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.