all understand,” explained the longtime announcer, “Is there’s a line of people three times around the stadium who would do it for free.”

Sham and the rest clearly appreciate what they have. In a night filled with great stories, that message was truly a lasting one.

Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports and FourNine Productions.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why It's My Texas (and Also My Rangers)

This post originally appeared in the Blotch section of the Fort Worth Weekly's website. To consume it there :

Why did Tom Grieve say my name on the TV Friday?

OK, my first name is also a common noun, but he wasn’t referring to a pitcher rushing his delivery or a runner in a rush to beat a throw while going from first to third. He meant me.

Grieve and his broadcast partner, C.J. Nitkowski had noticed the Rangers’ home jerseys have script across the front reading “Texas.” The more common practice in baseball is to have a team’s geographical home printed on the road jerseys, while the home versions boast the name of the team’s mascot. The Rangers, however, use “Texas” on both. The announcers wondered why.

So I sent Grieve a text that read “My memory of why Texas is on the front of the home jersey is that it was part of an effort to brand the club with the qualities of the state a few years ago. We ended up doing a whole ad campaign around My Texas My Rangers. I think the jersey branding was related to that.”

The longtime Rangers analyst then read the message on the air. Later in the game, Rangers Executive Vice President of Communications John Blake confirmed my memory was correct (which caused them to say my name again, pleasing my parents who were watching the telecast in Fort Worth). While it’s always cool having an esteemed personality like Tom Grieve say nice things about you, one of the bonuses of the situation was it got me thinking about the ad campaign and how it came about.

it started intuitively, but was ultimately backed up by data. Nolan Ryan had taken over as team president in February of 2008 and the ownership group in which he participated took over the team in August of 2010. The new head of business-side operations, Chuck Greenberg, wanted to direct fans to identify the Rangers as their team, so we quickly shot and edited some new spots consisting of highlights mixed with fans telling the camera some variant of “these are my Rangers.” Though that advertising effort was an unscientific one, in the offseason, Greenberg directed resources toward something the Rangers had done only sporadically during my years there: audience research.
I found the process truly valuable. As a creative director, one likes to know to whom one is speaking (through the medium of television or radio or the internet). It helps you craft better material, because once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you can find innovative ways of achieving it. As consultant Corky Hall of Stellus Consulting put it, “Give me the freedom of a tightly defined strategy.”

Hall’s firm had taken existing data and spearheaded new research initiatives so we could find out what our fans thought of us. We also wanted to know what they liked and what we could do to position ourselves to better reflect their preferences. One of the things we discovered (not that it was a surprise) was that people liked Texas symbols and values like loyalty, toughness, and friendliness they felt reflected those of Texas and Texans.

The Rangers had long sported a Texas flag patch on their jersey sleeves and the Lone Star State had found its way into plenty of branding elements over the years. The year before (2009), in fact, was when the club had made the move to have all its jerseys read “Texas.” Identifying with the state made sense instinctively, but now we had data to back it up. Out of those brainstorming sessions came a tag line that combined elements of the previous year’s end of season spots with the new research, one that encouraged people to take pride in their team the same way they did in their state: My Texas, My Rangers.

The next step was to figure out how to embody the concept in actual creative executions that would both encourage ballpark attendance and create the brand perceptions we wanted. The solution we adopted involved portraying what was then known as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as a place where Texas values were ever-present. For television commercials, what I thought might be funny (and therefore memorable) was if the images symbolic of those values actually existed at the park. Some manifestations included:

Longhorns grazed in the outfield, ostensibly to save on mower fuel. This spot starred Mitch Moreland and Head Groundskeeper Dennis Klein and no, those were not real cows in the outfield. We digitally manipulated some stock footage.
photo credit: Brian Gagnon/Texas Rangers
photo credit: Brian Gagnon/Texas Rangers
Bass Fishing Texans love their bass fishing, so Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz demonstrated an innovative way of doing it, as observed by Pitching Coach Mike Maddox and Bullpen Coach Andy Hawkins. For props, we used old batting practice balls and some whole fish carcasses I bought at an Arlington Asian market. Yes, our marketing budget went to buy dead fish. I did check, by the way, to make sure the fish I purchased could actually be found in Texas lakes. I didn’t want a detail-minded angler hating on our spot because we used the wrong bass.

A pecan tree grew in the upper deck, with Nelson Cruz and Thad Bosley in charge of cracking the nuts of the official state tree. I wandered the Central Arlington neighborhood in which I lived at the time picking up sticks and pecan fragments dropped from the local trees. For Bosley and Cruz’s part, shot in spring training in Surprise, Arizona, I had to trek to Tempe to find unshelled pecans.

Horses are pretty Texan, and the Rangers happen to have one working for them. During the Rangers’ first World Series run, the “claw and antler” craze consumed the local fandom. After this spot starring Rangers Captain began running, the mascot reported kids coming up to him doing the antlers sign.

Lots of Dogs
Grilling out with friends and family is a Texas tradition, but apparently some Texans can take it too far. This was one of the most fun shoots I ever did, and not just because Nolan and Ruth Ryan are great people (two of their granddaughters appeared in the commercial, too). Ballpark chef Cris Vazquez hauled out a humungous quantity of hot dogs and an enormous grill that morning and started cooking. We grabbed every cooler in the ballpark to ostensibly be full of hot dogs and the crew brought some ice chests from home, too.

If you don’t watch the Spanish-language version, too, you do yourself a disservice. We knew Nolan would be reluctant to speak a phrase in Spanish, so we recruited his former teammate Jose Guzman to help. The scheme was that Jose was going to say the Spanish line, but we plotted all along to try to get Nolan to say it. So we cut a take where Jose said the line, then I asked Nolan if we could try one more thing. Nolan guardedly agreed, and Jose, with help from team videographer Hugo Carbajal, coached him in what is, as far as I know, the Hall of Famer’s only appearance ever speaking in Spanish on camera.
Rangers Captain, Ruth and Nolan Ryan
photo credit: Alan H. Rose/Texas Rangers
This spot got a lot of discussion on the Ticket radio station, too, thanks to a shot Carbajal added in the edit of a well-inked lady eating a hot dog.
Nolan’s image as the quintessential Texan helped the My Texas, My Rangers campaign a lot. We referenced him in the copy (it was ostensibly his idea to put in the pecan tree and, in another spot I didn’t mention above because it’s unfortunately not available to view online, an oil well along the right field wall).

We created other media besides television. Billboards offered baseball variations on state themes, like its country-and-western dancing and miles of open road.
design by: Rainer Uhlir/Texas Rangers
design by: Rainer Uhlir/Texas Rangers
design by: Rainer Uhlir/Texas Rangers
design by: Rainer Uhlir/Texas Rangers
We had radio, too. Can Texans sometimes exaggerate? We decided Texas Tall Tales was a worthwhile theme, so Eric Nadel voiced a series of spots positing Texas ties to certain team-related items. For instance, did you know the word Tejas means “he who hits with the strength of a bear?” Or that the dye in the Rangers’ blue uniforms is made from organic bluebonnets? Or that Nolan Ryan gives the Rangers employee of the year a heifer from his personal herd? Of course, those are all made up, but Eric would go on to emphasize that it was not a Texas Tall Tale that the Rangers did, in fact, embody many of the good qualities of the Lone Star State. You can check out some samples of the radio campaign here.
We also didn’t want to turn off non-Texans, so we did some radio and TV themed as “Welcome to Texas,” that suggested you didn’t have to be from the state of Texas to cheer for the team named “Texas.” And when the pennant race heated up, we did some new spots that hit on Texas pride in retaining the American League title (which that 2011 team did).

When one thinks of the Texas Rangers, one inescapably thinks of the state – heck, it’s the team’s first name. In the latter part of the first decade of the 2000s, the team made that connection a little more explicit. Tom Grieve noticed.

 Rush Olson has spent two decades directing creative efforts for sports teams and broadcasters. He currently creates ad campaigns, television programs, and related creative projects for sports entities through Rush Olson Creative & Sports and FourNine Productions.

Copyright Rush Olson Creative and Sports

Visionary Creative • Major League sports expertise