Addressing the media at one of my first press conferences at Miami Jai-Alai in 1980
Living in a hotel is weird. Living in a hotel in Miami having only the clothes on your back is outright bizarre. National Airlines never found my luggage. I could not make a trip back to Tampa until the weekend. So, I needed to find some clothes fast.
Fortunately, my best friend and college roommate, Mike Singer, lived in Miami. His Mom had a small clothing store. I drove from my new home, an airport hotel, to Kendall (south Miami). With the store closed, Mrs. Singer took good care of me. I bought a completely new wardrobe.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get the lay of the land at work. The corporate offices were basically located in the main building of Miami Jai-Alai. Paul Rico’s office was on the ground floor with Dick Donovan, CEO, and most of the other Corporate Directors on the second floor. Accounting took up most of the fifth floor, which, incidentally, was a speakeasy and illegal casino in the 30s and 40s.
The Public Relations and Marketing Department was housed in a separate building across the valet parking lot with the front door facing NW 36th Street. No one entered the front door. I later found out it wasn’t safe. NW 36th Street was a little dangerous. So, that door stayed locked and you entered our offices through the warehouse in valet parking.
The PR area took up the most space with a fairly large office for me. There was larger reception area outside of my office which was the realm of the Public Relations Administrative Assistant, Ellen Rangel.
Ellen was a no-nonsense, blond bombshell that trained me, and I used the word “trained” literally, on all the aspects of the Corporate PR job in Miami. She gave me all the background info on those that would be calling me. I had no idea the volume of people looking for free tickets, season tickets, press passes, Jai-Alai brochures, information, and any freebie you could think of. Ellen was invaluable. And she took no crap from anyone. She was “Miami Tough.” Also inhabiting the “PR Building” as it was called, were two other corporate directors.
I soon found out that I was constantly walking back and forth from the main fronton to my office area. During matinee performances, I might across valet parking and through the warehouse more than 10 times a day. This was not fun when it rained.
But I was now at the “Yankee Stadium of Jai-Alai.” Miami Jai-Alai was the largest, most prestigious fronton in the world. I was watching and working with the greatest names in the sport: Joey, Asis, Juaristi, Alberdi, Remen, Mendi, Enrique, Ecenarro, Javier, Guernica I and II, and on and on. This was truly the nexus of the sport.
While this was my “honeymoon” period, I was grateful Rico and Donovan were giving me time to adjust to the job. But I wanted to show them I could have an immediate impact on the PR for Miami Jai-Alai.
In Tampa, I was fortunate to have a very friendly media environment. Most of the newspapers in the Tampa Bay area assigned one on their sport’s staff to cover Jai-Alai. I would get weekly calls from the Tampa Tribune, St. Pete Independent, Clearwater Sun, etc., with player updates or any pertinent information for weekly columns. Bob Austin, Tampa Tribune, John Brockmann, Sarasota Herald, Mike O’Keefe, Clearwater Sun, all loved Jai-Alai and became good friends. Plus, they gave us tremendous exposure, which I truly believe assisted in the meteoric rise of Tampa Jai-Alai.
But Miami was different. I had heard that it was nearly impossible to get a story in the Miami Herald. The Miami market had big names like Edwin Pope and Jimmy Burns of the Herald, Tony Segretto, Chuck Dowdle and Bernie Rosen in television, Larry King, Neil Rogers, Rick Shaw, Johnnie Knox (later to be my boss in Dania), Ed “Eddie K” Kaplan, and Jeff Deforrest. I was in a different world, but confident I could conquer it.
Since I was the new PR Director of Miami Jai-Alai, I figured I could get a sit-down with the main person at the Miami Herald Sports Department and plead my case for more publicity for Miami Jai-Alai. That turned out to be a man named Paul Anger, the Executive Sports Editor, the person that actually decided what goes in the paper each day. I figured I could convince him that Miami Jai-Alai deserved similar coverage as what his counterparts in Tampa were giving the sport. It certainly seemed logical to me, and I would use all my knowledge and charm to convince him.
So, I went to the Miami Herald building in downtown Miami. I sat down across from Mr. Anger. I told him a little about my background and the tremendous exposure we got on a regular basis in Tampa. He seemed a nice enough guy. Then, he pulled out this report he seemed to have strategically placed in his main drawer.
“Marty, it’s very nice about the coverage Jai-Alai gets in Tampa.” he told me. “But this is Miami.” He said it somewhat condescendingly, like we were hicks in Tampa.
“We did a survey with our readers and asked them what sports they were likely to follow in the newspaper. Jai-Alai came in 12th,” he went on. He continued to tell me that they base their space allotment in the sports section according to that survey.
I pointed out to Anger that our attendance at Miami Jai-Alai was well over 1 million fans in a four-month season. We outdraw the Miami Dolphins by 2 to 1. He argued back that it probably is just the same fans coming over and over again. And that doesn’t happen for the Dolphins? I could see I was fighting a losing battle.
He told me Dick Evans, the bowling writer, covers Jai-Alai for them. When I get something of special interest, just let Dick know. I thanked him and left, very disappointed. I had heard Dick Evans had little interest in Jai-Alai and rarely got anything in the paper for us.
But I was not beaten. If the Herald was not going to cooperate, I figured we would try to work around them. I had a Plan B. I would do everything I could to get us exposure through all the other media. The Herald was not the only game in town.
Each day, I was inundated with not only learning all the facets of the corporate part of the job, but also preparing for Miami’s opening night. As I sat at my desk around 5 pm, that first week, Dick Donovan’s secretary, Eileen, called me and said, “The boss wants to see you.” This didn’t sound good. I was a little nervous walking into the president’s office. Had I already screwed up?
I knocked on the closed door and went in. Donovan sat at the head of this long table, Paul Rico in a chair on the side. He motioned for me to sit down. He asked if I was getting adjusted to the craziness of life in Miami. I told him it was hectic, but I was handling things.
Then, with an impish grin, he reached into his right drawer and pulled out a deck of cards. “You ever play gin rummy?” I told him that I had. Donovan and Rico lit two cigars and for the next 2 hours, we played three-handed Hollywood Gin Rummy for a penny a point.
This would be an almost daily routine for the next 17 years. This, also, would be the exact thing we were doing when the call came into Donovan’s office that would spark the longest manhunt in American history.