The Worst Of Times

Here's how stupid Phoenix looked in the worldwide broadcast of the Grand Prix by ESPN.

After commercial breaks, the sports network used a cartoon logo of the Phoenix skyline. A howling cartoon coyote was identified by the broadcasting boob as "a wolf." This desert critter was then replaced by an armadillo waddling across the screen.

Any tinhorn west of the Mississippi could tell you that armadillos are synonymous with Texas folklore but have nothing to do with Arizona. Armadillos are virtually nonexistent in this state except for a small patch of land near our southeast border with New Mexico. And that patch of land is nowhere near Phoenix.

The justification given by Mayor Terry Goddard and the city council for spending $9 million in tax monies to sponsor the Grand Prix was that this live broadcast to 81 countries and an audience of 200 million people worldwide represented a public relations bonanza for the troubled economy of Phoenix. High-rolling investors and cash-heavy tourists would jump to the Valley of the Sun after the television exposure.

Except the exposure on ESPN, when it wasn't spectacularly wrong-headed, was hardly flattering.

One announcer went to the pits to interview a driver whose car had broken down. Suddenly the broadcaster was apologizing to viewers, saying there could not possibly be a conversation because the Formula One driver, Gerhard Berger, had just collapsed and passed out from the heat.

"They're pouring cold water on his neck and feet just now as we're talking," said the announcer.

Throughout the two-hour broadcast the ESPN announcer kept interrupting race coverage to point out what an inferno Phoenix was.

Once they did a little story on Team Ferrari's hats, which featured solar-powered batteries that drove a propeller that fanned a breeze across a damp sponge.

The guy with the microphone wondered where they managed to find that many solar-cooled hats in Ferrari red.

Several times they pointed out that one driver put aluminum foil on the top of his helmet to reflect the sun.

And when the ESPN crews were not raving about the heat in Phoenix, which reached 160 degrees on the race course, they were showing camera angles that barely caught any of downtown Phoenix, such as it is. There is no such thing as a flattering view of Washington and Jefferson, which is why the state's economic-development literature does not include photographs of these Phoenix streets. Yet this is what the world saw. The camera swung back and forth between dilapidated high-rises, a City Hall about to be abandoned, skyscrapers under construction and flophouses. The camera angles were so close to the racing surface and the Formula One cars that even these banal glimpses of downtown Phoenix were fleeting at best.

Instead of capturing Phoenix, the camera offered tight shots of the circuit. What you did see plenty of were immense road signs for Iceberg, Marlboro, Fosters, Goodyear, Ford, Magneti Morelli, and ESPN. What you saw little of was Phoenix.

When it was mentioned to Dave Nagle at ESPN that there was no profile of Phoenix in his Grand Prix coverage, he corrected us and said there were several aerials from the Goodyear blimp.

And what a swell promotion they were. The blimp picture stills looked like the dull and distant photos you get from Landis Aerial Photography or spy-satellite snapshots that have been enhanced. These shots were meaningless to those of us who live in Phoenix and must have been puzzling at best to the residents of Zurich.

Even college football games take a minute or two away from advertisers during half time to profile one of the campuses. If the mayor could not hammer the promoters of the Grand Prix and ESPN into a similar arrangement, why did the taxpayers dump $9 million into an event that broadcast the city's two biggest negatives, our summer heat and our deserted downtown?

If we committed to $9 million in taxpayer subsidies, why didn't we then spend the extra dollars to purchase a series of commercials that truly promoted Phoenix?

The top race team on the Grand Prix circuit for the last two years has been owned by Honda. They won the Phoenix race. And despite this fabulous exposure on ESPN (Honda was mentioned every few seconds and its corporate name on the Formula One car led the pack from start to finish), Honda purchased a full schedule of ads during the race to promote its passenger cars. Phoenix should have done the same.

At the end of the race, Alain Prost stood on the victor's stand. Alongside him stood Phoenix native Eddie Cheever. The winner shook up his giant bottle of Moet champagne and sprayed the crowd. Then the announcer started giggling and pointed out that it was so hot that Cheever was splashing his champagne on Prost's groin to cool off the one area that could not be chilled by drinking.

Yes, we sure put our name on the worldwide map with that $9 million.
Mr. Foreign Businessman, if you're looking for a place to invest or a getaway for the family, remember Phoenix, where wolves roam a homely downtown sweating their furry butts off.

The ESPN announcer kept interrupting race coverage to point out what an inferno Phoenix was.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey

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