SBJ/October 20 - 26, 2003/This Weeks Issue

NBDL thinks ‘family’

The National Basketball Development League will increase its focus on in-game entertainment and promotions for the coming season as officials continue to revamp the struggling NBA property in the remaining six Southeast markets.

Commissioner Phil Evans discussed the state of the NBDL during a minor league panel at the Oct. 8-12 International Conference on Sport and Entertainment Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Teams will take a cue from minor league baseball and hockey, relying on gimmicks such as sumo wrestling suits and oversized tricycle races, crazy contests anticipated by fans that "may not remember the score and the players."

"We're gearing the whole in-arena experience toward families and not necessarily toward the hard-core fan," he said. "We want to do more than just provide incredible basketball. Before, during and after the game, we want to make sure we're doing other things that families can enjoy."

The entertainment aspect may extend to booking talent, whether it's a national recording artist, a magician or a kids karate school, said Lara Mae Divina, NBDL manager of marketing and community relations. "It all depends on timing and budget," she said.

To prepare for 2003-04, the NBA and NBDL conducted two-day instructional "boot camp" sessions at the NBA Entertainment office in Secaucus, N.J., and the Asheville (N.C.) Civic Center, home of the NBDL Altitude. The first test featuring the renewed emphasis occurred at the Cleveland Cavaliers-Atlanta Hawks NBA exhibition Oct. 8 in Asheville.

Three NBDL mascots joined the Atlanta Hawks' Harry the Hawk and Skyhawk, working the crowd with dancers and cheerleaders from the six franchises.

Activities involving children included a "dress and dash" competition with kids putting on different parts of an NBA uniform, a dance competition and the pregame "fan tunnel" with youths forming two lines to "high five" the NBA players as they ran onto the court.

Altitude President Alfred White said based on the fan reaction from that game, which attracted a sellout crowd of 6,007 thanks to the appearance of rookie phenom LeBron James, the NBDL is finally heading in the right direction.

During the minor league session, which also included Jay Marcus, executive director of Arena Football 2, and Jim Riggs, commissioner of the South East Hockey League, Evans acknowledged that the NBA mistakenly took a cavalier approach in marketing the NBDL at the last minute before the start-up two years ago.

"With the confidence of the NBA, we thought we could roll into towns on short notice," he said. "Some of the New York folks thought it was a no-brainer, that we could set up our offices, turn on the phones and they would be ringing off the hook. It didn't work. It was a painful lesson to learn."

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