Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Driving Force

Malibu Boats (@MalibuBoats) Malibu Open organizer, Dana Reed’s passion for water skiing has helped bring professional cash-prize tournaments back to the mainstream public.

Written by Chrös McDougall for USA WaterSki's Waterskier Magazine we thought this article really deserved a repost on the Malibu Boats Blog. Dana is a close partner of Malibu Boats and we believe he deserves this type of recognition and more. Thank you for all you do Dana!

Any kid who has ever dreamed of making a living as a professional water skier ought to take notice of Dana Reed. Not that he’d want you to notice him. While the economy has kept many would-be promoters on the sidelines, Reed has put his heart and soul into giving the world’s top water skiers a bigger spotlight to shine – and make some money – in the United States. And he’s really just getting started. The breakthrough came last summer. After several years of organizing well executed but not so well attended pro events at out-of-the-way private lakes, Reed teamed with Malibu Boats to bring the annual Malibu Open to Milwaukee. This time, Reed sacrificed the perfect skiing conditions at private lakes for a beautiful venue at Veteran’s Park, located on a strip of land that separates downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. In return, he got nearly 10,000 spectators for the two-day slalom and jumping competition and created one of the most talked about events of the year.

That success just got him more excited. Speaking from his home in Hickory, N.C., during one of the rare moments when he’s not on the road planning an event, the 55-year-old promoter speaks of big things: becoming truly profitable, having purses as high as a half-million dollars, and getting the events back on television. “I’d love to write a check for $100,000 for somebody to win an event,” he says. In the short term, though, Reed is thinking of his three events for this year: the annual Global Invitational in Grand Rapids, Mich.; the new Katy Ski Jam near Houston; and most prominently, the 2011 Malibu Open in downtown Milwaukee. And he’s thinking big. “The Malibu Open,” he says, “will be the largest event in the history of the United States this year, and you can quote me on it.”

Last year’s event was a success, to be sure, with around $45,000 in purses, high-energy nighttime finals, exhibitions from local show ski teams and barefoot skiers, and a call from the Milwaukee park’s director the day after the tournament to re-up for this year. But still, that’s a pretty bold claim. It’s not so much, though, when you have some added help.

This year, the purse is up to $65,000, the show skiers and barefoot skiers will be back, and Reed has hired local country singer Michael Scott to entertain the crowds on Saturday night of the tournament, which will take place Aug. 5-6. The biggest boon for this year’s event, though, will be the Thunderbird Air Show, which is expected to draw around 150,000 people to Veteran’s Park and nearby Bradford Beach that same weekend. “We hit a home run last year,” Reed says, “but we’re going to hit a grand slam this year because of the air show being involved.” So what’s Reed’s trick?

It’s simple: He works hard, and he’s not in it for the money. Reed, who owns a commercial cleaning company in North Carolina, is basically a one-man show who takes no profit from the events; instead, he reinvests everything into either a better event or bigger purses. “I’ve got two goals,” says Reed, who largely organizes the events by himself but who gets lots of help with the actual execution from a dedicated group of volunteers who share his passion and work ethic. “My first one is to give as much money that comes my way to the athletes. And my second goal is to get the sponsors their money worth. If there’s five dollars left at the end of the day I’m good with it. That’s about all I am.”

“I think the main thing that makes him successful and the reason he is able to continue doing what he’s doing is his passion for water skiing,” says Lani Farmer, who manages the pro team, sponsorships, and pro events for Malibu Boats. “He’s mainly focused on putting on a great show for the fans and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. Since it’s not his core business, he’s not focused on the bottom line. Dana has no problem giving every bit of profit he makes right back to the athletes.”

That deep dedication to the athletes goes back to the beginning of Reed’s promoting days. They began in the early 2000s, when women no longer had a pro water skiing tour. For little reason other than to give an opportunity to his friends who had been on that tour, Reed began organizing his own small scale but well-run pro events in North Carolina. When the men’s pro tour began losing a lot of its stops a few years later, he added them to the lineup as well. Momentum picked up when MasterCraft took notice of Reed’s events in 2008 and began helping him out. But then things stalled. With few fans and a souring economy, it didn’t matter how well the skiers were performing – sponsorship money was drying up. There were times when Reed felt like quitting. He was putting on top-notch tournaments for the skiers – sometimes subsidizing them himself to keep them afloat – but he just couldn’t get fans to show up at the private ski lakes, which were often out in the country.

And then he found Veteran’s Park. After a year of prodding to Farmer, with whom he had been working with on some smaller events, Reed finally got his wish. Farmer and Malibu agreed to give Reed the reigns to the 2010 Malibu Open. “I took a chance and it ended up being phenomenal, just phenomenal,” Farmer says, still sounding almost in disbelief at how well things worked out. “And I was very happy for him because he deserves it. He does a lot for a lot of people out of just his passion. He doesn’t get anything out of it aside from the satisfaction that comes from helping the athletes and the sport he loves.”

It was fitting, then, that the star of the 2010 Malibu Open was one of Reed’s longtime friends from North Carolina – and one of the good friends whom he wanted to give pro opportunities to in the first place. April Coble-Eller turned pro 20 years ago and was a top competitor during pro skiing’s heyday in the 1990s – when ESPN broadcast the tournaments, purses were high and stops were plentiful. Yet despite a junior world championship, 28 national championships and even a U.S. Masters overall title, Coble-Eller had never won an individual pro event in her career. So in the era of around four domestic pro events per year, smaller purses and no ESPN, Coble-Eller went to Milwaukee considering retirement.

Then, magic happened. After her husband told her, “go have fun, Dana needs your energy,” that’s exactly what she did, all the way to the pro women’s slalom title. “It was just like everything was meant to be,” says Coble-Eller, who decided to continue competing. “It was awesome.”

“[The Moomba Masters in Australia] has probably been one of my favorites,” she adds, “ … because of the hype, skiing in front of all the people, skiing downtown, and Dana created that in America. He created the Moomba Masters in Milwaukee last year.”

Reed might have a little ways to go to catch up to Moomba, which with tens of thousands of spectators is known as the biggest water ski and wakeboard event in the world, but he is definitely on the right track. “He deserves every bit of credit that he’s never gotten,” Coble-Eller says, “because he is awesome for the sport.”

Reed Credits Volunteers
If it’s not the athletes, Dana Reed prefers that his volunteers be in the spotlight ahead of him. Among them is Jeff Gilbert of Charlotte, N.C., who paid for his own flight to Milwaukee and then worked two 12-hour days installing the slalom and jump courses before the 2010 Malibu Open. Or there’s chief judge Bill Murbach, as well as sponsor reps Jim Stanley (Global Marine Insurance Agency) and Chuck Gleason (Eagle Sports), all of who stayed Sunday after the Malibu Open and helped tear down the event. Reed also mentions Tommy Harrington, who manages Reed’s Web site. “They all give up their time, sometimes three days, and they come and they work tirelessly because they all love it like I do,” Reed says. “But they give up their time, they take off a day, sometimes two days of work, and they put on these great events. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Chrös McDougall is a freelance writer based out of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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