Game Changer

Originally published 8/4/14

One of the great fictional characters of all time, Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, hated losing so much he actually changed the rules of the game.  For Star Trek fans, you will remember the tale of the “Kobayashi Maru, No Win Scenario.”  In the television show and later in the movie series, the Kobayashi Maru was a training exercise in a flight simulator for future leaders of star fleet command.  The exercise is programmed by a computer to offer the captain (in this case Kirk) zero possible outcomes of success.  Basically, the ship crashes and the crew dies no matter what the captain does, thusly a “no win scenario” (the Maru even has its own Wikipedia page).

Our fearless Captain Kirk, having failed the test on numerous occasions, became the first and only person to ever defeat the Kobayashi Maru.  On the eve of the exam, Kirk changed the program to offer him a winning outcome.  While he was reprimanded for essentially cheating on the test, he was also commended for creative thinking.  Kirk changed the game.

As tourism professionals, we rarely encounter “no win scenarios”, but we can still learn from William Shatner's character.  We must always look for winning opportunities to change the playing field and slant the outcome in the favor of our destinations.  Here is one real life example I have seen that achieved a game changing outcome.

In 1999, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had 16 teams and was the country's first collegiate super conference.  That year a core group of members from the WAC left to start their own league, known as the Mountain West Conference.  The departure of these members presented some challenges for the WAC, and an opportunity for our sports commission in Tulsa.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) was part of the group that left for the new conference.  UNLV at the time was the long running host of the WAC basketball championship.  With their departure, essentially the history of the event, its sponsor support, and the arena it was played in, moved to the new Mountain West Conference along with UNLV.  The WAC had to find a new home for their marquee event, and replace the financial loss of its title sponsor.

The WAC issued an RFP to all of their members, including the University of Tulsa.  The RFP was for two years.  Seven schools, some with their DMOs and sports commissions, put forth bids.  Our bid in Tulsa, with the University and the Sports Commission as partners, was very unique in three ways.  One, we brought a title sponsor to the table as part of our bid.  If the tournament was played in Tulsa, the title sponsor would commit cash and other resources to support the event.  We changed the game.

Second, our title sponsor put terms in the agreement that the tournament would need to be in Tulsa for three years rather than the two that were in the RFP.  That too changed the game.

Lastly, in putting together our presentation, one member of the our team (who knew nothing about sports by the way) asked what turned out to be a very important question.  “What is the order of presentations for the seven cities, and how long does each have?”  The answer was we (Tulsa) were last of the seven cities to present and each city got an hour.  That meant the athletic directors and administrators would be in a hotel conference room ALL DAY covering the same information over and over.  We anticipated that by the time we got in there, they would be zombies.  We had to change the game for them to take notice of our bid.

When we entered the presentation area, we were wearing tuxedos and tennis shoes, and the four of us that presented came in whooping and hollering and throwing Nerf basketballs all over the room.  We got their attention, we had fun with it, and we charged up the audience.  We opened our presentation by saying (essentially) “we appreciate the time you have spent in this room all day, and we want to respect that.”  We used less than half our time, hit the key points, and then had one of our community leaders ask for the sale.  He did so by saying, “I'm a volunteer, here to invite you to our city.  We are up here in these costumes which I get is odd, but we wanted to really grab your attention, knowing you have been here all day.  Costumes or not, one thing I can tell you about the people in Tulsa is that they are VERY good at what they do and this will be the biggest event in our city when you are there.  Thank you for your time, we'd love to have you in Tulsa.  I hope you can use the time we left for a well-deserved break” and we walked out. 

The WAC awarded us the tournament for three years when the RFP only had two up for bid.  At that time it was a big deal for our destination.  We changed the game, and the WAC leadership responded positively.  There are opportunities for our destinations like this to change the game every day.  Where the opportunity presents itself, let's be like Captain Kirk and create winning scenarios even when one doesn’t appear to exist.