New York -- On the heels of a potentially long National
Basketball Association work stoppage, ESPN is making a major promotional push for its
annual "ESPN Full Court" college-basketball pay-per-view package, targeting the
direct-broadcast satellite industry.
Both DirecTv Inc. and PrimeStar Inc. are developing
national promotions supporting the 450-game package, which begins Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, only a few cable operators will attempt to
distribute the package, which could offer as many as five to six games on a given night.
To help generate interest in the package, DirecTv will
offer a sweepstakes that will net the winner a trip to a major college-basketball
conference tournament. Consumers purchasing the $89-suggested-retail package will be
eligible to win a trip for four to the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in
Charlotte, N.C., said Bryan Burns, vice president of distribution development for ESPN.
Representatives from DirecTv could not be reached for
comment at press time.
PrimeStar, which will carry the package for the first time
this year, is close to finalizing its promotion, but details from the company were not
available at press time.
Skip Desjardin, director of sales and marketing for ESPN,
said buy-rates for the package over DBS have increased significantly over the past couple
of years, although he would not reveal specific figures.
At the same time, the network has been unable to muster
much support from the cable industry. With limited channel capacity and potential
scheduling problems due to local blackouts, may operators have shied away from the
"We've been really flexible to make it as easy as
possible for operators to carry the package, but we don't expect a lot of operators
to distribute this package," Desjardin said, "so we're concentrating on
building the DBS business."
But at least one Northeast PPV executive said he would
consider carrying the programming on his digitally enhanced system.
"We would certainly look at the package," the
Media General Cable of Fairfax County, Va., will carry the
package for its third year, said Ted Hodgins, manager of PPV for the 220,000-subscriber
system. Hodgins added that the system increased buys for the package by 50 percent, but he
gave no other details.
"We're offering the package because our
competition is doing so, and we have the channel space," Hodgins said.
"It's utilizing PPV as retention tool, and it's a way to make some
[incremental PPV] revenue."
Along with the national promotions, ESPN will offer a
number of regional campaigns geared to help sell Digital Satellite System units.
In New York, for example, the network teamed up with
Cablevision Systems Corp.-owned Nobody Beats the Wiz electronic-store outlets to offer DSS
buyers a sweepstakes awarding a free trip to the ESPN Club in Orlando, Fla., Desjardin
said. DirecTv will offer DSS installation for just $99, while ESPN will offer the
college-basketball package at a discounted $79.
ESPN also struck a similar deal with ABC Warehouse outlets
in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Mich., Desjardin said.
Finally, ESPN will work with Now Audio Video Stores in
North Carolina to provide DSS purchasers with a free Pro Player reversible jacket from the
college team of their choice.
The increased promotional effort for ESPN Full Court,
however, is not in response to the ongoing NBA dispute between owners and players. At
press time, the league had canceled the first two weeks of its regular season, and no new
negotiations were scheduled.
"Our plans were in the works long before the NBA
situation," Desjardin said.