Saturday, October 09, 2010

Revisiting The Beckham Experiment

In July of 2009, MLS fans everywhere were started to get annoyed by the attention being heaped on David Beckham. You remember those days of yore: the Galaxy were on a long losing streaks, Rudd Guilt was doing his best to mismanage, a special camera was trained on Beckham at all time in case he scratched his balls, announcers had it written into their contracts that every fifth word had to be “Beckham,” and Beckham was trying to escape to other countries so he could tell the media how horrible MLS was.

Grant Wahl
had the foresight to know that a book about Beckham in America, no matter what happened, would make a great read. And boy did it ever. All the crazy behind the scenes maneuverings and drama filled the pages of The Beckham Experiment, and the MLS public was eager to read the story. It didn’t hurt that Wahl has enormous soccer writing credibility.

Online, the buzz around the book continued to grow. One of the reasons that so many soccer blogs, big and small, got a chance to review the book ahead of time and give their honest opinions was Press Box Publicity and Adam Rifenberick.

Press Box Publicity reached out to me when I was running a very small blog, Advantage Played, and offered me an advanced copy of the book for review.

Now, over a year later, I had a chance to chat with Adam Rifenberick, the President of Press Box Publicity, and a big reason that so many conversations were started online about The Beckham Experiment.

An Interview with Adam Rifenberick
How Did Press Box Publicity Begin?

Press Box Publicity is a company I started in 2005. I originally worked for a small press company in South East Michigan and we published a number of sports books. For many years I was working with many baseball, hockey, and golf authors. I spent a lot of years dealing with sports non-fiction books. When they moved away from sports titles to children titles, I decided to branch off and focus on sports.

I see from browsing your site you still work on a few children’s titles?
Yes, we’ve done some children books. Frankly in this economy you work on anything that you think you can help. My specialty is sports books. Those are the books that I really know. I’ve been working with sports writers and athletes for more than a dozen years. It’s my passion and what I really enjoy.

How did you get into sports publicity and publishing?
I got my first publicity job right out of college. I was an English major and just really wanted to get into publishing. I got involved with a really small publishing house that had just started. To my benefit they were publishing some great sports books.

Being a small firm I was able to wear a lot of hats. I did project management, editing, marketing, and cleaned trash cans. Here was a 23 year old kid who was putting together marketing plans and coming up with ideas on how to sell books. It offered me a lot of opportunities.

I worked with Sparky Anderson and helped book his book together. I got to help put Kirk Gibson’s book together, and got my feet wet with some big names that I had been loving my whole life. Working at that press company gave me a lot of experience and a lot of responsibility very early on.

On your website, I saw quotes that say you specialize in using multimedia to promote books. What sets you apart from other publicity companies?
We offer great relationships for the publishers on a number of different levels. We pride ourselves on having a number of sports writers who we’ve been talking to for a long time and are always up for hearing about our next book and project we are working on. We are able to promote heavily over radio and television. We have contacts throughout print media (ordinary print media).

A few years ago, as some really wonderful blogs started taking over, we started diving in, not knowing where it would lead on a marketing level. We knew that eventually it was going to become a wonderful place for the exchange of dialog.

There’s no better way to promote a book than to get to the consumer and to get to the writer who is writing outside of his home newspaper / home magazine. We like to just start the dialog, and you see it especially with The Beckham Experiment, how from one blog to the next it gets picked up.

A lot of people on the blogs were anticipating the release of the books when it was coming out in a month and there was so much excitement. When you start getting the book out there to these blogs, and not only to the big blogs, you know the ones attached to brick and mortar like SI and ESPN, the big ones, the medium ones, and the small, all the voices come together. It really is like a domino effect, especially with the Beckham Experiment.

When I was running Advantage Played, I’m sure my readership was only a couple hundred, if that, so I was surprised to get the offer to review.
I know how word of mouth spreads. It’s not always top down. It does not matter the size or the prominence of a blog or a newspaper or radio show, it’s just starting that conversation. The author [Grant Wahl] and publisher [Crown Achetype] was really behind starting a conversation on all levels.

If you have a publisher now days who doesn’t promote to the blogs, they are crazy. Absolutely crazy. I doubt there are any anymore.

You need to promote to the consumer. It’s not just promoting to the sports editor at the NY Times or a book editor, you’re promoting to everyone and starting a conversation. And through a blog you can continue that conversation. And it is actually a conversation now.

There were some blogs out there who didn’t just run a review of the Beckham Experiment. They ran reactions. There were a lot of things that happened after the release of the book. There was a real hunger for information surrounding the book.

You can really track the life of the book through the blogs. It was quite amazing. Beckham was definitely feeling the pinch after the book came out, and rightly so.

You know the various blogs and blog groups. Is there more blog coverage for soccer than say golf or baseball?
Maybe not baseball. That’s an, interesting passion. But I found that the blogs for soccer were so much more energetic. Baseball would probably the only type of blog that would rival the number of soccer blogs, but the soccer blogs are defiantly more energetic, passionate and alive. Soccer has a passion and vitality to it, that I really love.

Soccer is not my sport per se. I’m not into soccer blogs as much as the baseball or football blogs, but as I did research for The Beckham Experiment, I could tell it was a much more dynamic media for the sports.

The blogosphere seems to be where a lot of energy for where American soccer may be. I know for a fact that ESPN knows that soccer is an untapped market for them and they are going to continue to increase their presentation to the public. As ESPN goes, so goes the average sports fan. As ESPN goes deeper into it and promotes MLS more, and European soccer more, it will continue to get bigger and perhaps someday match the enthusiasm we see in the blogs.

Overall, was The Beckham Experiment a successful venture into soccer marketing for you?
Oh defiantly. I had been working with blogs before that, and I was getting results and getting people interested in some of the titles I was working with.

The Beckham Experiment was the first book that people were falling all over themselves wanting to get a copy and then coming through and actually doing the review! I was making the offer [to review The Beckham Experiment] just a few weeks before the book came out, and we had such quick turnaround.

The books went out and reviews went up. The bloggers wanted their hands on the books and they wanted to put a review of the book up prior to it being released to the general public. There was enthusiasm and a follow through that I hadn’t seen with books prior.

We think that marketing to blogs is vitally important for the future promotion of books, and we keep on saying that, but when you actually see it come together for a book like The Beckham Experiment, and see the reviews and mentions and continuing discussions, you really see how in the future it will be a large part of book marketing and big part of what we do.

This is it! The Beckham Experiment showed me exactly what the future of book promotion will be like.

Anymore soccer books on the way?
There seemed to be a flurry of books right before the world cup and then everything slowed down a bit. Sports publishing in general is slow right now because of the economy and the publish industry taking stock of where they are. I can’t wait until I do it again because that was one of the most exciting books I’ve worked on to date.

I noticed a lot of MLS players are tweeting about playing FIFA 11. Is that part of their contract or a strategy a publicity company would use?
I don’t know for sure. But that’s what I would do. If there was a new NBA game and I could get Shaq to tweet about it, it would be a great move.

And because I forgot to ask Adam to pick a song that he wanted to post at the end, I guess I'll choose one myself.

You can reach graham @ or at


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