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SPORTS FIGURES AS ENTERTAINERS: THE PROS AND CONS
Published October 25, 1994
In this week's "must read," ADVERTISING AGE's Jeff Jensen looks at the growing trend of sports as an entertainment industry, noting that many athletes now refer to themselves as entertainers. "Such is the mind-set among professional athletes in the post-Jordan era, where being like Mike means being a polished celebrity who can slam, spike and strut for the highlight reel, give good sound bite without embarrassing himself, his sport and his sponsors; and be able to find that Disneyland film crew amid the pandemonium of winning a world championship." Jensen notes that "among the biggest changes within sports: just what constitutes a league." The NBA "has become by its own admission an international media company," complete with its own production facility and studio in NJ, called NBA Entertainment. NBA Properties President Rick Welts: "We often compare ourselves to the Walt Disney Co., actually. We have theme parks -- 27 scattered across the country. We have characters -- figuratively and literally. We have licensed products. We just don't make feature films. But we do make 1,100 new episodes every season with no repeats." LEAGUE STRATEGIES: Jensen notes that the "evolution of sports into show business stems from the leagues' strategy of positioning their businesses as entertainment that can appeal to both the casual and serious sports fan. A key part of that strategy was to turn their athletes into celebrity entertainers, and it worked, perhaps too well." Referring to the labor unrests in the leagues, "now, these athletes want to be paid their fair market amount that entertainers of their stature can command." MARKETERS WORRIED? Companies that have come to depend on sports leagues as "important marketing vehicles fear that if leagues can't contain their costs, those costs will get passed on to them. That could result in sponsorship prices that could scare away marketers." Bill Schmidt, VP/Sports Marketing for Gatorade: "That's the only issue that might deter us away from using sports as a marketing vehicle." But despite the labor problems, many advertisers say the leagues will continue to be "viable marketing vehicles" (ADVERTISING AGE, 10/24 issue).