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As the CBA "plots a planned expansion and considers" a possible TV contract, the league is "borrowing liberally from a game plan that minor league baseball has used to drive increased attendance and healthy gains from sponsorship and licensing deals," according to Greg Johnson, who profiles the league in today's L.A. TIMES. The nine- team league "hopes to add seven franchises in coming years" and is looking to turn "once-sleepy havens for hard-core sports fans into affordable, family-oriented entertainment destinations." Grand Rapids Hoops CEO Bob Przybysz: "What you've seen is a fundamental philosophical shift. We're in the entertainment business. And, while part of the entertainment happens to be a basketball component, the rest of it is ... fun." CBA Commissioner Steve Patterson: "The league used to try and mirror the NBA, which built its reputation on star appeal. But with a percentage of your best players moving up each year, you can't afford to take that approach." Patterson said that while the league lost $6M in '96-97, it cut its loss to $1M last season, and though a "few franchises are still shaky," the league expects to turn a profit in '98-99 (L.A. TIMES, 6/4). OWNERSHIP AND MARKETING: In terms of new ownership, CA- based Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which owns minor league baseball clubs, said it has "an interest" in pursuing a CBA team. Mandalay Managing Partner Ken Stickney said, "The CBA fills a niche. But they face the same challenge that all sports franchises face at that level. People have a whole lot of options for entertainment." Johnson also reports that the league is hoping to increase its TV exposure through its alliance with New Line Cinema, producers of "Hoop Dreams," which they hope "can craft a different look for its television programming -- something that will draw young, hip viewers that sponsors crave" (L.A. TIMES, 6/4).
NBA Commissioner David Stern told USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke that the league "has no involvement" in the proposed new NBC/Turner football league, but that when "this new league begins, it wouldn't surprise me if some NBA owners are owners of these teams." Stern: "Our owners are always looking to expand their properties. ... I think that owning more than one sports team in an NBA city is a good idea" (USA TODAY, 6/4). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofman writes under the header, "New League Plausible With Right Strategy." Hofman: "You've got to aim this thing at kids and families. That is the only place where the NFL is vulnerable." He adds that the new league should sell "everything the NFL isn't," with microphones on players and coaches, instant replay and helmet cams (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/4).
The synergist relationship between Hollywood's Regency Enterprises Chair Arnon Milchan and the WTA Tour is profiled by USA TODAY's Doug Smith, who writes that, "Long range, Milchan says that he sees some tennis stars as potential movie stars." Leland Hardy, the business adviser to Venus and Serena Williams, said that "entertainment projects are being developed for both sisters." Hardy: "Serena will be in movies, and you might see Venus and Serena hosting a television show soon." Milchan: "Right now, I think Richard Williams is a better director than (Francis Ford) Coppola and (Steven) Spielberg combined. And he's got the goods." Milchan, who recently formed a partnership with 20th Century Fox, said that he wants to give WTA Tour players the "opportunity to explore other entertainment careers." Milchan: "If they can express themselves as artists, we'll be there. ... Before and right after the U.S. Open, we plan to bring as many girls as possible to the studios to work with them. I would say this is an 18-month process before we start seeing some results" (Doug Smith, USA TODAY, 6/4). LET THE GIRLS GROW: On CNNSI.com, Alex Wolff writes under the header, "Women's Tennis Rising, Warts And All." He states that as the young stars of the WTA Tour grow, "not all the news the sport generates is going to be sponsor- friendly. ... Women's tennis would do well to let its teens be teens, and let us watch them grow, with all their foibles and false steps, into full-fledged women" (CNNSI.com, 6/4).
WNBA President Val Ackerman said that the league's second season "is all about beginning to find our place in the world and taking steps and growing." Ackerman said the season starting June 11 will feature "more of everything. We have more teams; we have more games; we have more players; we've conducted more off-court programs than we had a year ago; we have more licensed products available for sale in more places; we have a few more sponsors; we have more television, both domestic and international; we've had more and continuing promotion; and ultimately and hopefully we will have more fans to show for all of that" (THE DAILY). TV TIME OUT: Ackerman said the league has "sold out our inventory on all of our networks. That inventory has been purchased by our partners, and the effect at the league [level] is that we expect to see more promotions being conducted by our partners as well." She added that season- ticket sales "are up about 60% from last year," and that the leaguewide average of about 2,500 season tickets per team last year should reach about 4,000 this year (THE DAILY). ODDS & ENDS: Asked if the league's marketing budget would be close to last year's, Ackerman said, "I've from time to time seen a $15 million number in the press, and I have no idea where that came from. I can tell you that did not come from the WNBA. Wherever it came from, it's not true." She added: "We do intend to continue our strategic emphasis on promotion, on marketing the league." Ackerman said the league is looking at expanding eventually to a 40- game regular season, giving every team 20 home dates. Ackerman: "We would keep it in the same time of year. We don't have any plans to change our season to a winter season after we get up and running. That's not our plan." Ackerman added that any schedule extension would be by "expanding at the front end" (THE DAILY).