SBJ/June 20 - 26, 2005/Other News

Red McCombs’ stay outside the owners box may be a short one

NBA writer John Lombardo offers news and notes from the NBA Finals:

McCombs, out of the NFL, said he’s already “getting the urge” to return to pro sports.
Red McCombs is considering getting back into the NBA ownership game.

Fresh off his sale of the Minnesota Vikings, McCombs said recently he may buy back into professional sports.

“I’m getting the urge,” McCombs said while sitting courtside in his hometown, San Antonio, before Game 1 of the Finals, adding that he’d prefer to buy into the NBA. “We’ll see.”

McCombs, 77, is no stranger to the NBA. He owned the San Antonio Spurs before selling in 1993 to the ownership group that has come to be led now by Peter Holt. McCombs also has the cash: He bought the Vikings in 1998 for $246 million and sold for $600 million in a deal just closed.

The Bucks are a franchise in play. Owner Herb Kohl has said he’d sell the team if he could find the right buyer who’s willing to keep the franchise in Milwaukee. McCombs also could look to Orlando, where frustration mounts for Magic owner Rich DeVos over the team’s facility needs.

SPONSOR BIZ SHACKLED BY LABOR MATTER: With the prospects of a lockout growing larger with each passing day — the current collective-bargaining agreement expires in 10 days — the doom and gloom extends to the league’s sponsorship business. League officials declined to comment, but the NBA’s corporate agreements with Anheuser-Busch, Southwest Airlines, Verizon, American Express and MBNA are all up for renewal this summer. Suffice to say, it’s enough for alarm.

“There are a fair number [of league sponsors up for renewal] and we are very concerned,” said Adam Silver, president of NBA Entertainment. “We are having discussions [with sponsors] over the possibility of a lockout.”

It’s not just retaining current sponsors that is causing concern for Silver. It’s trying to land new deals, as well.

“We are focusing on getting a cohesive message with our teams,” Silver said. “But the CBA has consumed us. It’s putting everything on hold.”

CHANGE COMING WITH POSTSEASON AWARDS?: Major League Baseball hands out its annual awards after postseason play, fueling interest in the game long after the World Series. The NHL showcases its awards with a slick gala held after the Stanley Cup Finals. The NBA, meanwhile, has traditionally named its award winners during the playoffs — but that could be changing, league officials said.

“It’s something we are talking about doing,” Silver said of changing how the league’s end-of-season awards are presented.

The problem for the league is that it likes to present its awards in front of hometown fans. That, however, makes for a decentralized process that loses some national punch. For example, this year’s MVP, Phoenix guard Steve Nash, was given his award on May 8, when interest was in the Suns’ playoff run.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Gregg Winik, senior vice president of NBA Entertainment.

The league’s media partners were not available for comment about their interest in airing an NHL-type awards show.

GETTING OUT FRONT: The NBA’s television ratings suffered this season, but the league did set a record for attendance. So what’s the strategy to keep the gate growing?

Sell earlier than ever, according to Scott O’Neil, senior vice president of the NBA’s team marketing services department.

“Teams used to sell tickets after the season. Now, they are beginning the selling season in January or February,” O’Neil said while in San Antonio.

One change for next season is that teams will hire fewer sales representatives. Over the past few years, teams have doubled the size of their sales staffs, from roughly 12 employees per team to 24 employees as teams increased their focus on telemarketing and group-sales efforts.

“Teams are now properly staffed,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil’s got some hiring of his own to do. He has yet to fill two key vacancies in the league’s team-services department, created when Paul Mott left to take the job as president of the New Orleans Hornets and Lou DePaoli left to become executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Atlanta Hawks. O’Neil did not give a timetable to fill the openings.

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