IG Online talks to Mike Burg, producer and creator of the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars that's midway through its U.S. run.
The tour, which kicked off in September and is currently on the East Coast, combines Olympic gymnastics stars with Disney Records artists Jordan Pruitt and KSM for a musical mix of sports and entertainment. The gymnastics lineup features a multitude of Olympic stars, including Olympic champions Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Paul Hamm and Shannon Miller.
It is the second such tour from Burg, who produced the 2004 Rock 'n' Roll Tour, starring 2004 Olympic champions Hamm and Carly Patterson, and teen singer Jo Jo.
After receiving a degree in government from the University of Virginia, Burg went into the media field in 1982 with a job as an associate producer at CBS. He then moved to Jefferson-Pilot Sports, where he cut his teeth in the figure skating world with made-for-television events including ICE WARS and the Rock & Roll Figure Skating Championships.
In 1996, Burg founded Edge Marketing & Management, which partnered with USA Gymnastics for that year's post-Olympic tour with six of the seven members of the U.S. gold medal-winning women's team from Atlanta.
Berg produced a similar tour with USAG following the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but says creative differences led him to create his own tour following Athens.
Burg, who has survived two bouts with Hodgkin's disease, is now combining his marketing and TV experience to raise awareness for cancer. In 2006 he teamed up with women's cancer advocacy groups and ABC to form Frosted Pink, a two-year campaign featuring musicians and figure skaters. In 2008 he launched Frosted Pink with a Twist, bringing in gymnasts to join the fight for a cancer-free world.
IG Online chats with Burg about his experiences and motivations behind the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars.
Mike Burg, producer of the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars
IG: What is your background? Were you ever a gymnast or figure skater?
MB: No, no, I had been very involved in the world of figure skating. I was working with a company called Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting that we felt could really capitalize on the area of women's sports. We identified figure skating as one of them. As figure skating did well, we figured we could do a similar thing with gymnastics as one of the few women's sports that actually has a big female audience.
Why did you split with USAG in 2004?
MB: About a year ago, we had reached a partnership with Hollywood Records & Disney Music about trying to put together a show. What we wanted to do was to create a show that was sports and entertainment combined. We felt since the demographic of gymnastics was so heavily toward a younger "tween" [aged 8-14] female, there is no better brand to reach that tween female than Disney. So we did a partnership with them, and I don't believe that at that time USA Gymnastics had the same vision that we did. So we continued to pursue our vision and did our agreement with Disney. You'd have to ask [USAG President] Steve Penny for their reason for deciding not to move forward with their tour. But we continued to move forward and we're fortunate that USAG has agreed to sanction our tour, and they've been a great partner to have since then.
IG: In 2004, you first tested the waters combining musicians and gymnasts...
MB: We had Jo Jo on the tour and it was a start, but we wanted to make it even bigger and better.
IG: What is the difference between the 2008 and 2004 tours?
MB: The production value of this is probably second to none in any gymnastics tour. It's a state-of-the-art lighting system, state-of-the-art sound system. [Former Univ. of Oklahoma gymnast] Mike Rice, who is the creative director of the tour, designed all the rigging and all the flying in the air. He does a lot of the Cirque du Soleil stuff. Plus we have two live music acts from Disney. We have video on the tour that no one's ever had before. We have video screens behind it all. You add all those things together and it's a really high-end, expensive product, and it's a product we're really proud of.
IG: You mentioned the expense. How is the current economy affecting the tour? Some families might not be able to afford for the whole family to go see an expensive show.
MB: What we're doing right now, as a matter of fact, in the remaining dates we're doing a promotion called Recession Busters: We're offering families 2-for-1 ticket sales on some tickets. We realize the economy is really tough right now, so we're not foolish. We're trying to make it affordable for anyone who wants to go, and doing the 2-for-1 promotion we think will be a great one.
IG: How have the crowds been?
MB: The crowds have been up about 40 percent over the similar tour in 2004, so they're really, really strong.
IG: Have you been surprised by the turnout in some cities?
MB: Because we got such a late start, becuase of the disagreements we had with USA Gymnastics, we weren't quite sure what we were going to get. The fact that we're 40 percent over the Olympic tour in 2004 is a very pleasant surprise. [Oct. 26 tour stop] Boston year in, year out is the No. 1 tour market, I'm not sure I understand it. Right behind it are [Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin's] hometowns of Des Moines (Nov. 14) and Dallas (Oct. 11).
IG: Do you go to each tour stop?
MB: If I want to. I go to a number of them but not all of them.
IG: Are you still doing a lot of figure skating events?
MB: With the Winter Olympics coming up in 2010, we're about to get intimately involved in figure skating. Over the past two Olympics you've seen a drop off in the interest in figure skating and we think the opportuntiy to really kind of relaunch the sport is right there, especially with the Games being in Vancouver.
We do a number of big television shows. We're the producers of the Teen Choice Awards on Fox. We had it in August and this was our 10th year. We're the executive producers of the Kids Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. So we do a lot of entertainemnt specials and some philanthropic specials as well. We just finished a show called Frosted Pink with a Twist, which is all about enlightenment with regards to women's cancer. I'm a two-time cancer survivor so I'm pretty close to that.
IG: On the tour you have a wide range in age, with some younger teenaged girls. Are they chaperoned?
MB: Yes. Shawn [Johnson] at 16 has an 18-year-old, her cousin with her. We have two security officers with the tour at all time.
IG: The gymnasts were under so much pressure at the Olympics in Beijing. What do you think it's like for them to be able to perform just for fun?
MB: It's interesting. You have athletes who have done this type of show before, like Paul and Morgan Hamm, Shannon Miller and Blaine Wilson and they kind of knew what to expect, but the other Olympians were — once the tour got going — absolutely thrilled with the ability to be showing their skills without having to look over their shoulders and see who is judging them. I think it's a skill you learn and I'm really impressed with the bunch of kids we have.
IG: So are you already making plans for a post-Olympic tour after London 2012?
MB: We're just trying to get through this right now. (laughs).
External Link: 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars
External Link: Frosted Pink with a Twist
KSM performs the tour theme song, "A Hero in You"