DURING THE past 25 years, I've been associated with just about every professional sports team Washington has called its own, in some capacity or other. So when it comes to my greatest "Hype," the memories jump around my head.
Was it the time I was promoting and publicizing Washington Senators baseball? I devised a pregame activity intended to motivate Capitol Hill employes to come to a game.
I really didn't care if they came to see the Senators, or to see this promotional stunt, as long as they came. The pregame "game" was the first annual Congressional Baseball Game, pitting a team of Republican congressmen and senators versus a similar team of Democrats. We arranged to have the vice president and the speaker of the House toss out the first ball.
Result: great press, locally and nationally, and attendance increased (more people came out to see the Capitol Hill senators than the baseball Senators.) In fact, the game has been so successful it has been played every year since 1957. Was this my best hype? Maybe.
Or, was it the time I was attempting to hype interest and increase ticket sales to the World of Wheels Custom Car Show at the D.C. Armory in 1975? Sales were slow. No big-name cars or personalities to key on. We needed a "hook!"
I contacted stuntman "Jumping" Joe Gerlach, who was scheduled to make a high jump each night of the show, inside the Armory, landing on a thick foam mattress. I convinced Joe, in the best interest of the show, that he should make his most dangerous leap at a special "press preview" the day before the show opened. We contacted the news media and advised them that Jumping Joe had gone completely "bananas" -- that he was actually going to make the most difficult, death-defying jump ever attempted.
He named this "death-defying leap" the "sponge plunge." It went off beautifully. He jumped. The audience screamed. He landed on his back. For 20 seconds he didn't move. Everybody thought he was dead. And then, in his finest hour of showmanship, he jumped up with arms extended in victory.
TV loved it. Photographers had a heyday. Columnists couldn't wait to talk to him. Even Walter Cronkite "bit." He sent a crew down to cover the entire jump. The stunt went national. The show sold more tickets and attracted more people on the strength of the publicity than any auto show ever staged at the Armory. Was this hype the best? Possibly.
But I think the ultimate "hype" took place four years ago, when I was retained to publicize the Virginia Slims Women's Professional Tennis Tournament at Capital Centre.
Tickets were moving slowly.The only player most sports fans had heard of was Chris Evert. The objective was to create a situation, using a name famliar to the general public -- in this case Chris -- that would develop into a possible news story. But what? Could we get her to jump from the Washington Monument and land in a large tennis racket? Could we get her to play topless? Maybe we could arrange a little "romance" with a well-known Washington personality? How about reaching for the top -- how about going right to the White House?
How about Jack Ford? Chris flipped. "Can you really arrange it?" she asked.The next day I arranged to meet Jack Ford at the tennis match, escorted him back to the players" lounge and introduced him to Chris. Wouldn't you know it -- somebody "leaked" this very personal moment to the news media.
The result -- photos of Chris and Jack appeared on the cover of every major magazine. Newspapers and national wire services covered the "romance"; the story made every gossip column, radio and TV news show. In short, it was a "happening."
And what did all the publicity do for the tournament? For the finals, with Jack Ford cheering on his new "girlfriend," more than 12,000 spectators were on hand (watching Jack and Chris more than the tennis) -- breaking all attendance records to see women's tennis up until that time. And while it was not exactly a "match made in heaven," it does go down in my "Hype Hall of Fame" as my greatest!