SBJ/August 16 - 22, 2004/This Weeks Issue

Kings, Spurs build on market monopolies

The Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs are riding the crest of consistent success, with each team also enjoying the enviable position of being the only Big Four league franchise in its market. Conversely, the Toronto Raptors find themselves battling to retool a franchise that has missed the playoffs two straight seasons, pulling attendance down along the way.

SportsBusiness Journal this week examines these three clubs in its continuing look at NBA offseason marketing activities.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs played to 97 percent capacity at SBC Center last season. That has team officials this summer working to maintain the club’s fan base as much as increase it.

Early next month, the team plans to roll out its 2004-05 ad campaign, using a “Game Time” theme and highlighting local fan support. The Spurs’ ad agency of record is locally based Creative Civilization.

“We are the only game in town and it shows, so we will be branding around that concept,” said Bruce Guthrie, vice president of marketing for the Spurs. He declined to specify the team’s marketing budget, which is unchanged from last year.

The Spurs had 30 home sellouts last season. This year, the goal is to sell out all 41 regular-season home games, something the team didn’t do even during SBC Center’s debut season two years ago. “It’s a lofty goal, so we are going to be aggressive on game-day sales,” Guthrie said.

With a renewal rate of about 85 percent, nearly all of SBC Center’s 10,000 lower-bowl seats have been sold as full season tickets. As a result, the team is formulating a marketing campaign beyond the “Game Time” effort to help sell the remaining seats.

“We have full- and half-season tickets, and two 10-game plans, so we will be doing a lot to promote the balcony seats,” Guthrie said.

In addition, the Spurs will be featured in mid-February as part of the NBA’s Rivalry Week marketing platform, with a game scheduled against in-state rival Houston. Guthrie said the team will devise a promotional plan around that game. “I don’t know yet if we will sell new sponsorships, but we will definitely bring in an existing sponsor to create something,” he said.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are a team in transition, with a new general manager (Pete Babcock), a new adviser to the GM (NBA front-office veteran Wayne Embry) and a new coach (Sam Mitchell). Their job is to lead the turn-around of a franchise that last season won just 33 games.

“Our marketing strategy is simple: We are trying to communicate to our fans what our plans are to rebuild the franchise,” said Tom Anselmi, COO of franchise owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. “We’ve had a few tough years, and people haven’t seen where we have been going.”

Despite the Raptors’ poor 2003-04 on-court play and related 3.5 percent drop in attendance, the team has a base of more than 10,000 season tickets with an 80 percent renewal rate.

“We have slipped a little, but we are still fifth in the league in season-ticket sales,” Anselmi said. Similarly, the team’s overall average of 18,308 fans per game last season ranked eighth in the league, despite the drop from the previous season.

The Raptors’ marketing efforts also will highlight this season being the team’s 10th in the league, with plans including an anniversary logo.

Team officials have secured a deal with Bank of Montreal to be the Raptors’ season sponsor for the second consecutive season. It’s the fifth year the Raptors have had a season sponsorship. Previously, TD Waterhouse filled the sponsorship.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ battle this summer with Sacramento city officials over a new arena has, so far, had little fallout with the club’s fans.

The team last season sold out every game at 17,317-seat Arco Arena. Kings officials expect the same for the coming season, despite a 5 percent increase in ticket prices. Only limited single-game tickets are available.

“We expect 17,317 in the building,” said Danette Leighton, senior director of marketing for the Kings.

Like the Raptors, the Kings’ 2004-05 marketing efforts will include celebrating an anniversary: the team’s 20th in Sacramento. Plans call for an anniversary logo and special nights dedicated to the anniversary.

“We will have the powder-blue uniforms from the 1985 season for our Hardwood Classics night,” Leighton said, referring to the NBA promotional effort that puts teams in retro-inspired uniforms to help celebrate franchise history.

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