The National Basketball Association tips off its regular season on Oct. 28 and — in addition to its broadcast and cable TV packages and the NBA TV diginet — the league is focused on making more inroads into broadband.
For the second year, the league will offer Internet subscribers a $9.95 a month "Inside Ticket" subscription package. The package includes audio feeds from the radio broadcast of every game, video highlights of key parts of each contest, player interviews and fantasy-league breakdowns.
The Inside Ticket package is also part of Real Networks Inc.'s $14.95-per-month "RealOne SuperPass" service, through which additional material, including live video from all league and team press conferences, is available.
RealOne SuperPass serves more than 1 million subscribers. And the NBA estimates it sold in the tens of thousands of standalone packages.
In addition to its TV schedule, premiere week includes the return to the league's vaunted "I Love This Game" campaign, which will feature NBA players, celebrities and fans with the theme, "1,000 Reasons Why I Love This Game."
It's all part of the NBA's plan to extend the league to television, wireless and Internet platforms. For the latter, broadband is the key, with more than 60% of all NBA.com usage coming from broadband homes.
Adding to the intrigue, NBA.com officials said that 42% of the site's Web traffic comes from abroad, which has led the league to launch nine international-targeted sites — including ones specific to China, Taiwan, France and Germany — as part of NBA.com.
"We're growing as we get international players in the league," said NBA Entertainment senior vice president of interactive services Brenda Spoonemore.
Marketing for this year's Inside Ticket began with a video Web cast of the Oct. 19 Los Angeles Lakers-Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game. The much-hyped rookie LeBron James, making the jump to the pros from high school at age 18, figures to have the spotlight trailing him all season.
Inside Ticket will feature a virtual general manager game and a rookie fantasy game, where subscribers can compete based on this year's rookie class, which also includes the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, who won the national college basketball championship last year at Syracuse University.
"It's a great way to introduce our rookie class," Spoonemore said.
As broadband penetration surpasses 20 million homes, the NBA is adjusting the content on Inside Ticket. Last year, the league proffered both a two- to three-minute highlights package and a longer video package at eight to 10 minutes. But over the course of the season, most broadband subscribers opted for the longer package, Spoonemore said, so the league eliminated the shorter one.
"The subscribers skew so heavily to the broadband users," she said. "These fans use the site differently than the narrowband user. The way they get information is video first, then they look at the scores and statistics."
Inside Ticket will also carry selected video segments from NBA TV, the 24-hour linear television network that will feature 96 games throughout the season — including up to 50 in HDTV.
Spoonemore said the league has had discussions with cable operators and other broadband providers about featuring NBA broadband content on their high-speed platforms. The discussions, she said, are being handled by the NBA TV affiliate-relations team as an adjunct to carrying the network.
Thus far, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. have made carriage pacts with the service. DirecTV Inc. inked the channel's first distribution deal.