SBJ/January 15 - 21, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

If you haven’t been following the news, at least follow a cheerleader

Did you fall behind on reading the sports and business pages during the holidays? If so, here are a few sports marketing headlines you might have missed.

Follow a cheerleader without threat of arrest: The Tennessee Titans took bids on some unique team-related opportunities, including a chance to follow a Titans cheerleader for a game. Using the NFL Auctions site on eBay, the Titans sold to the highest bidder ($620 from a man) the opportunity to watch the team's cheerleaders from the sidelines. Other team moments sold on the auction block included: retrieving the kickoff tee plus two sidelines passes ($2,550), two tickets plus lunch in the team owner's box ($5,500) and a sideline photography pass ($750). All proceeds went to charity.

My take: It's hard to find fault with a program that sends money to charity, but the Titans and other NFL clubs might be crossing the line when they let fans on the playing field. Selling game-worn merchandise is one thing, but clubs shouldn't go too far in letting fans be part of the NFL experience. It must have been irksome to working photographers and sideline personnel to have pay-for-view spectators gawking while they're trying to work.

If a team wants to open the game-day experience to fans, then it should offer the opportunities to sponsors or limit the bidding to season-ticket holders. Part of the allure to sponsors and season-ticket buyers is the "insider" status they get in exchange for their money. This same opportunity shouldn't be offered to someone who's taking out a second mortgage so he can drink beer in Bud Adams' suite and use the owner's bathroom.

Praying for big crowds: The Fabulous Forum (aka the Great Western Forum) was sold to the Faithful Central Baptist Church for $22.5 million. The church will keep the building in use on Sundays and the building's former owner, L.A. Arena Co., will book events for the rest of the week. The ABA 2000 Los Angeles Stars and the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks will continue to play in the building.

My take: Naming-rights sponsor Great Western Financial Corp. went to court a few years ago to try to keep the Lakers and Kings in the Forum. Now they have a tenant that should keep the place going at least until 2002, when the naming deal ends. Great Western will get some benefit from the 8,000-member church crowd, but it still prolongs the pain for one of the most squandered sports marketing opportunities. Great Western paid little ($17.8 million over 15 years) for the naming rights and subsequently did little to promote the association. Great Western was one of the pioneers for naming rights for sports facilities, and now it has broken new ground by becoming a title sponsor of a church.

Will fiction be stranger than truth? Ever the innovators, the NBA and Columbia TriStar are working together to develop a sitcom with a basketball spin.

My take: Many observers might say that based on the quality of play this year, the NBA stages a comedy virtually every night. I like this idea, however, because it's a subtle yet effective way to keep the sport mainstream even as ratings drop. That's why the recently announced deal with The Food Network for seven NBA-themed shows will also find a niche.

Alan Friedman (alanf100@excite.com) is founder of Team Marketing Report.

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