Coors Classic Pioneer Michael Aisner - Part 2
Part 2 of Dana Albert's interview with Coor's Classic director Michael Aisner.
Getting on the road, making the race and making cycling fans. The demise of the
race and current work as a producer of documentary films for Jane Goodall.
By Dana Albert
Jeff Pierce on the front of the peloton in Vail 1985
Dana: The kids’ race, the Red Zinger Mini Classic,
was still sponsored by Celestial Seasonings, of course….
Michael: The interesting thing about the
Mini Red Zinger when they were concocting it in 1979 was that I knew we were in
negotiation with Coors and could say nothing to anybody about that. So here's
Eddie Sandvold and the boys pulling together their entire Red Zinger Mini
Classic, and I knew we were going to change over to a beer company, and the beer
company could never have a Mini Coors Classic, so Eddie went back to Mo, having
worked for him (which is how I had met Eddie). So through Eddie, Mo got
Celestial behind the kids race.
Dana: So once Coors began sponsoring the Classic, it
started growing right away. Was that always the plan?
Michael: The growth started because we
recognized when Mo added Keystone that this was a successful thing, and then I
thought, “We need better addresses than Keystone, let's start looking at
Breckenridge and Vail and Aspen,” and I just went up and made presentations and
I don't remember getting any resistance in asking them for $5,000 cash from each
town plus rooms to house 200 people. I mean, the race was in the middle of
summer, off-season for the resorts, and we could bring up all these people and
tax dollars, and introduce people to these communities. And this was a race that
was shown on television nationwide, and you barely even get that in the ski
business, and the interesting thing is, when you shoot a ski event, what do you
shoot? A hillside! So, Utah, Whistler, and Colorado all look the same, where's
your point of differentiation? Anybody in marketing knows you've got to show the
product, and in our case we were running this event through the village of Vail
and people actually had a chance to see that.
John Tesh of CBS interviews Davis Phinney. Video capture from the DVD.
Dana: When was the first national TV coverage?
Michael: Not sure, but my CBS hat is from
1982, so it was probably then, I think that's right. And that came with our
invention of the BMW camera [motorcycle], the reverse-swivel-seat camera bike.
Before that we were thrown out of the TV networks’ offices and told no, you will
not get any attention from us because it's too difficult a sport to cover.
Dana: What was the most challenging thing you did
with the Coors Classic?
Michael: Probably the most ludicrous
stuff happened in San Francisco. Sitting there with the Coors distributor,
having made the decision to start the race in San Francisco, and not having the
endorsement of the Adolph Coors Company! They said, “Good luck, if you want to
go do it you're welcome to do it, but we're not telling you to do it and we're
not supporting you in this.” Because they knew they were boycotted and hated in
San Francisco. They had a bad rap with the gays and a bad rap with the unions,
and the [Fisherman's] Wharf was, you know, half gay, half union! So what were we
gonna get down there? I mean, nothing, we had longshoremen sitting there in
those meetings with [Coors Classic Technical Director] Don Hobbs slamming their
fists down on the desk and saying "Over my dead body is there going to be bike
racing in this city on this wharf named Coors."
San Francisco Finish (video capture from the DVD)
So after this horrible meeting down on the Wharf with these guys threatening
us, we went into the Coors distributor and here’s this big fat guy with a cigar
in this kind of shambly office in SF. Coors wasn’t doing well there, they were
on like five taps in the entire city, of one of the most bar-laden cities in the
United States of America at that time, and they had no retail sales, so their
numbers were just horrible, and I loved the fact that that was the case because
if I went into this area and showed any kind of improvement, then I’d have a
permanent relationship with this company that we could do a great job for. So
we're sitting in this guy's office, and he leans back in his chair and he points
his arm up in the air behind him to a hole in the wall. He says, “This bullet
was meant for my head, that's how much we're loved here. Welcome to San
Francisco, ‘Coors Classic.’” And that was it. He said, "You don't want to come
here." But we made it. Perseverance.
Our philosophy was simple: don't go talking to anybody in the city until you
have everything buttoned down. Because when you talk to the city they say,
“Yeah, yeah, that's a nice concept, but you're going to have to talk to the bus
people, because you're interrupting all the bus schedules.” We would reply,
“Done and here's our agreement.” / “Yeah, but it's Sunday morning and there's
all these churches.” / “Done, we've talked to them all and here's our agreement.
What else, what other objections, gentlemen.” / “Well, we're going to have the
close the streets and reroute traffic.” / “Yeah, we've talked to all the
neighbors in the entire place and nobody has any objections. Anything else?”
So it's just a matter of doing business that way. If you're serious about
going into an area then you have to be serious about the way you handle
yourself, with respect, in an area that in earnest has reasons why you shouldn't
be there, not BS but real reasons. “Well we have a fire house that's inside your
course, what if we have a call during the course of the race?” / “Worked it out,
here's the plan. We'll stop the race if we need to, we'll restart the race with
each one of the racers in whatever pack they were originally in, we'll restart
them at the location they were at, we can get the course open, we won't
hard-fence it there, we will have marshals there that are responsible and I have
two hired cops. Anything else?” So that's the way you have to run it. And that's
the way we did it in San Francisco. And the net-net of that was, we really
weaseled our way into a place where we weren't welcome, but we knew ultimately
we were going to be the winner, because we knew we were going to drag a
gazillion people in there. If nothing else there already were a gazillion people
there, all we had to do was turn them into fans!
Alan McCormack and Michael Aisner at the DVD launch party.
Dana: Right, like in Reno. There we had thousands of
spectators but it wasn't like they all traveled there to see the race, they just
stumbled out of the casinos.
Michael: Who knows, I'll take credit for
them all traveling to see it, 100%. [Laughs.]
Finish in downtown Reno, Nevada.
Dana: But I saw all these guys there blinking in the
Michael: Right, and I had five minutes to
turn them into fans or they were going to leave. And it took great race
announcers, and it took great music and great energy to help convert this for
people so that it was a gawking occasion. People were just like “What?” And
anything that's “what?” is the kind of stuff I want to be involved in.
Dana: How much did you have to do with the cycling
World Championships being here in '86?
Michael: We wanted it and made a pitch
for it to be on the Morgul Bismark. We were opposed to it being in [Colorado]
Springs. We thought it would be lost down there. We wanted it here. We had the
governor behind us, we had the county behind us, the mayor behind us, we put
together a beautiful proposal for it being here. We had a housing proposal,
using the University of Colorado, using our staff for execution, using all our
materials and everything. It was 100% political that it ended up in the Springs.
It came down to the fact that they didn't want it run by a private promoter.
This was a Federation deal, they wanted it on Federation turf, and this wasn't
going to be something that continued to build the cachet of an individual
promoter in this country.
Dana: But you were involved in getting the World’s
in the US, to get the very best European pros for the Coors Classic?
Michael: For sure. And the Olympics, too.
We were very involved with a couple of key people at the Olympic games who
worked very hard on the LA Olympics because that put us in another key position.
Dana: Did you ever think about going to southern
California with the race?
Michael: If there's one unfulfilled dream
for the race, that's it. I had plans. I had full plans on the dock for us by '89
to have races in L.A. Mulholland Drive, all sorts of wonderful courses. We went
and scouted it. Kenny Schwartz went down, I went down, and we scouted it.
Dana: What ended the Coors Classic after that last
race in 1988?
Michael: Coors pulled the plug on their
sponsorship. I went to New York looking for sponsors. I went with Rockbill
Int'l. They are now EMCI. They were the group that put together the Rolling
Stones Jovan deal, the first big sponsorship deal. I didn't want to go to sports
marketers, I wanted to go to rock and roll marketers, I wanted to spend time
with them to take this thing to another whole level, a new level. And EMCI
helped me pitch this bike race for six months and we got Nuprin involved. The
whole thing was signed off, and they were taking the deal upstairs to the guy,
to sign off on the whole thing. The brand manager was about thirty-two years
old, and you know he's looking to move up and he's not going to fall on his
sword for much. And after all that work we put together, how we redrafted the
whole look, how it would work, and we took it up to the guy and he said, “Why
would we do cycling, this doesn't make any sense to me, anything else guys?” And
that was it, six months work just out the door.
So then I moved it off to Dodge, and we went well down the line with Dodge,
were about to sign the contract with Dodge, and we woke up one morning and Lee
Iacocca was announcing that he was taking a one dollar salary, that he was
cutting thousands of jobs, that he was cutting $50 million out of marketing,
whatever it was, a huge amount of money, a billion dollars out of the company,
and that was it. They called us and said, “Look, give us a few weeks to get this
signed because we can't go announcing we're signing a big sports contract when
we're laying all these people off.” And that was that. We were off by a week! It
would have been another whole deal. So that's it, that was the ultimate demise
and I came back and starting working with Jane Goodall.
Alexi Grewal and Davis Phinney at the DVD launch party.
Dana: Was the race your sole focus professionally
when you had it?
Michael: I don't think I did anything
else during those years. The first intrusion was Jane Goodall. I was in the
Rolling Stone office and saw this magazine article about her, and I stole the
magazine and wrote her a letter on the plane, and she wrote back and we
connected. So when I rolled out of the bike race I started working for her and
became the public relations director for the Goodall Institute. I also did some
stuff with Joe Daniel for Buzzword Magazine and then for seven years did the
United Artists thing. Right now I’m focused on Jane Goodall and documentary
At this point we both realized it was time to leave for the airport. I barely
made my flight home.
Historic DVD of Red Zinger & Coors Classic Released
Zinger/Coors Classic DVD Release Party
Other Dana Albert Articles:
T-Mobile Int'l: A Spectator’s Eye View by Dana Albert
2003 - Riding
La Marmotte by Dana Albert
La Marmotte - Part 1 Preparation
Return to La Marmotte
- Part 2 Race Day
La Marmotte - Part 3 Notes & Climb Profiles