SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/This Weeks News

Las Vegas mayor takes case to NBA team owners, execs

The 2007 All-Star Game is set for Las Vegas, so Mayor Oscar Goodman hit Houston hard not only to promote next year’s event, but also to lure a franchise to Sin City.

Vegas’ Mayor Goodman and Stern announced
the ‘07 All-Star site last year.
Goodman, who showed up at the EA Sports reception promoting the company’s sponsorship of the NBA’s European preseason tour, said that his mission was to meet as many team owners and executives as possible. Still, no matter how chummy Goodman gets, NBA Commissioner David Stern will not steer a team to Vegas as long as there is betting on NBA games in its casinos — and Goodman said he’ll never support removing betting lines from NBA games.

“That’s [the NBA’s] problem,’’ he said. “We are maturing as a market, and I hope the NBA can take a different path.”

Not likely, Mr. Mayor.

“They have removed the All-Star events from the betting line, and we have no problem with people who want to go there and gamble,’’ Stern said. “But we are not going to go there [with a team] while they have betting on NBA basketball games.’’

CELL DIVISION: Sources in Houston told us cell phone handset manufacturer Nokia, an NBA sponsor since 2004, will drop its sponsorship after this season, with the rights reverting to T-Mobile, the NBA’s wireless telecom service sponsor. T-Mobile will be allowed to pass through those rights in what could be a multibrand arrangement that could still include Nokia. T-Mobile also works with Motorola and LG.

Heidi Ueberroth, NBA executive vice president of global media properties and marketing partnerships, said new business targets for the league include consumer electronics, where margins provided by sales of high-definition televisions have swelled marketing budgets, and a replacement for departed sponsor American Express in the payment card category — unless the league can convince AmEx to return, as the brand was on hand in Houston in the form of some of its most senior executives.

TICKETING TURNAROUND: At the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., five years ago, Stern espoused as conventional wisdom that the era of the season ticket was over and we’d better get used to an era of partial plans and walk-up sales. Now, the NBA is at an all-time high for full-season-ticket equivalents, but also full-season tickets, though league officials declined to share details.

Did we miss something?

ANC Sports showed off its new courtside
sign system featuring full-motion video.
Team officials gave credit to the league for helping to install better database, customer segmentation, e-mail marketing and other CRM systems. The increasing efficiency of the secondary-ticket market also allows season-ticket holders to transfer or sell them with ease. “It’s a much more advanced sales process now,’’ said Scott O’Neil, NBA senior vice president of marketing and team business operations, adding that leaguewide, ticket sales staffs have doubled in the past three years and should double again in the next three years. With the help of attendance boosts in Oklahoma City and at Charlotte’s new arena, league attendance was up 2 percent at the All-Star break and on pace for a third consecutive season at an all-time high.

SIGN OF THE FUTURE: ANC Sports used All-Star Weekend to show off its new digital light processing courtside signage system, in which full-motion video takes the place of rotational signage. The system, temporarily installed in the Toyota Center and being tested at Portland’s Rose Garden since early this season, isn’t visible from everywhere in the arena, but it looks good on TV and offers some intriguing flexibility for advertisers. For example, a sneaker company could sponsor a brief replay of each of its sponsored-player’s baskets seconds after they occur. “This has to be the way all courtside signage goes eventually,” said Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts, one of several team officials looking at the system. While the NBA has not officially endorsed the system for leaguewide use, ANC Sports President Jerry Cifarelli hopes to have it installed in a handful of NBA arenas for next season, on either a lease or revenue-share arrangement.

Sprite’s activation extended from the floor of
the NBA Jam Session to an online contest.
TRUCKIN’, WITHOUT CARMELO: Toyota, the NBA’s newest sponsor, used All-Star Weekend to kick off its first leaguewide activation: a sweepstakes via that offers a grand prize of “the ultimate one-on-one experience’’ with fashion designer Marc Ecko, Grammy Award winning rap artist Jermaine Dupri or Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, however, failed to make the All-Star team and decided not to “experience” the city of Houston for the launch of the program.

Toyota, which also sponsors 14 NBA teams, hastily arranged to have New Orleans Hornets star rookie Chris Paul substitute for the absent Anthony, but not having the company’s new NBA spokesman join Ecko and Dupri on stage certainly wasn’t what Toyota imagined when they signed Anthony earlier this month. “We’d rather have him here, but we understand,” said Doug Frisbie, Toyota’s promotions director.

Paul, for his part, showed great marketing potential. With his parents and brother seated in the audience, he gladly engaged the small crowd, playfully shot baskets with the emcee during the event and made generous time for the media after the promotion.

RUSS NEVER SLEEPS: All-Star Weekend was when Commissioner Stern was expected to pass the baton from retiring NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik to NBA Entertainment President Adam Silver, who remains the front-runner to take over. Stern held off on naming Granik’s replacement in Houston, though.

The expected announcement of a successor to
Russ Granik didn’t happen in Houston.
“People got ahead of themselves,” Silver said. “David is still working on shuffling roles.”

Stern is expected to finish restructuring the NBA’s top management this spring, with a likely announcement at April’s board of governors meeting.

The decidedly low-profile Granik wouldn’t reveal much about his plans.

HOUSTON HOOP HAPPENINGS: Coca-Cola is a league sponsor, but Pepsi holds the pouring rights to the Toyota Center. Coke products were made available to the media and VIPs roaming the staging areas, but unlike last year’s similar situation at the Pepsi Center in Denver, signs blaring “No marked Coca-Cola products past this point’’ were plastered over elevator doors and hallways, lest anyone be caught holding Coke products in the bowl of the arena. … THQ and Jamdat are the NBA’s wireless gaming licensees, but we’re not expecting a sponsorship deal with league wunderkind LeBron James any time soon. “I’ve got more cell phones than I need, but my fingers are too big to play those games,” James told us, while banging away on a Sony PSP loaded with “NBA Live 2006” during an appearance for the video game maker. James said that on the hardwood and on the virtual court, Kobe Bryant is his toughest defensive challenge. ... Sal LaRocca, NBA senior vice president of global merchandising, said merchandise sales are up 7 percent year-to-date over last season, thanks mainly to the rush of sales after Bryant dropped 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22. “The ability to react quickly to Kobe really moved the needle,” LaRocca said. “We had product available 48 hours after the game.”

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