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The Insider:
Former Microsoft trio now kingpins of tenpins circuit

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Insider is the P-I business staff's weekly compendium of quips, quotes, observations, asides, tidbits, weird facts and gossip.

The Insider includes information from P-I reporters John Cook, Christine Frey and Bill Virgin.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/

Even though it's hardly unusual for high-tech executives to buy sports franchises -- think Paul Allen and the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers -- it still created a stir when three Seattle veterans of the tech scene bought the Professional Bowlers Association in 2000.

What would the three former Microsoft execs -- Rob Glaser (now the head of RealNetworks), Chris Peters and Mike Slade want with a sport, both as a spectator and a participatory activity, whose heyday was decades ago?

What they wanted to do with it was revitalize it, a task they've tackled with a new television contract with ESPN, increased prize money, a revamped tournament format and an Internet presence.

The latest chapter in that effort is a new ad campaign, "King of the Lanes," which includes print ads, truck-size posters and what the PBA says is its first television spots.

Created by Seattle ad agency Creature, the TV spots depict attempts to play tennis, golf and basketball with a bowling ball -- with predictable results. The tag line: "Not just any athlete can handle a bowling ball."

The print campaign emphasizes such bowling stars as Walter Ray Williams, Jason Couch and Pete Weber. The look of the ads is intentionally retro, "to conjure up the competition of the 1960s and 1970s when bowling ruled Saturdays on TV consoles across America," says a memo from the ad agency.

The ads will run through the end of March on ESPN, ESPN 2 and Fox, and in markets where PBA events are being held.

AMAZON TO GO GOLD?: We hear that Amazon.com Inc. may expand its jewelry offering online, possibly launching a new store in time for the holiday season.

The Internet retailer already offers some jewelry through its apparel store, but the company is expected to break out the category in its own store tab, selling a range of jewelry.

"This is not really a secret in the jewelry trade," said one wholesaler who has an agreement with Amazon.com and asked not to be named.

An Amazon.com spokeswoman declined to comment Friday on the possibility of a new store.

A potential expansion into the jewelry market by Amazon.com would come four years after Seattle e-commerce company Blue Nile Inc. began selling jewelry online.

Chief Executive Mark Vadon said he would not view such a venture as competition, since Blue Nile's merchandise would likely be more upscale than Amazon.com's offering. Blue Nile, which specializes in engagement and wedding rings, expects to do more than $125 million in sales this year, up from sales of $72 million last year.

"I think our view is one that it is validation of the category," Vadon said.

Amazon.com ventured into the jewelry business back in 1999, when it bought a 16.6 percent stake in online jeweler Ashford.com. The company currently features jewelry from retailers such as Ice.com.

THE DEBATE OVER CRAY: Seattle supercomputer maker Cray Inc. has performed well in the past 12 months, with a stock price that has nearly tripled.

But StockDiagnostics.com, a tiny Sarasota, Fla., research firm that analyzes 10,000 publicly traded companies, believes the company is on the brink.

In a newsletter last week, StockDiagnostics.com warned readers to avoid "Cray's shares at any price." Its reasoning: Cray's operational cash flow during the second quarter hit a three-year low as its earnings per share rose.

"Sunbeam, Polaroid, Enron, Fleming -- all of these companies were diagnosed with the exact same thing before they died," said Michael Markowski, director of research at StockDiagnostics. "If it doesn't change, something very bad could happen to this company."

But some -- including Cray -- say the report is hogwash.

Alan Davis, an analyst with McAdams Wright Ragen, said the cash flow analysis "is a very superficial look at the company with zero insight into business." He has a buy recommendation on the stock, saying Cray expects to grow its cash position to $100 million by the end of the year. Three other analysts have buy recommendations on the stock while one recommends a hold.

Cray Chief Financial Officer Scott Poteracki was not aware of StockDiagnostics.com's analysis. But he, too, questioned the report: "You have to look at the specifics of the company. With these kinds of firms that look simply at data, they don't really get the full picture."

NORDSTROM IN YOUR LIVING ROOM: This week you can take home a piece of Nordstrom -- literally.

Pacific Galleries is auctioning about 250 items once displayed in Nordstrom department stores, including butler stands, an empire-style settee, Vanity Fair prints and mannequins. The pieces come from Nordstrom's Alderwood, Northgate and Westfield Shoppingtown Southcenter mall locations, which the company is remodeling.

The auctions will be tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday at Pacific Galleries on Third Avenue in Seattle. Auctions featuring an additional 250 or so items will offer more Nordstrom furniture in December.

"It's a piece of Seattle history," said Lynn Kenyon, general manger of Pacific Galleries. There are items "that you've looked at for years and now you can buy."

 

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