Gambling in Atlantic City

“OK I have just a few minutes before I have to get back up on stage.  Let’s hear it,” said Rick Springfield, leaning back in the cushioned seat back.

My friend Helen had brought me here to the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City to speak to Rick.   It had been the first time since all the Katrina efforts that I would see him.  The last time I’d seen him, before Katrina, had been during his promo swing in New York.   Rick had promised to speak to me then about the new lay of the land on his team, but it never happened.  At each event I waited for the eventual touch on my sleeve by Rick’s manager or whisper in my ear by the keyboard guy telling me that I was supposed to wait over there so that I could ride in the van to the next thing, or go to lunch with them.  That chat Rick had promised in his emails evaporated before my eyes as I watched him leave the last event, a CD signing, with his entourage surrounding him.  An entourage, I had thought bitterly, that once had included me.

While I had been busy raising money for hurricane victims, Vivian quietly decided that she would be closing the fan club she had run for sixteen years.  I had known it was coming; Vivian was in her sixties, and it had been difficult for her to keep up with the technological leaps and bounds of the world she found herself in.  Her newsletters, which had been newsbreaking and the only source of information for longtime fans when she started her club in 1989 were now full of news fans had found on the internet months prior.  We had added a great deal to the club experience with the website, ticket sales and our mailing list, but it was still very hard.  When the new web guy had come on board, our cooperation for news and information between the fan club and the official website ended, and the focus of her work changed.  Used to being the authority on Rick Springfield news and information, Vivian found herself now in the position of trying to recreate what her club would be to fans.  She tried for a year of creating a CD and electronic version of her newsletter, but her heart never seemed to be into it.  What the club had meant and represented to her was over.  She was closing the club.

I could understand her feelings.  I hadn’t been in the fold nearly as long, but it was hard to watch the role you enjoyed playing being taken over by someone else.  Vivian’s closing of the club sent shock waves through the fan community, with the sharks looking for a way to seize the opportunity to start something new.  Vivian sent me email after email of this fan or that approaching her looking to take over, and we both laughed about how awful and obvious they were.

The only way to stave off the fan wave of splinter groups, I reasoned, would be to have something new in place quickly.  I asked Vivian if she would be upset if I broached the subject of a web based initiative, and she was fine with it. I had long thought of making an area of our website a paid area, a password protected area where fans could get their hands on a whole new level of fandom.  The things fans wanted these days were videos from Rick, anything straight from him (my Ask Rick columns were always popular on rs.com, and now the new guy had him writing a diary.  Rick had asked me, “What do the fans want me to write?” and I made suggestions to him).  Special memorabilia available only to them, ticket presales, exclusive photography, inside information, early access to new music.

I had bounced my idea off of my friends Helen and Renata, and they thought it was solid.  I sent an email to Rick with the basic premise and asked if he would be willing to talk to me more specifically about it in Atlantic City.  His response was:  “Yes I sure wouldnt want it to go to anyone else. It could get soooo wacky.”

And so I had a business plan in a folder, ready to give to him, sitting there next to him in the theater he would perform in later that night.  But somehow, I was hesitating.  It felt wrong, somehow, as if he was in a rush to get somewhere else; I hadn’t experienced that before with him. Helen, whom I had asked to sit with me, started talking up the idea, which bolstered my confidence, and so I opened the folder and pulled out the business plan.

“Wow, you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Rick commented, glancing at the paper.

“Yes, I have,” I answered.  “You’ve always said I had my finger on the pulse of what the fans want, and I think this is what the fans want.  The days of the fan club are over, and I would never try to replace or replicate what Vivian offered to the fans.  This is more my niche, the web stuff, the things that I have heard over the last eight years of working on websites for you – ”

Rick stopped me.  “Eight years?  You’re joking.”

“No,” I smiled.  “I started doing the fan club site in 1996.  I didn’t start working with you until later, but I’ve been trying to give fans content that they would keep coming back to for eight years.”

“Wow,” Rick said.  I could see him glance over to the stage, where his manager was giving him a look that said it was time for him to get to work.  “OK, well let me take this and look it over, give it to the guys in New York.  I can’t imagine anyone will have a problem with it, but I can’t commit until I get the word from everyone on board.”

It should have been a red flag.  Rick had always made decisions for his own career, for himself.  I’d never had to get manager approval for anything before; Rick had always had them come to me to talk about a good idea and had them work with me, not the other way around.  But in the moment, I took it as a form of approval.  Rick gave Helen and I the requisite hugs and promised to see me backstage later that evening after the show.

“He really seemed to like it,” she gushed in between Rick belting out a few full songs to test the sound equipment.  “I think it is going to be really exciting.”

“You think so?  I’m not so sure.  Something just felt a little off.  I can’t say for sure what it is, but it isn’t a done deal yet.”

I had no idea, that day in early October, how right I was.

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