But for a handful of votes, the granddaddy of all bowl games might have been known as something quite different. Can you say the “Hoosier Tournament of Roses?”
The international multi-million-dollar enterprise known today as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and the Pasadena Rose Bowl, an event watched globally by nearly 40 million television viewers and that generates 2.2 million page views on January 1, has its roots in an unusual place: Indiana. Even the name Pasadena comes from the Midwest (nothing to do with the Spanish language), reflecting a Wisconsin Chippewa Indian name that means “Crown of the Valley” or “Key to the Valley.”
How did this all come about? And what strategic implications can one take away today?
Here’s some background: in the late 1800s shortly after the Civil War, two back-to-back harsh Midwest winters led a group of Indiana professionals to form a forward-looking enterprise. They wanted to abandon the Hoosier arctic to set up a new town in the warm climes of southern California. They raised a tidy sum of money to invest and off they went.
In 1874, the expatriate Hoosiers comfortably settled in among the orange groves of the San Gabriel Valley. Newton Claypool of Indianapolis (of the downtown Indianapolis Claypool Hotel fame) built the most expensive jewel of a home overlooking the valley and the small town, which was then known as the Indiana Colony. It would serve as his family winter home, safely tucked away from the merciless Polar Vortexes of 19th century Indiana.
All went well, except for two things. The U.S. Postal Service wouldn’t deliver the mail to an undefined rural region of orange groves. Secondly, an economic crunch slammed the area, demolishing the local real estate market.
To get their mail, the Indiana Colony townspeople had to come up with a real name and incorporate as a city. After vigorously debating a number of names, including “Hoosier,” the local leaders settled on the poetic-sounding Wisconsin Chippewa Indian name, since in part it reflected the midwestern origins of the city. So “Pasadena” it became.
The real estate depression was tougher to solve. But the city fathers hit upon a unique solution. They would leverage what today would be regarded as professional public relations.
There wasn’t enough brand awareness of Pasadena and its gentle warm climate. So the members of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club decided they would stage a citywide Olympic-style track and field athletic event, which theme was nationally popular at the time. They would invite editors of midwestern newspapers – like the Indianapolis Times, the Chicago Sun and so forth – to be judges.
To underscore just how nice the climate was compared to frigid Indiana, they would stage the athletic event in the middle of the winter; January 1, to be exact. Nothing like people running around in athletic shorts to demonstrate just how nice things were in California. To build a brand around an Olympic theme and the fact that ornate flowers bloomed in Pasadena – in the winter — they carefully chose a special name: The Tournament of Roses.
The PR plan worked. The 1890 event was so successful that the leaders of the Valley Hunt Club decided to do it again the following year. That year, people decorated their horse carriages and cars with festive flowers before they lined up to drive to the Tournament grounds (then on the east side of Pasadena).
And thus was born the Rose Parade.
Some 10 years later, Tournament officials added a football game. As the Tournament grew in stature, the Pasadena officials invited college football teams from the Big Ten in the Midwest and the Pac 12 in the west to compete – the old vs the new.
Today, nobody needs to build brand awareness for either the Pasadena Tournament of Roses or the city itself. There’s also no need to convince anyone of the difference in mean temperatures in Indianapolis and Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
In fact, the event has grown so influential that the parade and game have earned the international brand of “America’s New Year Celebration.” Some 92,000 fans annually attend the January 1 game in the Rose Bowl. Every major American and international TV network carries live broadcast and online coverage of the Rose Parade, and multiple millions watch it.
That legendary fragrant progression of 39 astonishingly elaborate high-tech flower-bedecked floats is on the must-attend-in-this-lifetime bucket list of millions of people. Formally opened with a breath-taking fly-over of a B-2 Spirit bomber, the viewing of the spectacular parade floats is sonically punctuated by more the 20 marching bands and some 20 visually muscular formal equestrian units. It is an unforgettably rewarding experience.
So, what strategic points can we take away from the small band of Valley Hunt Club members who laid the foundation for this truly remarkable tradition? Here are some thoughts to consider that translate well into the 21st century:
- The group identified the most high-impact media platforms that were available at the time to strategically tell their story and deliver key messages.
- They used the principle of third-party endorsement to validate their claims. Pasadena was indeed a superior place to live in, at least in the winter. Editors and reporters of major newspapers experienced that firsthand and independently wrote stories and ran photographs of the event in the Midwest. The net result was a most effective believable “advertisement” of what it was like to live in the former Indiana Colony in those days.
- They created an unusually attractive event that matched the interest of the media readership and deliberately timed its presentation to maximize the highest impact possible (January 1 – the middle of winter in the Midwest). Like modern day media tours, they carefully created a believable demonstration of their claims.
- They localized the story with area residents who had direct ties back to the Midwest. The Indianapolis News subsequently ran large photographs of the fashionable daughters of Newton Claypool riding in flowered carriages in the nascent Rose Parade.
- They employed what today would be considered a strategic content management operation. They connected story-telling relationships and created backgrounders and means for media professionals to produce very interesting and relevant coverage for people back in the Midwest. Many of these Midwesterners in the Pasadena target audience had the means to buy a second home or move to southern California.
- They were open to innovation, to changing, adapting and incorporating story-telling localized elements (like live flowers and growing interest in football at the time) that increased the attractiveness and potential popularity of the then-growing brand.
- Most important of all, they focused on creating a win-win for all parties: the organizers, the media, and especially the readers and viewers.
The rest is history. But for the lack of a few votes, one will unfortunately never hear Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys singing about the “Little Old Lady from Hoosier.” However, a key fact remains: Hoosier-led communication innovation truly built a lasting beloved institution, “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
A former resident of the former Indiana Colony in California, Indiana native Michael Snyder is managing principal of MEK, a public relations and marketing firm in Carmel.