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Creditors Put Pressure on Maker of Popular Golf Video to Liquidate

July 28, 1987|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

The maker of the best-selling videocassette ever on playing golf is financially in the rough.

Sports video entrepreneur Bob Mann, who produced and starred in "Automatic Golf," is struggling to pay $1.3 million owed to creditors by his Video Reel Inc. of Valencia.

Three magazines that claim Video Reel owes them nearly $240,000 for advertising--Playboy, Psychology Today and Golf Digest--have gone so far as to petition in federal Bankruptcy Court to liquidate the company under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Mann said Video Reel may seek voluntary protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the code, which would allow it to keep operating if he can't find a buyer for the company or work out an agreement with the creditors.

Despite being unknown to the public, the 51-year-old golf instructor and former top amateur player has sold about 500,000 copies of his tape since introducing it in December, 1982.

"It's a bit of a phenomenon," said James McCullough, home entertainment editor for Billboard magazine, which tracks videocassette sales. McCullough said the tape, although 4 years old, remains at the top of the sales charts among videocassettes on sports and recreational subjects.

Mann planned to use the success of "Automatic Golf" to build what he envisioned as a sports video empire offering tapes, often starring himself, on such subjects as golf, karate, weight training and aerobics.

Earlier this year, Mann circulated a business plan to potential investors claiming that Video Reel would ride the boom in the home video industry to the point where its sales would rise from only $1.7 million annually now to as much as $300 million by the early 1990s.

But despite the popularity of "Automatic Golf," Mann's financial problems have grown rapidly since the beginning of the year. For one thing, according to industry observers, Mann priced his videocassettes so cheaply--they now have a suggested retail price of $12.95--that he had to sell them in unrealistically huge volumes to make substantial profit.

Mann, who owns 90% of Video Reel, said he made a mistake by trying to sell his tapes in a big way through health-food stores. He also said the privately held company has lacked funds.

Former executives and suppliers add that Mann has been unrealistically ambitious. Robert Flaherty, a former top sales executive, called Mann's projections of hundreds of millions in sales "just absurd."

Mann said the figures were based on projections of what he believed the company could achieve in the exploding home video market.

Former executives and associates said that Mann seemed obsessed with promoting himself. Mann's name and picture are displayed prominently on his tapes.

Promised a Host Role

Debra Sue Maffett, the 1983 Miss America, said Mann promised her verbally that she would host a video program called "Instant Karate," a 42-minute program made for $45,000 that has the look of an early morning television exercise show and which demonstrates basic kicks and punches for beginners.

Maffett said she was surprised later to learn that it was Mann who would be the host and that her role for the most part was confined to imitating moves he demonstrated.

"I found it odd that he would hire some former Miss America to host the tape and then find out he was the star," Maffett said. She said that once she saw the tape she didn't want to promote it.

"To be quite honest, I was embarrassed by the quality of the tape and hoped it wouldn't be distributed," Maffett said.

Mann accused Maffett of reneging on an agreement to publicize the "Instant Karate" tape. A native of Birmingham, Ala., Mann started playing golf at age 13, competing as an amateur at 16. For $35 a person, Mann taught golf at two-hour seminars in hotels and country clubs across the nation until someone suggested in 1982 that he videotape his presentation.

"Automatic Golf" is a 44-minute seminar that promises to "add 30-80 yards to your drive in 21 days." Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated said Mann's golf tape is "certainly not prospering because of its production quality."

Mann aggressively sold "Automatic Golf," continually slashing its price from $69.95 originally to $12.95 now. He also emphasized sales to pro shops, sporting goods stores and mass merchandise stores such as K mart rather than video stores, where customers often rent tapes rather than buy them.

According to Home Video Publisher, "Automatic Golf" ranks first in sales among golf instructional videos in number of cassettes sold and ranks eighth among all videocassettes sold, not counting those of feature-length motion pictures.

Mann's videocassette, which cost about $70,000 to produce and has grossed nearly $5 million for his company, has even sold more units than instructional tapes starring such well-known professionals as Jack Nicklaus, Al Geiberger and Billy Casper. Newsletter editors note, however, that the more expensive Nicklaus tape out-grossed Mann's by nearly $1 million.

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