The NBA is battling high ticket prices and tough economic times with special offers to attract the fans and keep them happy
1. The NBA Fan (Friendly) Cost Index If you have even a passing interest in sports, you know that 2009 has been a tough year economically for teams and fans alike. Attendance figures are down almost across the board in pro sports, in the single and in some cases double digits, proof that fewer fans are spending money to attend sporting events. While most leagues claim that they're doing all they can to make going to games more affordable for fans—think of the compassionate New York Yankees, who generously cut seat prices behind home plate in half, from an outrageous $2,500 to a merely infuriating $1,250 per game—the NBA this season is really putting its money where its fans are. According to Team Marketing Report's just-released 2009-2010 Fan Cost Index (FCI), it's cheaper to attend NBA games this year than it was last season. The average ticket to an NBA game fell 2.8%, to $48.90, causing the FCI to drop 1.4%, to $289.87 (the first time ticket prices have fallen since the 2001-2002 season). As Team Marketing Report notes, this was the biggest drop ever for the NBA, and the second-biggest in FCI history, behind the NHL's 7.5% decrease for the 2005-2006 season (after the lockout). Further, none of the other major leagues had an overall price decrease in 2009. The NHL inched up 0.1%, to $51.27, while the NFL showed a 3.9% increase, to $74.99. And MLB was up 5%, to $26.64, taking into account the new Yankees Stadium and Citi Field in New York. This year, almost every one of the NBA's 30 teams cut prices or kept them the same. And as NBA Commissioner David Stern is always happy to point out, every NBA team keeps a minimum of 500 $10 seats available at every game. We've always considered the NBA to be the most fan-friendly of America's pro sports leagues, certainly the most entertainment-conscious. But it does have a built-in advantage—the intimacy of the arena setting, which traps noise and presents no boundaries between fans and players (who often leap into the stands chasing loose balls), lends itself to more fan interaction than an 80,000-seat stadium. Accordingly, here's a short list from the FCI of NBA teams' most enticing, fan-friendly offers this season, most presented in tandem with team sponsors: In Atlanta, $89 will get you four Hawks tickets and four Chick-fil-A combo meals, or, you could opt for a Lucky Dog Wednesday upper level seat for $15. In Charlotte, a similar meal package in conjunction with a Sprite will cost $68 for four; while the San Antonio Spurs' package deal, in conjunction with the Express News, costs $22 a pop. The Cleveland Cavaliers' Guys Nite Out presented by Arby's gets you a ticket to the game, a pregame buffet on the team's practice court, your choice of a 40th Anniversary Cavaliers T-shirt or 2009-2010 Cavalier Girls Calendar, and a Q&A with a Cavaliers beat writer. (The hall pass is up to you.) The Dallas Mavericks, host team for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium, are combining hosting duties with fan benefits—full or partial season ticket plans include an All-Star ticket. The Los Angeles Clippers are offering season tickets for as low as $9 per ticket ($396 per plan). The New Jersey Nets Kids Country plan lets you buy one adult ticket and get one kid's ticket for free; if you purchased by Oct. 30 your kid also gets to participate in a Brook Lopez clinic The Toronto Raptors win our prize for most creative fan offerings. Among them are Miller Genuine Draft Guys Night Out, and Family Fun Days including, among other items, two Raptors foam fingers, post-game, on-court free-throws, and a GTA Family Attractions Pass including discounts to Medieval Times, the CN Tower, the Ontario Science Centre, and Playdium. 2. College Hoops Sets Out on the Road to Indy As the 2009-2010 college basketball regular season tips off this week, the biggest question facing college hoops fans isn't which team is the most affordable, or when should they start filling out their March Madness brackets. Rather, in a year devoid of a standout prospect like Blake Griffin or Tyler Hansbrough, the central question for fans, sponsors, and broadcasters alike is, who will be the face of NCAA basketball this year? As teams begin traveling the long road to the Final Four at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium in early April, one big question about the NCAA's business plan revolves around March Madness broadcasting rights. According to USA Today, if the NCAA opts out early next year of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS for the tourney, ESPN would be interested in bidding for the rights. (CBS' current deal runs through 2013). If they can afford it, the highly lucrative property would be a logical acquisition for ESPN, which holds the rights to the women's tournament and already carries the men's Tuesday night play-in game. However, the fact that ESPN is also taking over Bowl Championship Series NCAA football games next year may give conference directors pause. While no major new arena projects are debuting this season, in Los Angeles, UCLA fans are still reeling over the announcement earlier this year that the donation required to purchase one court-side seat at the renovated Pauley Pavilion, due to reopen in 2012, is $500,000 (plus an additional $17,000 annual fee to retain eligibility for the seat.) The controversial project, now estimated at $185 million, will utilize $25 million in student fees and a debt burden of at least $60 million—hard news for students to take in a year of massive California educational budget cuts. In the nation's smallest state, the University of Rhode Island is anticipating a projected $92,500 revenue boost from selling beer and wine at its basketball arena over the next two years. In Memphis, the bellwether city for selling alcohol at University of Memphis home football games this season, headlines concerning the men's basketball team focus on unity rather than beer. The team's marketing campaign for the season features the slogan "One City. One Team. One Name," according to local sources. Head coach John Pastner insisted that the promotional giveaway poster central to the campaign include all of his players, not just the stars. He added, "The fan base here is the best in the country. I'll put our fan base against any other fan base in America." In Indianapolis, the NCAA itself has announced that its headquarters will double in size after a $35 million expansion scheduled to commence next spring. The 130,000-square-foot development will include a new building with offices and meeting space; the NCAA does not plan to fund-raise for the project. 3. Sports Endorsements Gone Bad 5. O.J. Simpson/Hertz. Although Simpson was an NFL MVP and Pro Football Hall of Famer, he became a household name appearing in commercials for Hertz Rent-a-Car throughout the 1970s and 80s. Hertz severed ties with the football star in 1992, when accusations of domestic abuse surfaced. If they hadn't then, they surely would have two years later, when Simpson was charged with double murder. 4. Michael Vick/Nike. After Vick was indicted on federal charges for dog-fighting, Nike suspended the quarterback without pay and stopped marketing his products. As Vick furor grew, Nike formally dropped him as an endorser a month later. 3. Michael Phelps/Kellogg's. While most companies stuck with Phelps after his pot-smoking scandal, one sponsor that did not was Kellogg's. Since there was only one month left on their endorsement deal when the infamous bong picture surfaced, Kellogg's publicly criticized Phelps and announced that they would not renew. 2. Kobe Bryant/McDonald's. When the fast-food chain signed Bryant in January 2001, he was the only NBA player pitching McDonald's internationally. Following Bryant's sexual assault arrest, McDonald's was his highest-profile deal not to be renewed. 1. UCF/adidas. The apparel company was negotiating to extend its contract with the school for $3 million annually. However, when UCF's most famous athlete, Marcus Jordan, wore Nikes during his first game, adidas backed out because the school "failed to meet contractual obligations." 4. 100 Days, Give or Take, to Vancouver If you're feeling like March Madness is already right around the corner, the Vancouver Winter Olympics are even closer. Last week marked the 100-day countdown to the Winter Games, accompanied by the send-off of the Olympic torch, keys to the Canadian $1.2 billion Athletes Village handed over, and requisite fanfare on NBC. NBC's "Countdown to Vancouver" campaign officially kicked off on Today with the appearance of several Winter Olympians. NBC Sports spokespeople say the network will focus on individual Olympians during much of the ensuing campaign, scheduling appearances on its flagship nighttime talk shows (Jay Leno, The Tonight Show, etc.) NBC Sports has also produced a one-minute commercial promoting the Games that features such athletes as Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Shaun White. And on Universal Sports, NBC is "programming more than 1,250 hours of pre-Olympic winter sport competition," beyond the 30 hours NBC itself will carry. At an accompanying event in Rockefeller Center last week, USOC official partners and sponsors set up an informational fair around the Rockefeller Center ice rink. McDonald's (MCD) sampled products during breakfast time, while Coca-Cola (KO) gave away T-shirts and held a sweepstakes for a Coke-branded snowboard signed by U.S. snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. 24 Hour Fitness sponsored an "Olympic sport aptitude test," and Hilton Worldwide sponsored free skates with star figure skaters JoJo Starbuck and Sarah Hughes. A report released last week by PriceWaterhouseCoopers indicates that the 2010 Vancouver Games were "meeting expectations for economic and social impacts" for B.C. and Canada "up until the end of last year," before the global recession. From 2003-2008, the Games created 20,780 jobs and generated $CDN684 million to $CDN884 million in gross domestic product for B.C., according to the data published in the Vancouver Sun, while yearly tourism grew about $CDN5 million—far less than earlier estimates of $CDN30 million to $CDN500 million. The Vancouver Olympic Committee was scheduled to begin the final phase of domestic ticket sales for the Games on Nov. 7, making over 100,000 tickets available on www.vancouver2010.com on a first-come, first-served basis and including Opening and Closing ceremonies and the gold medal hockey match, expected to be the Games' most coveted ticket by far. However, a massive technical glitch hit the Web site, postponing the online ticket grab until Nov. 14. 5. Blade Runner? Comedy Central personality Stephen Colbert adopted the U.S. Speedskating team. Proving fans of comedy are speedier than world-class sprinters, the legions of Colbert Nation raised $40,000 in the 24 hours after Colbert's on-air announcement, and opened a new heat in the creative funding of sports teams. In October, U.S. Speedskating's primary sponsor DSB Bank NV left the team on thin ice when it declared bankruptcy. Appearing on The Colbert Report, along with gold-medal skater Dan Jansen, U.S. Speedskating Executive Director Robert Crowley admitted that it was a "definitely unconventional arrangement," but that "we're highly optimistic that the country is going to…get behind the Colbert Nation and support this amazing team. I don't have any idea if it's going to make $5 or $500,000. I couldn't tell you." Starting immediately, the "Colbert Nation" name would be "emblazoned on team uniforms," Colbert said, adding "With your help, we will send our men and women and their enormous quadriceps to Vancouver. And glory!" The Comedy Central host also mulled over starting his own Olympic team, and put Canada on notice for cheating. "Those syrup-suckers will not let our athletes practice at their Olympic venues," Colbert said. "This is the most unsportsmanlike conduct by Canadians since it was discovered that Toronto Blue Jays' Roy Halladay was a moose."