Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Candy Bar Adventures: The Battle of Caramel Castle, receives some great compliments from a Writer's Digest Awards panel judge

Received a cool piece of mail yesterday...Last year I had entered The Battle of Caramel Castle in Writer's Digest's 14th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. Well, I had already found out that I hadn't won in the category I had entered or the Overall award, so I took it like any "good sport" would and dejectedly mumbled - "I bet they didn't even read my dang book! How could I have not won anything?!"

Turns out though my book did get read and judged, as not only did I receive my Certificate for participating in the Awards competition (Yeah, I know - whoop-dee-do!), but I was also sent the Judge's Score/Commentary Sheet. Upon reading said Commentary Sheet, I instantly swelled with pride as the judge's comments really gave me a nice shot of confidence! Read the scanned image below:

So, basically if it wasn't for my rather plain cover design (and I'm sure my somewhat lame artwork on the back) I might have won a dang award! Ah, oh well - I just care about the quality of my writing and story-telling, and it seems I really did quite well! I know my cover design and art skills are below par, but the writing is what matters most to me, and I have to admit, it felt really good to read such complimentary remarks.

And you know, I think I may just take that judge's advice and start submitting my book (and the next one when I have it finished) to the major publishers. Perhaps they could team me up with a professional cover designer and pump a little promotional clout into these books - then who knows? - maybe The Candy Bar Adventures series could finally hit the big time!

Though a poor cover (packaging) prevented my book from possibly winning an award, it just goes to show - You can't judge a book by its cover!!!!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Memo to MLS: Beckham signing alone won't make league a success

Ok, judging by the title it probably seems as if I'm about to start bashing the sport of soccer. On the contrary, I'm a big fan of the much so in fact, I've even caught myself calling it football instead of soccer (the international folks would be proud). I would love to see MLS become a huge, long-standing success.

The problem is that although Beckham coming to MLS will definitely bring some great publicity to the league, it's just one small step forward in the overall scheme of things. You see, MLS will only have the spotlight temporarily. Beckham's first game with the L.A. Galaxy won't be until August (hopefully he won't get injured in the meantime), and while his first game definitely will capture the spotlight, unless he starts scoring hat-tricks every game, the spotlight will fade very quickly (in America anyway). The number one reason?...the almighty NFL will be gearing up for their regular season opener as September begins, and "that other football" will soon revert back to the shadows.

If MLS think that the signing of Beckham alone will automatically have a NASCAR-esque effect on its popularity, they're sadly mistaken. They need to use this temporary spotlight wisely and kickoff revolutionary changes for their league and the sport of soccer in America!

In my opinion, MLS needs improvement on three fronts: Marketing, Infrastructure, and League Dynamics. I'm only going to detail some Marketing ideas, otherwise this will be the longest blog post in history.

Reader's Digest format for the other two:
Infrastructure = soccer specific stadiums for all teams; build up NCAA soccer programs so that they rival football and basketball - high profile college stars going to MLS will keep interest in MLS (similar to football and basketball)
League Dynamics = expanding MLS to enough cities (maybe 30 or so) so that two divisions of 15 teams could be created and conducted similar to other soccer leagues around the world (see English Premiership & English Championship)that feature relegation and promotion between the two divisions - i.e. the regular season needs to mean something; join with Mexican and South American leagues to create Cup competitions similar to those in Europe. (UPDATE: 1-14-07...Found out about a Superliga tournament between MLS and Mexican teams this July - ok, MLS, good start...but we need our own Champions League type tournament as well.)

Marketing MLS and soccer correctly to the American audience would benefit the sport more than 20 Beckham signings ever could. Soccer in America is widely seen as a sport for kids. If grown men are playing it, they are seen as wimpy sissy-men. Now, this is not my personal view as, like I stated earlier, I'm a big fan of the sport. However, I do prefer watching the English Premier League because it's more gritty, intense, and here's the big factor - diving is seen as dishonorable.

The average American male does not want to be thought of as weak or dishonorable, so as such, we do not even want to be associated with anything that is weak or dishonorable (unless of course women think those things are cool and thus would increase our chances of getting laid). When most American males think of soccer (those who don't follow the sport), they think of some foreigner (sad, but true) falling to the ground as if he's been shot though he's hardly been touched (aka diving), writhing around on the ground in "pain" for what seems like an eternity, only to pop back onto the field a few moments later as if nothing happened. That type of display is both weak and dishonorable in the eyes of the American male - and more importantly - the American male sportsfan.

Also, the average American male does not like a "prettyboy" - "prettyboys" get all the hot chicks while either looking or doing things that aren't entirely masculine (I think you know what I mean by that) - which gives the average male 2 big reasons not to like them. Though anyone who has watched soccer from around the world knows that the majority of soccer players do not look or act like "prettyboys" - poll the average American male sportsfan and he will more than likely tell you otherwise. Signing Beckham, perhaps the ultimate "prettyboy" in the eyes of many American male sportsfans, will definitely NOT help to squash that stigma. Chicks will dig him of course, but screaming teeny-bopper girls will not turn the MLS into a respected and hugely successful sports league. However, market MLS players in a way so that they come across just as cool, tough, and brave as top NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB players and NASCAR drivers - the "prettyboy" stigma will largely disappear.

Additionally, when most American sportsfans think of soccer they think of scores that end 0-0, 1-0, 1-1. Games that end in a tie are a bad enough concept to deal with, but 0-0?! Why would the American viewer sit and watch (or pay hard earned money to go see) something that will most likely not feature much scoring, if any, and/or result with no winner and no loser?

Soccer is a sport that is largely not respected and/or not understood (and to some extent each being the cause of the other). Fix those two things, and soccer could rise like Nascar has in recent years; like the NBA did in the early 80's; and like the NFL (yes, even the NFL wasn't always "Mr. Popular") did in the early 70's. Baseball is pretty much the only sport that has always been rather consistent - long called "America's Pastime" its history is rooted as deep here as soccer is in the rest of the world.

Because of this, MLS will need to create a new public image for their league and soccer. Soccer players need to be presented as noble warriors who won't fall to the ground and whimper at the slightest touch like a 3-year old who doesn't want to take a nap; MLS players will fight and claw their way on the field of battle as they march toward the ultimate goal - a, um, GOAL!!! They will fight on though in pain, though bleeding, though tired - they will battle for the pride of their club and the city that club represents. They play as honorable men, playing to become champions!

If marketed correctly, the average male sportsfan will come to respect the players and the sport, even if the score ends 0-0 (well, ok, a 0-0 scoreline is still a tough proposition to sell).

Presentation and atmosphere could help overcome the above scoreline problem though. NFL games in America have a similar crowd atmosphere as soccer does in the rest of the world - it's one big rockin' party where most people also understand and appreciate the game. People need some reason to go to the game - they need a reason to be excited (this is where Beckham will initially help); people watching at home will have to feel this excitement as well - this is where smart presentation comes into play.

One of the biggest gripes about soccer (as a sport, players not factored) in America is that it is slow and boring. Well, people griped about baseball being slow and NASCAR being boring, but FOX Sports helped to change that with quick-cut editing, unique camera angles, numerous replays, and other flash. MLS should try a little of this to see if it will change the "slow and boring" perception, as well as enhance the excitment of the stadium atmosphere.

I've got some other Marketing ideas, but I'm too damn tired of writing right now so I'll just leave with this - signing Beckham was an exciting first step, but it has to be seen within MLS as just that - a first step. Create a league that is competitive at a high-level comparable to Europe and South America; infuse what is considered a foreign sport with classic American ideals and philosophies to make it feel more American; players that are widely known and respected and well-paid in line with the other major league sports...then "primetime" players will be more likely to come from all over the world to play in the MLS (and more importantly, young American males will aspire to become MLS stars in the same numbers as the other major sports).

Who knows, someday even MLS Fantasy leagues could compete in popularity with NFL Fantasy leagues - that's when you'll really know soccer and MLS have succeeded in America!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Arcade's Next Generation?

As most video game enthusiasts know, the Arcade is all but dead in the U.S. - has been for some time. Yes, that magical place which drained my weekly allowance one quarter at a time throughout my childhood in the 80's, may just have a chance at revitalization for a new generation of gamers.

The GameDaily BIZ website (a great website by the way, which I read - well...daily) is featuring an interesting article today about a movie theater in Madrid, Spain, converting one of its screens into an arcade of sorts.

From an old-school gamer perspective, I think this is a great idea; one which could bring a whole new generation of gamers the old Arcade-esque experience from days gone by. Not so much the feeling of wandering around and picking out a game to sink a quarter into, but rather that real social experience of playing (and watching others play) a particular game as opposed to the virtual social experience provided by today's online gaming.

From a business standpoint, while the initial cost of converting a movie auditorium and its screen into a "gaming auditorium" (as I'll call it) may make a few mega-plex execs waffle on the idea, I think it would be well worth the try. Failure from action is a hell of a lot nobler than failure from inaction.

Think about the number of times you've gone into one of the countless movie mega-plexes with its 15 - 30 auditoriums, sat down to watch a movie that wasn't one of the big releases or one that had been out awhile, and noticed there were maybe five other people in the place? Why not utilize one of these auditoriums for a unique gaming experience rather than showing some movie that nobody will pay to see anymore because it will be out on DVD within the next month? In fancy, elitist business speak this is called utilizing your assets to increase your ROA (Return on Assets).

I have no idea how they are pricing this new "gaming experience" in Madrid, but I was thinking, for here in the U.S., why not use the same ticket pricing structure already in place? I'll explain: assuming most people spend about 2 1/2 hours at a particular movie's showing (2 hour movie + 1/2 hour of ads and trailers), why not charge an admission price for a 2 1/2 hour gaming block? Also, you could charge less during the afternoon and more during the evening peak hours (just as they do with movies).

Additionally, the theater could carry the same titles for purchase that it's showcasing for play in the "gaming auditorium". It's another avenue for the game companies to sell a copy of their game, and it's a way for the theater to get a cut of the retail price that would normally go to other more traditional retail outlets.

Now, I know a lot of people out there would think, why pay the price of a movie ticket to play a game for 2 1/2 hours when it could either be rented for a longer period of time or just bought outright? Well, to this point, I would compare it to watching a movie in a theater as opposed to waiting for the DVD. You're paying not so much to see the movie (or play the game), but rather for a "unique experience" in which to watch that movie or play that game. Just as you could experience a movie such as Star Wars at home on DVD, how much better is it when experienced on a huge screen with a lot of other people? Just as you could experience a game such as Gears of War at home, playing over XBox Live, how much better would it be to experience that game with a unique audio/visual setup and other person?

Heck, who knows if it would actually work or not, but I truly believe it has great potential as a substantial new revenue source for both game companies and movie mega-plex chains. In any case, I applaud that mega-plex in Madrid for having the cajones to try something new.

Could this be the beginning of Arcade 2.0?

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Whispering Pines

The Band is one of those bands whose songs I've heard over the years but never realized it was them who sang them, until I recently happened to stumble across an episode of VH1 Classic's "Classic Albums".

This particular episode featured The Band's 1969 self-titled 2nd album (also known as "The Brown" album). While showcasing more well-known songs (songs I had heard over the years on Classic Rock radio stations) such as: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up on Cripple Creek, and The Weight (which is actually from their previous album), they also played a tidbit from a song titled Whispering Pines.

I was blown away after hearing just that small tidbit! I immediately set out to get my hands on the full song...and that full song has now become one of my all-time favorites (thus the blog post).

Lead vocals on The Band's songs were usually shared between Levon Helm (Drums), Rick Danko (Bass), and Richard Manuel (Piano). The last name on that list was The Band's first name in great vocals, and was the voice behind Whispering Pines. With masterful, thoughtful, abstract lyrics written by lead-guitarist Robbie Robertson (lyrics which presumably were trying to capture Manuel's own feelings of loss and loneliness); Richard Manuel's achingly beautiful vocalization of those lyrics; and somber musical backing; everything comes together perfectly to create more than just a great song - Whispering Pines creates an atmosphere and feeling of not only sadness, but of hope, that is real, that is sincere, and as such will stay with you from the moment you hear it.

Needless to say, I'm glad I came across that VH1 Classic show (not to mention, afterwards, they aired The Band's filmed swan song "The Last Waltz"...directed by Martin Scorsese - you may have heard of him). You can count me as a new fan of an old band whose talent was so rich and varied they really didn't need to call themselves anything other than, simply - The Band.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

My first post for you - a Haiku (hey, that rhymed!)

I'm not a poet by any means, but after purchasing a 72-slice pack of Hormel fully-cooked microwaveable bacon at the local Sam's Club, I had to express my joy in a way befitting it's hearty, hickory-smoked, heart-clogging greatness. (Extra tidbit - cooks in 20 seconds! Oh yes!)

A Haiku is all that will do (hey, that rhymed again! Neat!)

As Def Leppard wails
"You're Bringin' on the Heartbreak"
My chest feels tight - gasp!

I love you bacon.