March Madness

It is crunch time for the Division I men's college basketball teams. With "Selection Sunday" looming large on March 15th, teams on the bubble need to make their move. Rivals.com has just published its projections for the field of 65. Penn State, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Miami are currently the last four in. Virginia Tech, Maryland, Michigan and Temple are currently the last four out. Michigan improved its chances for a bid this week with a win over #16 Purdue.

The projected #1 seeds are North Carolina, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma. The projected #2 seeds are Louisville, Michigan State, Duke and Memphis. Will the projected 9th seed Boston College be a Cinderella team with its wins over North Carolina, Duke and Florida State, or will the team that lost to Harvard show up at tourney time? Over the years, the lead-up to the tournament has become a sign that spring is almost here and another winter behind us.

After an exciting finish by Phil Mickelson (will he hold on or will he self destruct?) last Sunday at the Northern Trust PGA event at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, their was an uproar in the press and the halls of Congress over Northern Trust's sponsorship and entertaining during the event. On Friday, Northern Trust CEO Frederick Waddell responded in a letter to Congressman Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and 17 other members of Congress. While stating that Northern Trust understood that this is a time of great financial uncertainty, Waddell defended the sponsorship and pointed out that "the event has raised more than $50M for charity since its inception." Northern Trust (NTRS) remains profitable and has announced that it will return the $1.6B in TARP funds, with interest, as soon as it can replace it with private capital. I sense that they will not be alone. Healthy financial institutions would like to make their own decisions on appropriate marketing activities as they have in the past, which I fully support. Those of us who plan events as an important part of our product and service offerings need to be extra sensitive in the current climate when we select venues.

On Sunday evening in Los Angeles the 81st Academy Awards took place at the Kodak Theatre, just down the road from the Riviera Country Club. Slumdog Millionaire walked off with 8 Oscars! The movie captured the dichotomy of Mumbai, India, with its poverty juxtaposed against the growth of the city that took place over the last decade. Slumdog Millionaire managed to capture the spirit and determination of the people of Mumbai.

We held Asset International's first global sales meeting this week and laid out our growth plans to the sales teams from London, New York and Stamford, which represent their respective markets, Global Custodian, Plan Adviser and Plan Sponsor. The meeting ended with a real enthusiasm for our global vision and a real sense of team. This will serve us well as we prepare to launch The 5000 in late April.

Later this week, Mary Claire and I will head to our home in Blackhawk to get an early feel for spring. I know we will be sharing our Kindle 2 on the flight. If you have not already done so, you should go to www.amazon.com and take a tour of the latest Kindle. For those of us who love to read, this is a must-have platform. It demonstrates that the digital transformation is at hand. I marvel that it can hold a library of 1,500 books, and its capability for wireless downloads is truly impressive.

While we are in Blackhawk, I will have the opportunity during a round or two of golf with my friend and golf partner, George Riggs, a longtime newspaper executive who recently retired, to share thoughts and insights on the perilous state of the newspaper industry. The two Philadelphia papers that Brian Tierney acquired with a group of investors from McClatchy (MNI $.49 2/27/09) as part of the Knight-Ridder transaction filed for bankruptcy this past week. This was quickly followed by an announcement from Hearst that the San Francisco Chronicle, which lost $50M+ this past year, will have to find a path to profitability, be sold or be shut down. Finally later in the week, Scripps (SSP), which had made a similar announcement to Hearst earlier, followed through and shut down the storied Rocky Mountain News.

We are starting to see all of the overleveraged newspaper properties headed toward bankruptcy filings as they try to deleverage. And those properties that are still seeking a viable new model and have healthy, diversified media company parents are finding out that their owners' patience is coming to an end. Will there be an investment opportunity found in the rubble when the dust settles, or has the digital divide left newspapers behind? Is there brand equity left that will allow new models, with low overhead and debt, to thrive during an economic recovery?

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