Stakes higher all around at tourney: Entertainment value expands with growing tournament
Charles Barkley lost his bet this with fellow basketball great Chris Webber this weekend, finishing eight points behind his competitor, and second to last in the American Century Golf Tournament.
Webber said the $50,000 he won from Barkley will go to his own charity. The Chris Webber Foundation benefits youngsters in the Washington, D.C., and Detroit areas, according to Webber’s biography on NBA.com.
The bet was just one example of how the event continues to grow in numbers as well as entertainment value.
Tribune photographer Jim Grant remembers covering the event with sports writer Steve Yingling 15 years ago, when the event was in its second year.
Just one other paper shared the Edgewood clubhouse media room back then.
Today it hosts more than 200 people representing more than 50 media outlets nationwide, including ESPN and Best Damn Sports Show.
Sixteen years ago, the tournament hosted 48 players. Now it attracts more than 80.
When you look behind the glitz and glam, you’ll find a lot of people working hard to either capture the competition or seize the opportunity to promote Tahoe as a destination.
“We’ve refined the fundamental idea of using this platform as a national publicity opportunity for Lake Tahoe,” said Steve Griffith of Philadelphia, who NBC hires each year to be its national PR director.
Promoters, including Harrah’s and Tahoe’s two tourism organizations, hope as the tournament grows, Tahoe’s prestige will grow with it.
“Nothing has the value of a front page story; the best advertisement does not have that credibility,” said Griffith.
Reporters, photographers and the behind-the-scenes engine of public relations people cram through news conferences and hole after hole during the six-day event. Laptops, telephones, notepads and cameras cover three long tables, in a room framed by floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
“We’ve had three tables for a long time, and we didn’t always fill them all,” said Phil Weidinger, whose public relations firm Weidinger Public Relations has handled the event’s promotion since its third year. He and Griffith partner on promotion.
“He’s the East Coast rep and I’m the West Coast guy, and we work together hand and glove,” said Weidinger.
When news hits, Griffith helps connect media to the players. On Wednesday, when the National Hockey League ended its year-old lockout, media attention focused on Philadelphia Flyers center Jeremy Roenick, who happened to be playing golf in Tahoe.
Griffith connected Roenick with eight media outlets nationwide.
A few years ago, when the news was announced during the tournament that Michael Jordan signed a new multimillion-dollar contract, Griffith said the “media crush was indescribable.”
Organizers said they hope to keep the tournament growing with fresh names each year.
“We want to show as many stars and as many different players as you can,” said Jon Miller of NBC news, who also gave kudos to Harrahs for attracting more celebrities and fans.
This year was the casino’s first year as host.
“We felt for the first time in 16 years that we really had a partner in our host hotel,” Miller said.
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