Palmer: Anatomy of the All-Star Classic

Mark Palmer

11/14/2012
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

American University hosted the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)


Just a couple days before the elections, there were fireworks of a different sort in our nation's capital. American University in Washington, D.C. hosted the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic on Saturday, Nov. 3.

So, what does it take to host the All-Star Classic?

It's a bit more complicated than putting on a typical college dual meet. Just ask Teague Moore. The former NCAA mat champ for Oklahoma State -- now in his second season as head coach at American -- played host to the 2012 edition of the All-Stars, an annual event that has traditionally featured two of the top college wrestlers in each weight class since 1967.

By just about any measure, the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic was a winner. It was the first All-Star event to sell out in advance in more than a decade. It featured one of the most anticipated college matches in recent memory, bringing together 2012 NCAA 157-pound champ Kyle Dake of Cornell, and Penn State's David Taylor, defending champ at 165. What's more, all 20 of the wrestlers originally announced as competitors actually stepped out onto the mat at American's Bender Arena on Saturday night, Nov. 3.

Even more impressive, it all came together in less than two months.

How did Moore and American University do it?

Mike Moyer (left), a former head wrestling coach at George Mason, has served as the NWCA's executive director since 1999 (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
First, the school had to get the gig.

"Originally, Mike Moyer, head of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, was talking to George Mason University about hosting the event," according to Moore. "When it became apparent that George Mason wouldn't be able to host it, we stepped forward."

"We had only seven weeks to prepare for the event," the American Eagles head coach disclosed. "It was full speed ahead. So many things to get done in not much time. We even had a countdown clock so we wouldn't lose sight of the deadline."

"We had to work around a number of other events already on the school's athletic calendar. There was a swimming event, a women's basketball game, and men's soccer all set for the weekend that the NWCA wanted to have the All-Stars. We had to make sure we could flip the gym for the event to take place."

Saturday night's all right for wrestling ...

Teague Moore (left), a 1998 NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, is in his second season as head wrestling coach at American (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
There was an additional issue that had to be addressed.

"Traditionally, the All-Star event is held on a Monday night," according to Moore. "However, we told the NWCA that wouldn't work in Washington, D.C. We thought area fans wouldn't come out for an event on Monday."

Yet another complicating factor: "We wanted to make sure the participating wrestlers could get to and from Washington without missing any classes."

For those reasons, the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic was scheduled for a Saturday night.

But even that required some deft timing. Because Bender Arena had to be quickly converted to host the wrestling event, media couldn't enter the venue until 5 p.m.; fans were allowed in at 7.

A total team effort

Right from the start, Coach Moore acknowledged that laying the groundwork for a successful All-Star Classic would take more than the resources of American University and its athletic department. So he enlisted the D.C. Athletic Club and the Greater Washington Wrestling Business Network (GWWBN) as sponsors of the event, along with individuals who took care of the multitude of details.

"We brought in Liz Meltzer Stagnitta to take on all the organizing aspects," said Moore. "She's from a wrestling family, the daughter of Alan Meltzer, and an event organizer. She took the reins of helping make the event happen for participants, fans, vendors and media."

"The GWWBN's John Lacata gathered sponsorships, and got businesses to make donations to ensure athletes would be taken care of. We wanted to make sure wrestlers would be brought to Washington, housed and fed in the proper manner."

"John knew it would be tough to make all this happen, but his relationships built from his participation in the GWWBN worked for us. Business partners with connections to wrestling stepped up and made all the intricate details come together."

"When you add up all the expenses -- air travel, food, hotels -- the total cost to put on the event was about $50,000," Moore continued. "I think that's probably double the cost of having the All-Stars in a typical wrestling venue that wouldn't be as expensive as Washington."

The capital could be a wrestling hotbed

When asked what it meant for American University to host the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic, Moore immediately acknowledged that it would boost the profile of the school -- and its wrestling program. But then he quickly shifted the focus beyond the campus.

"I wanted to show that Washington could be a major hotbed of wrestling."

"Traditionally, there are a limited number of places that could bring 3,000-5,000 fans to a major wrestling event like the National Duals or the NCAAs," said Moore, originally from the Pittsburgh area. "I think D.C. could be the next place to host that kind of event."

"I felt that, at the end of the All-Stars, that fans, sponsors and vendors all thought we could put on another similar event," Moore continued. "For instance, the NCAAs could be held at Verizon Center (arena in downtown Washington) if American University could make it happen."

The secret formula for selling out

The last time tickets for an All-Star Classic were sold out in advance was in 2001, when Franklin & Marshall University hosted the annual exhibition. How was American University able to sell 3,376 tickets to individual fans and fill Bender Arena weeks before the first wrestler took to the mat on November 3?

Kyle Dake and David Taylor slap hands during introductions (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Teague Moore gave credit to two wrestlers.

"Kyle Dake wrestling David Taylor really helped," said the American head coach, referring to the two 2012 NCAA champs who each finished last season undefeated. "At the end of the first week after tickets had gone on sale that Monday, we had sold 400 tickets, which was nothing to sneeze at. We thought we were on a good pace. Then, the following Monday, the Dake-Taylor matchup was announced; by that Thursday, tickets were sold out. In fact, we had to make sure to save seats for sponsors and organizers."

How did the marquee match between the two collegiate superstars come together?

Moore wouldn't take any credit. "I wasn't involved. I believe Dake went to Rob Koll and said he would be willing to move up to 165 after originally accepting the invite to wrestle at 157. Taylor had already accepted at 165."

"What I love as a fan is that these guys were willing to do this."

"With this event, with so much buzz about it, no one wanted to miss out. That's why tickets sold out so fast."

Kyle Dake earned a 2-1 decision over David Taylor (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Moore mentioned an earlier conversation with a past college wrestler who had developed a reputation for promotion in his mixed martial arts career.

"In the past, I'd talked to Chael Sonnen," Moore said, referring to the former University of Oregon All-American matman whose comments as an MMA star have generated plenty of media and fan attention over the years. "We talked about how to promote college wrestling. He said it was important to focus on a marquee match, even in a regular dual meet. After all, every dual has at least one matchup that that can be played up because of an ongoing rivalry or some other reason. By promoting one match, it's easier to get fans excited about coming to the event."

"We had that happen with the Dake-Taylor match."

Turning up the energy a few notches

That marquee matchup between Kyle Dake and David Taylor -- arguably two of the most accomplished athletes in college wrestling right now -- generated media attention and fan buzz that reverberated throughout the wrestling community ... and the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic.

The two large screens at Bender Arena each cost $1 million (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
"I felt an energy about the All-Stars that was incredible," coach Moore said. "All the excitement, all the coverage, it was like the NCAAs."

"Once we knew it was a sellout, we decided on focus on making the event truly special. We thought, 'How do we maximize use of our video boards? How can we use them to showcase the individual athletes and their schools, and make the event truly huge for everyone in the arena?'" said Moore of the two large screens at Bender Arena which each cost $1 million.

Another former wrestler who was known for his ability to make matches truly exciting -- thus generating considerable buzz -- came up with another idea to help provide even more promotional opportunities for the 2012 edition of the All-Stars.

"Wade Schalles is a member of the GWWBN. He said, 'Let's put on the biggest wrestling clinic ever,'" according to Moore. "It started at noon, and ran all afternoon. We had over 300 participants, from five year olds up through high school. That helped spread the word about the All-Stars."

A model for others to follow

A week after the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic, Teague Moore sees its success as a model for other college wrestling events.

"I feel this is the way wrestling needs to be handled. By outsourcing how the event was held -- in other words, letting the experts in organizing and promoting these kinds of events do their thing -- I feel they made the event a '10.' If we allow business professionals to run wrestling events like a business, using their skills and connections, wrestling will benefit. Wrestling events can have the same kind of buzz and media and fan excitement as big-time college football games. If you have the resources to promote, wrestling events can be a big success, too."

The 36-year-old American coach shared the insights of J Robinson, who has been head coach at the University of Minnesota for more than a quarter-century, and has earned a reputation for making Golden Gopher wrestling meets must-see events in the Twin Cities.

"J Rob told me, 'You can't just have wrestling matches. Fans want more than that. They want a whole evening's worth of entertainment.' There are ways to build in entertainment into college wrestling that brings in families and new fans, while the sport remains true to itself."

Coach Moore has one idea to make dual meets more exciting: Allow the two coaches to pick the order of the matches. As he described it, the host coach could say, "Let's start with the 133" because he thinks that his guy will win that match, and that will start momentum for his team. Then the opposing coach would pick which weight class goes second, most likely picking the wrestler he thinks will put a victory on the board for his team. The two would alternate match selection back and forth, saving what Moore referred to as the "question mark matches" -- the ones that are most in doubt, the ones that have the potential for being the closest, the most exciting -- for the end.

Here's how Moore explains the rationale behind his idea.

"By changing the order of matches, it could make things more exciting for fans, and reduce the chance of one team building a blow-out lead that the other team can't overcome, which then leads to casual fans leaving the event before it's over. In fact, I think it would help fans get more into the action, generate more positive buzz for the sport, and bring in more fans."

"We wrestling fans tend to be traditionalists," Moore continued. "We can make things more exciting, not with radical changes, but with minor tweaks."

"I challenge the wrestling community to come up with new ideas to bring in new fans, to generate more media coverage, to make wrestling bigger. Let's see what wrestling can do."

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