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ABL, PART I: LEAGUE SEEKS GREATER EXPOSURE IN SECOND SEASON
Published October 10, 1997
The ABL opens its second season on Sunday with its first game on Fox Sports Net (FSN) between the Glory and the Blizzard. The league has expanded to nine franchises, with the Long Beach StingRays joining over the offseason. Today, THE DAILY previews the upcoming season. OPERATIONS: ABL CEO Gary Cavalli told THE DAILY the league plans to double its marketing budget this year to more than $3M and has increased its player budget from $5.75M to $8M. The league will boost its TV advertising with spots on ESPN, BET, FSN and on broadcast networks that feature a new campaign from NY-based Action Sports Adventure with the tagline "Real Basketball." A print campaign will run nationally throughout the year in USA Today, Conde Nast Sports For Women, SI Women/Sport and Women's Sports & Fitness. On the investment front, Cavalli said the ABL is in "serious talks" with four potential investment groups and that an announcement is "close" on a S.F. business exec interested in investing $3M in the league and an option in team operating rights, most likely for the Portland Power. Also, a deposit has been retained for operating rights to the Philadelphia Rage, and a Seattle group is close to a deal for operating rights to the Reign. Cavalli said the league will expand by either one or three teams in '98 and is eyeing Chicago; St. Louis; K.C.; Nashville; Dallas or Austin, TX; and Long Island, NY, as possible markets. Cavalli acknowledged that the league still has "some obvious holes" in its national sponsorship inventory and while he would like to fill the soft drink, beer and fast food categories, the soft drink inventory has been released to the teams for this season. Cavalli said that the ABL will lose $1.5M this season, but added, "Next year, we're projecting a little bit more than break-even" (THE DAILY). ADDED EXPOSURE: The ABL's broadcast partners will air up to 36 games this season. BET will air 12 games, up from eight last year, on Saturdays at 7:00pm ET. In a new deal, FSN will telecast 16 regular-season games Sunday nights at 7:00pm ET, the All-Star Game and seven playoff contests. Cavalli: "This year we're going to have consistent airtime and full distribution." Cavalli said the league also talked to ABC and CBS prior to reaching a deal with FSN, and he believes the ABL possibly can gain one or two games on Fox this year and have an over-the-air broadcast partner next season. Sally Jenkins, Senior Contributing Writer for Conde Nast Sports For Women, said the FSN package helps the ABL. Jenkins: "Their single biggest problem is media perception and their profile in the media. ... This is a question of getting in people's heads and living rooms" (THE DAILY). OUTLOOK: Cavalli acknowledged that the WNBA's success in its first season makes year two "crucial" for the ABL: "We have to have a good season at the gate. We have to do well on television. We have to have good ratings." Conde Nast's Jenkins sees coexistence between the two leagues for the next three to four years, aided by the emerging market for women's sports: "The female sports audience has been really a hidden one. The trick for the ABL is to make sure the WNBA doesn't get the lion's share [of sponsorships]." Fordham Univ. sports law professor Mark Conrad said the ABL needs to be more entrepreneurial than the WNBA: "Mr. Cavalli has to be a little more clever, a little more daring and, yes, a little more aggressive." To increase its exposure, Jenkins said the ABL should aim to build in mass markets: "The grassroots thing is great and very fan friendly, but it's not necessarily as media friendly" (THE DAILY).