09 February 2011

So, How Did You Become "Minister of the Pants", Tony?

Right there it is.  In the title.  The #1 most asked question.  And I have a short answer:

I was bored at work.

Well, OK, I don't ever give that answer.  Let me start at the beginning.  February 16, 2010. About 1:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time.  I was IT Supervisor for Thermo Fisher Scientific in Rochester, NY, and I was in charge of the Service Desk.  We didn't have a dedicated phone answering team, so the staff rotated on schedule times to sit and watch the phone.  This happened to be my time.

And the phones were slow, so I caught up on my Internet Olympic coverage.  I started off at Yahoo!  And there, on the front page, was a link to a story on the unusual wardrobe choice of the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team.  By now, we all know that, when I followed the link, I found this story. And I was fascinated!  And thought to myself, "Tony, you need to become a fan of those pants right now!"

So over to Facebook I went.  And I searched for "Norwegian Curling" and "Norwegian Pants" and "Norwegian Olympic."  Nothing.  I had somehow found a void in the social networking universe! Immediately, I went to work on creating what would be my first Facebook page!  I figured I'd get a couple dozen of my friends to join this thing because they are very supportive and would find these pants as much fun as I did.

I had created Facebook groups before - most notably, a group dedicated to the old-school photo processing place in the parking lot of every plaza in America in the 1970s, Fotomat - but never a page.  And in my quick thinking, I thought a page would be a better medium - people could become a fan - than a group - people could join.  So I went through that process.  I put up a description (which was a quote from Chris Svae at the time), chose a location (Vancouver) and a picture (I can now admit that I used the same picture of Havård from the Yahoo! story).   And then I saved the page.

And I already had 20 fans.  And I didn't know all of them (I did know a couple, who I would find out later were on the hunt for the same kind of page).  I then became a fan - I wasn't fan #1 on my own page - and watched the numbers.  Within 2 hours, I had 400 fans.  

I threw a couple of posts up - very simple ones at first, along the lines of "Keep it up, tell your friends!" as well as a couple of links to stories about the team (including that Yahoo! article). These posts were as close to in the voice of the Pants as I could possibly get.  "The Pants are pleased to have so many fans!"

I kept posting and checking throughout the evening.  By the next morning, there were over 10,000 fans, and I had a feeling the growth would be going on for a couple of weeks.  So, I decided that I would try to do something about that.  The first thing I did was to contact various news outlets in Rochester via email, letting them know that a local guy had built what looked to be the next Internet sensation - making the world forget about "Pants on the Ground" for good.  I never got a single response from any of them, which in about a week would seem very funny to me.   

The second thing I did was to point out the page to the Norwegian Curling Federation, Norges Curlingforbund, who did reply rather promptly.  They were already aware of the page and invited me and my team to Norway to play in one of their tournaments.  (I would love to go to Norway, but I cannot afford to, so I sadly could not take them up on their invitations).

The third thing I did was contact the company that makes the pants, Loudmouth Golf.  I waited a bit later in the day to contact them - at the point I did I was at 20,000 fans, which I thought was pretty significant.  They also replied promptly - and stated a need to "get me into some pants."  I sent my sizes and address to Larry Jackson of Loudmouth, who sent them along - and they are fantastic pants!  I think I got the last pair of Dixie-As available in North America!

Meanwhile, I kept posting - the Today show on NBC helped me out a bit with a story on The Pants, which at the time I thought was going to kill my page.  I would have no chance for big media coverage of my page, and this would make the fever die.  They did, indeed, use my page in their story (they didn't ask me first!), which I thought was very cool, and that drove traffic to the page.

The next morning - February 18 - I topped 100,000 fans.  And I kept posting.  And it kept growing.  

After I passed 200,000 fans, I got an offer from Loudmouth Golf to put a link on my little Facebook page. I could sell the pants, tracked, in exchange for a small cut of the profits that I could keep, or give to charity, or split.  I chose to split - I wasn't doing this to get rich, but a little extra money, given my financial situation at the time (which got worse from there) was a good thing - but needed to find a charity to give to.  

I knew I wanted to give to a curling charity.  The problem was, I didn't know a lot about curling charities.  Luckily, I had a lot of friends who did.  So I asked my curling friends, and was informed about USA Curling's Katie Beck Memorial Fund.  Katie Beck was a great junior curler.  She was 2002 World Junior Champion along with the Johnson sisters, who went on to represent the United States at the 2006 Olympics.  Katie would sadly have to watch that from her TV as she was fighting a form of cancer called Ewing's sarcoma.  She tells the story better than I could, on her blog.  The fund in her name benefits junior curling in the United States, in honor of the sport she loved.  

And when I posted on the page - out of the Pants voice for the moment - that I was giving part of the proceeds to the Katie Beck Memorial Fund, I got a lot of nice notes and comments.  I specifically remember comment #3, left by a woman named Maureen Brunt.  I don't remember her exact words, but she thought it was a very good thing I was doing, with the implication that she was a friend of Katie's.  That was a name I recognized, and not because I knew her personally, but at the time I could not place why.  When I looked it up later, I realized that Maureen was Katie's teammate on her world championship team and a 2006 Olympian herself.

After the Olympics, I also got a phone call from Jennifer Beck.  Jennifer is Katie's mother, and a very nice lady, who wanted to thank me for what I had done for her daughter's fund.  I felt it was the absolute least I could do.  And my absolute favorite story of this entire time about the page is this one, written by future Pulitzer Prize winner Leia Mendoza (I might be biased) about this.   I keep a copy of this story, along with the letter from USA Curling acknowledging the donation, on my refrigerator.

Loudmouth also gave Norges Curlingforbund a direct share of the profits, and rightly so.  They should benefit from sponsoring the curlers that wear the pants.  As a result, I wasn't able to give all that much to the fund... a fact I explained to Jennifer Beck.  However, I did get awareness out there.

I jumped ahead in the story, but I am particularly proud of the fact that I was able to do anything good just because I was bored at work one day.  If I get the chance to sell more pants, I will give more in a heartbeat.  I feel good about this fund, and if I ever have an opportunity to help again, I will gladly.

OK, back to the story of the page.  Everything went well, and I topped 400,000 members.  That is, until the night of February 24, 2010.  That's the night I got the note in the photo here from my friends at Facebook, essentially shutting my page down.   At that point, I seemingly had no way to post anything.  I, being an IT guy, found a loophole.  I posted this note as an image - for some reason, I could upload a photo - and commented on it.  That sparked quite a bit of outrage, of course.  Two Facebook groups in support of my publishing rights were created, as well as a 3rd fan page for me.  

After I posted this, I went on an investigation.  I looked over the Terms of Service that I supposedly had violated. In the loosest interpretation, I was speaking on behalf of The Pants - but I was quite clear that I didn't represent Loudmouth Golf, and yet had the permission of Loudmouth Golf to do this little page.  

I went in search of a phone number for Facebook - and I found one.   It linked to a phone tree with nine options.  I went through this tree, one number at a time.  (I skipped Law Enforcement - I wasn't reporting a life-threatening situation here)  Each option directed me to an email address, since Facebook is an online company.  EXCEPT the option for the Press.  There was a voicemail box there for people on press deadline.  So, I left a message, fully explaining who I was and why I was calling, and pleading for a callback.

I decided that Facebook wasn't really going to call me back - after all, I wasn't a member of the press - so I posted the following message as a comment to my photo:

"If there are any members of the press out there, contact me via email.  I can give you contact information for Facebook - maybe you can get some answers."

Less than two minutes later, I got an email.

"This is Joseph White of the Associated Press. We would like to do a story on the Facebook page and would like to talk to you about Facebook's decision to shut it down."

I called Joseph White.  Joe is a hockey beat writer, based in Washington, DC, who of course was in Vancouver for the Olympics.  He didn't need my contact information for Facebook, needless to say.  In fact, he was already in contact with Facebook executives, who were about to release an apology statement and re-grant my publishing rights.  

Joe passed the phone over to Janie McCauley, who proceeded to talk to me about the page.  Janie was covering the curling beat for the AP during the Olympics. Our conversation turned into this story, which hit several newspapers the next morning.  

And the next morning is when the phone really started ringing.  Well, to be honest, most of my contacts were done via email.  The first contact was the BBC, who wanted me to call into a radio show.  I did so, and discussed my page and these pants with a clearly disapproving hostess who was rude to me.  I don't know what show carried this interview, and I don't remember her name.  Nor do I really care to.

The second call came from a correspondent from NBC San Diego named Jennifer Van Grove.  Ms. Van Grove was quite the fan of my page and The Pants, and wanted to do a segment on their morning show the next day.  I was thrilled to do that - had quite a conversation with her the night before.  Sadly, our segment got cancelled, which is a real shame.  

Ms. Van Grove is also a writer for Mashable, and quite a good one at that.  She covers a lot of social media startups, and if you aren't reading her stuff, you should.  You should also follow her on Twitter. For those who know me, blame her for my obsession with Foursquare.

I also got the opportunity to talk with Jørgen Bohnhorst Hoff.  Jørgen is a sports editor for Dagbladet, which is a Norwegian national newspaper - Americans, think USA Today.  We had a great conversation, where he listed off all the sports that did get media attention during the Olympics - curling traditionally has not in Norway, despite their past Olympic successes (Pål Trulsen won gold in 2002!) but the Nordic events did.  And I got to give my Olympic final prediction, in which I called Kevin Martin "arrogant."  I don't know if he ever read the article - it is in Norwegian - but I suspect he did.

Finally, I got a call from Diane Sawyer's team, who wanted to do a segment on the Pants.  It was mostly a story about Chris Svae, but I was there, too.   This segment, which was only available online, was a lot of fun, but far too brief.  And I look like a deer in headlights!

At this point, the page is up over 500,000 fans - it would get to 660,000 during the Olympic finals.   And I tried at that point to get to Vancouver to see the finals in person.  I had several offers for tickets - Loudmouth, the AP, Norges Curlingforbund - and an offer from my old friend Sally Levine for airline tickets (I might need them for Russia, Sally!), but I could not get a flight that would get me there in time.  I was too late.

No matter.  I instead headed over to the Rochester Curling Club and hung out with several of my closest curling friends - I dragged my poor girlfriend along - to watch the Canadian coverage of the final.  Ulsrud.  Martin.  A match for the ages. There were several people at the culb - fellow curlers, sure, but also a group of people who paid the club to learn to curl!  Fantastic! I was wearing the pants!  Needless to say, when it got out to the club that I was "That Guy", I was asked to take pictures.

Did I feel a little silly posing with fans?  Yes, yes I did.  But it was fun!  

I proceeded to sit down and watch the match, which ended up being a Canadian victory, live-posting scores to the page during the match, and uploading photos being provided to me by Larry Jackson of Loudmouth Golf, who was on the ground in a full-on Dixie-A suit.  

Was it a disappointing end to the Olympics?  Yes.  Was it the end of my page?  No.  As I stated earlier, we grew to 660,000 members (as of this writing it is down to 602,000, a week short of a year later).  And I've gotten opportunities from that little page - some of which I've written about already (BDO Canadian Open), and some that I will (Loudmouth Skins Game with John Daly and others) - and, most importantly, I've made a lot of new friends.

And I have continued to post, both as myself and as The Pants.  I have temporarily had a co-admin on the page, in Christoffer Svae, who posted only a couple of times.  I've also branched out into other social media -  this blog, for sure, but other things, too.  I have a Twitter account that I use now, as opposed to the one that I really don't.  I mentioned my love of Foursquare, and several others.  

It's been a wild ride so far, folks!  Thank you for the support!


  1. This was an extremely long, detailed but rather interesting story. I LOVE THOSE PANTS, and I love watching curling, - which I am only able to do every 4th year at the Olympics.

  2. I am told that Universal Sports is going to be streaming some in April, so we should be in good shape for this year.