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Can it be that the due diligence and instinct of a sports marketing agency exceeds that of the agencies assigned to protect our top elected officials? This is the not-so-weighty but nonetheless intriguing issue we’re pondering after having learned of Tareq and Michaele Salahi’s close encounter with our favorite eight-sided sports shop. Octagon officials say that more than two months before the Salahis gained their 15 minutes of fame by crashing President Obama’s state dinner, the couple were rebuffed when they tried to enlist the agency’s assistance in staging and selling Tareq’s America’s Polo Cup. Octagon’s property roster has some marathons, along with golf and tennis tourneys. But no polo. Still, the proposition was intriguing. An Indian team was scheduled to play in the 2010 America’s Polo Cup, so there was some initial interest from Octagon after the Salahis made inquiries through a friend.
“We’re talking to Indian companies every day, and it’s a local event, so it made sense to investigate,” said Tom George, Octagon senior vice president, athlete and property marketing. A warm-up match in September, sort of a polo equivalent of a soccer friendly, drew a crowd of the moneyed sort who favor polo, but it was “run about as well as a PTA bake sale,” George said. Still, perhaps that indicated opportunity, since Octagon could lend its event and sponsorship expertise. Further investigation, however, unearthed a series of cautionary flags from people who’d done business with Salahi. There were disgruntled vendors, and a series of outstanding debts, some in litigation. “Enough that we considered them a trend, rather than isolated occurrences,” George said. So Octagon said no, months before the Salahis shook hands and posed for pictures with the president and vice president.
“The whole thing just didn’t pass our smell test” said Phil de Picciotto, Octagon president of athletes and personalities.
When George fired up his PC on Thanksgiving to find the Salahis’ picture on Yahoo! he didn’t need to read the caption to know who it was. Since then, the event seems to be imploding. The Indian Embassy has withdrawn support. Land Rover and Ritz-Carlton, earlier identified as sponsors of the 2010 event, now say they are not. Even the purported venue is in question. It is supposed to be staged at the National Mall, but no permits have been granted. A Virginia state agency is investigating.
“More people are jumping off that ship daily,” George said. “I’m glad we got off first.”
WEIGHTY SUBJECT: January is the season for marketing dieting and health clubs, and so, having lost about 50 pounds in addition to a World Series this year, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has filmed two new spots for Nutrisystem. One, set to break early in 2010, features both Manuel and Billie Jean King, although the two were not filmed together. Another is baseball themed and should be out in March. Alex Radetsky at SFX Baseball represents Manuel for marketing.
CARD GAME: Sunkist is seeking some Winter Olympics rub-off with a Canadian trading card program across millions of boxes and bags of oranges, beginning next month. It’s the fifth consecutive year for the NHL/NHLPA-licensed program, which includes trading cards for 10 players likely to be on the Canadian Olympic squad, including Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Martin Brodeur. About 400 autographed cards are randomly inserted. Also included is a free month on Upper Deck’s Insider Access Web site. Upper Deck is the manufacturer; Jon Schneider’s Sports & Stripes handles.
PECK’S PICK: ESPN basketball analyst Carolyn Peck has signed with BarefootTess.com, an e-commerce retailer offering fashion footwear for women who wear a size 10-plus. The 6-4 Peck, a former WNBA, University of Florida and Purdue women’s basketball coach, is the company’s first endorser and will appear in ads with the tag line: “Because style doesn’t stop at size 10.” Sue Rodin’s Stars and Strategies, New York, handles.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.