Archive for January, 2014

Macau tests the strength of its brands

January 25, 2014

Macau casino owners know how to build fabulous resorts but not necessarily strong brands. Leading casino operators SJM Holdings and Sands China Ltd run their properties under a variety of names, without any unifying theme or brand promise.

“A brand must offer a consistent brand promise,” Gaming Marketing Advisors principal Andrew Klebanow explains. “It must also offer a clear image in the customer’s mind. By buying a branded product the customer has a high degree of assurance what he/she is buying.” Klebanow cites McDonald’s – “the product will be hot, tasty, served fast and offer good value” – and Hard Rock – “hip environment, rock music and glass showcases filled with rock memorabilia” – as successful brands. Macau casinos, with the exception of Wynn Macau, mainly have property names that have not yet evolved into brands.

Casino owners hope to change that. Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd will bring its City of Dreams name from Macau to Manila at a new integrated resort expected to open this year. Brand Stand (Macau Business, December 2013, page 64, payment required) looks at the prospects for its success and for brand building in Macau.

The article also examines the history of the Sands brand. Sands China parent Las Vegas Sands Corp was the last owner of the iconic Sands Hotel and Casino, playground of Hollywood’s legendary Rat Pack and its 1960s successor, The Summit, led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. While Sands survived as a corporate name after hotel’s implosion in 1995 and appears on some of the company’s properties, it hasn’t reemerged as a brand.

Macau companies do have a successful Asian example to follow, Resorts World, part of Malaysia’s Genting Group. In less than five years, Resorts World has become the first truly global casino brand, with outposts in Asia, the US, and Europe, though not Macau. As Macau’s casino companies try to spread their wings in the region, particularly Asian gaming’s great white whale, Japan (Macau Business, October 2013, pg 86), brands will become a bigger factor. Last month, Japan began its long road to casino legalization (Macau Business, January 2014, page 78, payment required), with the outcome still uncertain. Brands provide a comfort level for governments as well as investors. Like customers, brands help them believe they can know in advance what they’ll get from a casino company.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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Jack Morris belongs in Cooperstown

January 14, 2014

If I had a baseball Hall of Fame ballot in the most recent election, the names on it would have been Greg Maddux, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris. It is incredible – as in totally lacking in credibility – that anyone who thinks Tom Glavine is a Hall of Famer can think Jack Morris is not.

Initially, I thought that Glavine was another case of Don Sutton, a guy who was never the best pitcher on his team, let alone his league, who had the good fortune to play on good teams and stuck around long enough and to reach 300 wins. But a review of Glavine’s career, much of which took place when I was covering other teams or after I left US in 1995 and went cold turkey on baseball for years, reveals Glavine’s Hall of Fame credentials.

But Morris, like Glavine’s longtime Atlanta Braves teammate Maddux, was unquestionably the top pitcher of his time. He was the guy you could build a pitching staff around throughout that period, while lots of other flashier guys, from Dave Stieb to Dwight Gooden, came and went. Morris was the guy who’d take the ball for every start, not want to give it up, and set the tone for the rest of the staff. Morris’ winningest pitcher of the 1980s distinction is an artificial construct to be sure. More significantly, over a span of nine seasons, he was ace on three different World Series winners that wouldn’t have gotten there without him. In Game Seven of the 1991 World Series, Morris produced one of the greatest single game pitching performances of all time, a 10 inning shutout of Atlanta for a 1-0 win to give Minnesota the championship.

That performance stands in stark contrast to Glavine’s equally memorable (at least for New York Met fans) start on the last day of the 2007 season, when the Mets, having blown a seven game lead in 15 games, needed a win to assure at least a tie for the division title. Glavine faced nine batters, got one out, allowing five hits, two walks and hit the opposing pitcher, putting the Mets in a 7-0 hole en route to an 8-1 loss, cementing the worst late September collapse in baseball history.

Morris’ performance in that Game Seven is also an exemplary counterpoint to the scene I witnessed repeatedly in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse in the early 1990s after postseason losses. Starting pitchers, including Glavine and even Maddux, would be seated in front of their locker after hurling six-plus innings of a late inning loss, saying, “Well, I did my job.” Frank Robinson, another real Hall of Famer, said to me many times, “Don’t tell me about ERA or any of that other stuff. The job of the starting pitcher is to win the game.” When the chips were down, Morris did his job like a Hall of Famer.

The argument against Morris is that he has a 3.90 ERA, better than average for his time, but not spectacular. I respect and support the advanced analysis of baseball statistics known as sabermetrics, particularly since I’ve worked with its founding father Pete Palmer and been friends with him for more than two decades. Sabermetrics can help us better understand baseball, but elegantly derived numbers shouldn’t rewrite the game’s history. The Hall of Fame isn’t about statistics alone, it’s about the best players of their times. There’s no question that Morris, over his 14 year prime, was the pitcher every manager wanted anchoring his staff, and that you could not tell the story of baseball in his era without mentioning him. He belongs in Cooperstown.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

How to succeed in business by really trying

January 4, 2014

Asia has incredible disparities in wealth not just within nations, but between nations. China, Japan and South Korea are among the biggest economies on earth, with the latter pair also ranking high in terms of per capita wealth and output. Southeast Asian nations rank much further down those lists, despite many geographic and natural resource advantages. In How Asia Works, author Joe Studwell convincingly explains the dichotomy.

In his earlier book, Asian Godfathers, Studwell focuses on how tycoons in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia game the system to make themselves richer and keep their compatriots poor, holding back development in the process. Southeast Asia’s billionaires have yet to create a manufacturing company that can play in the global big leagues.

How Asia Works looks at the opposite side of the Asian gulf. It explains how Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which had per capita GDP comparable to Malawi 60 years ago – created globally competitive companies and entered the top echelon of world economies. As a bonus, Studwell includes an insightful analysis of China’s progress as a global economic power.

As my Asia Times book review notes, Studwell’s observations, based on a century and half of history, contradict free market doctrine. The invisible hand of the market works in rich countries but needs the strong arm of government to help developing economies progress. The formula for transforming a poor country’s economy includes land reform to increase agricultural productivity, since small plot yields outstrip those of plantations; government-led industrial policy to create homegrown export industries, using local entrepreneurial talent and competition at the national and global level rather than bureaucrats, to pick the winners; and financial market regulations to ensure capital flows support industrialization. Studwell’s conclusions are at once radical ideas in an age of blind faith in free markets as the one true engine of economic growth and almost comically obvious to anyone reading economic history without ideological blinders.

A century and a half ago, German economist Friedrich List characterized Britain’s advocacy of free trade as a cynical and hypocritical attempt to reinforce its economic preeminence achieved through centuries of mercantilism. In that spirit, How Asia Works urges rich countries and their institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to stop pushing developing nations toward free market policies that keep them poor. What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gosling.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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