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Home Run

5 Apr, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

With March Madness a memory, the Major League Baseball season under way, basketball and hockey playoffs on the horizon and extreme sports in perennial style, home video is poised for scores on several fronts.

In the VHS days, sports titles moved slowly but steadily, with the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and NBA Finals proving seasonal winners. These days, though, with DVD in high gear and sports so diverse, a wide field of suppliers, from independents to major studios, are getting in on the action.

Monterey Media has launched its “Over the Edge” series of extreme sports videos, with the titles BoardsX and Motorcycle MayhemX kicking things off April 29.

“We've watched the extreme sports medium snowball into a well-positioned trend that not only crosses sports, but crosses generations as well,” said Jere Rae-Mansfield, the company's CFO and general manager. “A few years ago, it would have been unheard of on a single title to mix, say, a surf segment with a skateboarding or snowboarding segment. Our field research proves that now -- due to the fact that ‘boarders' ride at least two of the three to avail themselves of year-round entertainment -- a mixed-event title is longed for.”

Extreme sports and so-called traditional sports titles have blended into the same rough category, with hot-selling extreme titles joined by titles mixing basketball highlights with hip-hop and rap music to form the main popularity base.

“Extreme sports is the current and next wave of sports for our younger generation, which has been raised on speed and quick-cutting film techniques of MTV and sports channels,” Mansfield said. “The slightly older crowd, in their 40s, who want the challenge, have taken to snowboarding and heli-boarding when not on the beaches surfing.

“Extreme TV has fueled the natural desire to compete and challenge oneself, and the video retailer must compete with what is available on TV and give the customer what they want to own for repeat viewing.”

Monterey was known for many years for its careful cultivation of the On Any Sunday trilogy.

“We are progressively aware of the changes in sports and, therefore, the release of a more extreme look at how the sport has changed for some riders is found in Motorcycle MayhemX,” Mansfield said.

Promotions are a nice fit with sports titles. Suncoast Motion Picture Co. is one of the featured retailers in Monterey's national promotion of the series, and in addition to a national radio campaign, the supplier has teamed with Wahoo's Fish Taco restaurants, Pepsi and the Los Angeles/Orange County Weekly to create a plastic collector's cup.

“These will be distributed street date week in all their locations, along with stickers of both programs,” Mansfield said. “The programs will play on a loop in all locations, and Suncoast will be the first retailer to be featured in the counter display. Tower Records will be handing out thousands of stickers, as will hundreds of boarding and motorcycle retailers across the entire nation.”

Star power and instructional sports videos are also a commodity. Delta Entertainment recently enjoyed success with a Kobe Bryant title, and the supplier recently released a collection called “All Pro Sports Basketball Superstars,” with biographical/instructional titles hosted by Chuck Daly, Hakeem Olajuwon, Christian Laettner, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Clyde Drexler.

“This is for people who enjoy basketball and the names involved, but also want to learn more about basketball technique,” said Stephanie Pool, Delta's sales and promotions manager. “Promotions do work nicely for titles like this. We have generally switched our promotions from the overall market to helping specific retailers who express interest. That's where we are tending to put our advertising dollars.”

Football is another ongoing tradition in this genre. Lions Gate Home Entertainment has done well with Trimark's Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football, a comprehensive study of college football's history.

“It's a great piece, something I would liken to Ken Burns' Baseball, or along those lines,” said Ron Schwartz, Lions Gate's EVP of North American home video. “The great thing about college football is that every Saturday in America during the fall, you have how many millions of people watching these games in stadiums and on television?”

There are other success stories, such as VAS Entertainment, formerly Video Action Sports, which has released more than 3,500 titles since 1988. The company has been way ahead of the extreme-sports craze and emphasizes authenticity.

Then there's Trinidad Entertainment's White Knuckle Action Sports line, distributed by Image Entertainment. On June 10, Image streets Pete Rose: Playing to Win, which seeks to capitalize on the ongoing popularity and controversy surrounding baseball's all-time hits leader. White Knuckle has multiple sports titles out and on the way via Image.

“The challenge for us [had] been twofold: proper placement and shelf space,” said Erik Anthony, CEO of Trinidad Entertainment. “Last year, we saw a 300 percent increase in action-sports video sales.”

Best Buy has experienced success in sports titles, too.

“The sports category is solid,” said Donna Beadle, publicity manager for Best Buy. “We have a separate sports and fitness genre in the DVD assortment. Our top-performing categories in order are wrestling, exercise and extreme sports.”

Best Buy advertises select new releases and features them in stores.

“Our recommendation for suppliers is to make sports titles that include more of the personality of the athletes,” Beadle said. “Also, add deeper background, like high school highlights or how the athletes got to where they are now.”

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