Mimi Griffin has enjoyed a successful career in corporate hospitality, sales, and marketing for the U.S. Open for more than 25 years, and for three U.S. Golf Association championships that have been contested at her home club, Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem.
However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, she has had to adapt in her approach in a difficult economic climate while working on her fourth USGA championship at Saucon Valley, the 2022 U.S. Senior Open, and contacting businesses that may be struggling, particularly in the Lehigh Valley.
“We’ve had to, and rightfully so,” Griffin said Friday. “You’re just stupid if you think that the operation is normal, nor should it be. You’ve got to be respectful. You’ve got to be sensitive. You don’t know what people are experiencing, whether it’s a personal perspective or even sometimes a business perspective. We’re trying to tread very lightly.
“There was a time earlier this summer when we were still approaching people that we didn’t know and were cold-calling and the response we got was not good. It was some indignation about how we could be so tone-deaf, and that took all of one reaction like that to stop us and move us in a different direction. So we need to pay attention and to read the reactions that we’re getting.”
Government figures show the unemployment rate in the Lehigh Valley, which consists of Lehigh, Carbon, and Northampton counties along with Warren County in New Jersey, was at 13.9% in July. The figure is down from 16.5% in April but still far from the 5.6% unemployment rate in March before the pandemic and subsequent business shutdowns.
Griffin, who broadcast college basketball games for 16 years at ESPN and is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, founded MSG Promotions in 1983 and is president and CEO of the Allentown-based company.
After her firm managed the entire operation of the 1992 U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley, the USGA hired it to manage the U.S. Open’s corporate hospitality sales. MSG Promotions has held that job since 1995 and added the U.S. Women’s Open starting in 2018, an event that her company managed in 2009 at Saucon Valley.
It’s a different situation for the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, outside of New York, which will be played next week without spectators and has canceled the hospitality program for this year. Griffin said many businesses appear to be in a “wait-and-see mode” for 2021.
“Right now, we’re seeing a lot of companies that have budgets that are frozen or have travel restrictions or are just not confident,” she said. “There are so many unknowns and everybody is dealing in scenario planning, and as soon as you put one scenario together, you start with another scenario plan.
“Our sales for 2021 – Women’s Open and U.S. Open – have not been strong. It’s almost like everybody’s on hold. I’m hoping that that changes with the news that we’ll either have greater ways to mitigate the coronavirus or hopefully a vaccine by then, by the end of the year or sometime in the first quarter.”
Griffin and her company got off to a good start with the 2022 U.S. Senior Open, the third time the championship will be played at Saucon Valley. She said $1.2 million in sales were completed from the summer of 2019 until March, when her business had to shut down.
She was encouraged with the response from local companies at a corporate reception last month and is hosting another one next month. She attributed that to the lure of major championship golf and a belief that life will be back to a sense of normalcy in 2022, a thought fueled by what she called a record-setting pace in sales for that year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
“These circumstances are obviously very challenging and hard to navigate,” she said, “but because we’re 2022 and we’ve seen this on the U.S. Open side as well, I think people have an impression that we’re going to be fine by June or July of 2022. As a result, I think what we’re seeing is a lot of pent-up energy and demand.”
Plus, the 2022 U.S. Senior Open is likely to have a field featuring major champions Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and Ernie Els. Still, Griffin is moving along carefully, hoping that the economy improves for prospective clients.
“We have to find a way to keep moving forward,” she said. “We’re taking baby steps and trying to do the best we can to stay sensitive and cognizant of everybody’s situation.”