Cable will employ a full-court press to tout the National Basketball Association's out-of-market and basic-cable packages as it looks to improve on last year's buy-rates and ratings.
Operators will get an enhanced "NBA League Pass" package, which includes additional revenue opportunities and more interactive elements. Meanwhile, Turner Sports will back its reformatted NBA basic-cable schedule on Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation with a multimillion-dollar marketing effort.
Digital systems that offer the 40-game-per-week, out-of-market package will now be able to sell it to bars and restaurants, as well as residential customers, said In Demand senior vice president of distribution and product development Rob Jacobson.
It's the first time cable systems can compete with rival direct-broadcast satellite pro-vider DirecTV Inc. in the commercial market. The deal allows operators to reach taverns or eateries in highly populated urban areas that had been served by C-band commercial antenna providers, Jacobson said.
The commercial rate card will be based upon a sliding scale pegged to an establishment's occupancy, according to In Demand. The package is available to residential customers at a suggested $169.
"We're delighted to expand our agreement with the NBA," he said. "These rights will enable our affiliates to level the playing field with DBS in the commercial marketplace in much the same way they leveled the field in selling subscriptions to their customers in residential franchise areas."
Neither the NBA nor In Demand would release cable buy-rates from last year's inaugural NBA League Pass offering. But operators said the package performed well despite a short marketing window.
NBA Entertainment executive vice president Gregg Winik said he was encouraged by cable's support for NBA League Pass.
"We see the package as a positive for the league and digital cable is a way for people to watch our product," he said. "Over the next couple of years, I think you'll see tremendous gains in the number of subscribers."
The combined marketing efforts from digital-cable providers and DirecTV had significantly built awareness for the out-of-market package, he added. DirecTV also plans to run cross-channel spots on national and local avails that show key moments of the 1999-2000 season missed by fans without NBA League Pass, DirecTV public relations manager Marc Alteiri said.
Once the season begins, the spots will be changed to feature plays from the prior two weeks of the current campaign. That will remind viewers who don't take the package of what they're missing, Alteiri said.
To further enhance the package's content, the league will offer an interactive talk show as part of the package's NBA.comTV 24-hour digital television network video service.
The NBA Beat
will be broadcast live on NBA.comTV and fed via streaming audio on NBA.com weekdays from 5 p.m. to 7:00 beginning Tuesday (Oct. 31).
The NBA Beat
will provide a global forum for fans to interact with each other and the most knowledgeable league insiders," said NBA Entertainment president and COO Adam Silver. "This program will be one more opportunity for basketball aficionados to get their daily dose of NBA."
MORE ANALOG HOOPS
Cable subscribers that don't have digital can turn to Turner Sports, which will move its Friday night NBA telecasts on TNT to Thursday this season.
Turner officials hope that three NBA exposures over consecutive days can improve last year's disappointing Nielsen Media Research ratings. TNT broadcasts NBA games on Tuesdays; TBS Superstation carries a Wednesday slate.
Turner averaged a 1.3 rating during the 1999-2000 campaign, down 24 percent from 1998-99, when a lockout wiped out a portion of the season.
"We have high hopes for this year," said Turner Sports senior vice president of programming Kevin O'Malley. "People have to compress a lot of information in this day and age, and we're hoping that the Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday format will be easy for viewers to remember and look forward to each week."
Added the NBA's Winik: "To be able to say tomorrow on TNT, or tomorrow on TBS, is a simple and effective message that reminds viewers to tune in to the games."
To support the move, Turner has launched a season-long marketing effort titled "The NBA on TBS and TNT: In the House." The campaign will highlight the new schedule and serve as an umbrella for local ads, said TBS Superstation vice president of sports marketing Steve Rabb.
The national promotion will include 60-second, 30-second and 15-second spots featuring NBA stars Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac.
The spots will receive a heavy run-of-schedule on TBS and TNT, as well as other TBS networks, including Cable News Network and the CNN Airport Channel, Raab said.
In addition, Turner will run supporting print ads in
Sports Illustrated,USA Today,The Sporting News,
Hoop. Turner will also purchase radio time in major markets.
The "In The House" theme will resonate throughout four major marketing components tied to different events throughout the NBA season. The first campaign is "The NBA Hawaiian House Party," a sweepstakes that will reward 10 grand-prize winners with a special Thanksgiving dinner in Kauai.
WATCH FOR THE VAN
Beginning in January and through May 2001, Turner will unveil a local promotion featuring its "NBA Jam Van." The vehicle will tour more than 20 markets and feature such local promotions as Thursday night house parties; a contest in which entrants provide play-by-play for a game with a sportscaster from their area; and local slam dunk contests, Raab said.
Turner will promote its TBS/TNT "Million Dollar Shootout" contest in 24 markets during the NBA regular season, with contestants chosen at random by local-market home teams, Raab said. Turner will also conduct a sweepstakes to award 10 grand-prize winners a trip to the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities and special access to the "All-Star House Party" in Washington, D.C.
The promotion is a rare integrated campaign between TNT and TBS Superstation. Both had aired network-specific NBA spots.
"It's the first time in quite a while that TBS and TNT have decided to run a joint marketing effort," Raab said. "Our integrated marketing campaign represents a commitment to drive tune-in and build appointment viewing and repeat viewership."