"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
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UrbanDaddy: A Publishing Success in Web 1.0 Simplicity
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,6:55 PM
The Gentleman Boxer
Well-educated, well-off, from a good family . . . what makes Tor Hamer fight?

By Chloe A. Hilliard

So far, the knockout blow to boxing hasn't landed, but, like a punch-drunk fighter in the last round of a long bout, the "sweet science" is hemorrhaging badly after uppercuts from competitors like mixed martial arts; disinterest from a public increasingly turned off to the thought of brain damage as a public spectacle; and decades of its own corruption.

Why would anyone with half a brain—and a desire to keep it intact—have any interest in joining a waning enterprise like boxing?

But there he is, standing in one of the four practice rings at Gleason's Gym, the throwback heart of Brooklyn's glorious past as a boxing power.

New York's odd new hope in the storied heavyweight division is a young man with the marquee-ready name of Tor Hamer, who just might throw off professional pugilism's miserable recent record and bring back those rarest of days: the epoch of the educated, erudite Gentleman Boxer.

Hamer is thoughtfully considering the words of his trainer, with whom he is having a discussion that seems surprisingly philosophical for one taking place in a damp, sweaty, and stifling gymnasium: "How do I distinguish between a slip and a body shot?" the muscular young black man asks, sounding as if he could be discussing a business deal.

And in a way, he is. The fight he's preparing for will be his first professional bout after an amateur career of 34 wins and one loss.

The six-foot-two-inch 25-year-old weighs 225 pounds. He's a two-time New York Golden Gloves winner and an Empire State Games champion, and this past summer, he avenged his sole defeat to become the National Golden Gloves champion. Despite turning pro, Hamer will close out 2008 as the country's number one ranked amateur super-heavyweight.

It's an impressive résumé. But it's Hamer's other tale-of-the-tape that has sport's insiders marveling at him: He has a Harvard-educated father and a Villanova-educated mother, and a Penn State degree himself, and was brought up partly in Harlem but also in suburban Baltimore and upscale Manhattan at largely white private and charter schools.

"What the fuck is he fighting for?" the Voice overheard a veteran boxing reporter ask when he was informed of Hamer's pedigree.

It's not hard to get an answer to that question. Hamer is happy to discourse on that subject, as well as just about any other. He's talkative. He's charming. And when he fights, a small army shows up to support him—and this black fighter's entourage is mostly made up of white friends, some of whom he met in private school and college.

Hamer knows that he's an unusual man to enter the ring. But as long as he keeps winning, he may be putting together one of the most remarkable runs at boxing supremacy in memory—one that boxing itself, and the heavyweight division in particular, couldn't need more.

"Throw. Fake. Fake again. Bang! Bang! Yes, that's it!"

As Hamer spars at Gleason's, sweat dripping from his face and torso, his trainer, Shawn Razor, keeps shouting encouragement. A former boxer himself, Razor notes that the practice session is being watched closely by others at the gym: "Lots of people are anticipating this fight," he says. "So many people in here want to be like him. I don't mean to brag, but he's the best thing here."

Razor has been training Hamer since he walked into Gleason's Gym two years ago. "He has It," Razor says about his pupil. "Everything about him. His character. Penn State. His smile. He can fight. There is no American heavyweight with the charisma and mindset of Tor."

As Hamer works out, it's plain to see that he's quick and strong. But if there's one general concern about him, it's his size. For a heavyweight, he's not very tall. In recent years, America has given up its storied dominance of the heavyweight division to Eastern European giants: The Ukrainian Klitschko brothers stand at six feet six inches and six feet seven inches. Wladimir, the younger, holds the IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles; Vitali is the WBC heavyweight champion.

"Size isn't everything," says Razor. But he admits that it's the question he gets the most about his student. " 'He's too small to be a heavyweight,' they say. 'He's going to get killed,' " Razor says he hears all the time.

So far, the skeptics have been proved wrong. Hamer is quick to point out that his only loss as an amateur was actually a tie—the victory was awarded to Lenroy Thompson on a complex computerized tie-breaking formula. Hamer avenged the loss by beating Thompson a few months later.

If he came close to a perfect amateur record, however, turning pro is another matter. It took some soul-searching, but Hamer decided to hold off on his plans to enter a graduate program in urban planning at least until next fall. For now, he's going to keep going where his fists take him.

Fighting professionally isn't something he really set out to do, Hamer admits. But you don't get to be the country's top-ranked amateur and not turn pro, he says. After winning the National Golden Gloves tournament in May, he was approached by the sport's three biggest promoters—Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, Don King Productions, and DiBella Entertainment. He decided to go with DiBella, which is based in New York and specializes in heavyweights. "I said I would never go pro without a suitcase full of money," he says.

"They offered me a suitcase."

With his academic plans on hold and a three-year contract under his belt, Hamer prepares for his debut on a bigger stage. But he's no Rocky Balboa—at least en it comes to pre-dawn decation.

"I hate getting up in the morning," Hamer says. "Most fighters are up for a three-mile run at 6 a.m. Then they train and spar. I wake up at 11 most days. And I've always worked out in the evening, since my days in high school. Karate, basketball, fencing practice—all of that was after school."

After his parents' divorce, Hamer spent his early childhood with his mother in a Baltimore suburb, where they were the only African-American family in a white neighborhood. At 13, he moved back to New York to live with his father.

"I came to New York and went to the Day School [now the Trevor Day School] and then a charter school, which was more diverse, but I already had my social network," he says.

"I've always had more white friends than black," he adds. "I'm used to it, being the center of attention. I'm either one of a few or the only African-American in my circle. I'm used to people saying, 'Who's the black kid?' "

As a teenager, Hamer had run-ins with the law twice, and both times, it made the news—at the time, his father was a high-ranked city official.

"The Daily News called him a thug," remembers Hamer's father, Irving, who is now the deputy superintendent of schools in Memphis. "Since I was a controversial figure, Tor drew more attention."

Irving received a master's degree and a doctorate from Harvard and began teaching in the late 1960s. He served as the New York Urban League's director of education, and then as a deputy commissioner in the city's Education Department. In 1998, he was appointed to the city's Board of Education—a body that was later disbanded when Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city's schools.

While he was on the board, however, Irving ran into controversy several times. He pushed for technological progress, advocating for students to have access to laptops and the Internet, but he caught flak when it was reported that he had a financial interest in a testing company seeking a contract with city schools. Irving subsequently left his position with the testing company.

In January 2001, Tor was charged with misdemeanor assault after he injured a man in a subway-station fistfight. A few months after the arrest, Irving and his colleagues were preparing to elect a board president, which would decide the philosophical direction of the board. Irving was expected, in a close vote, to side with a member who held similar views. Instead, he surprisingly cast what turned out to be the deciding vote for Ninfa Segarra, a woman who supported school vouchers and was diametrically opposed to Irving's own philosophies. Trying to make sense of the vote, several newspapers uncovered the fact that, on the day of Tor's arrest in January, Segarra had called someone she knew in the police department to help Irving get information about his son.

Irving told the Times that although he was grateful for Segarra's gesture, "I want to state emphatically that I did not trade my vote for assistance on my son's behalf."

"They made it seem like I was parenting a thug. He got arrested twice," Irving says. "They weren't crimes. It was more mischief."

Tor's two arrests were both results of fistfights. Besides the subway beating, the other happened after Tor says he was called a racial slur. "What I learned from those experiences is that I have an energy inside of me that needs to be expressed," he says. "Now, that energy is in a controlled environment, and I don't feel aggressive anymore. In boxing, you have to have something driving you besides money."

Before he put on gloves, Tor had long thrived at sports that let him express his aggression. He won 16 national championships in four different categories of martial arts and was also a competitive fencer.

"Tor was notorious—I think that should be his nickname," says Adam Cohen, a friend who met him through private-school friends and who now handles his publicity. "He has a name around the private-high-school world in Manhattan. He was an intimidating character. He was training in kickboxing—who does that in private school in Manhattan?"

It was only in college that Tor took up boxing. "My dad was completely against it. He told me I was a dilettante, and I should stick to school and work out," Tor says.

"Tor Hamer is the product of a mother and father who are well-educated. Boxing seemed to be counterintuitive. He has options," says Irving, who adds that he was surprised at how quickly Tor's success mounted. But for Tor, it felt like a natural fit.

"Individualized sports suited me much better. That translated to my persona. I'm an only child. 'Selfish' comes to mind, but not so much in a way that prevents me from interacting with people in a beneficial manner," he explains. "I've traveled. Opened doors. And I feel proud of myself. No kid wants to say, 'I want to be a real estate manager when I grow up.' I want to be the strongest man in the world. I get to kick ass for a living.

"The only problem is that I have to put myself on the line."

But Hamer is no dummy. He may work out at Gleason's, but he's also trying to work Gleason's.

The gym's owner, Bruce Silverglade, says he's seriously considering a business proposal the young boxer approached him with.

"I have people come to me with ideas all the time," he says. "He had a plan and good ambitions. I verified the information in his résumé. He gave a nice presentation."

Hamer wants to persuade Silverglade to re-establish a presence in Manhattan by opening a satellite gym in Harlem. And he's also talked to Silverglade about taking over the entire operation. "We've had discussions about buying the one in Brooklyn," Silverglade confirms. "He wants to open the one in Harlem, but he has ambitions to purchase the whole corporation."

Hamer has also impressed Joe Higgins, president of USA Boxing Metro, which oversees the amateur game in New York.

"He's done quite well for himself. Tor is a very talented intellectual, a fine example for my athletes. He was captain-type material. You'd make him the athletic representative on a board of directors," Higgins says. "Because he's such a good guy, I was concerned he wasn't going to take it seriously. This kid was special when I saw him—even when he was green. And I'm not just talking about him as a boxer. Way back when Barack Obama was beginning his race for president, Tor and I would have great discussions about politics, the presidential campaign. . . . What's better for boxing?" Higgins asks. "There is no one saying anything bad about him."

Sure, Hamer's got charisma and quick feet. But if he was such a great amateur, why didn't he go to Beijing? The U.S. amateurs had a miserable Olympics and could have used a winner.

Higgins explains that Hamer has come on quickly in the past year. But when the U.S. Olympic team was put together a year earlier, Hamer didn't enter the tournaments he needed to in order to be chosen. "I think if you ask him, he'll tell you he was in school. We would have boxing tournaments, and when he wasn't fighting, he would be doing homework," Higgins says.

"Tor is very similar to Joe Frazier, but he fights a little quicker and he's better. He hits as hard," Higgins says. (Hamer has actually trained with Frazier in Philadelphia.) "This summer, at the U.S. Championship, in the first round of a semifinal match, Tor knocked out his opponent and knocked his teeth out. Three or four of them. We felt terrible. People were saying Tor was a little too small for the heavyweight, but this opponent was from the Army, and he was wearing a mouthpiece and headgear. I've seen thousands of fights and, sure, I've seen a tooth get punched out. I'm talking teeth! I'd never seen that."

Not surprisingly, Higgins is very optimistic about Hamer's future as a pro. "He needs to build up the right way. Don't fast-track him to where he is overmatched," he says. "I could see in three to four years, he'll be fighting for a world championship. He'll get there. He's not doing this to not be great at it.

"He's a great story for America."

It's October 22, a Wednesday night. The crowd inside B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square is milling around until the start of the night's event—an eight-fight card presented by DiBella Entertainment's Broadway Boxing series.

Previous events in the series took place in the spacious Hammerstein Ballroom, but the decrease in the demand for boxing means a decrease in venue size.

"Watch this kid, Tor Hamer," DiBella, the promoter, says as he works the room. "I think he's going to be good." Standing at six feet four inches, DiBella is wearing designer jeans, a graphic T-shirt, and a leather blazer. Diamond earrings and a gold chain complete the ensemble. He glad-hands a group of older white men in sweaters and button-down shirts, then bounces over to a contingent of Europeans in colored leather jackets, with their collars turned up and enough product in their hair to compete with an Exxon oil spill. They're here to support a Montenegran fighter who's been training in the Bronx. DiBella then says hello to the Brooklyn constituency (read: the handful of black boxing fans). In the audience at a boxing match, at least, we really all do get along.

Backstage, Hamer is being fussed over by his friend Christopher Johnson, who is beaming with pride. He's a slim white guy in a blazer and a "Team Tor" baseball cap. While Hamer talks to others, Johnson pats him on the back like a proud parent.

"I first met Tor when he was training in Philly with Joe Frazier. We became close friends. He's a normal Joe," Johnson says. "I came all the way from San Francisco for this. I would never have missed this. I'm flying back out in three hours."

It's Hamer's professional debut, and if the venue is modest, there's also the odd color scheme: Part of tonight's proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is why the ring is pink and the boxers are wearing pink boxing gloves.

When Hamer is announced, his small army of more than 100 friends—the majority of whom are in the $150 ringside VIP seats—stand and yell. It's the biggest response of the entire night.

Hamer's opponent is Joe Rabotte, a lumbering giant who outweighs Hamer by 40 pounds and has come up from South Carolina with a professional record of two wins and three losses. Sight unseen, Hamer had sized him up as a "tomato can" a couple of days earlier: "He's a guy who woke up one day and decided to try boxing. You ever see the first Rocky, where he's fighting in the smoky bar? That is the definition of a tomato can."

The bell rings for the first round, and Hamer charges from his corner, light on his toes. Rabotte has a heavier step. They exchange jabs and body blows. Tor angles his body low and manages to work in the very same slip-jabs his trainer had stressed days before.

Then Hamer unleashes two straight right hands, putting Rabotte on the canvas and into the ropes. Hamer hits him with another vicious right, and the bell rings.

The boxing reporters compare notes, liking what they see. Tor's attacks, they say, are tiring out Rabotte quickly.

At the bell for the second round, Hamer is dancing again. He sends a left hook into Rabotte's torso. Another left hook, a right jab, another left.

Rabotte's down again. And the referee ends the fight.

Hamer wins his first pro fight on a TKO.

His father, Irving, jumps to his feet and takes a bow. Hamer's friends hug and cheer.

Forty-four seconds into the second round of a match that was scheduled to last four rounds, Tor Hamer is now an undefeated professional heavyweight boxer.

A day later, DiBella tells the Voice, "One of the things that is missing is a heavyweight American that people can believe in. Tor isn't well enough known and has only had one pro fight, but I think a year from now, a lot more people are going to know who he is."

DiBella says his plan is to expose Tor in additional four-round fights, eventually getting him up to 10–12 rounders. "That's when you can make money."

A guy like Hamer, he says, can help an industry that's ailing. "Right now, boxing isn't at its high point," he says. DiBella was the former head of programming for HBO Sports before he left to start his own company in 2000. "If you look at ESPN—when I was young, it was paying $50,000 to $60,000 for a show. Now, they pay $20,000 to a promoter for a boxing show. The boxer is getting a $5,000 to $6,000 total purse to split with his people and to put his health at risk. All we need is for one heavyweight in the United States to become a champion, and that will give boxing a big lift."

And DiBella believes Tor has that kind of potential. "Being a college grad, he has a different fan base. He has a different core group than the guys from the 'hood. He has things that can transcend."

Hamer himself, as always, is philosophical. He's ready for the countless jabs he'll have to absorb if he's going to become a household name. But he's already got that plan about taking over Gleason's. And, anyway, money's not really that important: "It's not so much about becoming rich. My ambitions aren't that bold. I just want success," he says.

"And a world title."


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Saturday, November 22, 2008,10:40 PM
"Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya vs. the Boxing Establishment
by Franz Lidz

If HBO isn’t in bed with Oscar De La Hoya, then on this particular May evening, they’re at least doing some pretty heavy petting. The premium cable channel, long the reigning champion of boxing telecasts, has reportedly shelled out some $10 million in marketing, production, and licensing fees to showcase the so-called Golden Boy as he faces journeyman Stevie “Two Pound” Forbes, an 18-to-1 underdog, before 27,000 fans in Carson, California. De La Hoya will be paid more than $10 million for his time between the ropes, but he’s promoting the event through his company, Golden Boy Promotions, so he’ll also get a juicy cut of ticket sales.

Since turning his attention to the business of boxing, De La Hoya has become a major player in a sport long dominated by two impresarios, Bob Arum and Don King, both of whom are 77. He’s trying to overhaul the sport at a time when the heavyweight division, typically the most popular, is in steep decline—the three current titleholders, each crowned by separate sanctioning bodies, might as well be invisible—and when boxing as a whole is getting clobbered by the rising popularity of Ultimate Fighting. Golden Boy had a stake in 95 percent of boxing’s total pay-per-view volume in the United States last year, up from 65 percent in 2006. With De La Hoya’s stable of 50 fighters—many of them aging but still capable headliners—he has become the preeminent provider of fights, especially for Hispanic audiences (one of the sport’s few growth markets). His outfit delivered 50 shows in 2007, including many programs for the HBO Ole channel and the Solo Boxeo series for Spanish-language network TeleFutura, as well as features for regular HBO.

De La Hoya says he’s proud of Golden Boy not so much for its profit potential—prizefighting is a notoriously low-margin business—as for its potential to reform boxing from the inside. “Traditionally, fighters have had no idea how much money promoters make off them,” he says. “But we’re up-front with guys. Our books are open. We break down every source of revenue so they can see every cent.” Eventually he hopes, somewhat ambitiously, to offer pensions, health insurance, and financial planning to his fighters. He also hopes to attract enough corporate sponsors to put boxing back on network TV, which deserted the sport in the early 1980s. “We treat boxing like a legitimate business, bringing in integrity, honesty, and transparency,” he says. “We treat fighters like normal human beings. We’re a company for the fans, for the people.”

Competing promoters tend to snicker at such lofty pronouncements, and they claim that De La Hoya’s status as boxing’s last remaining matinee idol means Golden Boy gets preferential treatment from HBO—a claim he doesn’t exactly refute. “Oscar appointed himself the moral guardian of boxing and then lumped the rest of us promoters together in a different boat, like we’re all crooks,” gripes Dan Goossen of Goossen Tutor, a fight promoter in California. “He’s talked a lot about introducing ethical and honorable business methods, but during his seven years as a promoter he hasn’t changed a thing. I don’t see Golden Boy saving boxing: I see it succeeding by any means it can.”

If anything, the fight in May shows what De La Hoya is up against in trying to attract fans to a sport many perceive as shady and, worse, boring. From the opening bell, De La Hoya seems like a battered memory of the electrifying fighter who won an Olympic gold medal and world championships in six weight classes. He looks logy and tentative and all of his 35 years. Still, the HBO commentators sprinkle on superlatives like waiters with pepper mills: De La Hoya is “throwing sensational combinations” and “fighting the perfect fight” and, most implausibly, “looking like he used to look 10 years ago.”

The Golden Boy gets a unanimous win that is never in doubt (one judge has him winning all 12 rounds), but the dullness of the bout is reflected in dismal viewership. In the history of HBO, no fight so heavily hyped by the network has ever earned lower ratings. HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg insists the $10 million investment was worth the risk, even if the show was merely a loss leader for other programming. HBO, he says, was bowing to the demands of the marketplace, which is increasingly controlled by De La Hoya. Indeed, HBO has signed a four-year deal with him guaranteeing that it will buy a specific number of fights for a specific number of dates. No other promoter has such an arrangement.

De La Hoya had talked of retiring from fighting this month to focus on business full time, but he recently started waffling. His final bout was initially planned as a rematch of his loss in 2007 on pay-per-view to the preposterously gifted and outrageously self-centered Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather. A five-month marketing campaign and an HBO reality series helped make that fight the most lucrative event in the history of pay TV. Not only did De La Hoya personally pocket a minimum of $25 million (and Mayweather, $10 million) for a night’s work, but Golden Boy Promotions enjoyed a hefty share of ticket sales ($18.4 million) and pay-per-view sales ($147 million). De La Hoya’s total take was in excess of $50 million.

As excitement built for a rematch this month, Mayweather stunned the boxing world by announcing his retirement, so De La Hoya will instead fight Manny Pacquiao, the World Boxing Council lightweight champ and a less magnetic presence. The boxers will meet at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds, a weight De La Hoya has not fought at since 2001. Pacquiao has never fought above 135 pounds. No one expects pay-per-view sales to set rec­ords, or even come close.

Because De La Hoya as a fighter has a huge impact on the success of De La Hoya as a promoter—particularly when it comes to his arrangement with HBO—he now says he has three or four more fights in him. Regardless of how much longer he competes, some see the Pacquiao matchup as a portent of boxing’s future: De La Hoya and HBO arm in arm, setting up lackluster bouts that further sour the public on the sweet science. “Before long, Oscar will have all the fighters and all the dates, and nobody is going to watch boxing anymore because the quality is so bad,” says Kathy Duva of Main Events, which has nurtured 19 world champs during the past 30 years. “Golden Boy Promotions will be the death of the sport. Basically, it’s the Wal-Mart of boxing.”

A brilliant midsummer sun blooms over the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Valets sweep up the parking lot. Desk clerks bring bottled water to lounging guests. When De La Hoya pulls his BMW in front of the hotel, he is quickly recognized. A gaggle of employees drifts over from the lobby and surrounds him. De La Hoya gives a wry smile. He is unfailingly friendly, charming, even kind to these working stiffs. “Usted es uno nuestros los propios,” says a waiter. You are one of our own.

De La Hoya’s business is based in Los Angeles, but he spends about seven months a year in San Juan. Settling there was the idea of his wife, the Puerto Rican chanteuse Millie Corretjer. Before they were married, De La Hoya told her, “My home is in California, my business is in California, my training camp is in California. It only make sense that we live in California.” Millie smiled sweetly and said, “Oscar, we’ll live in Puerto Rico.”

Before his courtship of Corretjer, De La Hoya fathered three children by three other women. Last year, photos surfaced showing him in a wig, high heels, and a fishnet bodysuit. They were taken by an ex-stripper, who later recanted her claim of the photos’ authenticity but sued De La Hoya for slander (and $25 million). This summer, she withdrew her claim; De La Hoya’s attorney insists the woman had been paid no hush money. “Yes, I was unfaithful to my wife,” the fighter says. “The photos that woman took were doctored and, thank God, the truth eventually came out. I created a lot of pain for Millie, but we worked things out through a family therapist, and now we’re happier than ever. I haven’t been this happy since I was a boy.”

The middle child of Mexican immigrants, De La Hoya was raised in a one-bedroom house in the barrio of East Los Angeles. His father dug graves, and the family often didn’t have money for food. He was six when he fought his first amateur bout, and 10 when he started training at the Resurrection Boy’s Club Gym, a former church. By the time he graduated from high school, he had become a national Junior Olympic champion, amassing 223 wins and only five defeats. De La Hoya entered the national spotlight in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics, where he was the only U.S. fighter to win a gold medal. He became the darling of NBC’s Olympics coverage and celebrated the triumph by parading around the ring with Old Glory in his right hand and the colors of Mexico in his left, in tribute, he later said, to his home and his heritage. After dedicating the medal to his mother—who had died of cancer two years before—he became known as the Golden Boy.

A murderous left hook was perhaps the least of De La Hoya’s assets. He was articulate, good-looking, and bilingual. A couple of local agents signed the 19-year-old to a $1 million management contract, then the richest deal ever for an Olympic boxer. In his professional debut, he sold out L.A.’s 6,000-seat Great Western Forum, punching his opponent hollow in less than two minutes. But the contract turned out to be worth quite a bit less than $1 million. The promised “$250,000 home” turned out to be a rental house; and the Acura NSX sports car, on lease. “All I saw from the deal was about $75,000 in cash,” says De La Hoya, who subsequently fired the agents and hooked up with Bob Arum.

Ever since the days of bare-knuckle brawling, boxing promotion has been riddled with corruption, from lax contract enforcement to extortion to fixed bouts. Fighters, denied the protections afforded to athletes engaged in less perilous pastimes, depend on the benevolence of promoters and managers. “When problems crop up, there’s no commissioner to step in and decide what’s in the best interests of the sport,” says Seth Abraham, president of HBO Sports from 1975 to 2000. “In boxing, it’s everyone for himself.”

Or as Don King, the impresario known for his showmanship and ruthless opportunism, puts it in an interview, “Boxing is the last vestige of capitalism. It’s Adam Smith. It’s free enterprise. It’s The Wealth of Nations. It’s political economy. It’s supply and demand. It’s the invisible hand.” (When it comes to nonstop nonsense or dodgy dealings, no promoter is in a class with King, a onetime numbers runner who has been convicted of manslaughter and acquitted of tax evasion and fraud.)

Jay Larkin, the former executive producer of Showtime Boxing, says network television abandoned the sport partly because programming executives got fed up with buccaneer promoters who routinely gouged purses, doctored ring records, and used bait-and-switch tactics with fighters. “The execs would buy A versus B and then watch helplessly when X versus Y showed up,” says Larkin. “Major media companies could not operate on that level of street bargaining. The fight business is like a bag of snakes. You throw it in the corner, and it changes its position.”

Of all the public utterances credited to Arum, the most enduring is this: “Yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling the truth.” A tenacious Brooklyn native and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Arum worked as a tax expert on Wall Street and a Justice Department attorney during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He got mixed up in the financial end of boxing in 1962 after Sonny Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson to win the heavyweight title. Arum headed a government task force that held up the proceeds while investigating one of the promoters, Roy Cohn.

Three years later, Arum became the lawyer for the man who beat Liston, Muhammad Ali. Arum promoted 26 of Ali’s bouts, making a fortune, and then made another in the 1980s from such great middleweights as Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Marvin Hagler. Throughout the next decade, while King and his crown jewel, Mike Tyson, presided over the heavyweight division, Arum guided the career of the young De La Hoya and turned him into a fistic Fort Knox.

With Arum pulling the strings, De La Hoya established his career by crushing a series of carefully picked patsies before knocking out super-featherweight Jimmy Bredahl for his first world title. He had been a pro for a little more than 18 months. From then on, De La Hoya made a minimum of $1 million a fight, an unprecedented sum for the lower-weight divisions, let alone for a fighter with only a dozen pro bouts.

De La Hoya was the boxer that the Hispanic community—and advertisers—had been waiting for. Spooked by Tyson’s cannibal mystique, Madison Avenue recoiled from virtually all prizefighters except De La Hoya. Radiating charisma, De La Hoya pitched everything from aftershave lotion to milk. His status as a Latin heartthrob was promoted by Arum, who planted women with marry me, oscar! signs in televised press conferences. In 1997, De La Hoya’s $37 million in earnings made him, according to Forbes, the third-best-paid athlete in the world.

By the end of the century, the freewheeling, free-spending De La Hoya was saddled with numerous lawsuits and burning through his money as fast as he made it. He squandered millions in casinos, sometimes losing as much as $300,000 in a single sitting. After one of De La Hoya’s fights in Las Vegas, Arum asked Caesars Palace to impose a $250,000-a-night credit limit on the fighter to ensure that he would leave town with most of his boxing winnings intact.

At the same time, the undefeated champion had begun to question the way his purses were being carved up. He says Arum explained very little about the intricacies of pay-per-view, closed-circuit broadcasts, and sponsorship percentages. He grew warier in September 1999 after a welterweight title bout with Felix “Tito” Trinidad of Puerto Rico. Arum and King, who represented Trinidad, had negotiated the fattest nonheavyweight deal ever. De La Hoya lost, in a split decision, his title and his temper: His take was $23 million; Arum’s, $12 million. “I thought, There’s something wrong here,” De La Hoya says.

He hired his own agent and accountant and set up Golden Boy Enterprises to oversee his fights and endorsements. In search of a banker to help him run the operation, he turned to Richard Schaefer, then the deputy C.E.O. of UBS’s private-banking operations in the U.S., who happens to be married to the aunt of De La Hoya’s closest childhood buddy. Schaefer, now 46, isn’t anyone’s idea of a boxing whiz kid. Born into a banking family in Bern, Switzerland, he’s a mild, sober fellow with an exceedingly limited understanding of the fight game. Yet since Schaefer joined the company, in 2001, Golden Boy has shown consistent double-digit growth. “As a business, the sport is a mismanaged asset that’s stuck in the 20th century,” he says. “To me, boxing was a stock out of favor. We had the chance to buy low and sell high.”

Schaefer, who says that his clients included “nearly half of the Forbes 400 west of the Mississippi,” persuaded De La Hoya to quit gambling and set about learning the vagaries of the sport. Apprenticing under Arum, he learned quickly. De La Hoya insisted that Schaefer be allowed to sit in on meetings, and Arum taught the banker how to run a boxing show, ferret out sources of revenue, and negotiate with venues, sponsors, and TV networks.

“I knew about integrity and transparency and how to deal fairly with people, all of which were new and unknown concepts to boxing,” Schaefer recalls. Eventually, he told Arum that De La Hoya wanted to dump him as a promoter and go it alone. “Bob didn’t believe me at first,” says Schaefer. “When he did believe me, he started screaming. You can’t blame him for wanting Oscar to remain his cash cow.” (Arum denies reacting this way.) De La Hoya sued to get out of his contract, but the Golden Boy’s victory in federal court, as well as his reputation, was tarnished by a boast that he had just “defeated one of the biggest Jews to come out of Harvard.”

Still, the company may not be as clean as its reputation. Last year, at a steak house in Beverly Hills, Schaefer and De La Hoya handed boxer Manny Pacquiao—Golden Boy’s opponent in the ring this month—a suitcase stuffed with $250,000 in cash to get him to sign a seven-fight contract. Though Schaefer and De La Hoya broke no laws, the hand­off of 12,500 twenty-dollar bills seemed like a move straight out of the Don King playbook. And as it turned out, Golden Boy was outbid. Arum later paid $1 million to Pacquiao and won a court battle for the right to promote him, and the cash was returned.

For his part, Schaefer has worked to bring corporate support back to the ring. “Luring sponsors wasn’t hard in Ali’s day,” he says. “But now sponsors have choices, and frankly they don’t need the negative perception that comes with boxing.” Yet he managed to persuade five Fortune 500 companies to sponsor the Mayweather fight in 2007 and publicize it at their retail stores. The cash and advertising by such formerly boxing-­unfriendly sponsors as Southwest Airlines, Tecate beer, and Bacardi-brand Cazadores tequila were valued at more than $10 million.

That kind of corporate approval, plus De La Hoya’s widespread appeal across many demographic groups, has helped push the company beyond boxing. Today, the promotion element is just one part of Golden Boy, which Schaefer likens to a “Hispanic Berkshire Hathaway.” Using De La Hoya’s celebrity and earnings (his worth is said to exceed a half-­billion dollars), the company has partnered with a Southern California developer to invest $100 million in commercial and residential properties in Hispanic communities. To date, they have signed off on eight projects in locations ranging from California to Texas and encompassing everything from low-income housing to big-box construction.

The company also owns, curiously enough, a small percentage of the company that makes Equal, the sugar substitute. And in February, Golden Boy bought a 25 percent interest in the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer franchise, from the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is run by billionaire Philip Anschutz. In a separate transaction, A.E.G., which owns 30 arenas across the country, purchased a minority interest in Golden Boy Promotions. The muscle and global reach of A.E.G. is expected to give Golden Boy a leg up in pursuing Olympic boxers who competed in this summer’s Beijing Games. A.E.G. has opened new stadiums in Beijing and London, and Schaefer envisions a pay-per-view simulcast featuring the first pro bouts of Olympic boxers on three continents.

Golden Boy’s most surprising investment is in the fast-fading world of print media. The Hispanic TV and radio markets have already been sliced up, but Spanish-language newspapers have operated as regional enterprises in a splintered trade. Golden Boy has a stake in ImpreMedia, publisher of the principal Hispanic newspapers in Los Angeles (La Opinión), Chicago (La Raza), New York (El Diario la Prensa and Hoy New York), and other major cities.

“Hispanics still read papers,” says Schaefer. Last year, one of Golden Boy’s subsidiaries purchased the Ring, the self-styled “bible of boxing,” along with three sister publications, for $7 million. De La Hoya promises to restore the ailing monthly to eminence by cross-promotion with some of the sponsors he has brought to the fight industry. And a boxing portal launched in collaboration with Yahoo will stream video of major bouts. He’s pledged to keep his hands off editorial content, and by all accounts, he has—at least so far.

“It’s a double standard,” protests King. “Had I bought the Ring, it would have been tantamount to treason.” In fact, in 1977 he did put out feelers. Alas, that same year, a magazine exposé revealed that the Ring’s ratings and its record book had been juggled to help King’s fighters in a nationally televised tournament. “I decided to just let it go,” he says with a sigh. “Why bring the condemnation of the nation upon myself?”

Other boxing promoters would be happy to see Golden Boy leave the ring for good. “They have no idea how to promote a fight,” says Arum. “One’s a banker, the other’s a boxer. No HBO executive in his right mind would agree to make Oscar a promotional partner.”

Kathy Duva of Main Events accuses Golden Boy of poaching other promoters’ fighters. “Oscar has had no success in building his own talent,” she says. “When Golden Boy hears that a young fighter’s contract is up, it moves in and pays a premium for his services.” King built his kingdom the same way, she says, “but he never talked about transparency.” Until recently, Duva managed a dozen fighters at a time. She’s now down to four. She says it takes an average of six years and $300,000 to build a fighter from scratch. “Those of us who have to make a living at promoting can’t anymore,” she says. “Golden Boy is trying to roll us up.”

Yet even the largely marginalized King claims to be a fan of De La Hoya’s. “Who am I to condemn, to vilify, to deprecate, to castigate?” he says. “I’m old and going on. Oscar is young and coming on. You can’t blame Golden Boy for amassing great promotional power in a time of boxing’s ‘niche-ization.’ Oscar didn’t create the situation; he just pounced on it. I applaud him for showing that fighters can think.” And Larkin, the former Showtime executive, argues that Golden Boy has endeared itself to HBO by “corporatizing” boxing promotion. “People like working with Golden Boy because they feel it’s clean,” he says. “It may or may not be—I don’t know—but that’s the perception. The company is reliable, realistic in its deal demands, and lives up to agreements. That’s saying an awful lot for a promoter.”

Schaefer adds, almost coyly, that jealousy is no more than feeling alone among smiling enemies. “When a Swiss banker and a kid from East L.A. appear out of nowhere to show people how things should be done, the crybabies attack them,” he says. “Which plays right into my cards. If the crybabies weren’t so obsessed with Golden Boy, they might actually pose a danger to me and Oscar.”

The question is, Will Golden Boy’s clout diminish once De La Hoya finally retires from fighting? “I’ll say this much,” says former H.B.O. exec Abraham. “It’s not going to increase.”


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Thursday, November 20, 2008,8:21 AM
Mayor Bloomberg and Latin Media and Entertainment Commission Announce New Efforts...
Mayor Bloomberg and Latin Media and Entertainment Commission Announce New Efforts to Position New York City as the Center for Latin Media and Entertainment New LMEC Projects to Include Media Events Guide, Revamped Website, and New Partnership Between the New Media and Advertising Industry and Educational Institutions Across the City

NEW YORK, May 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will announce today at the annual "Made in NY" Awards reception held at Gracie Mansion new efforts of the Latin Media and Entertainment Commission (LMEC) to position New York as the center for Latin media and entertainment. The announcements include the City's first ever Latin Media Guide of events taking place throughout the city, the appointment of eight new commission members, the formation of a working group with educational institutions and industry leaders, and a newly re-launched website on www.nyc.gov .

"The Latin Media and Entertainment Commission was established to showcase our city's Latino arts and entertainment community and create new opportunities and jobs in these fields," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The Commission has brought together executives from Latin media and business organizations, and over the past four years these leaders have put their talents to work on the city's behalf. By welcoming eight new members and launching a new website and Latin media guide, the Commission is strengthening the art, music, and entertainment industries that make New York City the Latin Media and Entertainment Capital of the World."

As part of the Commission's efforts to create and support events that provide the most enriching Latin cultural experiences, the LMEC has partnered with the bilingual Latino website NYRemezcla to create the first-ever Latin Media Guide. The 2008 edition of the guide includes 14 events supported by LMEC. These events range from Latin film screenings to outdoor Latin music concerts and combined are expected to have an estimated economic impact on the city of over $60 million.

"We continue to work closely with the Mayor to identify, build, and tout top destinations in New York City featuring Latin advertising, new media, films, music, dining, art galleries, and more," said LMEC Chair Mario L. Baeza, Chairman and CEO of the Baeza Group, and Founder and Executive Chairman V-Me Media, Inc. "We are committed to fostering the growth of Latin organizations in New York in order to continue growing and enriching the cultural fabric of our great City."

This year, LMEC's goal to promote economic development for Hispanic advertising and media companies will be re-enforced by the addition of eight new board members: Patrick Dolan, Senior Vice President, Interactive Advertising Bureau; Robert Federico, Executive Director, Repertorio Espanol; Angela M. Freyre, Senior Vice President, Nielsen Media; Jacqueline Hernandez, COO, Telemundo; Jorge Reynardus, President/Partner, Reynardus & Moya; Jeffrey Thompson, Vice President Global Diversity, Disney; Joe Uva, CEO, Univision; Carlos Sanchez, President & General Manager of Telemundo 47.

The event listings in the Latin Media Guide are also part of a comprehensive calendar featured on the LMEC's newly redesigned website that can be found on www.nyc.gov . Some of the up-coming LMEC-endorsed events appearing in the new Latin Media Guide include TeatroStageFest being held June 2-15, the Latin Alternative Music Conference being held July 8-12, the New York International Latino Film Festival taking place July 22-27, the Latino Cultural Festival at the Queens Theater July 23-August 3 and the New York Salsa Congress August 27-31.

The new LMEC website will also include a summary of New York business incentives, an Online Business Survey, a directory of industry and Latino cultural institutions and subscription to a newsletter that will keep the public updated and informed about the LMEC's work and upcoming Latin events. The website will also highlight the LMEC's joint effort with many of the City's top colleges and universities and executives in the "new media" and Hispanic advertising fields to develop and strengthen New York City's growing Latin media and entertainment workforce. The partnership seeks to bridge the gap between educational institutions and the changing demands of the industry to provide opportunities to students.

About the Latin Media and Entertainment Commission (LMEC)

On October 28, 2003, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created the NYC Latin Media & Entertainment Commission (LMEC) by Executive Order No. 43. The LMEC advises the Mayor on business development and retention strategies for the Latin media and entertainment industry and works with City agencies to pursue the LMEC's goals. Through research and strategies, the LMEC develops initiatives to retain, recruit, and expand New York City's Latin media and entertainment productions, businesses, and jobs as well as to attract and host high-profile Latin entertainment productions and events in New York City. The Commission is made up of leaders from the Latin and mainstream media industry, community leaders from the nonprofit and cultural sectors, and leading executives from the financial, advertising, and real estate sectors. Commission members include honorary Chairpersons Jennifer Lopez and Robert De Niro; LMEC Chairman Mario Baeza, Chairman and CEO of the Baeza Group and Founder and Executive Chairman V-Me Media, Inc.; and the Mayor's Advisor and Liaison to the Commission, Willie Colon. The heads of seven City agencies, under the direction of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, serve on the commission as ex officio members.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008,6:57 PM
Battle Plans - How Obama Won
by Ryan Lizza

Last June, Joel Benenson, who was Barack Obama’s top pollster during his Presidential run, reported on the state of the campaign. His conclusions, summed up in a sixty-slide PowerPoint presentation, were revealed to a small group, including David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, and several media consultants, and, as it turned out, some of this research helped guide the campaign through the general election. The primaries were over, Hillary Clinton had conceded, and Obama had begun planning for a race against Senator John McCain.

There was good news and bad in Benenson’s presentation. Obama led John McCain, forty-nine per cent to forty-four per cent, among the voters most likely to go to the polls in November, but there was also a large group of what Benenson called “up-for-grabs” voters, or U.F.G.s, who favored McCain, forty-eight per cent to thirty-six per cent. The U.F.G.s were the key to the outcome; if the election had been held then, Obama would have probably lost.

Benenson, who is fifty-six, is bearded and volatile. He speaks with a New York accent, and in the movie version of the Obama campaign he might be played by Richard Lewis. He is considered the star pollster in the Democratic Party. Like several of Obama’s other top advisers—David Axelrod; Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman who is his new chief of staff; Bill Burton, the campaign’s national press secretary—Benenson was deeply involved in helping Democrats win in the 2006 midterm elections, an experience that put the Obama team more in touch with the mood of the electorate going into 2008. (The top strategists for Clinton and McCain had not been involved in difficult races in 2006.)

The data from Benenson’s June presentation contained some reasons to be optimistic. The conventional wisdom was that Obama, as the newest of the candidates, had an image that was malleable and thus highly vulnerable to negative attacks. But that was not what the polling showed. As the presentation explained, “Obama’s image is considerably better defined than McCain’s, even on attributes at the core of McCain’s reputation,” such as “stands up to lobbyists and special interests,” “puts partisan politics aside to get things done,” and “tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

For Obama aides, who viewed McCain as the one Republican with the potential to steal the anti-Washington bona fides of their candidate, Benenson’s polling was revelatory. “Voters actually did not know as much as I think the press corps thought they did about John McCain,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Obama, told me. “What they’d heard about McCain most recently, and certainly during the primary process, was that he was like every other Republican—fighting to sound more like George Bush.” Benenson said, “What we knew at the start of the campaign was that the notion of John McCain as a change agent and independent voice didn’t exist anywhere outside the Beltway.”

Another finding from this initial poll had clear strategic implications: the economy concerned the U.F.G.s more than any other issue, and on that question neither candidate showed particular strength. In addition, the U.F.G.s were fed up with Washington and, especially, with George W. Bush. Based on those insights, Benenson came up with some recommendations, among them “Own the economy” and “Maintain an emphasis on changing Washington.”

As a practical matter, this meant that, after the Democratic National Convention, in Denver, the campaign would do all that it could to focus attention on economic matters. It had no idea, of course, how fully both the economy and John McCain would coöperate with that goal.

There was an almost obsessive singularity in the way that Obama and his chief strategists—Axelrod and David Plouffe, the campaign’s manager—saw the contest. In their tactical view, all that was wrong with the United States could be summarized in one word: Bush. The clear alternative, then, was not so much a Democrat or a liberal as it was anyone who could credibly define himself as “not Bush.” Axelrod had a phrase that he often used to describe this approach: America was looking for “the remedy, not the replica.” The appeal of the strategy was that, with only minor alterations, it could work in the primaries as well as in the general election, and that, in turn, allowed Obama to finesse the perpetual problem of Presidential politics: having one message to win over a party’s most ardent supporters and another when trying to capture independents and U.F.G.s—the voters who decide a general election. Experience? That was George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton? She could be portrayed as polarizing and as a Washington insider—just like Bush. When Obama gave economic speeches during the primaries and caucuses—which continued over five months, in fifty-five states and territories—he lumped together the Clinton and Bush years as one long period of decline. And John McCain? Four more years of Bush, of “the same.”

“We were fortunate,” Anita Dunn said. Both Clinton and McCain were “Washington insiders, people who for different reasons you could argue weren’t going to bring change.”

The incessant repetition of Obama’s change message had its drawbacks, though, and Benenson described to me the ongoing debate inside and outside the campaign about whether the candidate should move away from that theme—for instance, during the summer and fall of 2007, when Obama’s poll numbers in Iowa were stagnant. “We had people in Iowa in the summer of ’07 saying, ‘All we’re getting asked about is experience! We’ve got to have an answer on experience!’ ” Benenson recalled.

Polling in the summer and fall of 2007 led the campaign to a choice between trying to win the debate that the Clinton campaign was eager to have—about Obama’s perceived lack of experience—and sharpening the debate about change in a way that could undermine Clinton. Once again, change trumped experience. “The much shorter path for us,” Benenson said, going into the jargon of political consulting, “was to eliminate Senator Clinton from the decision set as a change agent. We defined change in a way that Barack Obama had to be the answer.” Larry Grisolano, whose job was to oversee all spending on TV ads and mail, the largest part of the campaign’s budget, posed the question this way: “How do we talk about change in a way that makes Hillary Clinton pay a price for her experience?”

On October 10, 2007, less than three months before the Iowa caucuses, Axelrod, Grisolano, Benenson, and other members of Obama’s “message team” distilled several weeks’ worth of polling and internal debate into a twelve-page memo that laid out Obama’s strategy for the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses. “The fundamental idea behind this race from the start has been that this is a ‘change’ election, and that has proven out,” the memo said. “Everything in our most recent research has confirmed this premise, as has the fact that other campaigns have adapted to try and catch—or survive—the wave.” The plan adopted by Obama was to raise character issues about Clinton that would disqualify her from employing Obama’s message. “We cannot let Clinton especially blur the lines on who is the genuine agent of change in this election,” the memo said. It argued that, in voters’ minds, Clinton “embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country,” and that “she prides herself on working the system, not changing it.” Obama raised all these issues with some delicacy; he framed the choice as “calculation” versus “conviction,” and was careful not to use Clinton’s name. But the campaign wanted to be sure that reporters got the message. “We also can’t drive the contrasts so subtly or obtusely that the press doesn’t write about them and the voters don’t understand that we’re talking about HRC,” the memo advised Obama.

The new strategy was unveiled on November 10th, at the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner, the biggest event of the Iowa-caucus season. Candidates could not use notes or a teleprompter at the dinner, and, in the weeks leading up to it, Obama stayed up late each night memorizing a new speech based on the strategy memo. “The Iowa Jefferson Jackson Dinner ended up being a tipping point in the election,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s communications director, said. “That’s when we took the lead in our internal polling in Iowa for the first time.”

Axelrod believed that the argument about change versus experience would also apply in a race against McCain, and he laid out his argument to Obama in a strategy memo in late 2006, when Obama was still planning his Presidential race. “I was assessing potential opponents,” Axelrod told me. “I got to McCain and said that the McCain of 2000 would be a formidable opponent in a year that was all about change, but that he would almost certainly have to make a series of Faustian bargains in order to be the nominee, and that would make him ultimately a very vulnerable candidate in a year when people were looking for change. And so we started the general election, and by then he had made the Faustian bargains, and he had turned himself into a Bush supporter.” Axelrod continued, “So we had a very simple premise about the general election, which is that these Bush policies had failed, that McCain was essentially carrying the tattered banner of a failed Administration, and that we represented a change from all that. There have been zigs and zags in the road, but that’s essentially the strategy that we have executed from the start.”

The campaign’s faith in the strength of such a simple message was constant. Not only was it the answer for an electorate exhausted with Bush; it turned Obama’s vulnerabilities into assets. “He was at that point a couple of years out of the Illinois Senate, and he was a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama,” Axelrod said. “You don’t have to load up the wagon with too many more bricks than that. But, in a year that was poised for big change, those things were less of an obstacle than you might find in a traditional year. As is often the case, your strength is your weakness, and your weakness is your strength.” Obama almost never delivered a speech from a lectern unless it was festooned with the word “change.” On Election Day, thirty-four per cent of the voters said that they were looking for change, and nearly ninety per cent of those voters chose Obama.

Like many campaign teams, Obama’s was young. The communications department—made up mostly of guys in their twenties and thirties—had a fraternity-house quality. On weekends, they would often drink beer together and play the video game Rock Band at a group house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. They had been brought up in Democratic politics in the previous two decades with an understanding that the people who worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton were the best operatives in Washington, especially when it came to dealing with the media. They had watched “The War Room,” the documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign, which featured strategists like James Carville and George Stephano-poulos manically responding to every negative story and trying to win every news cycle.

Several Obama aides believe that a crucial moment came after a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN in July of 2007. During the debate, Obama was asked, “Would you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your Administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama answered simply, “I would.” Hillary Clinton pounced on the remark as hopelessly naïve, and her aides prepared to emphasize what appeared to be a winning argument. Obama’s aides had much the same reaction. “We know this is going to be the issue of the day,” Dan Pfeiffer, recalling a conference call the following morning, said. “We have the sense they’re going to come after us on it. And we’re all on the bus trying to figure out how to get out of it, how not to talk about it.” Obama, who was listening to part of the conversation, took the telephone from an aide and instructed his staff not to back down. According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

The episode gave Obama’s communications aides a boost of confidence. “Instead of writing a memo explaining away our position to reporters, we changed our memo and wrote an aggressive defense of our position and went on the offense,” Pfeiffer said. The aftermath taught them that they could take on the dreaded Clinton machine—“the most impressive, toughest, most ruthless war room in the world,” as Pfeiffer put it. “It was like we had taken our first punch and kept on going,” he said.

The anti-Washington message of their candidate started to influence the way that some staffers saw themselves. “We are, I think, as a group, different from folks in Washington in that we signed up for this campaign and moved to Chicago not knowing a clear path to victory,” Bill Burton, Obama’s press secretary, said. “But, at the same time, we are all still creatures of Washington in the sense that when something happens like that”—the back-and-forth at the YouTube debate—“it lends itself to us thinking, Well, maybe that’s something that we clarify, because the grownups in Washington were all saying you can’t do that. And those are the people that we came up listening to. The Clinton Administration people were saying, ‘O.K., kids, you can’t do that.’ ”

Campaigns are divided in two. On one side are the ad-makers, speechwriters, press secretaries, and assorted spinners, who manage a candidate’s image. On the other side are the field operatives, who find voters and deliver them to the polls. While the communications people operate almost exclusively in the world of perceptions, the field people operate in the world of hard data. David Plouffe, the Obama campaign’s publicity-shy manager, whom Obama praised as “the unsung hero” of his campaign in his victory speech last Tuesday night, comes out of the field side of campaigns. “Politics is about numbers,” Plouffe said to me a few days before the election.

Plouffe, who is forty-one, is thin and discreet, and his low profile in the press sent a message throughout the Obama organization that staffers were to be similarly reticent about attracting publicity. The catchphrase inside the campaign was “No drama with Obama,” and Plouffe channelled the low-key temperament of the candidate himself. “Barack went out and sought people who had a certain personality type,” Pfeiffer said. “They were people who had intentionally low profiles in Washington.” Of Plouffe, Pfeiffer said, “If he had wanted to spend the past five years of his life on ‘Crossfire’ and CNN, he could do that. He’s chosen not to do that.” When, in January, 2007, Pfeiffer interviewed for his job, Obama told him, “What I want around me are people who are calm, who don’t get too high and don’t get too low, because that’s how I am.”

Jon Favreau, a twenty-seven-year-old speechwriter who had worked for John Kerry in 2004, told me, “People were drawn to him and inspired by him in a way that you knew this was about electing Barack Obama. People had come from places where they were probably disappointed in politics. I was, after 2004. It was painful, and I didn’t know if I was going to do it again.” He added, “Even during tough times, everyone sticks together. There are not a lot of Washington assholes on this campaign.”

Alyssa Mastromonaco, the director of scheduling and advance, who had also worked for Kerry in 2004, said that she had some trouble getting used to the quieter vibe of the Obama operation. “When I first started on the campaign, at the very beginning of this one, I was one of the only people who had actually done a Presidential before,” Mastromonaco, who is thirty-two, told me. “And so we were on some conference call, and I was just completely irritated by something someone was saying. After the call, they came in and were, like, ‘Alyssa, this is a campaign where you need to respect other people’s opinions and you can’t be a bitch.’ I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, these guys are serious!’ ”

Obama, who is not without an ego, regarded himself as just as gifted as his top strategists in the art and practice of politics. Patrick Gaspard, the campaign’s political director, said that when, in early 2007, he interviewed for a job with Obama and Plouffe, Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” After Obama’s first debate with McCain, on September 26th, Gaspard sent him an e-mail. “You are more clutch than Michael Jordan,” he wrote. Obama replied, “Just give me the ball.” Obama’s confidence filtered down through the campaign and gave comfort to his staff during the bleaker moments of 2008, such as when Obama learned that he had lost the New Hampshire primary. After that, he told his longtime friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett, “This will turn out to have been a good thing.” Jarrett told me, “You would think you would have a lot of other things to say before you might get to that.” Favreau said, “His demeanor when he won the Iowa caucuses and his demeanor when he lost New Hampshire were not much different.”

David Plouffe’s field director was Jon Carson. When we spoke, five days before the election, it was at a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant in the food court of the office building that housed Obama’s headquarters. He wore a gray button-down shirt and khakis, and told me that we had exactly forty-five minutes. Carson has a civil-engineering degree and spent time in Honduras working as a water and sanitation engineer. He, like Plouffe, made me think of the focussed men in white shirts and narrow black ties who, in the nineteen-sixties, ran the space program. When Carson hired field organizers for the campaign, he said that he looked for people with unusual backgrounds—“I try to throw out all the political-science majors when I do hiring.” During a lull in the primary season, he set up a three-week “data camp” in Oregon for Obama staffers. “We had the best data operation of any campaign,” he said. “You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can’t organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we’re going to talk to—I mean, the rest of it is all pointless.”

Carson was part of the team that made the important decision, during the race against Clinton, to target small caucus states where Clinton had virtually no presence. Carson and Plouffe realized that the cost-per-delegate in caucus states was very low. “I remember the day when we said, ‘Look at this, we could win more delegates in Idaho than in New Jersey,’ ” he told me. Obama’s original plan was to win the Iowa caucuses and use momentum from that victory to catapult him through the three other early states—New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—and then on to February 5th, Super Tuesday, when twenty-four states voted. It was clear that the campaign would need a backup plan if Clinton and Obama split the first four states, which is what happened. Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, and Clinton won New Hampshire and Nevada.

As the campaign got ready for Super Tuesday, Carson called upon the volunteers—in particular, those he called the “super-volunteers,” people who had left their jobs or dropped out of school to help. He estimated that there were about fifteen thousand super-volunteers working full time for Obama. Carson recalled the moment when the campaign figured out what it would cost to put a hundred organizers out in the February 5th states. “It was the first time that we took an enormous leap of faith in our grass-roots network that was already out there,” he said.

On October 1st, a field organizer named Joey Bristol, a recent graduate of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, who had delayed a career at the State Department and was working as an intern at the Chicago campaign headquarters, was sent to Idaho to organize the state for Obama. When he arrived, he learned that much of his work had already been done by a local group, Idaho for Obama. “When Joey gets there, a hundred people are waiting for him,” Carson said. “They’ve got meetings planned for him for the next month, they’ve got little subgroups by county all across the state, they’ve already gone to the state Party, gotten the rules of the caucus, figured out a plan.” On February 5th, Clinton won a net total of eleven delegates from New Jersey, which had a primary, and Obama won a net total of twelve delegates from the caucus state of Idaho.

In hindsight, it seems that the most important decision that Obama made during the campaign was to remove himself from the restrictions of the public-financing system. The decision held risks. He had, after all, promised to stay in the system, and his reversal had the potential to damage the reform image that Benenson’s polling showed was a vital advantage over McCain. But there were collateral benefits; namely, making the campaign more of a person-to-person enterprise, by keeping it tied to the Internet grass roots. Much of the intimacy that the campaign created with its supporters was driven by its need—its ravenous appetite—for money. Plouffe, who rarely spoke to reporters on the record, communicated with donors via amateurish videos in which he explained campaign strategy. “You can’t just ask for money,” Jim Messina, Obama’s chief of staff, said. “You’ve got to involve them. That’s why the famous videos with Plouffe were so important. People felt like insiders. They felt like they knew what we were doing.”

Some Obama advisers couldn’t quite believe that McCain decided not to follow them in opting out of the system. McCain, during the campaign, criticized Obama for going back on his pledge, but the issue did not seem to hurt Obama. The financial gap between the two campaigns was striking. Budgets that were drawn up in June at Obama headquarters were discarded in September, after the Conventions, when online fund-raising soared. “I spend the money, so everything’s gotta go through me to get spent, which is the best job ever,” Messina, the keeper of the budget, told me. “It’s like getting the keys to a fucking Ferrari.” Messina’s Ferrari got more turbocharged every week. “On my whiteboard in front of me, I have the money we added to the media and field budgets by day,” he said. “We ended up adding tens of millions to the media budget and twenty-five million to the mail budget over the course of September and the first week of October.” By the end of September, Messina said, the money for Obama “was just raining down.” Though McCain was aided by outside groups and by the Republican National Committee, his entire budget for the general election was the amount provided by the government—eighty-four million dollars.

One day in September, Plouffe asked Messina if he could find seven million dollars more in the budget—for a thirty-minute advertorial that was to air on the Wednesday before Election Day. He found it. (The Obama commercial attracted an estimated thirty-three million viewers, nearly twice the number for the top-rated “Dancing with the Stars.”) There was still money left over, so the campaign bought ads in video games, like Guitar Hero and Madden NFL 09, and scheduled some get-out-the-vote concerts aimed at the youth vote and featuring the rapper Jay-Z and the N.B.A. star LeBron James. “I mean, dude,” Messina said, “when you’re buying commercials in video games, you truly are being well funded.”

But television remained the key advertising medium. And the volume of TV ads that Obama was broadcasting in late October was unprecedented in a Presidential campaign. “In a battleground state like Virginia, we’re at thirty-five hundred points,” Messina said, by which he meant that an average viewer sees a spot thirty-five times a week. “I’ve worked on two of the closest U.S. Senate races in the country,” he continued. “I helped do Jon Tester last time in Montana,” he said, adding that, at the end of the Tester campaign, an average viewer was seeing pro-Tester spots twenty times a week. For Obama, he said, “we’ve been at two thousand points in Montana since the end of September.” Obama narrowly lost the state, but Republicans were forced to use resources to defend it.

McCain couldn’t keep up. “From the second week in September to the middle of October, we were doing two or three to one against McCain, and at least three to one in some of these battleground states,” Messina said. “Republicans couldn’t play in North Carolina. They couldn’t play in Indiana. They weren’t in Florida for forever, and so we’re up by ourselves just kicking the shit out of them.” Obama won all three states.

The Obama campaign became so flush with cash that one of its trickiest political problems was dealing with other Democrats who wanted Obama to campaign for them and spend money on their races. Pete Rouse, who was Obama’s Senate chief of staff and an architect of his Presidential campaign, spent hours handling such calls. “When we announced that we raised a hundred and fifty-one million in one month”—in October—“every Democratic senator in America called Rouse and had an idea how to spend it on winning the Senate, or whatever race,” one senior Obama aide said. Senator Charles Schumer, who ran the committee in charge of Democratic senatorial campaigns, was particularly aggressive. “The only Senate ad Obama did was in Oregon,” the aide continued. “Schumer rolled Barack. He just got him at an event and made him promise. Barack is really good about not making those promises, but Schumer was begging for money.”

Like being too rich, seeming to be too popular—as exemplified by the enormous crowds that Obama attracted—also vexed the campaign. “We had a rally problem during the primaries,” Anita Dunn said. “It was like he was on a pedestal.” As far back as the earliest primaries, the campaign went back and forth between embracing the crowds to show off Obama’s mass appeal and shunning them to emphasize his regular-guy credentials. Hillary Clinton’s campaign discovered that it could make Obama’s popularity work against him. “Once the Clinton campaign figured out how it wanted to run against Obama, she started doing these town halls,” Dunn said. “Her visuals were she was with people, she was working her heart out, and he’s floating into these rallies with all these adoring people.”

McCain’s aides adopted the same strategy in the general election. In July, after Obama toured the Middle East and Europe, and spoke in Berlin at a rally where two hundred thousand people came to cheer him, a McCain ad compared Obama to Paris Hilton. What seemed to outsiders like a trivial, even ridiculous attack had an enormous impact inside Obama’s headquarters.

“We’ve had a ‘presumptuous watch’ on since then,” Dunn said. Alyssa Mastromonaco, who was in charge of putting on all of Obama’s events, said, “After that, people started thinking that he’s like this celebutante. You have to make it pretty clear through your pictures every day that you aren’t, that this is not easy for you.”

The campaign kept Obama away from celebrities as much as possible. A Hollywood fund-raiser with Barbra Streisand became a source of deep anxiety and torturous discussions. The campaign was on the phone for days trying to make sure it was going to work, and almost cancelled it. In Denver, celebrities who in past Presidential campaigns would have had major speaking roles were shielded from public view. “We spent hours trying to celebrity-down the Democratic National Convention,” the aide said.

Two days before Obama’s acceptance speech, in Denver, Jim Margolis, a top media consultant to the campaign, went to inspect the stage at Invesco Field. McCain’s aides had successfully turned the Greek columns ringing the stage at the stadium into a story about how a godlike Obama would be speaking from a “temple.” But when Margolis arrived he realized that it was even worse than that. “I walked in and turned to look at the stage, and they had put in purple runway lights all the way around the whole stage, up across all the columns and it looked like a set from ‘Deal or No Deal,’ ” he said. “And in back of them, where he would walk out, there was a colored horseshoe that was lit that would have gone around him. And in back of that was a sixty-five-inch plasma monitor that would change colors. And for a guy who is being torpedoed every day about celebrity and Hollywood this was straight out of a Hollywood set. My mouth just dropped open.” Margolis ordered the producer and the set designer, who had worked for months on the design, to remove the screen and the purple lights and generally make the stage look less like a Hollywood production.

Obama’s rallies had a strategic purpose beyond their visual impact, and, by putting pressure on Obama to scale down these events, Clinton and then McCain were able to take away one of the campaign’s most useful organizational tools—a chance to capture personal information about potential voters and campaign volunteers, and, toward the end, a means of encouraging supporters to vote early. The battle between the communications staff, which was spooked by the Paris Hilton ad, and the field organizers, who needed the rallies to help identify Obama voters, was decided in favor of the organizers. “Finally, at the end of September we got back to saying, ‘Look, we’re gonna do this again because we need to push early voting,’ and if you’re gonna push early voting and voter registration you’ve gotta do big events,” Messina said.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, crowds of fifty, sixty, and seventy thousand people greeted Obama at every stop—almost as if there were a pent-up demand to see him. At Obama’s final rally, in Manassas, Virginia, the night before Election Day, ninety thousand people came to a dusty fairground. Traffic was snarled for miles on the main highway leading to the site, and people simply abandoned their cars on the side of the road so as not to miss Obama’s speech. Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, had died that morning. He seemed subdued, and when he finished his speech he did something unusual. He stood on the stage for what seemed like a long time, a solitary figure in a simple black jacket with his arms at his sides, as if simply absorbing the intensity of a crowd illuminated by high-powered spotlights. A man standing next to me pointed up at Obama. “Look,” he said. “He doesn’t want it to end.”

Much of the Obama campaign was consumed with making the candidate look Presidential. The theory was that the U.F.G.s wanted to be for Obama, but needed some help visualizing him as Commander-in-Chief. His aides had a term for the process of getting voters comfortable with a President Obama: “building a permission structure.” Bill Burton explained it this way: “There were a lot of questions about Senator Obama from the start. Who is he? What’s with the name? Is America ready to vote for a black guy for President?” There were four major moments in the general election—Obama’s trip to the Middle East and Europe, his selection of a running mate, his Convention speech, and the debates—and each was designed to add another plank to the permission structure. For instance, the foreign trip was designed to show Obama in meetings with world leaders, the strategy that the McCain campaign employed when it sent Sarah Palin to the United Nations to meet people like Henry Kissinger and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan. “If he looks like a President, and you put him in Presidential settings, then people will get more comfortable with the idea that he could be President,” Anita Dunn said.

To Obama’s aides, the most important moment of the campaign occurred when Obama had to actually be President. It was not totally obvious how he would perform. Many who cheered for Obama from the moment he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention have had reservations. Michelle Obama once talked to me about the doubts that would need to be addressed before people could vote for her husband. “It is a leap of faith,” she said finally. “We talk about it all the time. It is a leap of faith.”

No matter how much confidence one has in Obama, support for him is often based on such intangibles as his temperament and his intelligence, not on a real record of successful decision-making. The campaign helped affirm supporters’ faith in him, but running a successful campaign can’t predict whether someone will be a good President; after all, most Presidents, whether good or bad, have won a Presidential race.

The September financial crisis, which confronted Congress with the task of trying to rescue the economy from collapse, gave Obama’s aides the clearest indication that he might indeed be as good at governing as he has been at campaigning. It forced Obama to do something unusual and difficult for a candidate: he needed to separate politics and governance in the midst of a political campaign in which there was often no distinction. Obama’s aides say that that was the moment they won the election—the moment that any lingering doubts were erased.

The Obama campaign was organized around a series of conference calls, the most important of which was a nightly call involving Obama and some dozen senior advisers. There was always a mixture of the serious and the absurd. For instance, on October 10th the agenda included an update on the message for rallies in Philadelphia, an update on the collapsing economy, and, just as important then, an “Ayers update”—how to respond to attacks on Obama’s limited contacts with the former Weatherman William Ayers. On these calls, Obama’s advisers had a chance to watch their candidate grapple with complex economic problems. During one, Obama laid out the steps in negotiating the bailout package: he would call the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and consult with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pfeiffer said, “We all got off the phone and I was, like, ‘You know what? That was the first call that felt like that’s what it’s going to be like if he’s President.’ That was the moment where he began looking like a President and not a Presidential candidate.”

Ever since the Benenson PowerPoint presentation in June, Obama’s aides had been looking for ways to show that McCain was just another Washington politician; this was the strategy that had helped defeat Hillary Clinton. At the start of the financial crisis, when McCain announced that he would “suspend” his campaign, Obama’s team knew that McCain had stumbled—and that it could highlight his mistake. “We tested right away as to whether people thought it was a genuine attempt to solve the crisis or more of a political maneuver,” Benenson said. “The numbers started out as even, maybe a two-point edge on ‘genuine intent,’ but, five days later, it swung against him, with a ten-point deficit toward ‘political maneuver.’ ” Obama was surprised by McCain’s move. Earlier that day, September 24th, he had spoken with McCain and asked him to release a joint statement about principles that both men wanted to see in a financial rescue package. McCain seemed interested but also told Obama about possibly suspending his campaign; he asked Obama to join him. Obama was noncommittal, but he ended the conversation with the belief that they had agreed about the joint statement and called Jason Furman, a top economic adviser.

“I picked up the phone, and he basically said, ‘Jason, I just got off the phone with Senator McCain and we’re going to come out with a joint statement to help move the financial rescue package forward, because it looks like it’s in a lot of trouble,’ ” Furman told me. “ ‘I know you know his economic adviser, and I’d like you to call him up and make it a really substantive statement.’ ” Furman, glancing at a television, saw McCain walking up to a lectern; a caption at the bottom of the screen said that he was suspending his campaign and might not attend the first debate. When Furman told Obama what McCain was doing, Obama used a salty expression to describe the move and hung up the phone.

As the financial crisis dragged on, Obama and his aides began to realize what it meant for their prospects. Staffers eagerly soaked up the latest polling, which showed a growing lead for Obama, and the conference calls at night only increased their confidence in the candidate. There was some pressure on Obama to come out against the rescue bill, a position that would have been more consistent with the campaign’s themes. “On a purely political calculation, it would have been easy to be against that bill,” Anita Dunn said. “If you look at all the polls, right? People were thinking, They made a mess and they’re trying to stick you, and they’re going to bail out Wall Street. I mean, what would have been easier?”

David Axelrod, who has known Obama longer than most of Obama’s other campaign aides, said that he had always wondered how Obama would fare at such a moment. “Barbaric and sometimes ridiculous as is this process of running for President, the thing that I love about it is at the end of the day you can’t hide who you are,” Axelrod said. “I’d known him for sixteen years, I have huge confidence in him, but you never know how someone’s gonna handle the vagaries and vicissitudes of a Presidential race, so you hope that they do well.”

A lingering question about Barack Obama’s run for the Presidency was whether this inspirational figure—more so even than the candidate John F. Kennedy—would be transformed by consultants and a sophisticated campaign apparatus into someone no longer recognizable. “Most of us do this and then we go away,” Dan Pfeiffer said at the end of a conversation at Obama’s Chicago headquarters. “The first Wednesday in November, we’re off doing something else. We got the horse to the water, and someone else can make him drink. We’re about winning elections, not actually governing the country, and because he has not done campaigns—he has not run for reëlection five times; he’s actually really only ever had one hard race, this one—he doesn’t have all the bad habits of career politicians.”

It is already being said by the great army of bloggers and commentators that the Obama campaign was the best-run in modern history. Much the same thing was said about James Carville’s work for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Karl Rove’s for Bush in 2000. But campaigns can change a candidate, too. Axelrod said to me that, early in the process, Obama told aides, “I’m in this to win, I want to win, and I think we will win. But I’m also going to emerge intact. I’m going to be Barack Obama and not some parody.” At another point, in early 2007, Obama returned from a forum about health care knowing that he had not done well against Hillary Clinton. “She was very good, and I need to meet that standard, meet that test,” he told Axelrod. “I am not a great candidate now, but I am going to figure out how to be a great candidate.” One of Obama’s achievements as a politician is that he somehow managed to emerge intact, after navigating two years of a modern and occasionally absurd Presidential race, while also becoming a great candidate. On Election Night, as he once again invoked the words of Lincoln, he seemed to be saying that he was going to figure out how to be a great President. ♦


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,1:22 AM
Sites Vying for Lad Ad Dollars Start to Take Hits
Heavy, Break Lay Off Staff As Competitors Targeting Young Men Proliferate

By Michael Learmonth

Published: November 03, 2008

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- One could say that the once-dominant lad-magazine category, epitomized by Maxim, was felled by a swift kick to the groin. Gone are many of the glossies (Stuff, FHM) that once dominated the market, replaced by dozens of websites purveying stupid videos of, well, anything that might get forwarded around by a guy to his pals.

But now, after several years of growth, the lad sites are starting to shield their own loins. Heavy, which runs a video site and an ad network, cut 20 staff members earlier this month, and Chief Marketing Officer Eric Hadley left last week. ManiaTV and Ripe TV, which create branded content for men, cut 20 jobs. Break, which has amassed a large audience for amateur and semipro video of groin shots and skating accidents, also laid off staff from underperforming spinoff sites.

The problem: While there is still a robust group of young males trolling the net, they are a lot more fragmented and harder for advertisers to reach. There is a huge proliferation of sites trying to reach them, leading to cutthroat competition. And there's a general tightening of online ad dollars. All three factors combined threaten to hit the lad sites where they live.

"Everyone is expecting the market to get a little bit tighter; you want to give yourself some room in anticipation of that," said Heavy co-CEO Simon Assaad. "Everyone is going to have to do a better job in the next 12 to 18 months if you're going to stick around."

Next year could be a tough one for online publishers, meaning the gold rush of the past five years could turn into more of a scramble for available ad dollars. No market will be more competitive than the men 18 to 34. The sector already includes dozens of well-funded players such Break, IAC's CollegeHumor, News Corp.'s AskMen.com, Maxim.com, Ripe TV and AOL's Asylum, not to mention YouTube and MySpace, which dwarf them all.

Little Brash

At the same time, the category just got another well-funded competitor in Glam Media's Brash.com, a sparse website attached to a big ad network sold by Glam's formidable sales staff, which has established a significant presence in the online women's market.

The good news for these sites is that young males spend a large and growing portion of their time online and spend less time watching TV than women in the same demo, according to Nielsen. The challenge is that they're one of the most fragmented audiences sought by advertisers, forcing marketers to split a static pie of dollars among an increasing number of outlets.

Five years ago a typical media plan targeted to young males might have 10 outlets, dominated by TV networks and a few magazines. "Today, you still have some of those TV outlets and a few magazines, but you also have 10 to 15 digital outlets, and while current ones continue to grow, more keep popping up," said Andrea Kerr Redniss, managing director-digital at Optimedia.

The sites are already feeling signs of softness in the fourth quarter, typically a crucial one for the genre, which relies on spending from movie studios, consumer electronics, automotive, video-game publishers and console makers. The automotive category is struggling. Movie studios have maintained spending but are more likely to spend on one site, rather than spread the dollars around as they have in recent years. Given the economy and the fact that such niche sites are sometimes considered experimental buys, package goods are pulling back. Players such as Axe and Frito-Lay have significantly cut spending this year.

"What we are seeing is [consumer package goods] are slower to come to market, and when they do make the commitments they have been scaling back," said James Green, CEO of Giant Realm, an ad network that targets young men on gaming and tech sites. "Some are canceling buys completely."

Following the money

Helping drive the proliferation of sites and ad networks targeting young men has been the shift of ad dollars trying to reach the demo online. In 2003, Gillette, for example, spent less than 1% of its ad budget online, according to TNS; in 2007, online received 8%. Unilever's Axe, the golden goose of the category and one of Heavy's biggest advertisers, spent $5 million online in 2007, but only $1 million in the first half of 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Frito-Lay, another big spender in the space, cut spending due to crippling fuel costs for its truck fleet.

Mobile operators remained big spenders but, like the studios, are consolidating their spending on fewer sites. "The dollar amounts haven't changed; there are just many more vendors to talk about. There's more strategy, more tactics," said Paul Leys, director-West Coast innovations at Initiative. "The destinations may not be big, but you're hitting the demo spot-on."

To get a sense of how fragmented the market is, consider that once-dominant brand Maxim is a virtual peon compared with its web-only competitors. Compete estimates 344,382 people visited Maxim.com in September, compared with around 2 million for Heavy, 3 million for Break, 1.2 million for CollegeHumor and 1.3 million for Asylum, not yet a year old.

"It's clear young men are spending more time online, but they're harder to reach," said Bill Wilson, exec VP-programming at AOL. Men 18 to 34 visited slightly more web pages (2,353 vs. 2,305) than women during the month of August and watched 63% more videos than women, according to Nielsen.

Better than sex?

Break commissioned a national poll in which 69% of men said they couldn't live without the internet vs. 31% who said the same about TV. Amazingly, 24% chose surfing the web over sex. "Even in a recession, if you want to be in one demo, this is the one," said Break CEO Keith Richman.

The question is whether the market can support the sheer number of outlets or if a year of slow-to-no-growth means the market might be as glutted with publishers as the lad-magazine genre was earlier in the decade. "We could do nothing but meet with [online] publishers 24/7 and still not meet with everyone," said Optimedia's Ms. Redniss.

"There certainly is caution in the marketplace," said CollegeHumor President Josh Abramson. "It makes it that much harder for people in our space that are not on the same level of must-buy as old media."


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,1:20 AM
As Ratings Fall, Networks Take on Ad-Skipping
Digital Outlets Like Hulu, Joost and Veoh Obliged to Show Commercials

By Michael Learmonth

Published: November 03, 2008

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With DVR penetration knocking on 30%, much of America now views the ability to skip ads on TV as something approaching a birthright.

While they haven't had much choice in the matter, the broadcast networks say they're OK with this, that DVR users watch more TV and disproportionately more shows from ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS, which can't be bad, right?

But the networks haven't given up on the dream of a world of must-see advertising and are quietly attempting to take back that right -- let's call it a privilege -- on the next generation of digital platforms. Already, the networks have effectively eliminated ad-skipping on broadband and have made that a prerequisite in deals with online distributors such as Hulu, Joost and Veoh, as well as ABC.com's full-episode player.

ABC is even trying to export the model offline with its latest video-on-demand agreements with Cox Communications and Verizon's Fios, which allow next-day, on-demand access to shows -- with fast-forwarding disabled for the ads. More ABC VOD deals are in the offing, and the network says they'll all be ad-skip-free.

"It's curious and very counter to the way consumers are accessing television programming," said Tim Hanlon, managing director of Publicis' VivaKi Ventures unit. "From a consumer perspective, it seems antithetical."

'What, we care?'
Yet so far, consumers don't seem to be bothered, in part because the networks have also dramatically reduced the number of ads both online and, in ABC's case, VOD. Hulu served 142 million videos in September, mostly from NBC, Fox and Viacom, all with advertising that could not be skipped. Analytics start-up Integrated Media Measurement estimated that 20% of Americans watch some prime-time shows over broadband, and none of them are skipping the ads.

The networks are spending millions on research to make two arguments: Online-video ads have a bigger impact than TV ads and therefore deserve higher ad rates than TV, and that consumers don't mind the intrusion. Both ABC and CBS commissioned research from Magid Associates that shows consumer recall of an unskippable ad online is 50% compared with 18% for an unskippable ad on broadcast TV.

The networks are, in effect, attempting to put the toothpaste back in the tube on ad skipping in a bid to reinvent their own business model. Part of this bargain, at least initially, is living with fewer ads, but that could change as the networks look to bring the average revenue per viewer in line with broadcast TV. "The ad model is going to evolve, and we will see how many ads the consumer is willing to accept. I don't believe those boundaries have been pushed yet," said ABC President-Sales Mike Shaw.

The question is whether this will result in anything more than a niche experiment, or if it's actually a template for the future of free TV.

One theory of how broadcast TV lost its way is that the networks started loading up shows with more advertising -- 20 minutes' worth in hourlong episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," for example. Then technology came along that made skipping ads easier and more desirable than, say, just doing nothing.

Endangered species
Broadcast audiences have been on a steady decline since the mid-'80s. This year prime-time network TV viewing is down 2.9% at CBS, 9.7% at ABC, 14.3% at NBC and 17.5% at Fox, according to Nielsen Media Research. At the same time, the networks are getting a significant amount of viewing on DVRs -- more than 4 million viewers for "Grey's Anatomy" and 3.5 million for CBS's "CSI" during one recent week in October.

Since DVR penetration is likely to hit 50% in the next few years, the business model is looking like an endangered species, unless the networks can figure out how to insert a fresh ad into programming when it's watched after the fact.

Interestingly, cable operators could hold the key to that hurdle. Cablevision won the right in federal court to introduce a network DVR. Since the content resides on Cablevision's servers and not on a DVR hard drive, the company could, theoretically, insert a dynamic ad that would make a time-shifted viewer as valuable as a live viewer. Cablevision could also disable ad-skipping altogether, which Time Warner Cable does with its "Start Over" service, but a spokesman said the company has no intention of doing that. Doing so would give satellite TV and even Fios a competitive advantage ("We have a DVR with a working fast-forward button!").

The endgame for ABC is to offer enough shows on VOD that consumers might just decide they don't need DVRs, and can do without the $10- to $15-per-month expense. Problem solved. Consumers watch all the ads, all the time.

Rewinding history
Not so fast. That might just lead to more technologies to circumvent the ads, or to more piracy. "We've allowed people to fast-forward for the past five years -- that would be tough to take away," said Jen Soch, VP-advanced TV at MediaVest.

What's more, to preserve broadcast's economic model, ABC and everyone else will ultimately have to load up those shows with as many ads as broadcast TV. Online ad rates have been higher than those for TV, but they'd need to be double the cost per thousand in order for a network to get away with showing half the ads, and right now, at least online, they're showing far fewer than that.

"We have to be very careful not to overstep our bounds," said Chris Allen, director-video innovations at Starcom MediaVest. "People won't accept five- or six-minute [advertising] pods you couldn't fast-forward, but three or four ads over a one-hour show -- they are fairly tolerant of it."


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