Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reminiscing on a night of (Gatorade) elite and rising stars.

Four years ago, boxing commentator and good friend Mike Ochosa asked me to join a team he was putting together for GroupM (a WPP company that counts Ogilvy & Mather, J Walter Thompson, Bates Advertising, Mediacom, Mindshare etc. as sister companies). The account was Gatorade and they needed someone to do the public relations.

I worked with Mike during our days at Solar Sports and had remained friends even after I had left. When I joined them, I took a look at the direction we were heading and I didn’t agree with many of the plans. Almost from the start I sought to change many things on how we did work or what we were planning on doing.

One of the things I pushed for immediately was a brand ambassador program that included not only collegiate basketball players but also volleyball, football, baseball, and even Dragonboat athletes. It was only the basketball players who were approved much to my chagrin.

I told myself that I’ll just have to prove it to them (they are basketball oriented). By the end of summer 2010, I badgered management that we better begin working with the Azkals. I was turned down for a second time. They weren’t winning is what I was told. I said, this is their year and football would soon explode into the stratosphere. Having followed the national team for the longest time, I saw the team get better and better. With a program finally in place for them and some quality players in the lineup, I knew we were in for a great Suzuki Cup run. In October of that year, I made one more push. A strong one I might add. This time management relented.

After the Azkals drew with Myanmar to enter the semifinals for the first time in history, in the lobby of the Hanoi Sheraton at around 1am, Dan Palami looked at me and told me to go do a print ad for the national team. And Gatorade did the first ever print ad or any ad for the matter for the national team. 

Now it’s kind of routine for them to appear in advertisements.

Flush with success, I pushed for volleyball in 2011, but everyone and I mean everyone shot it down. Not a mainstream sport yet I was told. I said, you have got to be kidding me. They were on television regularly and people as far back as the provinces came over to watch them. I was the one who was going to the games and the practices. I along with others saw the sport grow in popularity.

The following year, I secured permission to try and get Gretchen Ho. The pretty volleybelle said yes but nothing came of it as any expansion of the program was put on hold. We stuck to the collegiate basketball players.

Even the following year I pushed but no one sided with me. It took them to see the recent UAAP volleyball finals to change their minds (eliciting a raised eyebrow from me).

It isn’t as simple as getting “an endorser” but creating a whole program around it. I pushed hard this year and there was still opposition. It reminded me of an advertising campaign for the Yellow Pages that I did some 15 years ago. It was originally shot down but I pushed for its presentation to client (including PLDT). I actually did it without our division head knowing and the client loved the campaign. It became their campaign for three years. You can say I enjoy playing the role of a maverick. I’ve always been bullstrong about things that I believe in so I wasn’t about to let go of this Brand Ambassador program that involved a launch, camps, and a digital campaign.

So finally came to fruition. But as it is said, in God’s time. It took the sponsorship of that basketball court managed by Franz Pumaren along Shaw Boulevard as well as the change in the Gatorade logo for this to work (watch out for a feature on coach’s Air21 team as well as the Gatorade Hoops Center). A confluence of events, the stars aligned, and here we are.

When I first met Chieffy Caligdong in 2006, we hit it off immediately. Over the course of our friendship, I told him that one day, I’d help find a way to promote him. A commercial or even on massive story. I was one of two journalists present during the Azkals’ historic 2010 run so I fulfilled one part of the promise. The second was when I pushed for him to appear in a Gatorade commercial.

He was our second, after LA Tenorio, another good friend who I first wrote about in 2001 in a story titled, “The LA Tenorio Story”. I also told LA that one day, I find something for him. We got him for a Gatorade commercial, the sports drink’s first involving a local athlete. And a milestone for him.

After all our athletes were introduced on stage to industry friends and media, I snuck back to our “dugout” that is the Alaska Room at the Gatorade Hoops Center. I wanted to be alone for a few minutes as I kind of felt emotional about the evening.

I thought of our ambassador from National University, Emmanuel "Jean" Mbe. Ever since we started doing billboards and advertisements of our athletes, he would see them along EDSA, C5 and near the Mall of Asia. He would oft dream about being on one of them. When I called him up exactly three weeks ago, it was a Sunday and I was at Promenade at Greenhills with my son, he was not only surprised but elated. He had to pause for a few seconds to take it in. One of his dreams was coming true. Jean and I had been friends for years now. We'd chat during NU team dinners, practice, or even at the house of Coach Eric Altamirano. He hugged me during the G Launch night and said this is something they would never believe back home in Cameroon. Imagine this... a kid who came to the Philippines to study and play basketball who spoke only French (he learned to speak English in school and via television) and now well, he's a Gatorade athlete. 

Put this in perspective. There are a couple of billion people on this planet and there are less than 60 people who can call themselves a Gatorade athlete. Makes you feel good being next to some guy named Michael Jordan.

My groupmates and officemates did a superb job for the launch and well, it was like, yeah, finally, it's here. It's a reality.

I headed back outside, got on the microphone, and asked all my colleagues and our athletes for a group picture up on the stage. It’s a proud moment for our company and our athletes that we can help them in some way.

I slept soundly that night.

I love this photo (taken by Paul Ryan Tan) of Jean Mbe with Juami Tiongson and Jay Cruz while being interviewed. I love how all our athletes have bonded well after our athletes night that we held one week before the launch. It sure feels good that Juami Tiongson is getting some recognition now. Had a blast having him in my class in Ateneo as well. 

How about these four volleybelles? Love it.

When I wrote the script for the launch, I had this for Chieffy Caligdong's intro: A new Filipino icon. And he is that. 

One of my best buds in sports, someone I call, "Cap". Glad to have you on board.

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