SBD/25/Sponsorships Advertising Marketing

SPORTS FIGURES AS ENTERTAINERS: THE PROS AND CONS

     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).
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Related Topics:

NBA, Walt Disney

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