ABL, PART I: LEAGUE SEEKS GREATER EXPOSURE IN SECOND SEASON
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).