SBD/4/Sports Industrialists

NBA EXEC TALKS ON MARKETING PLANS FOR USA WOMEN'S TEAM

     NBA VP of Business Affairs Val Ackerman is leading the
league's efforts on behalf of USA Basketball's Women's team, as
NBA Properties has responsibility for marketing both the USA men
and women.  USA Basketball, which has already hired a full-time
women's coach, holds trials this month to select the first U.S.
Women's Senior National Team.  That team will train and play
together starting September of '95 and be the foundation of the
squad the U.S. will send to Atlanta.
     THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY spoke with Ackerman this week on
the NBA's marketing plans and the recent boost the sport of
women's basketball has received.  Excerpts follow:
     THE DAILY:  What attracted the NBA to take on the marketing
of USA Basketball's Women's team?
     ACKERMAN:  We have been serving as USA Basketball's
exclusive marketing representative since 1991.  In that capacity,
our charge is to solicit corporate support and promote -- to the
extent we can -- USA Basketball and its programs.  For the most
part, the bulk of our efforts have been directed to the men's
side, and we really haven't had as much luck as we had hoped with
the women's program -- principally, among other things, because
the top women's team have been selected very close to the time
that the event is taking place.  That doesn't obviously give a
whole lot of time for a company to develop the kind of program
that we see on other levels.  With this program, we're affording
sponsors and licensees an opportunity to buy into something where
there is a tremendous amount of lead time and a team that will be
together for a long period of time.  The other side is that we
think women's basketball is a segment of the sport whose time has
come.
     THE DAILY:  What are your plans for the year leading up to
Atlanta to build the interest in the team?  Are fans going to
know these players by the time the Olympics start?
     ACKERMAN:  I hope so.  We're not doing our job here if by
this time next year people don't know who the top players on this
team are. ... From USA Basketball's end, one of the key goals is
to enhance the chances that the team that goes to Atlanta will
win the gold medal.  There will be some build-up to the Olympics
to the extent that the players will use the year as a tryout, and
that we hope will be an incentive for them.  Over the next year,
we expect to intersperse throughout the schedule a variety of
promotional events -- not only stand-alone events, but events
that will piggy-back on NBA activities.  For example, the NBA
All-Star Weekend is an event which we've had some discussion
about internally as a natural to bring some or all of the team
members in and capitalize on the media and events that go on
there.  The culmination would be a victory in Atlanta, and yet we
think that there are a lot of places along the way to bring
attention to the team, to the very good quality of play people
will see, to the personalities on the team.
     THE DAILY:  Is it possible to model your marketing strategy
to the star-driven Dream Team approach?  Are Rebecca Lobo and
Sheryl Swoopes, for example, big enough stars to sell on their
own?
     ACKERMAN:  What we're finding more and more is that they
are.  If you've been to a top Division I women's college game
lately, you'd be surprised at just how much clamoring there is
around some of these top players now -- the number of young girls
who gather around a Dawn Staley or a Lisa Leslie or a Sheryl
Swoopes when they're doing a clinic.  The kind of attention that
these women are drawing, among young girls in particular, has
been really, in my mind, astounding.  There's clearly more and
more television attention given to the women.  The Final Four
rating that the women achieved this year was, I think, a 5.7.  It
was the highest rated network daytime sports program that
weekend.  Which I think is no fluke.  The interest is there.
This program is going to give us an opprtunity to showcase the
personalities.  So, to some extent, it will be an application of
some of the same principles that have been used on the men's
side.
     THE DAILY:  With the team being in essence a traveling
squad, will there be more emphasis on local programs?
     ACKERMAN:  There will be a very strong grassroots component.
We're expecting that the team will play upwards of 15 or 20 games
this fall against top NCAA schools.  We're planning to turn each
one of these stops into a couple-day layover where you have not
only the game but a clinic, a retail appearance perhaps, a
community outreach event where it's appropriate, media
availability -- things of that nature that we think are all going
to work even more toward giving young girls, kids -- anybody
who's interested -- an opportunity to get close to the team.   We
want to make the team as accessible as we can in that way.  We're
in the process of soliciting support for the team.  And I'm not
really at liberty to give you the details on that right away.
But the kinds of companies that we've spoken to, at least several
of them, have a history of these types of events -- clinics and
skills exhibitions.
     THE DAILY:  Can you speak generally in terms of whether the
interest comes from NBA marketing partners or newer, different
companies?
     ACKERMAN:  Our sponsors already have made commitments to USA
Basketball through 1996.  So, we think that among that group
we're going to find interest, as well as among existing USA
Basketball licensees -- many of which also have relationships
with the NBA.  In addition, we think there is a market out there
of -- I'll call them non-conflicting sponsors -- in various
categories that have demonstrated a particular interest in
women's basketball and women's sports.  We expect we may be able
to bring them in as well.
     THE DAILY:  Who do you think is driving this new-found
interst in women's sports and women's basketball?  Is it male
basketball fans tuning into the women's game, or is it women
sports fans who are making their presence known more?
     ACKERMAN:  Our research is telling us some interesting
things.  We've learned that more women watch women's college
games than watch NBA games or men's college games.  But there are
still more men that watch women's basketball than women.  It
should be noted that there are more women watching women's games
than ever before.  In terms of the in-arena demographics, if you
were to go to a women's college game you'd see, believe it or
not, more and more seniors.  It's become a family event, parents
bringing young daughters.  But the demographic and the target is
certainly skewed towards females with a program like this.
     THE DAILY:  Are there long-term goals beyond '96 for the NBA
or USA Basketball in terms of a women's pro league?
     ACKERMAN:  Right now, there aren't.  But -- actually, I
won't say "but" -- a lot of us here believe this program really
will tell us a lot about the extent of media and fan and
corporate and television interest in women's basketball.  I'd
almost like to have this discussion a year from now because I
think we're going to learn a lot more in the next year than we
know now about what the viability is for additional business
projects in this whole area.
     THE DAILY:  How does all this fit into the NBA's general
approach toward selling basketball to women? Is this program
going to be the centerpiece of the NBA's focus in that regard for
the next year or so?
     ACKERMAN:  First, we believe the program is very consistent
with our overall mission, which is to help to develop the sport
of basketball wherever it's played, at whatever level, whatever
gender.  We think that anything that helps develop the sport is
good for everybody involved. So from our end, this certainly fits
in from a long-term standpoint.  As to the centerpiece question,
within the last year or so we have set up a women's marketing
division within our consumer products group.  The charge of the
people in those areas is to focus on ways for the NBA to better
reach out to women, principally as consumers of NBA products.
This program will fit in very well with what others in the
company are trying to do in terms of women's marketing that's
specific to the NBA.
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