By Paul Beebe
A Colorado Springs sports and entertainment marketing firm is embarking on a troop-supporting tour of U.S. bases overseas to celebrate the military’s victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition to military tours, Pro Sports Marketing Ventures and Promotions handles publicity for sports greats such as Alfonso Soriano.
Celebrities on the tour include "Joe Millionaire" Evan Marriott, former "Baywatch" TV star Gena Lee Nolin, NASCAR racing legend Bobby Allison, Miller Light "cat-fighting girls" Kitana Baker and Tanya Ballinger and Fox Sports Net anchor Lisa Guerrero. The stars hobnob with peacekeepers stationed abroad.
Pro Sports MVP organized the three-day event with financing from the Defense Department, company president David Chavez said Monday.
"It’s a stellar line-up. It’s going to appeal to everybody there, one way or another," Chavez said.
The tour begins tonight, after the cast arrives from several parts of the globe. They’ll split into two groups: Catfighters Baker and Ballinger and NASCAR’s Allison will visit soldiers at camps in one region and "Millionaire" Marriott, Nolin and sportscaster Guerrero will chat up soldiers at another location.
"It’s up to the installation what they want them to do," Chavez said. "It’s primarily to meet and greet, sign autographs, pose for photos. There will be some question-and-answer session. They’ll walk around, talk, and attend picnics or celebrations."
Pro Sports MVP has done numerous tours for all branches of the military since the company was established in 1998 by Chavez and brothers Jim and Mark Morley, real estate developers in the Springs.
The company is privately held, so it does not have to report revenues. "Let’s say over the past 4½ years we’ve generated several million in gross revenue," Chavez said. "It’s steadily growing."
"David has incredible access to the sports and entertainment world and is willing to make any call to any celebrity or sports figure to ask any question for service that you could possibly dream up," a special events and entertainment coordinator for the U.S. Navy. She added “He actually called (Microsoft founder) Bill Gates’ folks and (golf ace) Tiger Woods’ folks on our behalf last year."
The firm has had success in more than arranging overseas tours.
In April, Pro Sports MVP was hired to manage the marketing and promotional rights for New York Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano.
Soriano hit .300 with 39 home runs, 102 runs batted in and 41 stolen bases last year. Less than halfway through this season, Soriano is hitting .292. He’s racked up 21 home runs, 48 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
Chavez, 42, originally from Tucson, Ariz., came to sports marketing through the back door. He worked for 15 years as a clubhouse manager for minor league teams in Des Moines, Iowa; Denver and Tucson, hoping eventually to reach the major leagues.
He met the Morleys in the late 1980s when the two were starting a senior league for former major league players.
Chavez worked for the Morleys’ baseball team in St. Petersburg, Fla., until the league folded in 1990. He moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked for now-defunct International Sports Marketing in the 1990s. "I’d be involved in player negotiations, which is where I got involved with Larry Bird, Gordie Howe, George Brett and Bart Starr," Chavez said.
"When a deal would come in, I’d call the players, handle the negotiations, and convince the personalities to participate in the project, " he said. "I’d cut the deal and sell the contract to the celebrity."
In 1998, he agreed to set up Pro Sports MVP with the Morleys. The company creates sports and celebrity-themed promotions and events. In November, Chavez will stage a convention in San Francisco for the National Association of Realtors. "The Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson and former baseball great Bill Walton may be the headliners.
"We’ve got over 1,000 celebrities we’ve worked with or discussed opportunities with," Chavez said. "With the majority, we have marketing service agreements, not exclusive, but it gives us the opportunity to utilize their name and likeness in an effort to bring them opportunities."
In marketing, the ability to communicate is a key asset, and Chavez has it in abundance, said Daniel Seifried, president of M-Pact Partners Inc. in Hawaii, a marketing firm. Chavez "is an over-communicator, which is great. It makes you comfortable," Seifried said.
Taking Shows to Troops Abroad a Tradition
WORLD WARS I and II
In World War I soldiers are offered a taste of home by the YMCA, which provides recreation, music, fellowship and canteens.
During World War II, Bob Hope does radio broadcasts as part of his "Pepsodent Show." He takes the show on the road in 1941. At Christmas 1948, a tradition — "Camp Shows" — is born when he gathers entertainers and Hollywood notables and takes Christmas to the troops in Germany as part of the Berlin Airlift.
Along for the shows are Al Jolson, Mickey Rooney, Jack Benny, Errol Flynn and Danny Kay.
The USO’s Camp Shows Inc. picks up the Hope tradition and produces 5,400 shows throughout Korea during the conflict. There are 126 entertainment units producing at least one show per day somewhere in the country.
Celebrities who served as morale raisers included many of those from Hope’s World War II tours as well as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Debbie Reynolds, Jennifer Jones and Rory Calhoun.
Hope goes "On the Road to Vietnam" as the USO re-establishes the camp show tradition. Ann-Margret and other glitterati entertain as Hope does eight consecutive Christmas shows. Celebrities are there for 5,600 shows between 1965 and 1972.
Celebrities and entertainers go to the troops worldwide as conflicts break out. At least two dozen annual tours are sponsored by the USO. Rock groups, comedians, models, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and country music stars are everywhere from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War to Somalia, Hungary, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the South Pacific and the coast of Lebanon. Steve Martin and Jay Leno are there, as is Bob Hope, whose final tour is a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1991. In 2001, Wayne Newton takes over as chairman of USO celebrity tours and makes holiday visits to Bosnia and Afghanistan.