NBA franchises put bounce into new local promotions

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By: Joe Strupp NBA teams eager to draw fans after the three-month owners' lockout are turning to local newspapers to promote the shortened season, salvage their tarnished public images, and, in some cases, openly apologize to fans.
Ad representatives at newspapers in many NBA cities report that teams are buying more ad space in the weeks following the lockout than in past seasons and using an unusual mix of "touchy, feely" ads to entice folks back to the arenas. Ad copy has included more giveaways, ticket deals, and the use of players and owners speaking directly to the public.
Some franchises, such as the Orlando Magic, have gone so far as to seek forgiveness from disgruntled fans in the form of open apologies in print.
"The hype is on," says Lynn Gallagher, retail account manager for The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, whose accounts include the Sacramento Kings. "What they're advertising is different. They are more fan-friendly and that is unusual."
NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre says the stepped up newspaper effort is part of an overall media blitz aimed at polishing the league's damaged image. He says the local paper can be more successful than TV or radio, in some cases, because hard-core fans follow their team there.
"The newspapers assign beat reporters, and they are the only medium that covers it on a daily basis," McIntyre explains.
McIntyre says every NBA team is using newspaper advertising during the post-lockout push, with half of the teams boosting their print ad budgets higher than usual. He also says each team is opening the doors to normally private team scrimmages and providing free tickets to two preseason games.
"We're not doing a slick marketing campaign," he adds. "We are genuinely trying to redirect our focus on the fan."
Most newspapers in NBA cities report a 20% to 30% increase in display copy by their local teams compared with regular season activity. In some cases, teams such as the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, which never hurt for ticket buyers, are making their first major efforts at newspaper advertising.
"We weren't here for a number of months, and it would be a little pretentious for us to re-emerge and not take notice of [the lockout]," says Chris Weiller, Knicks vice president of communications. "We've got to address it and tell everyone that we're back, and 'Thank you for waiting.'"
During a regular season, most NBA team ads in local papers focus on specific, upcoming games and run once or twice a week, according to advertising officials. But, since the lockout ended, the ads have become larger, are run more often, and provide a warmer, friendlier message.
"Lately, they have been running every day and featuring their players more," says Jim Bisetti, ad sales representative for the Denver Rocky Mountain News, which sells ad space to the Denver Nuggets. "They are also promoting the coaching staff, which they never did."
Bisetti says the use of coaches and other nonplayers in ads is aimed at allowing fans to feel closer to the entire organization.
Nuggets advertising manager Rene Doubleday says the team spent 20% more on newspaper promotions during the three weeks following the end of the lockout than during all of last season. "It is helping us break our message out," she says.
One series of ads placed by the Nuggets includes photos of Nugget coaches and players with ad copy comparing the teams return to the court to an episode of Mission Impossible. "Let the mission begin," the copy states. "Call today to enlist in this mission."
Similar promotions in other newspapers offer a change from the usual play-action photos and upcoming game hype to a toned-down, direct message to ticket buyers, including the San Antonio Spurs printing coupons for free tickets and the Cleveland Cavaliers promoting five straight nights of fan giveaways.
"It's really necessary to let people know we haven't forgotten about them," says Chris Milovich, Cavaliers marketing manager who says the The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland has been a key part of the team's promotion. "We use the newspaper because they have been good to us and have a good pass-along rate, which means people go back to it."
At least two teams, the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers, have published newspaper ads in the form of open apology letters to fans. The Magic ad, which ran as a full-page promotion, tells fans that the team is ready to "get back to the love, back to you."
"We have realized that, while we were trying to gain something, we almost lost something in the process," the Magic letter continues. "That something is you."
The letters, signed either by team owners or players and coaches, are seen as an obvious way to address the issue of the lockout and seek forgiveness.
"It's unusual. Mostly they just try to sell tickets," says Rich Caputo, a Philadelphia Inquirer advertising representative who handles the newspaper's 76er account. "They want to get fans back in the stadium."
For NBA cities that have no other major sports franchise, such as Orlando, Portland or Charlotte, the fix is even more critical. In those towns, the lockout dealt a more serious blow to sports enthusiasts because they had no other leading sport to fill the void.
"A lot of NBA franchise cities need to work hard to regain that fan base that can slip away," says Amy Greene, an Orlando Sentinel sales representative who handles Orlando Magic ad sales. "Everybody right now is down on the NBA. Fans are frustrated."
Sports marketing professionals say the effort to speak straight to fans through the local paper is good but may not bring everyone back right away.
"There will always be a small percentage of cynical fans who are gone and will not come back," says Bob Williams, president of Chicago-based Burns Sports Marketing. "But (the teams) are going about it the right way. Fans crave for their players to reach out to them and your average fan wants to see the game being played."
?(NBA ads include a Knicks call to play, Nuggets "Mission Impossible,' and a Magic apology.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor& Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 30, 1999) [Caption]

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