Creating Meaningful Experiences For Participants
BY ALISON MITCHELL
Gary Beck’s love affair with bowling began at the age of 13. Beck started bowling during breaks between mowing lawns in the summer of 1966 and quickly learned that he had an innate talent for the sport.
After working as a school teacher in Missouri, Beck served as president of his own recruiting firm and the Colorado Association of Personnel Consultants—during which he uncovered a natural penchant for event planning. So, Beck decided to combine his gift for planning with his passion for bowling.
In Denver in 1991, Beck founded Killer “B” Promotions, which creates bowling events and runs consumer promotions and professional bowling competitions. Beck’s premier event is the Teen Masters bowling competition, which began in 1997 as a single event in Akron, Ohio, and awarded $5,000 college scholarships to both its male and female champions. Today, the Teen Masters event has surpassed $700,000 in total scholarship awards and is nationally televised.
SportsEvents recently spoke with Beck about making career moves, planning successful bowling events and the joy that comes from working with kids.
Please tell me about yourself and about your position with Killer “B” Promotions. Have you always been interested in sports and bowling specifically?
I’ve always loved sports and lettered in high school football, basketball and track. But, when I got to college, I found that I was too small for football, had no jump shot for basketball and had no desire to run track.
My career plan was to teach and coach, and while taking one of the Physical Education courses, Golf & Bowling, the instructor suggested I try out for the college bowling team. That simple suggestion sealed my fate as I earned the 10th and final spot on the college team. Four years later, I was the collegiate champion in singles, doubles, team and all events, and then earned a position on the U.S. team that competed in the 1975 World Championships in London.
I went on to teach 9th grade science for five years in St. Louis and was a corporate headhunter for 13 years in Denver before Killer “B” Promotions was born. I staged my first bowling event in 1992.
Tell me more about the groups you plan events for through Killer “B” Promotions.
I have planned events for all types of bowlers and in all sorts of locations, including professionals and amateurs, adults and kids, individual and corporate, local and national, domestic and international. I’ve successfully merged my two passions—kids and bowling—and now am completely devoted to my youth event, the Teen Masters. Its mission is “preparing teens for the game of life through the sport of bowling.”
I have always strived to make my events inspiring and memorable for all participants, not just those who emerge victorious. It is guaranteed that more than 99 percent of participants in my events will leave as “losers,” so I work hard to redefine [the difference in winning and losing] as preparation for other aspects of life where challenges are faced—be it school, work or relationships. I intentionally make the scoring environment difficult while preaching, “The opposite of winning isn’t losing; it’s quitting.”
As for the organization, up until now I’ve done just about everything. The Teen Masters has grown so that it’s now really beyond my capabilities, and I am in the process of building an infrastructure of employees and volunteers to take over operations so that I can be free to focus on marketing and establishing corporate partnerships.
How did you make the move from teacher to headhunter to sports events promoter/manager? What does it mean to you to work with children and plan events for the sport you and they love?
I had no idea what I was getting into when I left teaching to become a headhunter. The move happened when I responded to a blind ad in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that asked, “Would You Like To Make $50,000 Per Year? No experience necessary. Good communication skills, an outgoing personality, and a sense of humor required.” The $50,000 was mind-boggling compared to my $13,500 teaching salary, and I figured my sense of humor would compensate any shortcomings in the other requirements.
A dozen years later as president of the Colorado Association of Personnel Consultants, I formally staged my first event, called “Fair Hiring Practices.” I conceived, planned, and executed the project and received a national award. The creative process of taking an idea and watching it materialize ignited a fire that hasn’t gone out since.
Bowling is simply a vehicle through which I can engage kids in a meaningful way. It has allowed me to merge two passions, kids and education, while making a positive impact on the participants.
What, in your opinion, makes bowling so appealing?
Bowling’s appeal is that almost anyone can participate, and it is very family oriented and social. The recreational side of bowling has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade with the advent of glow-in-the-dark bowling and bumpers. What I strive to offer is a path for those kids who want to…embrace the sport as a means to learn about themselves and about life.
Tell me about Teen Masters and the National Championship event you held in Las Vegas July 31-Aug. 5. How did it go?
The national championship event was the culmination of four months of regional qualifying held in bowling centers across the United States. More than 400 high school kids and their families traveled to Las Vegas for a weeklong competition that crowned national champions in singles and team events.
I put all of my marketing eggs in one basket, investing heavily in a new website and posting all of my promotional flyers and entry forms online. It felt “green” and cutting edge not to spend money on printing, but I’ve since learned that I need to utilize new and old marketing methods. We used posters, counter cards and entry forms in bowling centers, but going forward the marketing plan will include old school methods such as advertising in bowling magazines and direct mail, as well as new methods such as social media, websites and e-mail blasts.
The most exciting part of the 2009 event was the championship matches. They were staged on a bowling lane specially built in the Great Hall of the trendy Fashion Show mall on the Las Vegas Strip and filmed in Hi-Definition for airing on the Versus network earlier this month. The seven national telecasts will be a great showcase for the Teen Masters and youth bowling.
How did you work with the local convention and visitors bureau (CVB) or sports commission for your national championship? Do you have any advice for other planners working with local sports commissions?
Because the Teen Masters was held in Las Vegas on private property, at the South Point Hotel and Casino, I was unable to work with the local CVB for the national championship. However, I did work with local CVBs and sports commissions in building the network of regional qualifying events.
My advice to other planners is to be candid in defining expectations for your event. While I attempt to drive hotel room nights, I haven’t made it the sole focus of my CVB partnerships, as bowling has a long way to go in transitioning casual participants into those who will travel for competition. I have moved the regional competition from one-day to two-day events as a strategy for increasing overnight stays, but I ask potential hosts to consider “quality of life” benefits that come from serving as a gateway to the national championship and the college scholarships offered there.
What tools or tricks do you use in planning events? Is there anything specific that helps you keep all the elements of the event in order?
Perseverance and tenacity have been my only tools up to now. Forming organizing committees of dedicated parents and coaches to oversee various aspects of the event is the direction for the future.
Do you feel that it’s important for sports planners to be involved in every aspect of planning? What characteristics should a good sports event planner have?
I’m personally involved in every aspect of the Teen Masters, but too much so. There are many things I shouldn’t be doing because they consume time I could spend in more valuable ways to move the event forward.
I believe it is key for sports planners to be able to identify others who are as passionate as they are about their event, and then empower them to get the job done. I’ve been too reluctant to let go in the past, but I’ve finally been able to find people I trust, and it’s exciting and liberating to see what they are accomplishing on their own.