Courtside versus rinkside, it’s no contest. For the Los Angeles Lakers: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Denzel Washington. For the Kings: Alyssa Milano, Mike Myers and Justin Bieber.
The Kings, who share Staples Center with the Lakers, are in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993. Merchandise sales are up as much as 20 percent, according to the National Hockey League, and the team has built its own celebrity following, including Bieber, Myers and Milano, who licenses the team logo for her line of women’s sports clothing.
For all the enthusiasm, the Kings probably need more seasons like this one to win the city’s heart as baseball’s Dodgers and the National Basketball Association’s Lakers have, according to David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They lost to the Montreal Canadiens in their only trip to the finals with Wayne Gretzky 19 years ago.
“The Dodgers and the Lakers are in a very, very elite status,” Carter said in an interview. “The Kings are one of those emerging brands. They have clearly captured the attention of our community.”
Estimated franchise values, based in large measure on TV contracts, tell part of the story. Forbes magazine valued the Lakers at $900 million as of Jan. 25, tops in the NBA. The Kings, who open their series tonight against the New Jersey Devils, checked in at $232 million, or 10th in the NHL. The Dodgers, their stadium and surrounding land sold for $2.15 billion in a bankruptcy auction in May.
Skateboards or Skates
The team also has a ways to go in reaching a wider circle of Angelenos who may be more familiar with skateboards than ice skates -- starting with the local news media.
When the Kings made it to the second round of the NHL playoffs, and the Lakers and Clippers were advancing in the NBA post-season, a local NBC newscast flashed all three logos -- except basketball’s Sacramento Kings were inserted instead of the hockey team. KNBC newscaster Chuck Henry read the station’s apology the next day.
Led by the team’s top scorer, Anze Kopitar, the Kings reached the finals by defeating the Phoenix Coyotes, winning four of five games in the Western Conference finals. They begin the best-of-seven series for hockey’s top prize in Newark.
Game one airs at 8 p.m. New York time on Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US)’s NBC network. NBC will carry the first and second games of the series. Pay-TV’s NBC Sports channel, which had 76 million subscribers at year-end, is scheduled to air games three and four, and then the series returns to the network for the final three meetings, if needed.
Broadcast and Cable
The league doesn’t release merchandise sales, which are shared by teams to equalize revenue, according to Jim Haskins, group vice president for consumer marketing for the New York- based NHL. The pattern for the Kings this season is similar to that of the Boston Bruins in their 2011 championship season, he said.
The Bruins began to gain share of the sports merchandise market in a city dominated by Major League Baseball’s Red Sox, basketball’s Celtics and football’s New England Patriots.
“After they won the Stanley Cup, Boston became one of the hottest markets in history” with sales of Bruins merchandise continuing through the summer, Haskins said. “As we’re eyeing Los Angeles, we’re seeing many similar dynamics.”
The Kings, bought out of bankruptcy by billionaire Philip Anschutz’s AEG Worldwide live-entertainment company in 1995, sold out 37 of 39 regular-season games at Staples, with attendance averaging 18,113, according to the team website.
The average price of a Kings game for a family of four, including admission, parking, food, drink, programs and a couple souvenirs, was $304.66 this season, or 17th among the 30 NHL teams, according to Team Marketing Report, based in Wilmette, Illinois, which produces a fan-cost index.
The Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, averaged 18,997 seats per home game. They were eliminated from the NBA playoffs May 21 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, ending the city’s hopes for a 12th NBA title. A family of four spent an average of $514 seeing the Lakers, second highest in the NBA, according to the Team Marketing Report’s index.
Los Angeles’ other NBA team, the Clippers, were bounced from the playoffs on May 20 by the San Antonio Spurs. Forbes ranks the team 20th in value at $324 million.
With their ascent to the finals, the Kings are winning some of the love the city showers on the fabled Lakers and Dodgers teams that have included Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, Don Drysdale and Kirk Gibson.
“It’s fair to say Los Angeles is kind of a Dodgers market, Lakers market,” said Haskins. “The Kings have gained a lot of ground.”
Representatives for Myers, Milano and Bieber didn’t respond to phone calls or e-mailed requests for comment.
The Kings’ 40-27-15 season isn’t the first time the team has attracted Hollywood luminaries. Stars including Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn began turning out when the Kings acquired Gretzky in 1988.
Celebrity sightings at games help with sales because of the attention they draw to the sport, Haskins said.
He pointed to hockey’s featured role in Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40,” scheduled for a December release from Comcast’s Universal film unit. The cast includes Wyatt Russell, son of Russell and Hawn. The younger Russell pursued a hockey career, playing in Canada’s junior leagues, a feeder system for professional teams, before turning to acting, Haskins said.
“Having that buzz from high-profile personalities, not only is it an identifier, but it creates partnership opportunities” for movies and TV shows, Haskins said.
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