SBJ/June 1 - 7, 1998/No Topic Name

Clippers hype venue change in campaign

The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that has long lived in the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers, have embarked on a bright, new marketing plan that touts the team's impending move from the oldest arena in the NBA to the newest one.

"Be the first in line at the new Staples Center," read the ads in the sports section of the Los Angeles Times. "Buy Clippers tickets now and guarantee yourself the best seats when the Clippers move!"

The Clippers announced in April that the team had inked an agreement to join the Lakers and Kings in the $300 million Staples Center, which is under construction in downtown Los Angeles and scheduled to open in 1999. The Clippers have been playing in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which was built in 1959.

The outdated venue combined with the Clippers' losing record of 17-65 produced the lowest average attendance in the NBA — 9,968 per game — during the 1997-98 regular season. That compares with an average NBA attendance of 17,135.

"We have a long way to go," admitted Carl Lahr, senior vice president of marketing and sales. "We are improving the product, and we are going to be moving into what we believe is the country's best venue."

The ads note that the Clippers will have a new coach and new players. The Clippers are searching for a coach after firing Bill Fitch and have drawn the first pick in the NBA draft.

"In the past, the main focus has been on what we call the 'Big Game Plan,'" Lahr said. Under that plan, ticket holders could get seats to six games featuring some of the biggest draws in the NBA, including the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks and the Lakers.

David Carter, a Los Angeles-based sports management consultant, said the new ads are a real marketing change for the Clippers, who in the past have promoted the NBA as much as their own team. In past years, "They've said, 'Come and watch Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone, and, by the way, the Clippers are playing,'" Carter said.

Now the focus is "get into the new venue while you can," he said.

Carter said the Clippers are smart to try to catch the Staples Center wave, especially in trendy Los Angeles: "In Los Angeles, you always want to be the first to do things, and this is going to be the new destination."

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