WORKING WEEKEND: U2, USA?15 Feb, 2002 By: Bruce Apar
The first 10 days in February saw the company hosting those retailers and distributors who carry "big pencils," in the bygone vernacular of retail buyers, at NFL Super Bowl and NBA All-Star weekends. Also on hand were members of the media, including Video Store editor-in-chief Kurt Indvik (Super Bowl) and yours truly (NBA All-Star Game).
USA is looking at units exceeding 300,000 on its Super Bowl video, due March 4 (it is the first Super Bowl video released day-and-date on DVD and VHS). Then there's the quarter-million copies it shipped on its Ultimate Jordan title (nobody returns those babies), featuring some older player who keeps coming back from retirements, only to contend once again for league MVP honors. And let's not overlook the 75,000 units on a number called Allen Iverson: The Answer, featuring the NBA's 2001 MVP and scourge-turned-hero of the City of Brotherly Love.
Okay, so those record-breaking numbers -- this will be the biggest-selling Super Bowl video to date -- do have something to do with it being of the best Super Bowls in a decade -- right down to the breathless, edge-of-the-seat, Hollywood finish, in the apt phrase of USA's ebullient Home Entertainment president Joe Amodei. "It was a great game, and people want to relive it," he says, "and the fact New England hasn't had a championship team in long, long time, so they're embracing it." USA is planning a major premiere event at Boston Commons March 5 to herald the video's arrival on store shelves.
And it has something to do with Amodei and marketing whiz Sal Scamardo working furiously to include U2's entire halftime performance on the DVD (sorry, VHS laggards, no U2 for you), a notable coup. Super Bowl meets Super Group, now on one video.
Having just seen the DVD's check disc Feb. 14, Amodei says "the U2 footage looks phenomenal. What stands out for me is the tribute to America. It works as an historical document that brings us back to the week and a half after 9/11 and what was going on in football stadiums across the country. Comments made by the Giants' Michael Strahan and Troy Vincent from the Philadelphia Eagles are very touching."
There are also segments on former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan, longtime team broadcaster Dave Cappelletti, as well as close-ups on coach Bill Belichick, quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady, and running back Antowain Smith. There's enough packed onto the DVD that USA decided, while at the NBA All-Star Weekend, to expand from a five-gigabyte DVD to a DVD-9.
USA's sports success of late also has something to do with its showcasing marquee hoopsters like Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson (whose boyhood home, as USA's excellent Iverson video reveals, was on Jordan Road). Iverson's address these days is Phat Philly.
But you make your own good fortune, and in USA's case it derives from a market-savvy playbook written 18 months ago by Coach Amodei and his staff, under the aegis of USA Films chairman Scott Greeenstein.
In 2000, they went to the major sports leagues for which they hold distribution rights -- NBA, NFL and NHL -- to tell them the sports video business "has all but dried up," reports Amodei today. The remedy was to "stop doing normal, greatest hits-style videos and concentrate on significant players and significant teams. The key is to focus on a team's geographic area and throw all efforts at that city instead of on a national basis. That way, we are able to make our numbers."
A year and a half later, that forward-looking game plan is putting lots of points up on the company's P&L scoreboard. On releases with heavy local but scant nationwide appeal, like a NHL video commemorating the Toronto Maple Leafs' 75th anniversary, Amodei notes orders are ten times what they were previously.
The big story here, once again, is the inordinate power of DVD, especially on sports fans. That is to say, even though while market estimates put DVD players in 25 percent or more of U.S. homes at this point, those 300,000 units ordered on the Super Bowl video are 60 percent DVDs. In the case of Iverson's 75,000 copies, it's more like 70 percent. In four years, for Super Bowl XL -- logowear marketers will go to town on that one -- VHS copies will be as will be as hard to find as a game day ticket.
And the fact U2 wanted its performance on the Super Bowl DVD but not on the videocassette speaks volumes. Clearly, VHS picture and sound quality don't exactly enhance Bono's or his band's image in a world of entertainment defined by digital.
"DVD is helping us to revitalize this business," remarks Amodei. No surprise really. When sports are presented in anything other than linear, game-length mode -- as in an anthology or highlights or player biography -- VHS isn't in the same league as DVD when it comes to user convenience and content flexibility.
Amodei notes that 18 months ago, "when we first announced DVD titles, they all died right away. Now, the saturation is there."
And a final word about that 300,000-and-still-growing figure on USA's Super Bowl release. Some smart-aleck ninth-grader, who was chaperoning me for the weekend, offered unsolicited business advice to Amodei on how to jack up sales further: "It'd be in excess of 400,000 if you put the Playmates in." Amodei walked away from that remark shaking his head. Or maybe he was on his way to place a call to Playboy.
Tall Order: Pictured above (front, l to r) are USA Home Entertainment president Joe Amodei and USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein, who greeted three NBA greats at USA's NBA All-Star Weekend for distributors in Philadelphia Feb. 10 and 11. On hand were (rear, l to r) Moses Malone, Bill Russell and David Thomson.