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Original Issue

Hear Me Out, Boris Baby

With some sports-marketing smarts, your expansion country can rake in the rubles

I am shooting the nerf basketball through the orange plastic hoop. This is how I think best in my big, wheeler-dealer office. I move around the room, taking impossible shots from impossible angles. I am hitting everything I attempt. Hot. I am very hot today.

"Take a letter, Ms. Pratt," I say. "Address it to Boris Yeltsin, president of the Commonwealth of Independent States, or whatever the name is. You can look it up. Russia. Whatever the name of the Soviet Union is now. Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia. Or whatever he is. Dear Boris...."

An idea has been raging through my mind for the last couple of weeks. I don't know how I think of this stuff. I was watching the competitors from Russia—or whatever it is now—at the Winter Olympics, and the announcers always described how the country was in disarray, how it now has no name or flag or anthem. They kept saying how sad everything seemed. Sad? Bingo, bango, bongo. I realized I am the man who can straighten out the entire situation. For a percentage, of course.

"Permit me to introduce myself," I say. "I am a highly placed executive in the lucrative field of sports marketing in the United States. I am writing to make you aware of some possibilities you might not know exist as you take your new nation from the shore into the giddy waters of free enterprise...."

One man's troubles can become another man's gold. That is my motto. I say we start with the flag. The only possible colors are silver and black. The Los Angeles Raiders, the kingpins of all sports-merchandise sales, are silver and black. The L.A. Kings are silver and black. Did you see how the Chicago White Sox took off when they switched to silver and black? You have an expansion country here, and you can do anything you want. I can't think of one silver-and-black country in the entire geopolitical spectrum. A wonderful void exists. Why not fill it?

"I believe, with our expertise, we can put your nation back on a solvent course," I say. "I do not say that we can solve all of your economic woes, but I also do not say that we cannot. With a prudent merchandising program, I believe we can make your nation the fashion leader of the world. Once you make that fashion statement, lots of ancillary benefits will come your way. The perception of your country will change immediately. No longer will the grim image of long lines at the food markets dominate the television screen. Are you familiar with the English word funky? Your nation will become a place to be...."

The logo—and maybe I'm crazy, but hear me out—should stay the same. The hammer and sickle. I like the logo, and I would love it in silver against a black background. Can you see it? On the back of a satin jacket? On the back of 10 million satin jackets? I suppose you could argue for a bird or an animal—San Jose Shark merchandise is doing great—but the hammer and sickle looks good to me. You could change the graphics a little, but the concept is fabulous. There is power here, a hint of violence, a wealth of tradition.

I say we run with an entire silver-and-black, hammer-and-sickle line. The baseball caps. The stocking caps. The ski parkas. The sweatshirts. Throw in the novelties like the key chains and the wall clocks and whatever else imaginable.

"I propose that my firm become involved in all of your planning for the future," I say. "We will use our expertise in the field to show you what will attract the consumer and what won't. We'll begin with a NAME THE COUNTRY contest that will galvanize your people as nothing has since your troubles began. We will provide ideas on a perfect, marketable mascot. We will hire the top composers to write a dance-beat anthem that will soar to the top of the global charts...."

Bingo, bango, bongo. Maybe we have initials as the name of the country. MTV? UNLV? Maybe we put the word Boyz in the name. Coldboyz. Happyboyz. Boyz from the Commonwealth. Maybe we have a tough, modern name. Force. Terminator. Rambo. Maybe we just call the country Beverly Hills 90210. The name will come to us eventually. It will be right, and it will be now.

The anthem will get down, maybe with a solid rap segment in the middle (I ain't from Prussia, and I ain't from Russia, but if you be chillin', I be willin'...). We will have cheerleaders tour the world, spreading the word. The athletes already are unbelievable, as the Albertville Olympics showed, and we will give them different, pronounceable names that Western ears can absorb. The best players will be known simply by a single name. Bo. Wilt. Rocket.

"This can work, Boris," I say. "Give us your business, and we will make your country bigger than the Georgetown Hoyas or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Duke Blue Devils. It may be presumptuous on our part, but we already have entered into negotiations to have Mr. Michael Jordan, the most famous athlete in all of America, endorse your country. He never has endorsed a country before, and we believe he is amenable to the idea. Please contact our offices as soon as possible...."

I tell Ms. Pratt to slap the syntax into shape and to finish the formalities, blah-blah, and send the letter by the fastest route possible. I take the Nerf ball to the farthest corner of the office. I shoot a jumper, obstructed by the fish tank and the lava lamp. No problem. The ball hits the backboard and drops through the rim. Yessssssss!

Hot. Very hot.