A top female chess grandmaster from China shocked the local chess community after she intentionally threw a match at a major event last Thursday.
Chinese women?s world champion Hou Yifan reportedly quit a game after just five moves during the final round of the Tradewise Gibraltar tournament. She later said she did it as a form of protest for being continually pitted against other women, the National Post reported.
Those in attendance were baffled over the?22-year-old?s deliberate loss to lower-ranked Indian grandmaster Babu Lalith.
?This is the first time I?ve been speechless in eight years,? said?British grandmaster Simon Williams, who was broadcasting the game.
He then wondered aloud whether she had, in fact,??gone mental? or was ?still drunk.?
Chess international master Jovanka Houska, Williams? co-host, at least had an idea of what was going on:
?She must be upset with something. I was discussing with her at dinnertime and she thought the pairings were very unfair towards her. She was a bit upset that she was playing seven women (in the 10-round mixed-sex tournament).?
Huo would later confirm this in an interview, saying that she had been upset about the tournament?s pairings throughout the event. In over 10 rounds, she said, she had drawn seven women players.
?It makes me really, really upset,? Hou said. ?Not just for me, but for the other women players.
?We are chess players and of course when we are playing in a tournament we?want to show our best performance and create interesting games for the chess fans, for the people who love chess.?
The tournament?s director, grandmaster Stuart Conquest, has dubbed Huo?s actions as ?the biggest crisis? in the 15 years of the tournament.
As it is an open tournament, players of any gender are welcome to participate and Huo found it as an opportunity to engage tougher competitors. To be able to play in the mixed events, where she expected to face a higher level of competition, she even skipped defending her women?s world championship title in Iran this month.
While Huo is currently the top-ranked female player listed on the World Chess Federation, she places 105th in the combined list.
Fans have seen the new series logo. Teams have replaced their windshield banners with the Monster emblem. Everyone in NASCAR seems ready for the flood of florescent green that will go along with the change from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
What a mouthful of a name and a lot to chew on, and not just because of the additional word. It feels a little clumsy. Maybe because it’s new. Maybe because no one really knows exactly what Monster can do or will do as it replaces Sprint as the next sponsor of NASCAR’s top division.
The brands in some ways couldn’t be more different — consider their opposite consumer spheres. Sprint sought customers who would sign cell phone contracts, which cost hundreds of dollars and for a long time required a two-year commitment. Monster seeks people to buy a drink that can cost a couple of dollars for an immediate boost.
Monster CEO Rodney Sacks has a simple explanation for why the company did the deal. It has 18 percent penetration of U.S. households, 25 percent of those households under age 35. It wants more.
According to Nielsen Scarborough, every one in three U.S. adults considers themselves a NASCAR fan, and the average age of a NASCAR fan is 48, within one year of the average age of the US population.
The word “fun” was used a lot when NASCAR announced Monster Energy as the sponsor of its top series. But it’s going to take more than fun to make this partnership work, writes Bob Pockrass.
“We are looking to perhaps to be able to expand our age-group demographic and NASCAR were looking for us to perhaps take their age demographic down a little bit,” Sacks said during a recent investor presentation.
“So really it became a good marriage between us because of what we both wanted out of it.”
Estimates have the deal at $20-25 million a year for the next 2-4 years, about half of what Sprint reportedly paid during its three-year extension of its original stake, which was estimated at $70-75 million per year, for a 10-year deal. Sacks promises heavy involvement, with the potential of bringing Monster-sponsored events (from freestyle motocross to drifting) to leveraging its concert connections for fans to enjoy in NASCAR.
“We negotiated a pretty good deal, but the issue is not so much the deal that you negotiate or the TV coverage you get as part of it, or the advantage you get on the track,” Sacks said.
“That is all positive. But it also was important for us to make the commitment to ourselves and to NASCAR that we are going to spend a substantial amount of time and effort and focus in actually activating at the track. … We’re going to focus on trying to make this a real win-win situation for us and to make NASCAR look pretty synonymous with Monster and synonymous with those fans.”
What Sprint Did Right
Sprint achieved that as well as anyone could have imagined. Nextel replaced Winston as series sponsor in 2004 and Sprint absorbed Nextel a few years later. For 13 seasons, the cell phone carrier has worked to promote NASCAR and vice versa.
“Nextel from Day 1 took a very humble approach [that] we need to ask fans for permission to play in their space — this is their sport, not ours,” said Kimberly Meesters, who headed Sprint’s NASCAR program over its final years. “[The attitude was] we don’t want to be intruders. we want to come in and truly complement your experience, we want to be part of the NASCAR family.
“Clearly we want to ask them for their business but we did it at a slow pace because we wanted to make sure we were accepted as part of the family first. Nextel really wanted to earn their business and not just take it.”
Meesters admitted that at times throughout the 13 years, the company put its brand first and the sport second. Those promotions didn’t work out the best.
“Monster is very clear through all of their sports sponsorships — they’re not rookies in the sponsorship space and certainly not in the motorsports space. So they understand that dynamic that they’re there with the fans hand in hand,” she said.
Sprint tried to sell mobile-phone plans at the track, with the incentive that if fans bought a plan, they might get near the stage for driver introductions or in Victory Lane. Monster won’t need that type of incentive, and obviously can do product sampling, while Sprint, by the nature of its business, couldn’t just give out free cell phones.
Rick Penn, a former Richard Childress Racing executive who now works as the director of global sales and sports sponsorships for Dow, said he expects Monster to put its stamp on the sport and that it will need to embrace the sport to do so. He said Nextel/Sprint earned the fans’ respect.
“You could feel the, ‘Hey, this company is going to take NASCAR to the next level’ not just because they had advertising money or expensive budgets, but just the way they embraced the sport,” Penn said.
“I remember the fans showing up excited. I remember the drivers talked about how [the company] was bringing technology into the sport. To me, it’s more about embracement, and it’s the common theme I hope continues. I look forward to seeing how Monster embraces on the sport.”
With NASCAR ratings and attendance both down in 2016, the eyes will focus on how Monster builds on what Sprint, and Winston before Sprint, did for the sport.
“The activation and things that Sprint did, the advertising, the places that it put us on top of what we already had — I think it’s important that [the new partner] take us places that we haven’t been,” said driver Kevin Harvick.
“They need to have a good advertising campaign to make sure that it’s the right thing to push the sport forward.”
Sprint, up until the past few years, incorporated drivers in its commercials. Monster has never done traditional television advertising. It would make short promotional films, but Monster has shared those on video and social channels, not television.
“We have never created a commercial or an ad,” said Monster Chief Marketing Officer Mark Hall when the deal was announced Dec. 1. “We’ve done different things that we’ve been successful getting a lot of eyeballs on, but I think looking at this opportunity and this close partnership to where our names are linked so synonymously, we’re thinking that this for us is a way to do traditional media.”
What Monster Brings? Girls And More
Very little about Monster would rate as traditional. When Monster hired Tiger Woods as one of its athletes, it didn’t do a news release nor a news conference. Woods just showed up on the golf course with a Monster logo (they call it a claw, apparently it’s sacrilege to call it an M) on his bag.
Monster has a deal with football player Rob Gronkowski and a slew of action sports stars. They will continue sponsorships of Kurt Busch in Cup and Kyle Busch (through the Nos brand) in Xfinity.
The action sports appear a natural fit in Monster’s relationships with the X Games, Supercross and other events.
Those in the sports marketing business hope that Monster can attract those fans — the millennial fans — to the sport, said Shell’s Heidi Massey-Bong, who runs the company’s motorsports marketing programs.
“Sprint was one of the best in class in terms of title sponsor,” Massey-Bong said. “They activated well through on-site programs, they had consumer outreach, they tied it into their overall TV programs.
“If they can pick up that model and use it toward the millennials, I feel like it will be a home run.”
The key: Don’t try to pull one over on the fans of either the company or the sport.
“It has to be authentic — whatever Monster does needs to be very authentic to their brand because that is what will pull that group,” Massey-Bong said.
“Taking an overlay of exactly what Sprint did and trying to flop it onto them is not going to work. But to be able to show the risk and the enthusiasm and the passion that the sport has, if they can tap into that millennial audience, that will be a success.”
Nothing might be more indicative of that than the Monster girls vs. the Miss Sprint Cups — one tries to promote the sexy side of the brand, the other tries to appeal to a broader base. The Miss Sprint Cup program blossomed into an incredibly effective program for the company.
With more than 300 appearance requests a year, Meesters said, the Miss Sprint Cups served as brand and NASCAR ambassadors, with fans wanting photos with them as they walked through the tracks in their firesuits.
“She was our face instead of an executive,” Meesters said. “She does interviews, she’s educated, media-trained, likable — we wanted the whole gamut of people to like her. She was a celebrity in her own right. … She was as much an ambassador for the sport as much as she was for our brand.”
At Supercross events, several Monster girls grace the scene. It is not rare for one to sing the national anthem and they pose for photos. Lots of photos, but certainly with a little bit different wardrobe and more of a party attitude than the firesuit-clad Miss Sprint Cups.
Monster entered NASCAR with Carmichael, who drove a truck from 2009-11. Carmichael, as well as other energy-drink sponsored motorcycle riders such as Red Bull’s Travis Pastrana, never could convert a significant number of their two-wheel fans to NASCAR.
“They’re going to have a way bigger presence — there’s going to be way more branding and they probably are going to be able to do a lot more things within the race weekend as far as advertisement, as far as activating,” Carmichael said.
“They’re going to be able to do some fun stuff that the NASCAR fans are going to like. It’s going to bring some fans from this side over to NASCAR — maybe not as many as NASCAR is hoping but in general, the Monster brand, the name, the logo is a nice kick in the butt for NASCAR.”
That kind of kick-in-the-butt is a little difficult to explain, more or less a seat-of-the-pants feeling.
“They have that ‘it’ factor that you can’t really explain what ‘it’ is that NASCAR needs,” Carmichael said. “I think NASCAR needs a little more edginess to it, especially with these younger drivers coming out. It just brings that little flair that they need.”
Longtime Monster athlete Chad Reed said Monster athletes have unique personalities. The Supercross riders have seen the company evolve, but both Reed and Carmichael said the company has not changed much amid its growth. Even with its NASCAR sponsorship, Monster recently renewed its Supercross deal through 2021. At Supercross events, Monster requires just an empty can donated for recycling to get into the pit and fan-zone area.
“Motorsports is something where they were born and they stay true to that,” Reed said. “I’m not part of their negotiating, but from what I see on the outside, I see they are consistently here year after year. Every year, they bring something new.”
And the Monster girls?
“It will maybe be a little different, but the girls are not what they used to be,” Reed said. “They got a bit of a bad name for themselves. It’s a job now.
“We do 17 races over 18 weeks, we’re on the road every weekend and sometimes you downplay the Monster girls, and it’s like they’re out there walking around on their feet all day just like we are. For the most part, they’re professional and they’re there to do a job.”
How Will Monster Do It?
Monster and the tracks continue to negotiate deals that will determine just how much space, signage and product distribution the brand will get at each venue.
International Speedway Corp., controlled by NASCAR’s governing France family, expects to see only a slight dip in revenue from the deals it had with Sprint.
“We do have some ideas about how we can make NASCAR more attractive to what I would call a different audience than is currently there without detracting from what is already a great audience and a great fan base,” Hall said.
NASCAR wants Monster to bring those ideas to life. NASCAR chairman Brian France made the call to Monster executives as NASCAR appeared to have trouble finding a sponsor last summer. The deal didn’t get done until after the 2016 NASCAR season ended.
“NASCAR approached us because of the way we really attacked sponsoring series like Supercross — we’ve endorsed the series, we got behind it, we have other events, we bring other entertainment to the series,” Sacks said. “The fans coming there are not only limited to seeing the race for an hour or two but they come there for literally a weekend experience.
“If you go to the pits in Supercross, you go there 5-6 hours before the race, there’s music, there’s other events with other people. We put up a wrestling match or kickboxing match, [we] do something.”
With the rush to create programs, the industry waits to see exactly what Monster will do.
“Had it just been an opportunity where we put up our badge and put it on the series, I think we would have walked,” Sacks said. “But the opportunities for us to get very integrated into the fan culture — and it’s a very strong culture, NASCAR fans are diehard NASCAR fans — we really think that this is a way we can broaden our demographic.”
To do that, Meesters said, Monster will have to convince the NASCAR industry that it has the best of intentions.
“You have to have the people on the ground that are going to be accepted in the midway with the fans but also in the media center, the garage area,” Meesters said. “You have to be part of the family, otherwise you don’t get the true value of the sponsorship because you don’t get all the tools that you need.”
France thinks they’ll fit right in. It is why he made the sales call in the first place.
“They understand motorsports,” he said. “They understand NASCAR. They understand how to reach across and excite our core audience and help us deliver on a new audience, and that was very exciting for us.”
Stranger Things dropped its epic trailer during the Super Bowl on Sunday, but fans hungry for more will have to twiddle their thumbs until Season 2’s Halloween release date.?
Or, they could head to Alabama for a minor league baseball game this summer.
The Montgomery Biscuits, a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, will host Stranger Things Fright Night on July 7, when the players will don Stranger Things-themed jerseys. Here’s a look at the sweet unis, which use the Netflix series’ signature font and spooky backdrop.?
Fans will also have the chance to take one of the jerseys home at an auction.?
?This is just the second time the Biscuits will wear custom jerseys,? said Scott Trible, the team’s general manager, per Ballpark Digest. ?We are very excited to host a night to salute all pop culture horror including Stranger Things. From the custom jerseys on the field, to the themed entertainment throughout the game, this night will have something every fan can enjoy.?
July seems remarkably early to be celebrating Halloween, but with almost nine months until Stranger Things Season 2 drops, we need any and every excuse to talk about Eleven and the rest of the Hawkins crew.?
Two separate proposals that would greatly reduce an estimated $150 billion unregulated sports betting market in America have been reintroduced in Congress.
Congressmen Frank LoBiondo and Frank Pallone, Jr., both of New Jersey, said last week that their House bills ?would ensure a path forward for New Jersey and other states seeking to legalize sports betting, regardless of whether the Supreme Court hears New Jersey?s case.?
The Garden State really wants sports books in struggling Atlantic City, but the major sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state several years ago over the plan, claiming that the integrity of games could be jeopardized. New Jersey tried to legalize sports betting within its borders, but that move was blocked by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
PASPA bans traditional sports betting outside of Nevada, and New Jersey has so far been unsuccessful at circumventing that law. The newly introduced legislation would change that.
Congressman Pallone indicated late last year that he was intending to soon introduce a bill.
?Sports betting is already happening across our state and across the country, but instead of being appropriately overseen and raising needed revenue for our casinos, racetracks, businesses, and the state, these bets are placed through illegal enterprises,? Pallone said.
?It is time to bring this activity out of the shadows. I am pleased to join Congressman LoBiondo in reintroducing these commonsense bills that would level the playing field and give New Jersey?s citizens the opportunity to share in the profits from sports betting.?
Pallone is sponsoring the ?NJ BET Act,? which would exempt New Jersey from current federal law. LoBiondo?s bill is called the ?Sports Gaming Opportunity Act,? and it would allow all states to enact laws providing for sports betting during a four-year window.
Both men in 2015 introduced similar legislation that didn?t go anywhere on Capitol Hill.
Thanks to recent waves of casino construction, there are casinos in 40 U.S. states, generating a commercial casino gambling market with $40 billion a year (gaming win). The tribal gaming industry, which has regulation from the federal government, generates about $30 billion a year in gaming win.
The AGA estimated that Americans bet $4.7 billion on Super Bowl 51, with only about $130 million coming legally through Nevada sports books.
The casino industry is optimistic that a Trump Administration will approve of greatly expanded sports betting. President Trump has said in interviews he is OK with sports betting. Trump is a former Atlantic City casino owner and still has ties there.
A handful of states have signaled their support of New Jersey?s efforts to go through the Supreme Court to get PASPA declared unconstitutional.
According to the AGA, it?s likely that every state with a casino industry would take a look at sports books should the federal government lift the 25-year-old ban.
?I would hope that just about every state is right there at the front leading the way on sports betting,? AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman told Card Player.
?Pennsylvania and New York have been asking the right questions, but there will be a host of other states right there on the cutting edge of this issue.?
A poll conducted late last year showed that half of Americans support regulated sports betting.