Hardbat Classic Las Vegas – Please Bring it Back Budweiser!

Hardbat Classic Las Vegas – Eric Owens and Wally Green

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

As a table tennis enthusiast I’m hoping Bud Light brings back the Big Money Hard Bat Classic Hard Bat Table Tennis Tournament they had last year across the country, with a great finale tournament in Las Vegas and then shown on ESPN.

As a marketing guy I’m sensitive to the fact this may not have had the return on investment Bud had hoped for – probably because the early promotion was too spotty. Bud may not even have realized that offering 100,000 in first prize money *alone* would bring a huge number of excellent players into the mix even as they did realize that the severe handicapping and restricted paddles would pretty much guarantee that the winner would NOT be a great player, just a “good” one. [with apologies to Jack Baker, a tennis guy with a very good game who won the tournament because he was spotted up to 17 points in matches against better players].

I think the handicapping is a great idea, though I’d recommend Bud have *two* tournaments next time – one with handicaps and one with regular paddles and rules. “Real” Table Tennis is an amazing sport, and I think part of the reason the Hardbat Classic seemed to fail to attract as much attention as it should have was that the event worked hard to perpetuate the notion that it’s a “goofy” sport. I’m not too sensitive about this (and surprisingly even many of the greats in Table Tennis are very modest about their remarkable ability) , but the two-track approach would work better where you showcased “basement style” hardbat along with the blazing spin and speed of quality sponge rubber play. The $120,000 in prize money was chump change to Bud even as it was *by far* the largest prize in US Table Tennis history and one of the largest purses in the world for this low-money sport.

Summary for Bud Light’s Marketing Benefit:

* Hold another Hardbat Classic

* Begin promotions *now* via bars and Bud regional distributors, making sure their participation matched the size and scope of the venue. Last year I think many regionals opted out due to expense, so the Vegas event was “bigger” than the collective national events. Keep Vegas the same (it was great), but make sure the national scope is much bigger than last year, even if that takes more time to promote. If necessary cut costs by halving the Las Vegas convention venue and limiting the number of “free trips” – or perhaps initiate a modest “buy in” for participants. It’s cheap to get to Las Vegas and often cheap to stay there, so the impact of this does not require a large number of free trips for players. More prize money would probably have a higher ROI than free trips. Venue could have been half that size – I never saw all the tables in action and games could have been started and run much earlier.

* Change the online marketing to be a viral, social media rather than the centralized, very weak website with limited information as before.

* Enlist the help of the many Table Tennis clubs throughout the USA, perhaps with modest stipends to help promote / run the bar tournaments. Few players in California and Oregon (areas I know pretty well) knew about this tournament, and very few bars seemed very enthusiastic about an event that – if properly promoted – would bring them some business.

* HAVE TWO tournament tracks – Hardbat Classic’s “Ping Pong” and an open division with regular paddles and players from all over the world. Bud’s big in China now, so use this as a way to promote the brand there. Even a modest first prize of 25,000 in the elite division will bring players from all over the world and provide much better chance to bring in a lot more spectator / players who are going to be interested in seeing world class play.

9 thoughts on “Hardbat Classic Las Vegas – Please Bring it Back Budweiser!

  1. My understanding is that Budweiser was very pleased with the promotion that they received. And I can imagine why. In the Tucson area alone there were many tournaments, and many dozens of players. And in the final tournament, there were also a LOT of onlookers.

    From what I’ve been told, other sponsors were lining up for the next Hardbat Classic.

    Note that there were other sponsors as well. K-Swiss comes to mind. And while I’ve heard nothing about whether or not they were pleased, it is worth noting that they included two clips from the Hardbat Classic and one other table tennis clip in their “Awsome Day” television spot. That suggests to me that someone at KSwiss was happy.

    • Hi Jay – where are you getting all that info? If Bud is happy they should at the very least say they’re likely to do it again – I’ve pretty much given up on the prospect after lining up several guys from our club who would have gone this year.

  2. It isn’t necessary to bring in sponge to highlight spectacular play. The problem was that the heavy spots eliminated the best hardbat players. Sponge events have struggled to gain viewers in the U.S. What makes the Hardbat Classic different is that great hardbat play has the potential to be more coherent to general viewers, with longer rallies. Once you bring sponge in, the clever basis for the event is gone. Reduce or eliminate the spots, structure the tournament differently, and get some real classic hardbats and you’ll see some spectacular play that everyone can relate to!

    • Scott USTTA “official” Hardbat has been around for many, many decades and it has failed to get much if any attention, though I agree it’s more fun to watch than sponge play.

      I think Bud’s right to do aggressive spots – that’s a common bar style betting bravado thing and people can relate to the fun of “spotting the weak player”. However maybe you could up the ante even more by allowing players to increase or reduce their spots to change the payouts or something along those lines.

  3. The local bar events were run by the distributors for those areas. That’s why there were no events in Phoenix but many events in Tucson. The Phoenix area distributor (Hensley) chose not to participate. Based on the number of events and the way the Tucson distributor (Golden Eagle – http://www.gedaz.com/) chose to promote the events, I’d say that the local Tucson club would be ill-prepared to run such a bar based promotion. The bar tournaments were very much unlike a standard table tennis tournament.

    Few players in California knew about the tournament because there were no bar tournaments in California. Contests in bars that have significant prizes are not legal in California. One top California player, however, did travel to Tucson to compete there. Also, two of the four finalists were from California, Trevor Runyan and Wayne Obertone – one player in the elite category and one from the basement category. California was well represented in Las Vegas despite no local promotion. Maybe for Hardbat Classic II they can work out some other way to have California bar tournaments. Maybe the winners can direct prized to their favorite charities. That seems California-like to me.

    I think the idea of two tournament tracks is a good one if you drop the notion of using modern rackets. We had multiple U.S. National Champions show up to play in Las Vegas – with hardbats. Get decent hardbats and rig the handicaps better and the Hardbat Classic II will be bigger and badder than ever.

    • Good point and ideas about running the CA events though I don’t agree that any state was well represented in Vegas. If they keep the spots very aggressive (so everybody can win the big money) and promote this using the social media I’ve suggested you’ll have *thousands* of interested players coming from all over rather than a few hundred.

  4. Anytime you approach a sponsor its best to have your own existing networking contacts at the various table-tennis clubs. Not just a listing that the clubs exist and have certain contact persons, but the actual contact persons who have agreed to help coordinate any such sponsored local events.

    The publicity rights are important to the sponsor but getting the word out to the enthusiasts is still your job.

    Handicapping? Heck, talk to a Sports Book in Vegas. You want real publicity for the event, get a starting line at a betting site going.

    • FoolsGold I really like the Sports Book idea. Football manages to have vibrant youth programs even in the face of massive betting, so why not pong? In Asia gambling on games is a common practice and I think it injects a lot more viewer interest than otherwise.

      • IF a casino is already involved you could approach their sportsbook, else I would consider the sportsbook at The M Resort to be the most innovative and the one at the LV Hilton the most comprehensive.

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