The ABL opens its second season on Sunday with its
first game on Fox Sports Net (FSN) between the Glory and the
Blizzard. The league has expanded to nine franchises, with
the Long Beach StingRays joining over the offseason. Today,
THE DAILY previews the upcoming season.
OPERATIONS: ABL CEO Gary Cavalli told THE DAILY the
league plans to double its marketing budget this year to
more than $3M and has increased its player budget from
$5.75M to $8M. The league will boost its TV advertising
with spots on ESPN, BET, FSN and on broadcast networks that
feature a new campaign from NY-based Action Sports Adventure
with the tagline "Real Basketball." A print campaign will
run nationally throughout the year in USA Today, Conde Nast
Sports For Women, SI Women/Sport and Women's Sports &
Fitness. On the investment front, Cavalli said the ABL is
in "serious talks" with four potential investment groups and
that an announcement is "close" on a S.F. business exec
interested in investing $3M in the league and an option in
team operating rights, most likely for the Portland Power.
Also, a deposit has been retained for operating rights to
the Philadelphia Rage, and a Seattle group is close to a
deal for operating rights to the Reign. Cavalli said the
league will expand by either one or three teams in '98 and
is eyeing Chicago; St. Louis; K.C.; Nashville; Dallas or
Austin, TX; and Long Island, NY, as possible markets.
Cavalli acknowledged that the league still has "some obvious
holes" in its national sponsorship inventory and while he
would like to fill the soft drink, beer and fast food
categories, the soft drink inventory has been released to
the teams for this season. Cavalli said that the ABL will
lose $1.5M this season, but added, "Next year, we're
projecting a little bit more than break-even" (THE DAILY).
ADDED EXPOSURE: The ABL's broadcast partners will air
up to 36 games this season. BET will air 12 games, up from
eight last year, on Saturdays at 7:00pm ET. In a new deal,
FSN will telecast 16 regular-season games Sunday nights at
7:00pm ET, the All-Star Game and seven playoff contests.
Cavalli: "This year we're going to have consistent airtime
and full distribution." Cavalli said the league also talked
to ABC and CBS prior to reaching a deal with FSN, and he
believes the ABL possibly can gain one or two games on Fox
this year and have an over-the-air broadcast partner next
season. Sally Jenkins, Senior Contributing Writer for Conde
Nast Sports For Women, said the FSN package helps the ABL.
Jenkins: "Their single biggest problem is media perception
and their profile in the media. ... This is a question of
getting in people's heads and living rooms" (THE DAILY).
OUTLOOK: Cavalli acknowledged that the WNBA's success
in its first season makes year two "crucial" for the ABL:
"We have to have a good season at the gate. We have to do
well on television. We have to have good ratings." Conde
Nast's Jenkins sees coexistence between the two leagues for
the next three to four years, aided by the emerging market
for women's sports: "The female sports audience has been
really a hidden one. The trick for the ABL is to make sure
the WNBA doesn't get the lion's share [of sponsorships]."
Fordham Univ. sports law professor Mark Conrad said the ABL
needs to be more entrepreneurial than the WNBA: "Mr. Cavalli
has to be a little more clever, a little more daring and,
yes, a little more aggressive." To increase its exposure,
Jenkins said the ABL should aim to build in mass markets:
"The grassroots thing is great and very fan friendly, but
it's not necessarily as media friendly" (THE DAILY).
The ABL will offer a stock option program that will
allow its players to own around 10% of the league. ABL CEO
Gary Cavalli said that all current players will be granted
options that will vest over a three-year period. Options
will be granted based on contributions to the team and
league, on and off the court. New players entering the ABL
will also receive options. At the end of each season, about
half of the players will receive additional performance-
based grants (ABL). Cavalli said that the ABL has 10
million shares of stock, which have risen as high as $2.35
per share (Dwain Price, FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/10).
MORE ABL NEWS: Cavalli said season-ticket sales for the
league have increased from 8-9,000 last year to more than
13,000 (THE DAILY)....USA TODAY's Valerie Lister reported
that ten of the 13 "top collegiate players" signed with the
ABL over the offseason. League sponsor Reebok, which will
outfit all nine teams, will promote the ABL in print and TV
ads (USA TODAY, 10/10)....Saudia Roundtree, the '96 college
player of the year, has signed a three-year contract to
remain with the Atlanta Glory (WASHINGTON POST, 10/10).
NATIONAL AD: An ABL ad supplement appears in USA TODAY
with the "Real Basketball" slogan on the cover. League
sponsors Reebok and Hartford-based Phoenix Home Life Mutual
Insurance Co. took out ads (USA TODAY, 10/10).
The Rams "kept secret" from the other 29 NFL teams an
agreement with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors
Commission (CVC) that the CVC "would pay up to" $7.5M of
fees to relocate from CA, according to William Lhotka of the
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Former U.S. Senator Thomas
Eagleton, who lead the civic group FANS, Inc., said that the
deal was "contained in a document separate" from documents
that the Rams turned over to the NFL in its application to
move in '95. Lhotka reports the "admissions cast a cloud
over the" CVC's $130M antitrust suit, which "contends that
the NFL acted arbitrarily, and perhaps unethically, in
forcing the city to pay" $20M of a $29M Rams relocation fee.
Eagleton confirmed that the fee was withheld from the NFL,
since offering information "about the fee agreement would
have been an invitation to the league to extract as much as
it could." In further questioning from NFL attorney Frank
Rothman, Eagleton said the league never discouraged FANS,
Inc. from talking to any NFL team or interfered with its
talks with the Rams. CVC attorney Alan Popkin has "alleged
that the NFL, through its guidelines, rules and antitrust
practices, had discouraged" teams from bidding on St. Louis
and its new stadium which "forced" the city to give the Rams
a "deal far superior than the team would have gotten in an
open-market atmosphere" (POST-DISPATCH, 10/10).
The NFL's "high-tech blitz" is examined by USA TODAY's
Bill Meyers in a page one cover story. Meyers: "[N]o sport
utilizes as much state-of-the-art technology as pro football
-- from expensive, nonlinear video editing equipment to
encrypted coach-to-quarterback radio transmitters to
pulsating pain relief appliances run by microprocessors."
But the "high-tech blitz has unleashed a heated debate among
team executives over pro football's future. At stake:
whether men or machines will control each game's outcome in
the 21st century." Giants GM George Young said that he has
"no problems with teams using computers to prepare for
games, but he won't allow PCs after kick-off." Other
technological advances featured include the Avid Sports
statistical system; LED large-screen video display; Sport
Grass playing surfaces and Vyvx interactive PC system which
fans can use from their seats (USA TODAY, 10/10).
JERSEY BOY: The NFL's tailgating experience, through
the eyes of "Jersey John" Tobias, a Steelers fans who
travels a total of 750 miles from New Jersey to Pittsburgh
for home games, is profiled by Roger Thurow in a WALL STREET
JOURNAL cover story. Thurow: "[I]f you want to know what
makes the league the business and cultural colossus that it
is, don't study the fields of play ... linger in the parking
lots surrounding those fields of play" (WSJ, 10/10).
LEAGUE NOTES: Through 82 games, the NFL's average paid
attendance is 62,222, which is up 1,052 per game from last
year's average of 61,170 through 81 games (NFL)....Of the 82
NFL games through the first six weeks of the season, 41% of
them, 34 games, have been blacked out in their local market.
Nine teams have not had a home game televised locally:
Cardinals, Falcons, Vikings, Bengals, Bills, Colts,
Dolphins, Chargers and Seahawks (THE DAILY).
The NHL's participation in the Olympics, which will
shut the league down for 17 days in midseason, is "risky"
because "marquee players could get hurt, and local fans
could feel alienated," according to Stefan Fatsis of the
WALL STREET JOURNAL. But league officials say the Olympic
exposure "will speed the goal of attracting new fans both in
the U.S. and internationally." NHL Commissioner Gary
Bettman: "When people think of the Olympics, for two weeks
they are going to have reasons to think of the NHL." But
Fatsis adds that the NHL's "biggest problem" during its
regular season "will be closing down at about the time fan
interest usually picks up." For example, the Blues will
play 25 home games through December but "only" 16 home games
in the "peak" January to April months. So the team has
scheduled six promotional giveaways this month and has
reduced ticket prices in two-thirds of the 19,260-seat Kiel
Center. Blues Marketing Exec Jim Woodcock: "We understand
that any scheduling hardships are for the good of the game
and the league. But no question it does pose an early
challenge for us." Fatsis adds that "to ensure attendance
doesn't slip after the Olympics, teams are planning
promotions during the shutdown," including the Panthers
hosting a black-tie dinner with players waiting tables, and
the Blues offering 200 tickets for a Caribbean cruise with
players (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/10).