SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Schedule gives NBA teams marketing ammo

The NBA’s release of its 2011-12 regular-season schedule nearly a month earlier than the league’s usual schedule unveiling hands teams some marketing ammunition during the lockout while giving arena operators a jump on booking acts should games be lost to labor strife.

The NBA typically announces its regular-season schedule in early August, as it waits for free agent player signings to help determine marquee matchups and prime television dates. Last year, the NBA released its full regular-season schedule on Aug. 10.

But with the lockout this year wiping out the typical free agent signing period, which usually begins on July 1, the NBA set its 2011-12 schedule on July 19, though the work stoppage could cancel some or all of next season.

NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The defending champion Dallas Mavericks are now set to start the season on Nov. 1.
The 2011-12 season is set to begin on Nov. 1, when the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks play the Chicago Bulls.

NBA teams are forbidden to use current players in any marketing during the lockout, adding more significance to the early release of the schedule as teams sell against next season’s matchups.

Chris Granger, NBA executive vice president of team marketing and business operations, said the league’s season-ticket renewal rate so far is holding steady. Last season, the league had a rate of between 75 percent and 80 percent.

“We remain on par with last year’s renewal numbers, and new sales are solid,” Granger said.

The early schedule release has a payoff even for teams with strong season-ticket sales.

“It matters more for individual-game ticket buyers and group-ticket buyers and the purchasers of day-of-event suites,” said Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations for the Chicago Bulls, who have a season-ticket waiting list. “It is also helpful to have the schedule early from a TV, sponsorship and promotional night scheduling standpoint.”

Arena managers said that getting the NBA schedule earlier than normal is helping NBA arenas compete with other regional venues should games be canceled.

“My hope is they would do this every year,” said Allen Johnson, executive director of Amway Center in Orlando.

Amway Center competes with the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa for concerts, and the Tampa facility got a head start for booking shows after the NHL released its schedule in June. That is typical, but the uncertainty over the lockout this year puts added pressure and risk on NBA buildings.

The NBA requires arenas to submit 90 dates to book 41 home games. Now, even though those games are penciled in temporarily, Amway Center can start confirming special events around the NBA schedule.

“Our first ‘hold’ is for the NBA, and the second ‘hold’ is for a concert,” Johnson said. “If the first hold goes away, the second one moves up.”

In Los Angeles, the NBA’s action does not dramatically improve the outlook for Staples Center, home of the Lakers and Clippers. As it stands now, AEG, the arena’s owner and operator, expects to host between 230 and 250 events for the coming season, a total that includes NBA playoff games and Los Angeles Kings hockey games. Staples Center has just 17 open dates from November through April, said Lee Zeidman, the facility’s senior vice president and general manager. In a season without the NBA, the arena would still play host to about 160 events.

“Right now, it allows me to complete the picture between the NBA and NHL and meet with the agents, promoters and the bands, and forecast in my own mind, if the lockout continues this fall, what dates I may be getting back,” Zeidman said. “You can’t get a show with only three weeks’ notice, but you can contemplate, cobble and create something to fill the gaps.”

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